Staff Editorial: Replacing Nichol
February 19, 2008
p. Some may be hesitant to discuss the question of who should lead the College in the wake of former President Gene Nichol’s resignation. They may argue that the talk is premature.
p. It is never too early.
p. The Board of Visitors has already started to search for the next president, and students who want to be heard should voice their opinions sooner rather than later. Many on campus will point to Nichol-like qualities that the new president should have — dynamic, charismatic, present at football games and campus events. While we would welcome a president as involved on campus as Nichol, the BOV’s first task should be to find a competent manager to excel in the important areas, such as fundraising and public relations, in which Nichol failed.
p. In the recent past, the BOV has awarded the top spot to men with impressive resumes, most of them graduates of the Ivy League or of the College. If the history of our small school has demonstrated one truth, however, it is that the next president, all other strengths aside, must be able to build the endowment.
p. Interim President Taylor Reveley’s role will be an important one in the coming year. He has stepped in at a most crucial time: the time to make amends. Ensuring continued and renewed support from the College’s top donors will be paramount in the coming months. And for the remainder of the school year, responding to more immediate concerns from faculty, alumni and students will require open ears and a deft hand.
p. In the longer term, we remain most concerned with a new president’s ability to bolster the College’s finances. While there may be something noble about persevering in the face of destitution, other schools aren’t lining up to join in this perennial struggle of ours. Currently, the College’s endowment ranks above that of just two other schools in our peer group of 17 universities, and financial aid plans like the Gateway Initiative are still lacking necessary dollars.
p. The recent 6.5 percent state budget cut only reinforces the necessity of raising private money to fund all programs in the years to come. A president who can foster excellent relations with donors — not only alumni contributing to the general endowment, but also those desiring to fund specific chairs and programs — will be a president who leads the College in the appropriate direction.
Of course, we aren’t advocating the selection of a fundraising automaton, either.
p. Top executives should relate to the members of their organizations, as well. The past two presidents displayed occasional difficulty in adapting to this demand, first in Timothy J. Sullivan’s lukewarm relationship with faculty and then in Gene Nichol’s struggles to cooperate with the BOV.
p. A candidate who has invested the time in a collegiate environment to complete a Ph.D. (as opposed to a J.D., like recent presidents), may be better suited as the leader of a school with international research aspirations. A president who is a respected academician with extensive administrative experience could push for improved research funding and relate well with Arts and Sciences faculty, the lifeblood of the College.
p. At all costs, we must avoid a micromanager, whose policies could bring the College further controversy. The past three years have taught us the value to be gained from an executive’s judicious application of restraint — we hope the next president will practice sound judgment and maintain a focus on the College’s top missions.
p. Among those missions has been the increasing diversification of the campus community. The board would be wise to consider a diverse array of candidates for the presidency, including women and minorities.
p. The perfect president could perhaps excel equally in every area, but at this particular juncture, the College most needs someone who will promote a scholarly atmosphere on campus and raise the funds we so desperately need. If the state cannot spare the money, then we must require our next president be the person to find those who can and will.