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Say It Ain’t Cep, Jim!

The Valley News had an off-line piece last weekend on the search for the College’s new Athletics Director. Front and center in the race is Acting AD, Bob Ceplikas ‘78. Ugh. Let’s hope that President Kim aims higher than good ‘ol Bob.

At least a real search is going on — unlike the faux process that recently led to the appointment of Carol Folt as Provost. That search committee, which arrived at its result after only a few weeks, did not even use a headhunter in filling the upgraded Provost’s position. And after President Kim’s pre-emptive public endorsement of Folt, and given the composition of the committee itself, everyone in Hanover understood that the search was just a sham.

At least the AD search committee is taking its work seriously. An AD won’t be named until the fall, and a good-quality headhunter has been engaged. But that effort will only get us so far; ultimately, the AD will be chosen from the committee’s short list by President Kim, whose experience in this type of selection is minimal. In all likelihood Cep’s name will be on that list, if only as a courtesy to this veteran staffer who has been at the College for 31 years. Will Kim pick Bob?

He will, if Kim continues to follow the cautious personnel practices that have characterized his administration to date. Rather than bringing in shining stars from the outside, people with successful track records who can revive our stagnating institution, Kim has contented himself with giving added responsibilities to Wright-era holdovers like Folt, Alumni Relations VP David Spalding, and Development Director Carrie Pelzel — imagination-free, bureaucratic connivers all.

The President seems to think that he himself can generate the necessary ideas to guide these über-loyal foot soldiers. However, while that kind of reasoning typically animates élite technocrats who have a higher opinion of themselves than their subordinates, it won’t pass muster with anyone familiar with modern thinking about management — or anyone who has been a successful manager. Dartmouth will only see progress when senior administrators are put in place who are self-confidently open to the natural upward flow of ideas from the people working below them. We did not have that under Jim Wright; we don’t have it now.

Anyway, back to Cep. He is a good guy, much respected in the local youth sports community for his commitment to young athletes. He is personable, likeable even, but in the final analysis he is a teddy bear who has been cloistered in Hanover for far too long. He is not what our ailing athletic program needs. Now don’t get me wrong: this is not a personal attack on Ceplikas. It’s just that he is not qualified temperamentally and experientially to be a forceful AD, in the same way that he is not qualified to design microprocessors nor do open-heart surgery. Neither am I. We all have strengths and weaknesses; there is no shame in admitting it.

Does President Kim understand the College’s aching need for a top-of-the-line AD? We can only hope so. But perhaps Jim Kim has other priorities? With Cep as our AD, Kim is sure to avoid controversy — but the College won’t improve. If Kim does choose Bob Ceplikas as our AD this fall, it is a clear sign that the administration will continue to drift along quietly for a few years before President Kim hops upwards to a prestigious appointment in Washington or a senior post in the international health care bureaucracy.


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