Categorized | Viewpoints

The College should look within as it searches for next president

Ben Taylor

As I’m sure all of you already know, President Cornwell sent out an email announcing his intention to leave The College of Wooster. I wish the President and Mrs. Cornwell all the best in their future endeavors and thank them for the time that they have spent at the College.

Now, there certainly are many opinions as to who the next president ought to be, and for whatever it is worth, I would like to throw my two cents into the mix. To do so, I will first discuss what I think the most important qualities of a president are and then suggest the types of persons I think could fill the categories I’m going to suggest.

First, (and most obviously) the next president ought to have experience working in administration at a college or university, whether as a dean, a vice-president or as a president. Furthermore, this position should be at a liberal arts institution roughly similar to Wooster. All of this goes (almost) without saying.

Second, I think that the next president ought to be someone who has (at some point in time) also acted as a professor. From what I can tell from online with respect to other institutions, this is fairly standard. As such, I will not defend it further.

Third, and contestably, I think that the next president ought to be someone who already knows the recent culture of The College of Wooster. In other words, I think that the next president of our college should either be someone currently employed at the College, someone who has recently been employed at the College or someone who has graduated from the College and has kept in good contact with the College since departing.

Why do I think this? Largely because I fear the possibilities embodied in the unknown of bringing in someone from outside Wooster. What’s to say that the priorities of someone serving as a vice-president from California or Florida or New York will match those of the student body — ever-changing as it is, though always influenced and in part constituted by the body preceding it — faculty and staff in Wooster, Ohio? There is no guarantee, and the last thing that any organization needs, ours included, is for someone to misapprehend the nature of the College instead of patiently learning it upon arrival.

This holds even if potential candidates are abstractly aligned with the College’s aims. For example, students on our campus seem on the whole to be very concerned with issues of equality and fairness, both in the world and on campus. As students, though, would we rather have a president who aligns ideologically with the principles students endorse but then tries to cram Wooster’s identity into a certain understanding of those principles, or would we prefer someone who understands the way in which students are concerned with those issues of fairness and equality and who understands how concern for those issues shapes students’ experience at Wooster?

I, for one, would prefer the latter: someone who understands the idiosyncrasies that make the Wooster campus that it is, not someone who is ideologically aligned with the aims of the College but has no grasp on how those principles ought to be applied in the historical context that is The College of Wooster.

As with all things for me, better the devil (or angel) we know than the devil we don’t.

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