Jid Zeitlin

Update from Jide J. Zeitlin ’85, Chair of the Presidential Search Committee and of the Board of Trustees

February 2, 2011

With the New Year behind us—and the Chinese New Year upon us—I write with an update on the Amherst presidential search, which is progressing well and on schedule. I want to begin by thanking so many of you who, over the past three months, have met with or written to the search committee to share your views on the challenges Amherst and our new president are likely to face over the next decade; and on the characteristics you believe a president will require to face these challenges and ably lead our institution. We spent the fall and early-winter of 2010 listening to you and working to understand the key trends and issues articulated across myriad conversations and letters. It has been a fascinating process. Thank you.

During the first month of 2011, we integrated what we heard and applied a level of judgment as a search committee, developing a written articulation of what Amherst is today, the challenges it faces and the characteristics it seeks in a new president. This “definition” document was recently reviewed with the Board of Trustees and is now being readied to share with prospective candidates and with you.  We will let you know when we post the document to the College’s website. Amherst faces genuine challenges—for example in our finances, governance, curricular development and in replenishing an amazing faculty—however, I believe you will continue to be proud to be a part of the institution and the community you collectively described to the search committee.

We now move from defining what we seek, to a “discovery” phase in the process, where we review the increasingly deep pool of candidates that our search consultants, Isaacson Miller, have been developing based on their relationships and insights and many of your recommendations. We intend to begin holding meetings with candidates later in February. The process of meeting new candidates and narrowing the pool, will continue into the spring and early summer, perhaps beyond. It is hard, if not impossible, to fully anticipate a timeline for a process that deals with a diversity of highly talented and accomplished individuals at institutions across the country and throughout the world.

An important part of ensuring a successful search process is that of respecting candidate confidentiality. This fundamental reality limits our committee’s ability to update you as frequently or completely as would otherwise be our inclination. Mindful of this significant constraint, we will take opportunities to provide as much insight into our process and who we are as a committee. Periodically, I will ask a member of the committee to share his or her perspective on some aspect of our work. These “dispatches from the front” will be posted on the College’s website. In fact, I would draw your attention to our first dispatch, one from Kevin Conway ’80 who, through his professional work, brings a wealth of experience in senior-level searches to his role as an of counsel member of the search committee. Kevin discusses what he sees as the key issues in a search process such as ours.

In addition to periodic dispatches, we will host an on-line townhall at a date to be confirmed, likely in March. This should provide an opportunity for you to raise non-candidate specific questions of members of the search committee.  

Amherst’s Dean of Admission, Tom Parker, recently presented data for the Class of 2015 to the trustees. This included final data for the early admit segment of the class and high level statistics for the general application pool, who are being selected over the next several months. It is clear that, yet again, next year’s first year class will be breathtakingly accomplished. The academic credentials of every major cohort continue a decade long trend of getting stronger from one year to the next and almost certainly maintaining our position as the most selective liberal arts college in the country. Likewise, with a remarkable breadth of applicants, we are maintaining the diversity that, along with our curriculum, faculty, alumni and staff, has come to define Amherst.

With best wishes for 2011,

Jide J. Zeitlin ’85

Chair, Board of Trustees and Chair, Presidential Search Committee