The search is on: John Brooks leads Suffolk in the hunt for the next leader of the university

Committee of 19 launches global search for new president

October 19, 2016

In search for the seventh leader of Suffolk University since 2010, the university launched its official global presidential search. Following a turbulent past six months surrounding former president Margaret McKenna and Board of Trustees, the newly formed Presidential Search Committee hopes to redirect the public image of the school.

Robert Lamb, who was named the board chairman in May, said in an interview with The Suffolk Journal on Tuesday night that he and the committee will run a very open and transparent process. With a diverse committee, Lamb said that he trusts they will find the right leader.

“I’m very comfortable with the process we’re in,” said Lamb. “Overall, we, the committee, want to find the right person. We’re committed to making that happen.”

Trustee John Brooks was named the chairman of the search committee with the primary responsibility to find a new president in late July- when McKenna was ousted. As the former chief executive of Joslin Diabetes Center, he also served as chairman of the search committee there to find a new president and is familiar with how to conduct this type of committee.

“I’m kind of from the business world involved with lots of CEO and president searches,” said Brooks in an interview with The Suffolk Journal on Friday. “I feel like I have a lot of good experience and a lot of good knowledge.”

Lamb said that he has the utmost admiration for Brooks, and that his connection to Suffolk is important. He said Brooks’ work with widely diverse groups, right skillsets and values helped him to select Brooks specifically to lead the committee and search.

Brooks said that while formulating the committee, Lamb and Brooks wanted to make sure to include every constituency and every part of the institution. Brooks said the two Board members put together a list of people that were “passionate about the university,” starting with the trustees. The two then went to the university’s deans to find out which faculty would be suitable and then said they worked diligently to identify student leaders, alumni and who they thought would be a good staff and administration additions.

Brooks stressed the importance of communication, and everyone partaking in an open and transparent process and said that it would not be just up to the committee to identify the next president.

Brooks said the demographics of the committee range from students to alumni to faculty from each school to trustees.

“Your voice will be heard even if you are not in the committee,” said Brooks. “I like to think that we’re not going to miss anybody.”

The media frenzy of last semester had placed a spotlight on prominent student voices on campus that had largely backed McKenna. On a 19-person search committee, just two members were students at Suffolk including Student Government Association (SGA) President and undergraduate student Sean Walsh and Suffolk Law student and President of the Student Bar Association Dan Hahn.

Walsh declined to be interviewed for this article and Hahn did not respond to communication with The Journal regarding this article as of late Tuesday night.

With the structure of the committee, including the two heads of their organizations, Lamb said that Hahn and Walsh are the type of leaders to speak up and represent the student body.

“I have great utmost respect for both gentlemen,” said Lamb.

Senior Tiffany Martinez, who had served as one of the most prominent student voices on campus as she had organized rallies to back McKenna said that because Walsh won the SGA election last year, it would make him the “best representative for the student body.” However, she did express concern that one representative from the entire undergraduate program at Suffolk would not be enough in a recent interview with The Journal. Martinez had suggested that the committee reach out to club presidents.

Senior entrepreneurship major Alex Bennett said that the people who make the final decision are who ultimately matter.

“I don’t believe students have the experience to get themselves emotionally involved in such decisions,” said Bennett.

For Brooks, he said it’s not practical to have all of the students in the university on the committee but “student members have the opportunities to represent the study body.”

Brooks, instead, emphasized that all students should be “part of this dialogue.” They encourage students to express their voices by attending town hall meetings and providing their input to the committee by responding to emails such the presidential search survey the committee sent out to the student body on Monday morning.

In previous searches, he said that he did not feel that people had enough transparency or they were not quite sure what the process was. They immediately started with candidates and search firms in previous years, and Brooks said that they do not want to do any of that this time around.

“We have an idea where this university is going,” said Brooks. “I wanted to have people who are enthusiastic about helping us, get as much input, discussion and feedback when putting together new specifications and profiles for a new leader and it’s born out of what everyone thinks the university needs.”

Some of the committee members self-nominated themselves by expressing interest to  Brooks and Lamb, but Brooks said that this was not an easy job.

“This isn’t about having your name in lights, there’s a lot of hard work to be done,” said Brooks and referenced that they would have to be present and attend town hall meetings and conduct webinars and surveys.

While the committee looks to revitalize the university’s public image, they haven’t and said that they will not plan on naming a deadline or even identifying a timeline.

“It’s not like we’re leaderless,” said Brooks as he referenced acting president Marisa Kelly. “We want to get this process right and do all of the things we said and at some point there will be a criteria, and we’ll determine the best way for people to apply. We want to get the best person we can.”

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