Announcement of new presidential search evokes reactions of excitement and caution throughout the campus community

By Victoria Gill-Gomez

News Editor

Washington College has launched another presidential search after a Jan. 27 email from the Board of Visitors and Governors Chair Stephen Golding ’72 announced the College’s readiness to find a permanent replacement for Interim-President of the College Dr. Wayne Powell.

According to Golding’s email, the goal is to have the next president in place by the start of the 2021-2022 academic year.

“[The Board of Visitors and Governors agrees] that an effective transition to a long-term investment strategy in WC’s future requires a commitment to stable presidential leadership,” Golding said in his email.

Dr. Powell has been with the College since August.

According to a Feb. 5 email from Dr. Powell in response to Golding’s, his interim position functioned as the opportunity to “help get things in the best possible place so that WC can attract the best and brightest candidates; and then, to get out of the way.”

Golding’s email said the launch of this search process was Dr. Powell’s decision, based on his views of where the College is and what he views as the benefits of moving forward now rather than waiting.

“That has always been the case. From day one I always said, ‘don’t forget that an interim comes in and then leaves,’ which gives me advantages and disadvantages, because it means if I have ideas and things to do, I will not be impacted by them. And so, it means why people should look very carefully at those, because of that. But it also means I don’t have an invested personal interest,” Dr. Powell said in a later interview. “So any ideas or suggestions I have, it means I’m saying it because I believe it’s true. I have absolutely nothing to gain from this. I’m not here for the money, it won’t go on my resume…In that sense, all opinions and thoughts are totally pure. It doesn’t mean they’re correct, but there is no ulterior motive.”

These “things” that Dr. Powell referred to are surrounding the financial, academic, and social tensions that have come to the forefront of WC life in the last few semesters. 

According to Dr. Powell, much of this tension was increased by the instability of permanent senior administration.

Student Government President and senior Elizabeth Lilly said that, similarly to her peers, students were “confused on the rationale of such a quick departure,” but she sees this as getting closer to sustained consistency in WC administration.

Dr. Powell said there is always turmoil in a presidential search because of the uncertainty of the future. He feels that it is worse to prolong the sense of turmoil that previous presidents have done by staying in office for short periods of time.

According to Golding, while the recruitment of WC’s president is the most important work for the Board to conduct, it cannot be accomplished without the commitment of the entire student body.

The search committee will be almost identical to the one that oversaw Dr. Powell’s application last summer: three faculty members and now two student representatives.

The application for student representatives was sent out via email from the Student Government Association on Feb. 4. The deadline extended to Tuesday, Feb. 9 at midnight in order to broaden the application pool, according to Lilly, and to ensure that as many opportunities have been offered as possible for a variety of students to be involved in this process.

“We’re hoping to broaden the application pool. We realized that we could offer more time before we had to meet to make our decision and want to be sure that we have offered as many opportunities as possible for others to be involved in this process,” Lilly said.

The applications for student representatives will be reviewed by the Student Government Association Executive Board. The Executive Board members are not allowed to apply, but they are allowed to nominate their peers, which many of them — excluding Lilly — have done. The nomination process is a way for the SGA to hear more from the College community.

According to Lilly, on top of the “small improvement” of incorporating more than just one student representative, the students will also be more involved throughout the process.

“I’m hopeful that student involvement earlier in the process will help grant more weight to our voices and priorities,” Lilly said.

Lilly, who served on the previous search committee which selected Dr. Powell, said that she is looking forward to an “increased and more diverse representation” the two open positions provide the student body. This will be an opportunity for students outside of student governance to communicate with decision makers of the College as the SGA Executives already have this collaborative relationship with the Board.

Accepted applications were notified prior to last Friday, Feb. 12.

According to Lilly, pending their acceptance, the SGA Executive Board will submit the two names to Golding. The student body will be notified shortly thereafter.

In addition, there will be up to three faculty representatives. It is unknown at this time who those faculty members will be.

The search will be a longer and more in-depth process than the one that took place last summer. 

“There should be a real energy and excitement about this. What an interim president provides…it provides essentially a window of time in which to launch a search for the full president…” Chief of Staff Victor Sensenig said. According to him, the excitement surrounds the opportunity to build from the ground up with a lot of time to do it in comparison to the summer search.

Dr. Powell will not be involved in this presidential search. Once finalists are decided, he will serve as an ambassador to leverage the strength that WC has to offer instead of focusing on the negatives.

“Yes, there are [also] challenges, but in my estimation, the opportunity here far outweighs them. If this were 20 years ago, I would jump at the chance to lead this institution into the next decade and beyond. And that is precisely what I will share with candidates as I meet with them,” Dr. Powell said.

Even though Dr. Powell has the remainder of the spring semester left of his presidency, the last few months have shown the beginning of long-term initiatives and program changes that combat the College’s financial struggle and racial history.

“I think a lot of what we’re looking for during this search process mimics what we were looking for during the interim search process, but we can take things a step further,” Lilly said. “I am cautiously optimistic…We can be more diligent and hold each other, other WC community members, and potential candidates accountable to high standards.”

Featured Photo caption: Interim President of Washington College Dr. Wayne Powell will depart from his position by the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year. His short tenure has already overseen the launch of long-term programs like The Asterisk Initiative and “fireside chats” with faculty and staff to ensure transparency. Photo Courtesy of Washington College.

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