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Permanent President Folt: The Scenario

My initially positive impressions of the Presidential Search Committee were speedily corrected by several members of the faculty. As one senior professor put it, you can draw straight lines from almost every College member of the committee back to Dartblog’s bàªte noire Carol Folt.

But why would this matter, you ask, given that Folt has said that she won’t be applying for the position? Well, you don’t have to apply for a job in order to be offered it. Until we hear a Shermanesque declaration from Carol (“If nominated, I will not accept; if drafted, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.”), there lurks in the background the possibility that the Committee will conclude — after a punctilious review of all the candidates who have applied for the position, and much soul-searching reflection, of course — that none are as able and qualified for the Presidency as Interim-President Folt. Don’t bet that it won’t happen.

The composition of the Presidential Search Committee is characterized by the same Foltian doctrinaire diversity evident in the committee that recently picked the new Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding. As one of my faculty correspondents put it in that situation:

This appointment has to be seen as an institutional failure. A look at the search committee helps us to grasp how this choice occurred…. there is no one who actually studies the history, culture, religion, anthropology, or anything else of Africa, the Middle East, Central, South, Eastern or Southeast Asia… But an African-American, check; female, check; social sciences, two checks; humanities, one check; natural sciences, check; alum, check.

Swayne.jpgFolt’s fingerprints are clearer still in looking at the specific choices made to represent the various constituencies inside and outside the College. Take among many examples Associate Professor of Music Steve Swayne. While he does hit several diversity marks, does anyone believe that the combined members of the Humanities division would have chosen Swayne to represent them in selecting the College’s next President? Even more perplexing is the choice of Yale Associate Provost Emily Bakemeier ‘82, especially because there was no from-outside-of-the-College representative of the academy on the committee that chose Jim Kim.

Bakemeier ComboB.jpg

Bakemeier, a former Dartmouth soccer player, is one of Yale’s eleven Deputy/Associate Provosts. Her scholarly record is slight — she received her PhD from Princeton almost twenty years after graduating from the College — and her visibility in the Yale administration has been minimal. Why is she on the Search Committee?

But my concern with the choice of Bakemeier has less to do with her individual characteristics per se than with her background as it compares to other alumni in senior administrative positions outside the College. Was there no place on the Search Committee for Bill Kirby ‘72, former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard; Philip Hanlon ‘77, Provost of the University of Michigan; Etta Pisano ‘79, Dean of the College of Medicine and Vice President for Medical Affairs at the Medical University of South Carolina; Mike Gazzaniga ‘61, Director of the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind at UC Santa Barbara; or any number of other distinguished alumni in positions of the highest responsibility in the academy. The presence on the Committee of accomplished academic leaders, people who recognize talent when they see it, and who can argue confidently in support of their ideas, would have gone a long way to ensuring that we don’t end up with yet another weak President.

In short, our feckless Trustees continue to do Carol Folt’s bidding. They are just too far from the day-to-day life of the College to staff a strong search committee themselves. Even if Folt doesn’t wangle the top job out of the current search process, she might still hold onto the Provost’s position. In that unhappy event, her presence in the next President’s administration will tell us all we need know about our new leader’s eye for talent.

Addendum: An experienced insider adds an observation:

Recall that there is one other huge factor: So long as it is perceived that there is a strong potential internal candidate, then strong external candidates are unlikely to apply. And so long as there is a relative paucity of strong external candidates… consensus tends to turn to an internal candidate. Finally, because of the short time span since the last search (especially after the failed search that produced President Kim), there tends to be a stronger momentum for a continuity candidate (internal) rather than an external new person. Be afraid, be very afraid, of the Board coalescing around Folt….


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