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Choosing Our Next President?

A well-connected alumnus writes in:

Based on conversations with faculty, I think that what is holding them back from calls for Hanlon to be replaced is the concern that his replacement would be no better, and very possibly worse. The horrible Yale President Salovey was said to have been in the running for the Dartmouth job that went to Hanlon. [JA Note: Salovey was offered the top job at Dartmouth; he used our offer to pressure Yale into making him the University’s President.]

The management recruitment process is broken; the Trustees use an established firm [Isaacson, Miller] which yields up credentialed mediocrities whom the Trustees can’t be bothered to second guess.

Why they can’t just pick a known winner, like the head of Tuck or the Engineering School, is a mystery. Maybe they feel they can’t be blamed if things don’t work out if they used a name recruitment firm. Sad!

There’s an old cowboy saying: “If you do what ya’ always done, you’ll get what ya’ always got.” One would think that our Trustees would have learned their lesson by now. We’ve had a string of weak Presidents over the past two decades, and our ranking, reputation and fundraising continue to suffer.

Jim Wright was such a lackluster President that many people in Hanover vowed to never choose an internal candidate again. Jim Kim seemed a glossy antidote to plodding Wright; we soon learned that Kim was all flash and no substance. And Hanlon? No flash — and no substance either. Sheesh.

And the grad school deans? Thayer Dean Joe Helble is driving Thayer forward. He has vision and smarts. Dean Matt Slaughter at high-flying Tuck is the whole package, too, and he has the added advantage of having taught in the undergrad Econ department for eight years before moving down the hill. Geisel Dean Duane Compton has been in town for only four months, so he is something of a cipher right now, and besides, the med school is a mess in desperate need of sorting out. Both Helble and Slaughter would be a marked improvement on Phil, that’s for sure.

Addendum: If Brandeis can do it, so can we:

Brandeis Lawrence Comp1.jpg

For all the controversies Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence endured over the past few months, the failures that ultimately doomed his tenure were more fundamental, insiders say: His fundraising just wasn’t good enough and his administrative track record was wanting.

Last Friday, Lawrence announced that this would be his last semester at the Jewish-sponsored, nonsectarian university in Waltham, Mass., outside of Boston.

“After careful consideration, and in close consultation with the Board of Trustees, I have decided to step down as President at the end of this, my fifth academic year,” Lawrence wrote in his announcement. “For the time being, I am looking forward to returning to full-time scholarship and teaching as a senior research scholar at Yale Law School.”

Although Lawrence was popular with many students and helped stabilize Brandeis’ finances in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the austerity measures he imposed (even as his own compensation rose) made him unpopular among faculty members. All the while, his fundraising failed to measure up to his longtime predecessor, Jehuda Reinharz; he was seen as having made several administrative missteps and he stumbled through numerous controversies over the past year.

Perhaps some of our Board members should go to Waltham to see how to remove a President who is not getting the job done.

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