Letter from Jide Zeitlin, chair of the Presidential Search Committee and of the Board of Trustees

October 25, 2010

To All Members of the Amherst College Community:

I am writing to give you some information on the approach that we as a community will take in our search for the 19th President of Amherst College, and to seek your active engagement in this process. 

Our goal is to make the most of this important moment in the life of the College. Amherst today is remarkably strong. It is as well positioned for the future as any institution in higher education. We are in the fortunate position of being able to attract and consider candidates who have the values, the vision, and the leadership skills necessary to ensure that the College continues to be consequential to the lives of its students and to all of you who are so committed to our selective and diverse community. 

Eight months from now, when Tony Marx steps down as Amherst’s 18th President, he will leave a College that is better placed than when he arrived eight years earlier. You can take the measure of this achievement by just about any indicator, ranging from the quality of the students, to the remarkable faculty, to the diversity of our community, to the commitment and excellence of the staff, to the engagement of the Amherst alumni.

Every segment of the Amherst student body is as competitive today as ever. Measured by almost any criterion, including high school class rank or number of applications, Amherst is among the most selective institutions in the land. At the same time, more than 50 percent of our incoming freshman class are either students of color or international students. Amherst is leading, not following, the trajectory of America's demographic evolution.

Amherst did not get to this place because of one man at one moment; however, we have all benefited tremendously from the alignment of Tony’s vision and energy with the commitment and exceptional talents of our distinctive community of teachers and scholars, students, alumni and staff, who have invested themselves in this place for many, many years.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I offer our deepest thanks to Tony for the way he has cared about Amherst and reinforced our values, and for how well he has led the College.

Tony's work will continue through the graduation of the Class of 2011; the search for the 19th President of the College will run in parallel.  In this context, I’d like to describe three initial developments related to the search process and to invite your participation.

First, we have assembled a Presidential Search Committee that comprises faculty, alumni, board members, staff, and students to advise the Trustees in this search. I will chair the committee, which includes Trustees Bill Ford ’83, John Middleton ’77, Cullen Murphy ’74, and Laura Yerkovich ‘80; alumni Joe Quinn ’69 and Ana Salas Siegel ’91; faculty members Steve George, John Servos, and Martha Umphrey; students Isaac Cameron ’11 and Samia Hesni ’11; and staff members Suzanne Coffey and Kate Wellspring. Chuck Longsworth ’51, Mary Pat McPherson, Andy Nussbaum ’85, and Diana Chapman Walsh will serve “of counsel,” advising us informally as the search progresses. Susan Pikor, in her capacity as Board Secretary, will act as coordinator of the committee. Ultimately, the final decision on a new President resides with the Board of Trustees.

Second, the Presidential Search Committee has engaged the services of the executive recruiting firm Isaacson, Miller to assist the committee and the Board in this search.  Isaacson, Miller, a nationally recognized firm with a principal focus on higher education, has worked on presidential searches for institutions such as Dartmouth, Williams, and the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently engaged in the presidential search at Tufts.

Third, the Presidential Search Committee held its first meeting at Amherst one week ago. At the meeting, we identified three basic elements of a successful search:

  • Definition: Collectively defining the institution, laying out the goals for the College’s 19th President, and creating a succinct document intended to inform, inspire, and draw the best candidates.
  • Discovery: Mobilizing the Amherst community to identify compelling candidates while at the same time using the search firm’s network of relationships to identify additional strong candidates and make appropriate points of contact.
  • Selection: As the process evolves, learning more and more about fewer and fewer people in order to match a complicated and remarkable person to a complicated and remarkable place.

As part of the “definition” aspect of the selection process, we seek your counsel. To that end, we are organizing multiple in-person and online venues where you can convey your thoughts. To help inform the work of the committee and the executive search firm, we welcome your comments, ideas, and observations on the blend of characteristics and values that would best define Amherst’s next president. Please write to us at pressearch@amherst.edu

In the coming weeks, as our work moves forward, we will be establishing a link, within the Amherst.edu website, where you can access information on the search process and confidentially share your perspectives and offer us your advice. 

Finally, once we have received input on what qualities, values, and skills we should be looking for in an ideal candidate, we will solicit nominations via the website for specific candidates. Please look out for communications from the Presidential Search Committee laying out the insights that have been received and soliciting nominations from the Amherst College community.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts, your interest, and your support as we undertake this crucial effort.

Sincerely,

Jide J. Zeitlin ’85

Chair, Board of Trustees and Chair, Presidential Search Committee