Last week, the Presidential Search Committee (PSC) invited the entirety of the Wellesley community to share its thoughts, from qualities and characteristics required to challenges that need to be addressed. Though the office of a college president is distinguished across campuses, the 14th president of Wellesley will have a deeply unique role as the face and leader of one of the few, yet nationally acclaimed, women’s colleges. Wellesley, in its diversity and unusual culture, is full of history and tradition that is challenged daily by the actively involved students and alumnae. We, as the editorial staff of the news, hope to address some of the major challenges our next president will face, assess the characteristics she will need, and of course, provide some suggestions to tackling the roadblocks ahead.
Perhaps the most important qualities our president can have are the ones Wellesley finds in its students: academic excellence, global engagement, and honorable existence. Lulu Chow Wang ‘66 once described the “quintessential Wellesley Woman” during a 2014 on-campus lecture as having “an incredible curiosity to experience the world and to do something good.” Our president must have a passion for Wellesley; she must be dedicated to a life of learning. She must also be dedicated to campus concerns and to collaborative efforts with students.
As Wellesley selects its students for their “outstanding ability and diversity of background and interest,” the PSC must select a president who is distinguished academically, responsive to the changing campus, and came from a diverse background. While being White does not preclude an ability to sympathize with multicultural issues, we would like to see diversity among the lineage of Wellesley presidents, albeit in race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background or religion. We have so far referred to our President as a “she,” not because a man would be incompetent for the role, but because a woman would be better fit. That said, it would be revolutionary but highly unlikely as well to have a president so beyond gender as to have forgone female pronouns.
Our 14th president must also be interactive; she must go beyond attending campus events to proactively engaging with students. Take Diana Chapman Walsh or Anthony Monaco, the President of Tufts, for example. Monaco appears almost daily within Snapstories, Facebook posts and selfies. While we do not ask our future president to overstep her comfort with social media, we do hope that she will engage with the Wellesley community with enthusiasm and creativity. Perhaps, she may eat with us in the dining halls or spend a night in the dorms. Many have argued the greatest learning happens outside the college classroom and within campus life; this learning environment is not exclusive to traditional college-aged students. We hope that our future president will take initiative not only in promoting our rigorous liberal arts education, but also in understanding what is like to live to as a Wellesley student. Such actions create comfort between students and administration, building trust, mutual understanding and communication.
Our previous presidents have made leaps and bounds in the development of our educational institutions. President H. Kim Bottomly formalized partnerships with Olin, Babson and Peking University and launched the Albright Institute. We hope that our next President will oversee the exponential growth of Wellesley with the development of online classes, increased stem support, improved Science Center facilities and the commitment to diversity. Our president must be results-oriented but also must be committed to the transparency and respect required by our honor code.
Undoubtedly, the search for the next Wellesley president is daunting and demanding. We have merely touched upon the qualities and attributes our president should exemplify. Yet, what remains above all is that our next president must love Wellesley for all that it is and be enthralled and committed to ensuring it becomes all that it can be. We do not demand perfection from our president, but we do ask for respect. While many of us leave the campus after four years, we do not leave Wellesley, considering the strength of our alumnae community. Wellesley is unlike any other place in the world; we have immeasurable faults accompanied by intangible successes. It is a home and it is a community, far from the business atmosphere through which degrees are printed and distributed after a checklist of requirements have been met. We, as an editorial staff, hope to have a president who understands this; we are not looking for a CEO for Wellesley. We are building more than an endowment; we are building a home for thousands of Wellesley students, a place in which they can grow and become leaders of tomorrow. The Wellesley president needs is a leader whom a Wellesley student can aspire to become.