Many thanks to Chemistry Professor (and secretary of the presidential search committee 5 years ago) Hodge Markgraf ’52 for taking the time to answer some of my questions about the search process. Hodge pointed out that the search was thorough and professional. It involved a serious examiniation of 150 candidates, many telephone and in-person interviews, and meetings with the finalists by the full board of trustees.
Hodge was also kind enough to supply copies of many of the updates that Ray Henze ’74 (chair of the board of trustees at the time) sent to the entire community. (The College, or even WSO, really ought to archive documents like this in some public space. Future historians will thank you!)
As an example, here is the final letter that Henze sent.
Alas, the record that Hodge has access to seems to be somewhat incomplete in that there are no updates from August 1999 through January 2000. (This is consistent with Record coverage of the period, so perhaps no updates were sent, although Henze’s letter from August does promise them.) I am especially interested in this period since I am curious about how many candidates made it through various stages of the process. In particular, how many had interviews with any of the members of the committee? How many were flown out to Williamstown? How many made the second to last round? How many made the last round (which involved meeting the entire board of trustees)? Anyone with knowledge of these (public, I think) questions should feel free to comment.
I am also interested in some non-public aspects of the process. In particular, how close was the final decision? From what I have heard, Morty was the consensus first choice, but there were some other candidates who various members of the search committee felt might have been better. Of course, it would be extremely surprising if this were not the case. Rarely is a search committee in full agreement. I am also curious about what happened to these other finalists, the ones who would have gotten the job if Morty had decided to stay in sunny California. How many of them went on to college presidencies elsewhere? I would suspect that some did but that most did not. College President is one of those jobs, like Congressman, for which there are many more highly qualified applicants than there are positions to fill.
Why does any of this matter? Defenders of (excessive) presidential pay have tried to make the case that the particular set of skills needed to serve as president of Williams are very rare and that, therefore, the College needs to pay the big bucks in order to entice someone who fits the bill. This just isn’t true. There may be reasons why Williams needs to pay its president over $400,000 per year, but a lack of strong candidates for the job is not one of them.
Critics might assert that the only reason that there were so many qualified applicants is because of the money that the College pays. I disagree with this, but getting more of the actual facts will serve to move forward the discussion. I know that you can hardly wait!
If you served on the committee, you can expect to hear from me in the coming months. There are many members of the Williams community who will be interested in what you have to say. Special thanks, once again, to Professors Sawicki and Markgraf for the help that they have already provided.
As always, I stand second to none in my praise of the excellent job that Morty has done as president of Williams. Kudo’s to Ray Henze, Hodge Markgraf, Jana Sawicki and the other members of the Search Committee for selecting him.