2018–19 Presidential Search

News and Updates

To: The Reed College Community
Date: April 2, 2019

Members of Reed's Presidential Search Committee share their perspectives on how the presidential search is progressing. Committee members for this podcast include students Nikhita Airi ’19 and Frank Gaunt ’20, both economics majors; Alice Harra, director of the Center for Life Beyond Reed; Kimberly Clausing, professor of economics; Sonia Sabnis, professor of classics and humanities; and Mark Burford, professor of music.


Transcription was provided from automated service and may not be exact.

KEVIN MYERS [00:00:00] Welcome to another presidential search podcast. I had the opportunity to chat with student, faculty and staff members of the presidential search committee on separate occasions. We stitched together their responses to grade the following recording. We hope it gives you a sense of how the search is progressing.

NIKKI AIRI [00:00:15] Hi I'm Nikki Airi. I was a student body president last year. I'm a senior Econ major. I'm excited to be here.

FRANK GAUNT [00:00:22] Hi I'm Frank Gaunt. I'm a junior economics major and the current vice treasurer of the student body.

ALICE HARRA [00:00:29] Hi I'm Alice Harra. I direct The Center of Life Beyond Reed.

SONIA SABNIS [00:00:32] I'm Sonia Sabnis I'm a faculty in classics and humanities.

KIM CLAUSING [00:00:36] I'm Kim Clausing, faculty member in economics.

MARK BURFORD [00:00:38] I'm Mark Burford, faculty in music.

KEVIN MYERS [00:00:42] Tell me about you know what's serving on the committee has been like. Has it changed your perception of the job of president at Reed.

FRANK GAUNT [00:00:46] Without a doubt, very early on, gathering input from all these different groups on campus whether it's staff or faculty or students. You realize how passionate all these groups are about Reed and how they all have a lot of stuff they want to accomplish and the president has to help them out, all the different groups with all their goals. And it really made me feel amazed both at the scope of the president's job but also, it's nice to work with trustees and staff and faculty and to see their perspectives about the college and see how much they care for it too.

KEVIN MYERS [00:01:27] Nikki, have you had a similar experience?

NIKKI AIRI [00:01:29] I would say yeah I would definitely echo the thought about the president's job just being this very expansive and unique thing. I think it's kind of a unique position. And, thinking about who would fill that position is really exciting because those are some really qualified and exciting people.

MARK BURFORD [00:01:49] I would say that the I mean the one thing that didn't surprise me but was reinforced was how different the relationship staff has with the president from the faculty. We're such a narrow part actually of a president's portfolio quite quite honestly. In fact, I don't think we think of the president as our boss the way that the staff does and that was kind of illuminating getting their perspective on him.

KEVIN MYERS Yeah, that's interesting.

SONIA SABNIS [00:02:14] I agree with that. I also think in terms of what was demystified about the institution or the processes and while being on the search, I would say that depending on what committees you want, it's not always easy for faculty to have a lot of interaction with trustees. And so, I think that’s one, sort of terms of my knowledge, I feel like that's deep in the bed in terms of how the trustees operate and the kinds of things that they're interested in.

KIM CLAUSING [00:02:37] I think it would be nice if there were more opportunities for the trustees to work with faculty and students for all parties. I think that would be a healthy and good and staff.

KEVIN MYERS [00:02:46] The analysis from the staff perspective.

ALICE HARRA [00:02:49] I can respond to that although, I must reveal on this podcast that when I was 12 years old, I wanted to be a college president. So, I say that now that I have learned what a complex and complicated job it is, I am fascinated. I thought the college president was just all about student development. I really loved being with students of this age group and spent a lot of time on what I've learned is that they actually have so much of a broader scope as we have thought about presidency and being able to manage professional staff, having fiscal oversight, having responsibility for inspiring faculty, being a public intellectual doing their own research, being able to fundraise being on the road a hundred fifty days, a year whatever. I gained a real respect for for the role.

KEVIN MYERS [00:03:30] Frank, you'd brought up the complexities of the job if you were selected as president. What would be the first thing you would hope to change about Reed?

FRANK GAUNT [00:03:46] The first thing I'd hope to change would be to make communication between all these different groups on campus both easier and the information between them clear. Because, through this process and also through being on student government, I really see gaps in information between administration and students or staff and students. There's a lot of ways that you can access resources and support that isn't well advertised or is at all summarized in the same place. And so, you kind of have to know where stuff is happening to get the support you need. And so I think that would be an easy first thing to accomplish that would be really helpful.

KEVIN MYERS [00:04:26] Yeah, that's that's a great response.

NIKKI ARRI [00:04:26] I think folks on campus do a really good job. You know, in some cases like advertising stuff like this word of mouth. But I think just taking it a step further than that and kind of solidifying that putting it out there for people to see who may not know who to talk to you at first. I think that's it's not like a huge step that really has to be made.

