Since Castleton University President Dave Wolk announced March 8 he will depart in December after 16 years, there has been much speculation about who might fill the position.
Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of Vermont State Colleges, and members of the board of trustees held a community forum Tuesday at on campus to get feedback from the Castleton community on the process of choosing Wolk’s successor.
Before opening the floor to questions or concerns, Spaulding addressed rumors that the board had already made a decision.
“One of the emails I got said ‘It’s my understanding that you’ve already made up your mind and you’re doing no search’ and I just want to state for the record, at the beginning, that is absolutely not the case,” Spaulding said. “No decision has been made. The board of trustees has not engaged in any conversation about the best path forward.”
Topics of discussion included whether the VSC board should do an internal or external search, if the candidate should have attained the highest degree in his or her field, and how much involvement the community will have in the decision.
Nearly everyone who spoke asked the board to conduct a national search rather than choose an internal candidate.
“There is no evidence that person is the best person for the job, unless that person is compared to other people,” professor Flo Keyes said of internal candidates.
Andre Fleche, chairman of the CU Faculty Chairpersons Committee, recommended a formal and national search.
“We did not come to that decision lightly,” he said. “We appreciate the unprecedented growth that our university has experienced in the last 16 years, and we all want that to continue. A formal search process will lead to the best interests of the new president, as well as the Castleton community.”
Fleche went on to say a national search could identify talented and diverse candidates, as well as raise CU’s profile. While in favor of a national search, the committee is not opposed to an internal candidate.
“We hope they (internal candidates) apply, but we hope whoever ultimately is selected will be a stronger candidate for having undergone the search,” he added.
Glenn Giles, of the music department, said the search process can only help the university as a whole.
“The process of going through the search, and bringing people here, and filling out questionnaires is a wonderful educational opportunity,” Giles said.
Spaulding said if a search takes place, a selection committee will comprise faculty, staff, students and alumni.
This committee would make recommendations to the board of trustees, and three or four finalists will be brought to campus for in person, multi-day interviews with various groups, but ultimately the board will make the decision.
Sociology professor Linda Olsen passionately voiced her desire to find a president focused on liberal arts, rather than someone who sees the university as a business.
“I’m a little concerned about the idea of a CEO and the corporatization of the university,” she said to applause. “We already have a layer of administration which is pretty dense here at Castleton. I would prefer to see us hire someone who is an academic. Someone who respects faculty governance. Someone who is transparent in their process.”
Attendees were mostly faculty and staff, although a few alumni and students were present.
Freshman Wes Thompson was surprised that more students were not present, since the decision will affect students greatly.
“Like not narrowing it down to them having to have a terminal degree, I think it would be foolish for us to narrow it down to them having to be from Castleton,” he said. “So for that reason I’d say a national search would be best. If they have a Ph.D, that’s better, but not critical, and if they’re from Castleton, fantastic, but it shouldn’t be a determining factor.”
Merle Bronson, assistant registrar, has worked at Castleton under four presidents and spoke on behalf of the staff.
“Castleton has always been a family, and in order to find the best president, we need to find someone who can deal with all of us as a family member,” Bronson said.