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Search Committee: A Remarkable Effort

Jim Amidon — Wabash trustee John Fox, Jr. was positively buoyant when he stepped into my office Saturday morning. He had just gotten off the phone with Dr. Patrick White, the man the Wabash Board of Trustees unanimously elected to become the college’s 15th president when Andy Ford steps down at the end of this academic year.

For Fox, the jubilation was obvious. He’s spent the last seven months chairing the search committee that ultimately recommended Dr. White, who presently serves as Vice President and Dean of Faculty at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.

Fox has retired from his career as the vice chairman of Deloitte Consulting. That he so thoroughly and carefully led the search committee at a time when he might have spent the last six months in Phoenix or Naples is remarkable. But John isn’t the only person whose deep commitment to Wabash was on display the last seven months. To every member of the committee, I extend the gratitude and appreciation of the entire college community.

What was truly remarkable was the level of confidentiality with which the search was conducted. I had conversations just last Friday with trustees, alumni, faculty, staff, and students — nobody had a clue which of the three final candidates the trustees might elect.

And in the end, they elected the right man for the job.

You’ll hear more from Pat White and about him in the coming months. The qualities I think make him a good fit for Wabash are his deep passion for the liberal arts; his articulateness in discussing the value of single sex education; his thoughtful, listening-first approach to problem solving; and his track record with the faculty at Saint Mary’s.

But the real reason he’s going to be Wabash’s next president is because he will continue Andy Ford’s remarkable legacy of putting students at the very center of all that we do.

I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. White by phone on Saturday morning. Over and over he said he wanted to make sure students got the news first; that students would know how excited he is to serve them; and how we must find opportunities for him to interact with students prior to his official appointment on July 1.

That notion does make you want to ask, "Shouldn’t college presidents like their students and place them at the top of the constituent list?"

You’d be surprised how few college presidents share Andy Ford and Pat White’s passion for serving students. Many get wrapped up in lobbying for funding or programs, glad-handing wealthy donors, or fighting with faculty. Ultimately they lose sight of what should be their central mission: creating opportunities for the students who are enrolled in their institutions.

I can’t tell you how fortunate many of us at Wabash feel today to know that the students-first tradition at Wabash will continue under its 15th president.

You’ve got to hand it to the search committee for its diligent work. They probably could have chosen a superstar scholar, or the author of a dozen books on education, or someone with more experience in fund raising.

In the end, the committee recommended to the Board Dr. Patrick White, an Indiana guy who really wanted this job because he sees something truly special in our students. And if we’re being honest, that’s the only quality that really matters.