KEVIN MYERS [00:04:48] Yeah there are a lot of resources right and it just it's figuring out how to get access to them. You know what would be the first thing you would change.

NIKKI AIRI [00:04:55] Yeah, I mean I think you know the president kind of sits in this role where they're able to talk to like a lot of people on campus and maybe facilitating connections to people who maybe should know about the work that others are doing on campus and they may not already know. Just to be able to kind of have that bird's eye view of the institution and. Everyone's doing what they're doing great already. Yeah great.

KEVIN MYERS [00:05:18] And Alice what would your one thing be to funnel more resources into the center for life beyond Reed.

ALICE HARRA [00:05:24] That's it, that's my answer. Thank you, Kevin. No, I want to pick up on what Nikki and Frank are saying is, I agree with it at their level and also having the president who would understand that that source of funding comes from a very engaged alumni base and parents and friends of Reed in the Portland community and beyond and really articulating what it is that we're doing that's so fun so exciting so demonstratively amazing on campus with the students and finding a way to really engage more alumni to bring to bring those resources because that's what we need.

KEVIN MYERS [00:06:00] Do you think it's important that the next president of read have a background in academia?

SONIA SABNIS [00:06:04] Short answer I think is, no. I think we have an interesting opportunity with the way our policy has changed about tenuring presidents. So I think we are definitely seeing more chances for hiring someone with the same kind of academic background that many of our faculty have, which is something that I don't think has been true before. But, I think there are actually pluses and minuses to having an academic background for the position of president.

KEVIN MYERS [00:06:30] Would you guys agree with that?

KIM CLAUSING [00:06:31] I don't think they have to be from academia, but I do think they have to really love academia, some part of them should or they're gonna be pretty unhappy here. I think the candidates that we look at outside of academia would still have a great sort of sense of respect for the academic enterprise or they would not be successful here. So that's something that we're looking for.

MARK BURFORD [00:06:52] I think that, you know, the relationship with the faculty is one part of your job. So someone with a background in academia would have a particular relationship with the faculty that someone perhaps outside wouldn't. But, of course, the president has relationships across campus. And the truth is, even as faculty members as parts of our job that academia has nothing to do with, it just even the way we do our jobs. So I think it presents one opportunity but other backgrounds present other opportunities.

KEVIN MYERS [00:07:21] It keeps coming up that Reed is a pretty complex place. What have you learned about Reed that you didn't know previously by being on the search committee?

NIKKI AIRI [00:07:30] I had some appreciation for the role the president has with the faculty, but I think it's actually like a little bit more involved than I had previously imagined. And I don't think that's something that anyone could just walk in there and do and requires, you know, humility and leadership and all these different skills and kind of being able to sit back, but also step forward and it's it's a kind of a delicate balancing. But that was one thing that I just didn't know as much about.

KEVIN MYERS [00:08:00] It's a great observation.

FRANK GAUNT [00:08:01] It really transforms the president from this sort of figurehead who's just out in the distance too. So, when I've really had to think about this throughout this process, we're identifying what we need in the next president what traits that requires. And before that, as a student, you just think about the president is this person and you think about their personality and you think about the things you like or don't like about them and that's kind of it. That's the only extent that I thought about the president. And so it's just nice to know how to approach it in a way where you really understand what they have to do.

KEVIN MYERS [00:08:42] It's a pretty large committee with sixteen people right on the committee 16 people on the committee. So trustees faculty, staff and the students have a have have a voice in this. How does that feel? I mean how do you how does that make you feel about the institution?

FRANK GAUNT [00:08:57] It makes sense whether it is staff or faculty or trustees. When you're in the one meeting you have with them a semester, they are friendly to you there. But for a process that has so much weight for all the people involved, to still have a voice within that context makes you really appreciate how much all these other groups that are involved with Reed, how much they respect students.

KEVIN MYERS [00:09:23] Nikki, you were a student body president right. So you were kind of used to having sort of a larger voice within the administration I assume. Yeah it has I guess reflect on that a little about the difference are the similarities.

NIKKI AIRI [00:09:36] I think that role prepared me really well for working on this committee because I am kind of used to interjecting at moments, reflecting like you said–it's nice to be able to do this for the college, even in my last semester. And you know, I think even though students are such a temporary part of campus in a way, but the campus is willing and wanting to respond to students as they are here is really meaningful.

ALICE HARRA [00:10:06] Nicky and Frank have been absolutely the most prepared people on the committee. You know we're moving forward with a lot of clarity and a lot of consistency. We're moving together as one and each of us has an equal chance at the table. I find that really amazing and special.

