2018–19 Presidential Search

News and Updates

To: The Reed College Community
Date: March 28, 2019

Presidential search committee members Dean for Institutional Diversity Mary James and Trustees Alex Martinez ’73 and Dylan Rivera ’95 discussed the process of creating an equitable search process that helps mitigate implicit biases, what the committee has come to understand about the role of president at Reed, and what they have learned about the college along the way. The second podcast will be available on the website April 4.


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

KEVIN MYERS [00:00:00] Welcome to the Reed presidential search podcasts. With these podcasts, we hope to inform the community on the process of selecting the next president. Today, we're going to hear from two trustee members of the search committee: Alex Martinez, from the class of 1973 and Dylan Rivera, from the class of ‘95. Alex is a former Colorado Supreme Court justice and the chair of the committee. Dylan has served on the alumni board and the alumni fundraising for Reed steering committee. Also, joining us is ex officio search committee member, Mary James. Mary is the dean for institutional diversity and A.A. Knowlton Professor of Physics.

Well, thanks everybody for gathering here and thanks for all your work and dedication that's gone into this process. I know it's an incredibly time consuming process. So thank you so much. And I guess let's just start from the top. How's the search going?

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:00:49] Well, I think it's going great.

KEVIN MYERS [00:00:51] You did say that you are the chair of the search committee.

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:00:55] I guess in all fairness, maybe we should let some other people answer your question.


MARY JAMES [00:01:00] I agree with Alex that it's going well. And I think one of the things that I'm realizing and very gratified about at this point in the search, is how much we invested in thinking through the process very early on, thinking through how we get input from the community–the broader community, how we use that input, how we thought carefully about crafting a presidential position paper and that we committed to a very specific process that would help us to mitigate implicit bias in decision making and to really help us use an evidence based model for evaluating candidates and thinking about how they would be part of our community. So we're reaping the harvest from that early investment. I think the committee is very clear and very unified in how we're going about both evaluating and courting our candidates.

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:02:00] Let me just add to that, that I totally agree with Mary but also just the process of doing that was also a matter of bonding between committee members and so we got to know each other better. We got to understand what people's priorities were, what their commitment was. So, I think we developed a lot of trust among the members during the course of going through the process which was sort of a collateral benefit.

KEVIN MYERS [00:02:28] Yeah, that's fantastic and one of the things that was definitely echoed with the student group was how much they felt, you know, more bonded with the committee more bonded with with the school. Did you have thoughts about that, Dylan?

DYLAN RIVERA [00:02:42] I graduated from Reed almost 25-years ago and have been active as an alum and was active as a Quest editor and I thought I knew a lot about Reed. But I've learned so much more in a different dimension with this committee and in the discussion, learned about our reputation and how how strong it is nationwide. That we're getting really strong candidates who feel very highly about Reed and feel like it's a really special place. And so that's been really gratifying too to learn about the college in a different way.

KEVIN MYERS [00:03:17] Has it taught you more about the job of president at Reed? I'm sure it's it's very different than when you were a student. And I don't know if you want to maybe take some time to apologize to any former presidents?

DYLAN RIVERA [00:03:39] Can you ever forgive me? No really, it's been really fun to learn about the role of president not just relative to me as an alum but someone who can really bring us together with the students and faculty and staff and kind of be the glue that holds us all together. You know, we're financially really strong and so we just need a president that can kind of bring us together and help us get to the next level of being an even better read than we are today.

KEVIN MYERS [00:04:11] We've talked quite a bit about the process here, but this is different in a fairly significant way than previous presidential searches, in that we have now included voting members on the staff and among students. That’s new to the process?

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:04:27] That is new. Quite candidly, I'm not sure that's a huge difference. It is, I think in terms of how people feel about it, that people feel trusted and I think it's a real extension of respect to the staff. And to the students. And I think that's well deserved. But in terms of how the group works together, I don't really know that that had a big effect. The students make their voices heard, you know the students are very productive parts of three members of that committee they stand or sit as the case may be lost. They are as strong, if not stronger than other members of the committee and quite frankly, that's been something you would expect I would expect of Reid's students. But nonetheless just words your heart to actually see it.

DYLAN RIVERA [00:05:22] And they've been treated well by the candidates, in their interactions with the students. The candidates have asked them questions, which can feel like a sort of a hot seat to be on when you're that age. And I think that the students have been just really impressive in their candor and they're willing to engage in and advocate for and explain how students were feeling and what students are looking for in a president.

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:05:49] And the candidates know they have a vote.

KEVIN MYERS [00:05:56] Mary, in your first answer, you brought up exploring the implicit bias of people. Can you talk a little bit more about that process and how you examine that?


