The Search for a New President
A student member of the committee looks back
University communications intern Kristen Bednar ’09 reflects on what it was like to be one of two students on the committee that chose Bill Fox ’75 to be St. Lawrence’s next president. She will begin pursuing her MBA at the University of Rochester’s Simon Graduate School of Business in the fall.
It’s not every day that an undergraduate walks into a room of deans, CEOs, business owners, principals, parents, editors and financial masterminds. But as a student member of the Presidential Search Committee last year, I had that exact opportunity; it would be an understatement to say I was humbled.
As our first meeting unfolded I was quickly warmed by the passion and commitment of this committee. It became apparent that these people were interested in who I was and what I thought, and that they had an undying love for St. Lawrence and its mission. It is a true testimony to the character of St. Lawrence that the Board of Trustees approved two student representatives to the committee, Thelomathesian Society President John Pontius ’10 and me; listened to our opinions; and solicited contributions from students that helped the committee understand what St. Lawrence needed in
Our early meetings turned into many as spring turned to summer and on into fall, and our process moved from reading applications to interviewing candidates to narrowing the pool. As our search progressed, I quickly found that I was no longer just a student, but had become a member of a team.
As we discussed what SLU needed to grow, and what we wanted in a president to lead that growth, I realized how little I knew about the president’s role in the functioning of a university. I learned that not only do presidents oversee the university’s bricks and mortar, heating and eating, and playing and teaching; they are also responsible for the health of the University financially, socially, politically and educationally. As far as I was concerned, we were looking for a superhero.
As a senior applying to MBA programs (at the suggestion of a committee member), it was eye-opening to sit on the other side of the interview table. In gauging candidates’ responses to our questions and answering the ones candidates asked me– about student life, opinions and interest in political issues, Greek life on campus and a litany of other matters – I found that the interviews were just as exciting and nerve-wracking for me as they were for the candidates. I had to be a salesperson for the University. How I presented myself, directed my questions, answered theirs and generally understood the educational environment around me would be an important representation of St. Lawrence.
In order to ensure that we had the best candidates, including sitting presidents like Bill Fox, our committee used a confidential process that required the Laurentian community to put their trust in us. It was a challenge to try to reassure everyone of our commitment to the process, its outcome and each other when I could tell them very little about it. Being a diplomat is not easy!
My experience on the committee gave me valuable skills that supplemented my graduate school essays and interviews. Serving on a committee of passionate, sharp and talented adults helped me build confidence as I learned to express my opinion and negotiate tough decisions. In reading applications from and interviewing countless candidates, I also learned that effective placement is all about fit: the right skills, the right approach, the right time, the right place. I asked myself the same questions as I decided among graduate schools.
In one of our final meetings as a committee, a few of the members thanked me for the work that I had done and the viewpoints I had brought to the process. It was then that it occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t the only one who had learned a lot through this process; maybe I had taught them something too.