As Pres. Grant Departs Search For Next MCLA Leader Narrows

Jan 2, 2015

After 12 years as president of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Mary Grant will become chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville Jan. 5.
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

On Monday, Mary Grant is set to become the next chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville, leaving Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts after 12 years as president. And, the college is in the midst of a search to fill her shoes.

Grant was the 11th president of MCLA and the first alumna to hold the office. She studied sociology as an undergrad at the then-North Adams State College.

“I never lost the sense of that thrill,” Grant said. “That here I was, I came to college here, I got a great education, I went away for 20 years and low and behold I was back but, as president. That was just an unbelievable honor and a thrill.”

Grant takes over for Anne Ponder, who retired after leading UNC Asheville for nine years. In December, MCLA’s vice president of academic affairs Cynthia Brown became interim president as the college’s 16-member search committee sifts through applications. Tyler Fairbank chairs MCLA’s Board of Trustees and serves on the search committee, which includes faculty, alumni and students.

“We’re very happy with the quality of the pool, the size of the pool and the diversity within the pool,” Fairbank said. “It speaks volumes to the quality of the opportunity.”

The search committee has been meeting since September, following Grant’s announcement in August. It has enlisted the help of Archer-Martin Associates for the national search and developed a presidential leadership profile explaining MCLA and the president’s role.

“The nature of the presidency is very much a hands-on presidency,” Fairbank explained. “So a potential candidate is really going to need to be able to effectively manage and lead people without a large staff. Some of the larger institutions do have more substantial staffs so you’ve got to be nimble, effective and efficient in leadership, so that’s an important aspect.”

Fairbank adds the presidential profile suggests quite a degree of experience in academia.

“Right from the outset there are some pretty strong filters that you do need to come from a background of higher education,” said Fairbank.

MCLA has a combined undergraduate and graduate enrollment of nearly 2,500 students with concentrations in the arts and social and physical sciences. Fairbank says MCLA being named a top 10 public liberal arts college for four straight years by U.S. News & World Report along with achievements like a new science center have made the position attractive.

“There’s no doubt,” Fairbank said. “I think people are attracted to opportunities that have already manifested themselves in a great deal of success. So when you look at where we are as an institution and the third party recognition we are getting these days around the level of performance no doubt contributes hugely to the number of applicants and the quality of the applicants that we get for the position.”

Fairbank says the search committee expects to shave the list to three to five candidates to go before the board of trustees and then to the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. He says the goal is to name a new president in March or April who would take office in July or August.

“As much as so many people are sad to see Dr. Grant move on we also recognize that we have tremendous momentum and trajectory,” Fairbank said. “We’re excited about where we’re going. The pool certainly gets us excited as well knowing that one of these members is most likely going to be our next president.”