We reminded stakeholders that the ultimate authority to select the next president lies with the board. But we nevertheless recognized the intense interest in the search and knew that “opening the tent” would be extremely valuable. So how do you engage stakeholders without undermining the confidentiality of the process or inviting too many cooks into the kitchen? How do you create an appropriately inclusive and appropriately transparent process?
We viewed the search process as an opportunity to strengthen the board’s relationships with campus stakeholders and to create a collective moment of reflection on Spelman’s future.
We sought to establish transparency and encourage inclusion early on by educating people about the presidential selection process. Providing stakeholders with an approximate timeline of the search and sharing some of the logic driving decision making allowed people to understand the systematic method by which the next president would be selected. We presented a slide show to groups of faculty, student leaders, alumnae, administrators, parents, and staff leaders about the search and encouraged people to ask questions and give feedback.
Stakeholders were offered four ways to participate in the search: attend a listening session hosted by the search committee and facilitated by the search consultants (we held several on campus and in four cities with large alumnae presence), complete an online survey about the college and its future direction, nominate candidates or sources that should be solicited for nominees, and attend events to meet the finalist during the campus visit.
The search chair, board chair, search consultants, and several search committee members invested considerable time in campus outreach, calling or meeting with members of the campus community in order to solicit their feedback, gather their nominations, and connect them to the process. We “worked the phones,” proactively reaching out to deeply networked members of the campus community to address any concerns.
Being inclusive also involved keeping the sitting president and trustees informed. We invited the president to offer a state-of-the-college presentation to the search committee at its first meeting, ensuring that committee members had current information with regards to college fundraising, enrollment, budget, academic affairs, operations, etc. As search chair, I spoke regularly with Dr. Tatum about the process. The board received regular updates through email and during our board meetings. While we could not share the names of candidates outside of the search committee, we could gather nominations and listen to endorsements. The board chair and I also sent regular email updates to the campus community, and the presidential search website included the search timeline, the schedule of search-related events, instructions for nominations, bios of search committee members and search firm consultants, and the leadership profile.