Phillips Oppenheim Seeking President for Bennington College

May 5, 2020 – New York City-based executive search firm Phillips Oppenheim has been enlisted to find the next president of Bennington College. Mariko Silver, who held the job for six years, stepped down last summer to become president and chief executive officer of the Henry Luce Foundation. Isabel Roche, who had been provost and dean of the Vermont college, is serving as interim president.

Principal Paul Spivey and founding partner Jane Phillips Donaldson are leading the assignment for the New York City-based search firm. The successful candidate is expected to assume office on or about July 1.


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Of critical importance, Bennington’s next president must be an innovative and dedicated fundraiser who can secure ongoing financial support across a broad spectrum of sources, said Phillips Oppenheim. The president must come with a deep commitment to the college’s progressive educational values and philosophy. He or she must be an inclusive, accessible and community-oriented leader. The individual must also interact with students with wisdom, openness, respect, and genuine interest. As a “practitioner of ideas” the president should be committed to public as well as academic discourse and eager to bring the values and insights of their own profession to the urgent issues of our time.

Key Requirements

Above all, Bennington’s new president will be expected to embody and champion the core values of independent learning, with the responsibility and freedom of choice in an inclusive community that fully embraces diversity and equity in all aspects of campus life, said the search firm. Bennington expects a commitment to: curricular and pedagogical innovation, recruitment and retention of diverse students and employees, development and implementation of policies, and coordination and assessment of college-wide initiatives focused on inclusive excellence.

Leading candidates for the presidency of Bennington College must have distinguished records of accomplishment in higher education, diplomacy, scholarship, the arts, and/or other professional fields where Bennington excels, said Phillips Oppenheim. They must have demonstrated successful leadership and management skills, an experienced proactive approach to generating financial resources and a passionate commitment to liberal arts undergraduate teaching and learning. A doctorate degree is preferred but not required.

Candidates must look forward to becoming an integral member of the community accessible and highly engaged, always looking to strengthen morale and build spirit, said the search firm. The president must embrace an inclusive model of leadership and partnership with transparency and integrity. While gravitas is required, the individual must also have the grit and scrappiness to handle the more mundane tasks of running a small college. Personal dedication to the values of self-direction, community service, international understanding, and academic excellence is an important prerequisite, as is the ability to inspire students, faculty and staff to uphold these core values.

The college encourages nominations from diverse areas of interest, backgrounds, experience, and accomplishment. Among other attributes, strong candidates must possess intellectual depth, moral conviction and personal integrity as well as the emotional intelligence and capacity to communicate and interact effectively with individuals, small groups and large audiences.

Finding Mission-Driven Leaders

Bennington College, founded in 1932, is a private, not-for-profit, nonsectarian college. The liberal arts school currently enrolls 836 students (728 undergraduates and 108 graduate students) and offers a student to faculty ratio of 9:1. The college’s endowment has recently grown almost 50 percent and is positioned to double in coming years from pledges already made as part of an ongoing capital campaign. Among other innovations, Bennington was the first in the country to include visual and performing arts in a liberal arts education and is the only college to incorporate a required winter work term for all students every year as part of its educational plan.

Phillips Oppenheim, founded in 1991, provides mission-driven organizations with senior leaders from the business, public and non-profit sectors. It sponsors roundtable discussions, participates in workshops and conferences and acts as informal counsel to non-profit organizations and their boards. Among its many clients: New York City Ballet, the Museum of the American Revolution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Arts Club, Table to Table, the African Wildlife Foundation and the Barack Obama Presidential Museum, and others.

Over a 25-year period, Mr. Spivey has held leadership positions in management, administration, program development and financial stewardship in the philanthropic and broader non-profit sector. Before joining Phillips Oppenheim as a search consultant, he advised a broad range of non-profit clients on issues ranging from donor development to board governance. Mr. Spivey also served as president of the Edwin Gould Foundation for Children, supporting education, youth development and financial literacy, among other roles.

Ms. Donaldson has more than 30 years of experience with non-profit organizations. She co-founded Phillips Oppenheim with Debra Oppenheim in 1991. Previously, she spent over 10 years in college administration as dean of Admissions at Wesleyan University, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Yale College and founding director of admissions and placement at the Yale School of Management.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor  – Hunt Scanlon Media

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