By Catalina Righter and Emily Harris
Since his appointment last August, Interim President Jay Grsiwold has had his hand at the tiller of Washington College. He gave up the comforts of his Cockeysville home to stay in Chestertown with the goal of keeping the College on track during the search for a new President. Griswold is assisting with fundraising for the College as well, a job he has done previously as a member of the Board of Visitors and Governors.
“You learn a lot more about how that all works when you’re here,” he said in regards to living in Chestertown and experiencing the interaction between town and college first-hand.
Griswold has a sense of humor surrounding his sudden peak in responsibility as interim president. “Dr. [John S.] Toll said once, ‘You’re in charge of everything and have authority over nothing.’ So as long as you understand that, you’re okay.”
Griswold was a member of the Board since 1992, including a seven year run as its chairman. “I think the Board often doesn’t fully appreciate the operation… I think because they only visit here four times a year. It’s awfully hard to know how anything works if you’re only here four times a year. To be able to look at it from both perspectives is very eye-opening.”
One crucial presidential duty Griswold recently completed was meeting with Maryland government officials in Annapolis to discuss the Sellinger Program, a grant that supports independent higher learning institutions in Maryland. He and members of his staff met with the president of the senate and the Speaker of the House to discuss WC’s financial projects.
“They’re very supportive,” Griswold said. “It’s just a very tight budget.” He felt it was a productive conversation. “They understand how effective the program is.”
As he has done in the past, Griswold is now part of a major capital campaign for WC.
“I’d say it is going well,” he said. “With any of these capital campaigns the Board has to be very prominent…. I think the Board is in the process of being prominent…. It’s getting there. If the Board can be generous, I think the general public will be very generous.”
Griswold was also a part of the Campaign for Washington College which lasted for seven years and had raised $104 million at its conclusion in 2003.
He said that fundraising now is different from the campaign he headed then. “In those years, Dr. Toll was here. He was a very major figure in higher education in the state and really nationally. He was a very effective fundraiser, and that was a big help. A big help.”
The fiscal environment of the time is also different. “I think the environment then, before the crash, was very friendly. The stock market was very high. Its high now, but I think everybody’s worried it might not stay high very long,” Griswold said.
“This campaign should be a broader campaign. It’s going to include more reach, new donors. [Alumni] will be more important this time.”
The reach of this campaign goes far beyond Griswold’s time as interim president. “It will probably be six or eight years before it’s all said and done,” he said. “But it’s important.”
“There’s not much, I don’t think, that a college president can do in a year, and that’s not my assignment. I think in order for a president to really meaningfully move the institution forward, you’ve got to be around….”
Chief of Staff Joseph Holt Class of 1983 respectfully disagrees. “I think he’s being modest,” he said. “I think come June 30 when our fiscal year closes, that this will be one of the largest fundraising years on record for the College, if not a record.… Normally, we raise eight to 10 million dollars a year. We’re past that target already.”
He attributes a lot of this success to Griswold’s leadership. “A lot of it is because he asked people to set their sights high…and I think that’s a great way to kick off the campaign, and I think it’s a great way to recruit a president, because nothing will recruit a president like success.”
Griswold said of his own successor, “I think the next president should be here for a good long time.”
To that person, his advice is simple: “It’s a great place and things are going to get better all the time. It’s got a good plan. It’s got a good staff. Keep going. Don’t mess it up,” he said laughing.
As for these efforts he set in motion, Griswold said, “I’m going to be involved to the degree that I’ll help in any way that I can, but I’m not going to be sitting here [in the president’s office].” He did say he would come back and visit. “We’ve made a lot of friends here, my wife and I.”
As for next year, he’s going to enjoy the chance “to spend time with [his] children and my grandchildren, and to continue on in [his] business endeavors.”
Griswold is scheduled to speak at a lunch in April as part of the WC- ALL program. “I think WC-ALL is very important,” he said. “My wife took a course there in the fall on the Middle East, and she was absolutely fascinated.” More information will be forthcoming.
Email updates have been sent out regularly throughout the year to inform the campus community on the progress of the presidential search. In the email sent out on Jan. 20, Chair of the Presidential Search committee Richard Creighton, Class of 1970, said that representatives from the consulting firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates met with students, faculty, staff, administration, and other interested parties during October and November. Efforts to find candidates and nominees have continued since these discussions.
“If you think about the top 100 colleges in the country, they’ve probably placed more than 50 percent of the presidents through their efforts partnering with colleges and universities,” said Holt concerning Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates. “So they’ve got a great network, great rolodex, so we retained them. They were the search firm that brought us Mitchell Reiss.”
According to Holt, the search committee, which consists of faculty, staff, and a student representative, is now in the phase of narrowing the initial list to the four finalists that will then visit Chestertown.
“That’s the work the committee is doing now. They had taken a list of probably close to 100 candidates and after reading their letters of interest and their resumes, narrowed it down to about a dozen. Just this week [the committee] spent all day Wednesday and all day Thursday at a hotel in D.C. interviewing these candidates,” Holt said. He also spoke of the large time commitment for members of the search committee, particularly for the faculty and student members who balance their involvement with academics.
Follow up interviews took place this week, and the finalists will likely be invited to visit Chestertown the week after spring break. The nature of the visit will depend on whether any of the finalists are sitting presidents at other colleges or universities. In that case, meetings with students, faculty, staff, administration, and other interested parties would take place off campus. Holt said they would essentially “move the party to the candidate.”
“We had people in this search that said ‘If it were any other place, I wouldn’t be on the market, but because it’s Washington College I want to throw my hat in the ring.’ They’re not actively looking, and it could really undermine them if word got out that they were,” he said.
Holt said that the committee hopes to have a recommendation for the new president to present to the Board of Visitors and Governors at their April meeting. Once the Board approves a candidate, a press release would make the announcement public almost immediately. Holt said, “There wouldn’t be a long lag time because you can’t keep those things secret. The board has 36 members so once you start to talk about it, it’s out there.”
As for his own role of WC, Holt said that it is up to the new president whether he remains in his position as chief of staff. He has held the same position over the course of five presidencies. “It’s all a matter of chemistry and whether that person has someone they want to bring in that serves them in this role. My interest is in what’s best for Washington College.”