ALEX MARTINEZ [00:06:06] Can I start by saying Mary's whole involvement with this is about that issue, possibly the best decision I made as chair was almost immediate and that was to ask Mary to join us on the committee, to advise us. Technically, she's not she's not a member, she's ex officio. But her purpose there has been to advise us on inclusive search practices. But she has done so with research and materials and you know, with constant comments and guidance she's been absolutely wonderful.

MARY JAMES [00:06:41] Thank you. First, I want to say that I've learned a lot about this through guiding faculty searches over the last five years and we've made a lot of progress in increasing the diversity of our faculty. But, a presidential search is different in really important ways. And, so part of it was to think through how it was different and how that affected mapping one process onto another. But to your question–the first thing to understand about implicit bias is it's universal. First thing that I want to communicate to the committee is–it was not a blame shame game. You know, we're not trying to point fingers when someone expresses a bias of some form but rather to understand that implicit bias is universal. And, that it's basically your automatic response and your automatic response is informed by the society in which you grew up. All of your lived experiences. And generally speaking, we’re unaware of our automatic responses. Automatic responses aren't in and of themselves necessarily a bad thing. But, we want to be very careful that they're not driving our decision-making process. And so the right time to think about how we would mitigate against biases dominating our decision processes is before we're in a high stakes decision. That's not a good time. And so, one of the things that I think we've been very successful at is, we worked on this a lot in September and made a lot of decisions before we had a single candidate has as I say to faculty search committees. Once you open files, there are no teachable moments.

It's like you just fall in love with your lunch buddy, you know. So you want to say these are these are the steps. These are the strategies we commit to. And I think what I've learned from the faculty searches is if you think of it as a collective process, it's much more effective. So collectively, we commit to using the key as an evidence-based process. So not what, but what's my gut feeling about this candidate? If I just like them then what I do is say, Oh they're good at this they're good at this, they're good at this, they're good at this. Right? I have no evidence for any of these things. I'm checking them because I like them. So we are constantly checking ourselves. What is the evidence that this person has now or you will need to develop this particular skill.

DYLAN RIVERA [00:09:07] What Mary is saying is very important because it's also helped us as a committee to have language to discuss this with. Right? We were able to say, “Is that an evidence-based criteria you're drawing, or is there a solution or something like that?” I think it's like things like that, you know, as opposed to well, you have this bias or you have that bias and this is more kind of really helping us talk in a collaborative way about this.

MARY JAMES [00:09:31] And, I think the other thing that we did early on that was very helpful, was that we taught each other a lot about the different roles of the president. How does how do presidents relate to boards? How do presidents relate to senior staff? How to present relate to students? So then we made our criteria. What are the criteria on which we're going to judge candidates, which also then what criteria are we not using? So we're not using they belong to my country club or whatever. That's so developing the criteria and making sure that the period were reflected in the position paper that there weren't things in the position paper that weren't in the criteria and vice versa. And then as Dylan was just saying at each point checking ourselves: what do we know about this candidate this point with respect to the criteria? What can't we know at this stage? How would we find it out. So as I said our commitment to our process I think has has served us really well.

KEVIN MYERS [00:10:22] Yeah it sounds like it just makes for a more rigorous process, right?

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:10:25] Yeah, rigorous would be one way to describe it.

KEVIN MYERS [00:10:30] I know we're bound by confidentiality. There's very good reasons for that, but in the whole, are we happy with the pool of candidates?

DYLAN RIVERA [00:10:39] Yeah I would say yeah it's been really fantastic. As an alum, it's been really gratifying to see the response we've had at a time in higher education when we've got a lot of national political noise that's against higher education, questioning the value of higher education, private education and liberal arts, especially you know to have a really significant number of candidates who are seeking a presidency at this point -- a leadership role -- in that milieu, is really impressive.

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:11:15] We reached out very broadly to the to the whole Reed community and a lot of people have responded. We also hired a search firm that we felt had a lot of background and knowledge in this area and knowledge of particular individuals and leadership in higher education. Our concept was to develop a very large pool in that way. We also addressed some of the inclusiveness issues by making sure the pool, as you know, is very wide. I think we've been successful doing that and as we've narrowed that pool down. We've identified some very promising candidates.

DYLAN RIVERA [00:11:50]
In that process, we conducted some forums on campus where we heard directly from alumni and faculty, students and staff and we asked them and encouraged them to nominate people they thought would be good candidates. Some really impressive names came directly from the faculty and alumni and and other community members at Reed, in addition to the really great candidates that the search firm had to offer us.

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:12:27] And some of the candidates, they may not have been interested, but they may have been mined for other ideas of prospective candidates.

MARY JAMES [00:12:36] The other piece of that was, we thought again about our criteria and to have the broadest possible pool. What kinds of less conventional routes to a presidency would work to map to the set of skills that we need it? So kind of a traditional thing was to be a provost somewhere. That's kind of that's using a job title as a proxy for a set of skills that you want. So we were trying to think what other what other areas of professional endeavor might give someone a very similar set of leadership skills. So we were very intentional about thinking about less conventional routes that might lead someone. And if you look around the country there are certainly some very successful presidents who took less conventional routes to the presidency.

