By Catalina Righter
The 2014-15 academic year at Washington College ushers in a major change in leadership as President Mitchell Reiss prepares to say goodbye. The position will be filled by Jack S. (Jay) Griswold in the interim until a long-term replacement is found.
In July, a campus-wide announcement was sent out stating that President Reiss would be leaving. No formal announcement of the change was made before the end of the 2013-14 school year. Reiss will go on to assume the role of President and CEO of the Williamsburg Foundation.
“It all happened very suddenly. Elisabeth and I were very happy here and not looking to leave,” said Reiss. “But I received a call this past March from an old friend and mentor, Colin Campbell. Colin told me that he he was retiring from Colonial Williamsburg and urged me to apply for the position.”
Reiss named several reasons for accepting the proposal. “The fact that it was in Williamsburg, where we still have our home and where our daughter attends college, tipped the scales, so I applied. ”
His new position will be a similar one of leadership. “I will be responsible for approximately 2,500 employees and volunteers and an annual budget of $240 million,” he said.
Don’t expect to say goodbye to Reiss completely.When asked about a potential collaboration between the two historical institutions, he said, “I certainly hope so. There are many personal and professional links already between the two institutions and I think that these can be expanded and deepened to benefit both parties.”
Griswold will begin his term as interim president in October of this year. He has served on the College Board of Visitors and Governors since 1992, including a seven year run as chairman. He then became an emeritus member of the board.
In addition to his work on the board, he has worked for many years in the field of commercial real estate in Maryland. The announcement of his appointment said that his background includes “business development, strategic planning, capital formation, and service to non-profit organizations.”
Reiss says that Griswold “absolutely” stood out in his service on the WC Board of Visitors & Governors. “He was a former chairman of the board and therefore very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the school. But he was, and is, a true gentleman.” They first met in 2010 when Reiss was interviewing for his position as president of the College.
When asked to compare leading a college to leading a business, Griswold said “Business nowadays puts a huge pressure on the bottom line, day after day, month after month. At an institution like Washington College…. Well, there is a famous saying, ‘No margin, no mission.’ It doesn’t have to be a large one, but there does have to be a margin. But it is not like a business where you are trying to maximize the bottom line.”
Griswold’s first experience with the College was through his daughter, Sarah, who graduated from WC in 1994.
“I had never heard of Washington College. Well, I had heard of it, but I didn’t know anything about it.”
The College made a lasting impression on him. “My daughter loved it. She met her husband here. Then Jim Price, who was a long time member of the Board said ‘get involved with the Washington College board. It’s the best you’ll ever serve on.’” This led to his long involvement with the board, though he says his ascension to the position of President was “not a natural one,” as a next step.
Of the people that selected him, Griswold said that they “were very wise, in that however long it takes to find a long-term president, they will have someone to serve.”
He does not expect that the process will take more than a year. A Presidential Selection Committee has been formed, including members of the Board, faculty, and staff, in addition to a student and an alumni representative.
They held an organizing meeting on Monday, Aug. 18. According to meeting notes, “Board Chair Ed Nordberg … pledged that the search process will be as open and transparent as possible, consistent with the desire to assemble the most talented candidate pool possible.”
The committee has agreed to hire a firm to find candidates for the position. It said in meeting notes that AGBSearch, Korn/Ferry, Issaacon/Miller, and Storbeck/Pimentel were the firms invited to submit formal proposals.
“A subcommittee of Richard Creighton, Larry Culp, Ann Horner, and Sean Meehan will review the proposals to determine which firms to interview. The Committee plans to engage a firm by mid- September,” according to notes from the committee meeting.
Student Representative of the committee, Connor Harrison said, “These searches generally take between 6-9 months. Optimally, sooner is always better, but a decision and search like this should not be rushed.”
Harrison says that his role on the Presidential Selection Committtee is not yet completely defined, but “I do know that I will contribute in any facet possible and ensure students have input in as many parts of the search as they can,” he said.
Griswold however, will not be on the list of considerations for that search. “There’s no conflict of interest there,” he said. In his speech at the all campus picnic last Sunday, he made it clear that he did not plan to remain in the position for long.
Neither Reiss nor Griswold are a part of the Presidential Selection Committee and both said they will not be involved in the selection. Once the selection is made, Reiss said, “I would be happy to share with the next president my impressions of the College when the time comes.”
When asked what he hopes to accomplish in the time before a long-term president is found, Griswold said, “A highly successful capitol campaign,” that the community will hear more about in the coming weeks. Reiss also mentioned this. “The strategic plan has been developed that will emphasize the environment, interdisciplinary sudies, and experiential learning. And we are on the verge of a capital campaign that can underwrite these priorities and reposition the College for greater academic prominence and financial stability.”
While the two leaders have big plans in the works for WC, they are not above some light hearted sandwich talk. The “Negotiator” sandwich available at Martha’s kitchen is known to be nicknamed after Reiss for his history in political negotiation. Of its fate after he leaves, he “hope[s]they’ll keep it going.
Griswold, when asked what his legacy sandwich would be did not have a defined idea for the name. On the contents however, he showed no hesitation. “A BLT with salt, pepper, and mayo on toast is heaven,” he said.