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Student representation in the presidential selection process

By Cait Bennett September 29, 2021

President Shirley Ann Jackson announced her retirement after 20 years on June 25. This announcement put into effect the presidential search process, an undertaking which will affect all of campus. Because the presidency affects every student, it is important to be informed about the core areas of student representation throughout the process. The presidential selection process is divided into three phases: preparation and recruitment, the initial interviews, and the final interview and recommendation.

Preparation and Recruitment

First, the external executive search firm, WittKieffer, prepares a Presidential Profile. The profile outlines the current state of the Institute, key areas for advancement, and both professional and personal qualities desired in potential candidates. To develop this profile, WittKieffer engages in listening sessions with each constituency (students, staff, faculty, etc.). From there, the position is advertised and nominations are accepted from the Rensselaer community.

Initial Interviews

Once there is a large pool of candidates for the presidency, the candidates’ resumes are explored and discussed amongst members of the presidential search committee. From there, candidates are interviewed by the committee in multiple rounds.

Final interview and recommendation

The final candidates enter phase three with a final on-campus interview. This part of the process is designed not just to see if the candidate is a good fit for RPI, but also if RPI is a good fit for the candidate. This is achieved through the candidate’s direct engagement with the campus community. Following these final interviews, the presidential search committee will confer with relevant constituencies and make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees. The choice of new president is expected to be announced at the end of December.

Student Representation

Over the summer, I spent many hours working with Vice President for Human Resources Curtis Powell to expand and organize areas for student representation. Phase one included a student listening session with a handful of students selected by the grand marshal. These students represented each class year, each school, and a variety of clubs and interest groups including RBLX, CASA, Student Assistants, SWE, and more.

The group sat down with representatives from WittKieffer and provided insight into RPI student culture and what type of leader they’re looking for. One student so wisely said, “we need a mad scientist geek to lead a school of mad scientist geeks.” We didn’t stray away from the hard questions either; topics like communication flaws and administrative overreach were discussed as key areas for improvement.

Another opportunity for student representation in this process are the student interviews during phase three. A group of students selected by the grand marshal will be given the opportunity to interview the final candidates and make a recommendation to the presidential selection committee from the student perspective. More information about how to get involved in this process will be released in October.

A Time of Change

The retirement of a high-level leader sets into action fundamental changes in any organization. Already, multiple members of President Jackson’s cabinet are following her into retirement or new chapters of their professional lives. A new leader brings opportunities for institutional advancement, but also for reflection and retrospection.

As always, if you have questions about this process or anything else, feel free to reach out at