Anatomy of a presidential search committee

Community members bring Lynn Morton to Warren Wilson College

Lynn Morton and Bill Christy
Warren Wilson College’s eighth president, Lynn M. Morton, with Chairman of the Board of Trustees Bill Christy. Photo: Reggie Tidwell

When Steven L. Solnick announced his plans to lead a New York City independent school, Warren Wilson College’s board of trustees chairman Bill Christy started putting together a team. Consisting of two vice presidents, a professor, a student, an associate dean and seven board members, the presidential search committee worked alongside the search firm of Coleman Lew to locate and hire Warren Wilson College’s next leader.

According to Lach Zemp, the board member who chaired the committee, the select group worked well together.

“There was a level of understanding about the importance of our role,” Zemp said. “We trusted each other. We could be candid and open about candidates. I think everyone felt a level of trust and confidentiality, which allowed us all to speak openly with concerns about and hopes for potential presidents.”

More than 180 days after the search began, the committee members joined the College community to welcome Lynn Morton to campus.

“I am so thrilled with Lynn as our next president. In terms of looking at what the College needs as it moves into the future, I think Lynn offers that and more,” Zemp added.

Associate Dean for Community Engagement Brooke Millsaps talks about the presidential search committee at the May 3, 2017, announcement event. Photo: Matt Tennant '18
Associate Dean for Community Engagement Brooke Millsaps talks about the presidential search committee at the May 3, 2017, announcement event. Photo: Matthew Tennant ’18

Representing the staff on the committee was Brooke Millsaps, associate dean of community engagement.

“Being a member of the presidential search committee, and seeing the depth and quality of the candidate pool, was an inspiring reminder of the importance of Warren Wilson’s role in the national landscape of liberal arts colleges,” said Millsaps. “Our committee’s diversity and willingness to challenge one another helped us question our own bias’ and our continued emphasis on our desired qualities meant that we stayed focused on the needs of our institution and community.”

Between 70 and 90 people applied for the position, and the response goes back to the original planning.

“Thanks to the rich input from the Warren Wilson community—faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the College—we entered the process with a clear vision of the qualities that would be vital in the next president,” said Warren Wilson College board member Susan Pauly, retired president of Salem Academy and College who also served on the committee.

Warren Wilson College Trustee Lach Zemp, an attorney at Roberts & Stevens, P.A., Attorneys At Law, in Asheville, chaired the presidential search committee.
Warren Wilson College Trustee Lach Zemp, an attorney at Roberts & Stevens, P.A., Attorneys At Law, in Asheville, chaired the presidential search committee.

Pauly felt the committee brought her closer to the Warren Wilson College community. It’s a sentiment Zemp echoed.

“Unless you happen to be an alum serving on the board, it’s hard as a trustee to get an understanding of the deep inherent values found at this place. I fell in love with Warren Wilson through this process. A lot of my love for the place came out of my experience with the students. They bowled me over in terms of how impressive they are as human beings,” Zemp recalled.

Four candidates were selected to visit campus, and each spent time with specific campus constituencies – faculty, staff, students and alumni. Everyone had the chance to interact with each contender for the Warren Wilson College presidency.

“The committee was committed, and all voices on the committee were heard – especially the campus members,” said Christy. “The search experience was great because it was focused and driven by a tight timeline and we never wavered in our belief that we could meet the goal. We also had a tremendous pool of outstanding candidates that was incredibly diverse by almost any measure, and that gave us an opportunity to weigh characteristics and compare many different approaches.”

Collectively, the group focused on specific characteristics.

“We sought someone who conveyed an understanding and commitment to what Warren Wilson means for the College community, the community of Western North Carolina, and the broader community of the world as a whole. Secondly, our next president needed an understanding, background, and experience in revenue generation through enrollment, retention and fundraising to move the College forward,” Zemp revealed.

But Zemp believes the most significant shift was in the mindset of the committee.

“We made sure the focus stayed on what Warren Wilson needed. That was an important move. It helped to minimize the tendency for people to pick their favorite people and kept us looking at individuals through the lens of what the College needed,” he added.

Creative writing professor Catina Bacote represented the faculty on the presidential search committee. Photo: Matthew Tennant '18
Creative writing professor Catina Bacote represented the faculty on the presidential search committee. Photo: Matthew Tennant ’18

At the conclusion of the search, three committee members – Brooke Millsaps, senior Melvis Madrigal and professor Catina Bacote – spoke at the announcement ceremony to introduce Lynn Morton as the next president of Warren Wilson College. It was a celebratory atmosphere and a chance to recognize a successful search.

“The search committee worked really well together under the leadership of Lach and Bill,” Bacote said before taking the stage to celebrate the new president. “We all listened to each other and respected each other’s opinions. Everyone who served had a voice.”

Now the Warren Wilson College community looks forward to welcoming the presidential search committee’s and the board of trustee’s choice. The committee did its job, and Zemp predicts a bright future with Lynn Morton at the helm. She assumes the presidency July 1.

To learn more about Warren Wilson College’s eighth president, visit http://warren-wilson.edu/newpresident.