By Kylie Stamper
As the spring semester began, a search committee was formed to assist with the task of finding a new president before the fall semester begins.
By the first week of May finalists will visit campus. Fall 2015 will be one of change. It will be a new stage of life for Southwestern.
On Dec. 17, 2014, Dick Merriman, president, announced that he will leave Winfield in May to take on presidential duties at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio. At 17 years, Merriman has served the second longest term as a Southwestern College president, following C. Orville Strohl who was president for 18 years, beginning in 1954.
Five members of the board of trustees, two college administrators, two faculty members and two students (one on-campus student and one professional studies student) make up the search committee.
The committee decided to utilize a search consultant. Tom Courtice, AGB Search senior consultant, is leading the search for the new president. Courtice was on campus on Jan. 21 and 22, meeting with students and faculty and communicating with the search committee to figure out what SC is looking for in the next president.
Mike Lewis, chairperson of the board of trustees, is leading the search committee. He said, “When we hired Dr. Merriman we did it on our own. That was a pretty painful and stressful process and we got really lucky. We knew that we needed to get the best candidate and [this time] we had the resources to get people that could help us find the right person for this job.”
After getting feedback from the campus, the next step will be filing through resumes and making decisions. Three final candidates will be invited to visit campus before the committee makes the final decision. The goal is to have candidates on campus in late April or early May, during the last week of classes or finals week.
“When the finalists come to campus, one thing that’s important is to have them come to campus while students are still here,” Lewis said, “Then students will have the opportunity to interact, ask questions, and the chance to meet the three final candidates.”
Cheryl Rude, associate professor of Leadership studies and director of Leadership Southwestern, is one the two faculty members on committee. She is the chair of the social science division and has taken part in numerous search committees for faculty members but she says this search will be different.
“All the elements are the same but the extent at which things are going to be happening related to the whole process will be more intense. It’s a similar process. You decide what kind of job you want. You put it out there. You get resumes. You get references, all those things will be the same,” she said.
The biggest difference for her will be the fact the she is used to working with three or four people on a committee, rather than 11. “That will make it very different because 10 people talking about it will be a different discussion than three people,” she said.
Brenna Truhe, English junior, was one of the students who participated in the initial meeting that took place the morning of Jan. 22. Courtice met with representatives from STUFU, SGA, and residence life staff, along with SC staff and faculty. “He asked what we thought [Merriman] did well and what he could improve on and kind of what we were looking for in a president. It’s a big change for us. It’s been 17 years since we’ve done anything like this,” she said.
A strategic thinker with good management skills, visions for growth and dedication to education were among the qualities sought for in a new president. The committee is also looking for someone who is good at personal relationships with the campus.
Truhe said, “We think it’s important that [the next president] interacts with the students and that he or she realizes that we are an athletic/activity based school and without those things, we’re not Southwestern. And also that we care a lot about our education and we want to get the top notch education that a private school can offer.”
Truhe says a big qualifying factor she wants to see is the president having a presence on campus. She wants to see the next president being a crucial part of the Builder family. “I think it’s important to have a president that interacts with the students, who eats in the caf, who will walk around during Family Day, who walks around during the time between classes, who comes to all the basketball games. It shouldn’t be a big deal when the president is there. It should be a big deal when the president’s not there,” she said, “The students are the ones who make up the college so if a president isn’t willing to interact with the students, then I think that would be someone we wouldn’t be interested in.”
Lewis said, “It’s an exciting time for Southwestern. Dr. Merriman has provided tremendous leadership over the last 17 years and we’re anxious and excited about the next steps and trying to work hard to represent Southwestern—all of Southwestern, the alumni, students, faculty, staff, trustees—and to find the right person to be the next president of Southwestern.”
To see Dalton Carver’s story and video interview with President Merriman about his resignation, click here.
Kylie Stamper is a sophomore majoring in communication. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org