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:13:23] If you look to the qualifications section of the position statement, it very much reflects that. Granted, it doesn't say two years experience as a provost, or years of leadership in higher education. Instead, it looks to the underlying skills that we might expect that somebody would develop with that kind of experience. And so that allows for other ways for people to show those particular qualities.

KEVIN MYERS [00:13:54] That's right and I know again we're bound by confidentiality so you can't say much but it must be a really large pool because I haven't been called for my interview yet.

I imagine the job of president of Reid as maybe being more complex than some other jobs. Am I correct about that? And, has that posed any problems in finding the people with with all the skills that we need?

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:14:22] It has been described as when you take a look at everything that we're looking for in a person, you know, the only thing that seems to be missing are the umbrella for, it is something like “walks on water” on a good day. And we do expect all of those things from a president. Which, to me, says a couple of things. One of the things that it says, is that any person that's selected to be president cannot be expected to meet all of those qualifications and to come capable of doing everything that we expect. The second thing that it says is, in order for a president to be successful, they really must have a supportive community and together, I think with our new president, we're successful or we're not. And it's very clear if the president is successful Reed is successful. What's less clear is what our obligation is, what we can do to make the president successful.

DYLAN RIVERA [00:15:26] I'm hoping the community can can continue that conversation and looking towards the transition maybe that's when some of that happens is how can we as a community help the next president be successful and maybe even in the time before we have a president named, we can start that conversation among community members.

If you're if you're an alum and you know don't live in Portland, maybe you live somewhere in another time zone. What can you do to help a president be successful? There can be a variety of things, some things that would be helpful for the college, such as engaging with students, knowing of internships, and keeping up with campus affairs. And then more direct things such as, if you have contact with the president, to share stories about your time as a student and your time as an alum that help the new president understand what makes Reed Reed and what makes our community unique.

MARY JAMES [00:16:32] We started that conversation last spring during the board of trustees meeting. We had a forum where trustees, students, administrators and faculty all participated in. And basically, the question of the forum was, What can you do in your role to be a partner with the new president? So we really wanted to establish this narrative that the president is in partnership with the other constituencies in making Reed successful and in making our students have a great experience here. I think we very much want to keep that narrative alive through the next stages of the search, through the interview process, through announcing to the broader community our next president and then really engaging the different constituencies in its narrative that this is a partnership. The president's job is not that 4000 individuals have have a checklist of 20 items and they're going to check them off as the president disappoints them. That's not a very workable model.

DYLAN RIVERA [00:17:32] The president is not some sort of messiah here to fix us or to lead us to some vision or something like that. But, to really collaborate with the community and to help us identify our shared vision and to help implement that. We're all in this together.

KEVIN MYERS [00:17:53] If you could get across one thing to the folks that are listening–they're rooting for you guys to find that impossibly perfect candidate. What would you what would you say to impress them that the search is going well?

ALEX MARTINEZ [00:18:11] For me, I go back to what we were just talking about, which is we will do our very best and we have a lot of people to pick from and and we'll make choices. And, at some point, we'll be very happy to present a new president to the community. What I ask from the community is to respond to that in a positive way and to get behind this person and to try to help make this person successful.

DYLAN RIVERA [00:18:43] The community should really understand that we are of the community. I mean we are alumni where students were faculty and staff and we all. Come back to something some of the alumni said at the forum last June which was you know the what's unique and special about Reed the umami of Reed someone a friend of mine said you know that like got to preserve that. And so as an alum, you know, we are very fond of the Reed that we once knew. And I've been reassured through this process that much of that is still very much alive and well. The qualities that I really enjoyed and learned from at Reed are in many ways even better than when I was a student. And it takes some. It's not always easy to sort of admit that. And I think we, as alumni need to also understand that it can be even better and still preserve what is special about the place.

KEVIN MYERS [00:19:45] That's great. Thank you, Dylan.

MARY JAMES [00:19:48] And I would say, going back to that comment that there's no human being on the planet who are going to match everything on our wishlist of a candidate. But what I've really noticed about the candidates that resonated most with the search committee, is the they are voracious learners. And so, they're going to bring that quality with them. So, if each of us in our capacities is–here I am working with this voracious learner who has a certain level of skill in the things in which I have the most skill or the most insight and I'm ready to share with this person in a really productive way. I think that that is what we're going to need for the person to really enjoy the job. It's one thing to take a job. It's another thing to real to enjoy it because when you enjoy it, then you can embrace it wholeheartedly, put your whole self into it. So, I think that's our next task.

KEVIN MYERS [00:20:39] That's great. Thank you, Mary. Well, I want to thank all of you for everything that you've done for the committee, for the college and for your time here today. Thanks so much.