When a college or university undertakes a presidential search, a question that arises is whether to invite one or more students to sit on the search committee. There is no firm rule, yet Witt/Kieffer senior partner Dennis Barden believes it makes sense. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Barden asserts that having students on the committee acknowledges them as essential constituents in a very important decision.
Besides, students have a lot to contribute, Barden adds. “They represent the institution as it is experienced in real time,” he writes. “They feel its heartbeat. They get the most important and elusive factor in any search: fit. Students are seldom so swayed by credentials and interview performance that they don’t see straight through to the heart of the matter … and of the candidate. They very often know when someone will — or will not — fit with the ethos and environment of the institution.”
Barden has heard the concerns: Students have no idea what a president actually does or the skills needed. They will learn “where the bodies are buried” and other inner secrets of the institution. From experience, Barden believes these worries are unfounded. As the institution’s most important stakeholders, he concludes, students deserve representation on the presidential search committee.