College Gathers Committee, Consultant, Focus Groups to Learn What to Look For in Next Leader
On April 18, 2009, President Joan Develin Coley announced her plans to retire after ten years in service to McDaniel College.
Immediately after her announcement, seven trustees –including Board Member and committee chair Mary Lynn Durham –gathered together to answer one question: how would they find the ninth President of McDaniel College.
This “transition committee” formulated a plan including soliciting proposals from various consulting firms around the country. Most were firms specializing in higher education and by June the committee had over 500 pages of proposals to read.
After on-campus interviews, Myers McRae was hired in a unanimous decision, with their Senior Vice President, Dr. David M. Gring as the main liaison to the school.
“Our role is multi-faceted,” said Gring. “We created materials for the website and went forward with advertising – we wanted a national search that was not limited by any specific region.” There is a big emphasis on the web because, unlike past years, more people can obtain information and follow the search on the internet.
A new committee of 12 was put together by President Coley and Martin K.P. Hill, chairman of the Board of Trustees. Chaired once again by Durham, the committee includes six other trustees: Phillip G. Enstice ’71, Ralph O. Frith ’84, James I. Melhorn, Julie Mercer, Albert J. Mezzanottee, Jr. ’78, and Caryl Ensor Peterson ’58; three faculty: Dr. Deborah Johnson-Ross, Dr. Reanna Ursin, and Dr. Francis Fennell; one from the administration: Joyce D. Muller; and one student: Ben Cowman ’10. The committee also includes Hill, but he will not have a vote in the final election.
Their next undertaking was to meet with Jim Lightener, who put the past eight Presidents in perspective. “He made clear that each person was different and right for the school at that time,” said Gring. “We’re not looking for a clone of past Presidents.”
Within weeks after the advertisements, phone calls, and over 15,000 emails went out, the campaign was known across the country. “Word has gotten out,” said Durham. “My son in California heard about it. The response has just been overwhelming.”
“It’s an indication of the regard with which McDaniel is held,” said Gring. “We’ve been involved in searches where the response wasn’t as strong.”
From the beginning, the committee planned to conduct focus group meetings as soon as everyone returned to campus. Starting on August 31, six meetings were held – two for faculty, one for alumni, one for students, one for community leaders, and one for staff members.
With the students, talk focused on clubrooms, less strict alcohol policies, a better reputation for Greek Life, increased diversity, and the campus becoming more environmentally conscious. There were also large discussions on more resources to keep students on campus over the weekend, and whether freshman dorms should be co-ed or not.
“The student focus group was more fun than I’ve had in a long time,” said Durham.
The overall consensus, according the Gring, was that the students want the new President to be engaged – “and accessible,” added Durham, “They really want someone who cares for the community in a personal way.”
SGA President David Castle concurred, saying, “as much as our school is going to love them, they are going to love us.”
According to Durham, the first half of the faculty meeting focused on Ira Zepp and the deep feelings that he brought out in this campus. “They talked about him as the paradigm for what the best of this community had always been,” she said. “There is a missing spiritual presence in his absence.”
Also discussed were the McDaniel Plan and financial constraints about implementing it, more student-faculty research opportunities, and the need for the new President to fully support student-faculty relationships.
“The alumni session was a love fest,” said Gring. “They think there has been no better influence in their life, and they are interested in the reputation of the college and doing what we can to market the college.”
Durham said during the community leaders meeting, the Chief of Police, William Spaulding, said that he is happy with the mutual understanding and cooperation with he campus, and wants that to continue.
The staff focus group talked about honoring the community feel, developing the athletic programs to keep up with competitor’s upgrades, putting more resources into the Graduate program, retention, fundraising, studying abroad, and the role of the staff at McDaniel.
Some members claimed that it’s important to preserve the ideal of “personal touch and human contact” over electronics and technology. However, others wanted a President “who realizes the importance that students place on technology.”
Both Gring and Durham emphasize that this search should be all-inclusive and a participatory process.
“Our company only works on one search at a time, and McDaniel has my full and unfettered attention for the next few months,” said Gring. “The search is on. And we are looking for the next President of McDaniel College.”
Additional Reporting by Kaitlyn Vadenais and Samantha Lambert