A Conversation with the Presidential Search Committee Chair
St. Olaf Regent Stephanie Fehr ’87, P’21 has nearly three decades of human resources and talent development experience at companies that include Apple and UnitedHealthcare, where she currently serves as executive vice president and chief human capital officer.
As St. Olaf begins the process of selecting a successor for President David R. Anderson ’74 upon his retirement at the end of the 2022–23 academic year, Fehr is chairing the search committee. She sat down recently to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the search.
The search committee and the search firm the college is using have held listening sessions with faculty, staff, students, and alumni to get a sense for what the campus community would like to see in the college’s next president. What are some key insights you’ve heard from those conversations?
One of the best parts of doing this work has been meeting and hearing from all of the amazing stakeholders who care deeply about St. Olaf. I’ve always known there is a strong and engaged St. Olaf stakeholder community, but am even more impressed after hearing from so many advocates. The feedback has been very consistent and not surprising. The challenges we face as a college are much different than they were 16 years ago, when President Anderson assumed his leadership role, so the profile of the ideal candidate looks different too. Some of the key areas we want our new president to focus on include:
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion
- Academic quality
- Institutional culture
- Student success
- Faculty & staff recruitment/development
- Financial stability
What qualities will be most important for the new president to have?|
In every conversation we’ve had with stakeholders, leadership has risen to the top. St. Olaf needs a leader who is equipped to create a vision that addresses the current and future challenges. The work that was completed last year by the college’s Visioning Task Force has been invaluable to us as we think about St. Olaf’s aspirations and what type of leader will move the college toward that vision. We’re looking for a leader who embraces the mission and core values of the college, embodies a courageous spirit, and has the capacity both to consult with and lead the community with conviction. This leader will be a strong champion of the liberal arts and a faithful person with knowledge of and respect for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) tradition. Lastly, we’re looking for a genuine, enthusiastic, and highly visible leader who will be out in front and engaged with the St. Olaf community.
What opportunities do you see in this search?
We have been so fortunate to have President Anderson for almost two decades, and our goal is to find a worthy successor with a proven track record of success who will make a long-term commitment to the college. There are so many exciting opportunities ahead when we think about where St. Olaf is going. One is to bring in a leader who understands and loves St. Olaf, but also brings in new thinking and new ways of engaging the community.
The next president will have the benefit of a strong St. Olaf community with so many advocates across the world. There is an opportunity to continue to tap into this network and foster this advocacy going forward. I feel very privileged to have engaged with so many St. Olaf stakeholders along the way. The love and support for our college is quite moving and this will serve the new president well!
What challenges do you see in this search?
Having been in human resources for most of my career, I can say this is the most challenging and competitive talent market I’ve seen. Leadership has never been more critical and we are searching for a leader who will not only lead us into the future, but will also create a compelling environment for everyone. We want every student to flourish, feel included, and be part of a college that develops the whole student. Leaders create the environment and we must ensure the St. Olaf experience is one where people can be their authentic selves, feel included, and focus on learning. Finding this special leader will be a challenge in itself, but we are fortunate that St. Olaf is a college that naturally attracts many candidates, so I’m confident we will have a rich pool of candidates to explore.
Where can people find more information or updates on the search process?
We have created a presidential search website where you can find updates on the search timeline and process and read the presidential profile, which is an outline of the qualities and skills that we’re looking for in the next president.