KEVIN MYERS [00:10:24] Do you think there's an academic discipline that better prepares one to be president of reader of any college?

KIM CLAUSING [00:10:31] I don't think that there is. I can imagine economists and musicians and historians and classicists, but I can imagine good and bad versions of all of those things for Reed. And so I think what area you happen to be interested in, in graduate school probably doesn't necessarily correlate with with whether you be good at running this college but there probably people in every field who would be good at it and it would be terrible at it.

SONIA SABNIS [00:10:59] I think that's right. I would also say we're not looking at anyone who's just with that that credential. So like not any classicist would be able to just come in straight and be president but a classicist with a certain type of additional service component, I think, and have people any any academics who would have turned their careers in a slightly different direction, into more administration, I think, can have the qualifications that we're looking for.

MARK BURFORD [00:11:29] I would agree with that. I don't think any particular discipline is better preparation. I think perhaps initially of particular field might energize the campus in certain ways like having our first scientist as a president would impact the campus but initially but over time they become the president. But beyond that kind of initial boost or kind of support for constituency. I don't think there's any particular training necessary.

KEVIN MYERS [00:11:58] So what are what are we missing? What are the experiences that you think surprised you the most, that you'll you'll take away from this experience?

ALICE HARRA [00:12:08] I think what's interesting me lately is continuing to think about why I came to Reed originally, to just really think about the role the liberal arts in in the 21st century. And to continue to think about that from Reed's perspective being such the gold standard of liberal arts education, but also the incredible commitment to undergraduate research and the undergraduate mind. As it goes through the process of research of asking big questions, that is partly the role of the president to articulate that. And I think that that has really gripped me. I would like to pick up on something that Nikki said, which is taking somebody who is both visionary and has humility. I mean, those are really powerful pairings and I've found that really to be moving when I think about leadership and leadership styles.

NIKKI AIRI [00:13:02] And I think another thing that's kind of come through this process is that it's kind of made me reflect on why I wanted to come to Reed and there have been moments where it's beena love/hate relationship. But I think right now it's honestly, you know, a pretty good place just because you know hearing people talk about why they would love to work at Reed. I'm like, Yeah it's cool to go here. And I had that moment sometimes you know and after a good thesis meeting or something like that but it comes through in this committee work also which is a little bit surprising and cool. That's fantastic.

KEVIN MYERS [00:13:30] So let's just kind of end with, you know– is there one word or phrase that summarizes what you would want to see in the next president of Reed.

FRANK GAUNT [00:13:49] Committed. Because their job so diffuse in many ways. You know, they're both a figurehead for Reed. They're also managing a bunch of people, a large budget, they're talking to alumni donors, they're talking to faculty, leading faculty meetings, they do a lot of things, and for each one of those things the people that they're working with in that moment want to know that they're really invested in what they're doing at that moment. So, you need someone who's committed all the time, who doesn't see parts of the job as just things that they have to sit through for an hour or so.

KIM CLAUSING [00:14:33] And I would say that having a certain enthusiasm for the work of the job would be good for me. When I look back at leaders, I think that what really makes for a good president is someone who wants to do a lot of work every day on every part of the job, whether it's communicating with students and faculty, whether it's cultivating relationships with donors, whether it's managing the intricacies of staffing and running college takes a lot of work. So I'm looking for someone who really wants to roll up their sleeves and get to it.

MARK BURFORD [00:15:05] I would say, quality of presence I think is really important. By which I just mean that wherever the president is they have to be there in a positive, affirmative and inspiring way, by being prepared, by being courteous, by being empathetic. All those sorts of things whether it's with faculty, whether it's with staff or whether with students because a it's such a small place that every interaction is just kind of. It's like, you know, sand in a time capsule or something like that where it just kind of adds up over time and can depreciate pretty quickly so I think just having a quality of presence and all your interactions is important.

SONIA SABNIS [00:15:55] I can't think of the one thing I want to say, but one of my colleagues told me integrity was a good thing, personal integrity was a good thing and I know you didn't ask that question, but as a classicist, I can totally hijack this and say well when we talk about integrity we mean a lot of different things I think. And so obviously as a Latin professor, my mind goes to the etymology of have integrity and in the Latin object that comes from, it literally means untouched or undiminished. And then it has a range of meanings of being whole and healthy and solid and unswayed by public opinion. And I think that's not inapt. I don't want to be super cheesy about this and be like “yes” that is exactly like I want the undiminished president but I think I do think that that's. I do think that broadly speaking all the consistent constituencies that we've talked to are looking for that personal quality because it leads to or it's it's a foundation for a lot of other things that the president needs to do.

KEVIN MYERS [00:17:03] Well, thank you so much for being here. I know this is an enormous job, on top of the other enormous jobs that you have to do so on behalf of the entire Reed community. Thank you so much.