Updates and Letters to the Community

February 2, 2018

To the Mount Holyoke community,

In January 2016, I announced the decision by the Board of Trustees to appoint Sonya Stephens as acting president for a term of three years. That decision was important in maintaining momentum in support of critical institution-wide efforts, including — but not limited to — strategic planning, NEASC re-accreditation and the completion of our new Community Center. Since the official transition in July 2016, the acting president and the College’s officers have successfully led progress on all of these fronts, as well as on many others. Now that we are approaching the end of the second year of the acting president’s term, it is time for the Board to take the next steps to appoint a permanent president of Mount Holyoke College.

Process Summary

The trustees have reviewed the College’s progress on institutional priorities and asked the acting president to stand as a candidate. In the past several presidential search processes, Mount Holyoke has conducted a national search, using a search firm and a search committee made up of members of the College community to recruit and select candidates for the position. In those cases, the College needed to institute such a search because the incumbent president was stepping down. The present situation is different in that an incumbent is currently serving in the position. The Board has decided that Mount Holyoke needs a different and phased process at this time, one that protects the College’s recent progress and its long-term interests.

The Board is strongly committed to a presidential selection process that incorporates shared governance and representation from all parts of the community. To that end, it will begin by conducting an inclusive effort to define critical challenges and opportunities for Mount Holyoke and to identify the leadership qualities needed to address them. This process will result in a “Role Specification” document that reflects a shared understanding of what it is seeking in the next president of the College.

The Board has asked Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D., to engage with the community to discuss the acting president’s demonstrated capability in the context of the Role Specification and present her confidential findings to the Board. Before the end of the spring semester, the Board will report back to the community on the candidacy of the acting president and whether or not it will move to a national search.

Next Steps

Phase I: Role Specification for Mount Holyoke’s President

The foundational work of developing the Role Specification will result in a guiding document that describes the key competencies needed for Mount Holyoke’s future success. Karena Strella, a vice-chair of the Board, is leading a small team focused on this effort. On February 8 – 9, 2018, this team will seek community input on the Role Specification during on-campus meetings with faculty, staff, students and alumnae. Those not in attendance at campus sessions will be invited to share their insights through an online questionnaire. Once finalized, the Role Specification will anchor all deliberations with respect to the appointment of Mount Holyoke’s next president.

Phase II: Assessment of the Acting President’s Capabilities Against the Role Specification

Dr. Tatum will be on campus in early March to engage members of the community — faculty, students, staff and alumnae — in an independent assessment of the acting president’s candidacy against the criteria outlined in the Role Specification. For many in the community, Dr. Tatum is a trusted former Mount Holyoke colleague. Prior to her 13-year term as president of Spelman College, she was a tenured faculty member, dean and acting president of Mount Holyoke. Dr. Tatum currently serves as a vice-chair of the board of trustees at Smith College and is a trained interviewer and noted facilitator. The Board is confident that she will engage the Mount Holyoke community broadly and deeply, and provide critical information in this process.

Parallel to the community’s development of the Role Specification, a representative group of constituents will work with Dr. Tatum to determine a schedule for on-campus and phone interviews in early March. Dr. Tatum will also review a portfolio of materials that contextualize these conversations and give her background for her final report. While it is impractical to interview every Mount Holyoke community member, Dr. Tatum plans to develop a short online questionnaire to elicit feedback about the acting president’s leadership in the context of the Role Specification. All feedback will be presented anonymously. Dr. Tatum’s findings will be shared later this spring in a confidential report to the Board.


The Board of Trustees, along with the faculty, staff, students and alumnae who are working closely with it on this process, are committed to sharing updates and developments with the College community. In addition, please visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page for the most up-to-date information on the process.  

One of the most important responsibilities of the Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees is to ensure high quality leadership. As we embark on this critically important presidential appointment process, please be assured that Acting President Stephens and all of the College officers and senior staff, in partnership with the dedicated members of this extraordinary community, remain focused on the continued success of the College and the execution of its priorities. Your support for and involvement in this process and those critical efforts is deeply appreciated. Thank you.  


Barbara Baumanns signature

Barbara M. Baumann ’77
Chair, Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees