Presidential Search

The Saint Mary's College Board of Trustees announces the search for the 14th President of the College. Maureen Karnatz Smith '85 has agreed to serve as chair of the Presidential Search Committee, and Patricia Wiedner Purcell '69 as the vice-chair. The search committee invites the entire Saint Mary's community to provide feedback for the search process. Regular updates on the search process will be provided on this website and via email.

The leadership profile for the 14th President of Saint Mary's College describes the ideal candidate and summarizes the priorities for the next president. The profile was developed based on feedback from members of the Saint Mary's community. Please share this document with your networks.

Download Leadership Profile

Witt/Kieffer logoSearch Partner

WittKieffer, a national search firm with substantial experience in presidential and executive searches in higher education, is assisting with the search. Robin Mamlet, managing partner and Education Practice leader, will lead the WittKieffer team with Sheila Murphy and Christine Pendleton. This team brings deep experience with Catholic higher education institutions, women's colleges and liberal arts colleges.

Search Committee

The search committee represents a cross section of the Saint Mary's community, including trustees, faculty, administrators, students, alumnae, and parents.

Maureen Smith ’85, Chair and Trustee
Patricia Purcell ’69, Vice-Chair and Trustee
Sister Alma Mary Anderson CSC, Trustee
Robyn Caponi, MSSC
Don Fischer, Trustee
Jazmin Herrera ’20, Student
Father Paul Kollman CSC, Trustee
Mike Mathile, Trustee
Bill Murphy, Parents Council
Maureen Parsons ’13, BOLD
Bill Schmuhl, Trustee
Julie Schroeder-Biek ’88, Director of Athletics
Dr. Katie Sears '03, Alumnae Association Board President
Mary Pat Seurkamp, Trustee
Emily Sipos-Butler, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry
Leslie Wang, Department Chair of Sociology and Associate Professor
Megan Zwart, Department Chair of Philosophy and Environmental Studies and Associate Professor

Le Mans Hall at Saint Mary

Anticipated Timeline

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Spring 2019
Search consultants conduct listening sessions with stakeholders and feedback survey is launched

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Summer 2019
Leadership profile describing ideal candidate and summarizing priorities for the next President is distributed

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Summer/Fall 2019
Consultants engage in vigorous outreach and recruiting. 

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Winter 2019
Search committee conducts preliminary interviews and selects finalists

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Winter 2019
Finalists are interviewed

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Early 2020
Board elects President and makes public announcement

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Summer 2020
New President takes office


Click on any of the dates below to view the communications sent from Presidential Search Committee Chair Maureen Karnatz Smith ’85 and Vice Chair Patricia Wiedner Purcell ’69.

+September 11, 2019

Dear Members of the Saint Mary’s Community:

As students return to campus, we are reminded why this search matters so much!

The recruitment of Saint Mary's next president continues to gain momentum, and we are pleased to report that we remain on schedule for a new president to be announced in early 2020.

Our search consultants at WittKieffer have used the summer to reach out to a host of education leaders to talk about the exciting future of Saint Mary's and asking them to think about who might be the right leader for the College. These conversations have led to calls and meetings with strong potential candidates. We have been gratified to hear about the fruits of these recruiting conversations and believe the search committee will have an outstanding group of candidates to review.

Thank you for your continued support of this search and of Saint Mary's College!

Maureen Karnatz Smith ’85
Chair, Presidential Search Committee

Patricia Wiedner Purcell ’69
Vice Chair, Presidential Search Committee

+August 15, 2019

Dear Members of the Saint Mary’s Community:

It is hard to believe that the month of August is upon us and soon students will arrive on campus to begin the academic year!

Our presidential search is moving forward on schedule and our consultants at WittKieffer have been reaching out to potential candidates. As you’ll recall, in July we shared with you our presidential leadership profile which provides an in-depth description of the College and our ideal president. We encourage you to review the document if you have not already.

Thanks to many of you we have received over 100 nominations of candidates and our consultant team has reached out to them. They are also actively recruiting additional qualified candidates for the role. If you have nominations, please send them to so that our consultant team may include them in the process.

Please continue to visit the presidential search website for information on the search process as well as an archive of prior email communications that have been sent.

With best wishes,

Maureen Karnatz Smith ’85
Chair, Presidential Search Committee

Patricia Wiedner Purcell ’69
Vice Chair, Presidential Search Committee

+July 9, 2019

Dear Members of the Saint Mary’s Community,

We are pleased to share with you the leadership profile for the search for the 14th president of the College. This document reflects the collective voices of our community, describes the ideal candidate, and summarizes the priorities for the next president.

The leadership profile can be found on our presidential search website. Please feel free to share it with your networks. We welcome any candidate nominations you may have. Those can be sent to our search consultants at As we move through the search process, please continue to provide feedback through the presidential search survey.

Best wishes for a wonderful summer!


Maureen Karnatz Smith ’85
Chair, Presidential Search Committee

Patricia Wiedner Purcell ’69
Vice Chair, Presidential Search Committee

+June 14, 2019

Dear Members of the Saint Mary’s Community:

A big thank you to each of you who took the time to complete the presidential search survey. We heard from over 200 members of the Saint Mary's community through the survey, and your feedback is invaluable as we search for our next president.

We also heard from those who had questions about the "hybrid" approach for the presidential search. While we do understand that there are those who are disappointed with this decision, we feel strongly that this approach will develop the strongest pool of candidates for Saint Mary's. While not every person who wishes to will have the chance to interact with the finalists candidates, the input from the representatives who do meet with the candidates will be shared with the Board and taken into consideration during our deliberations.

One of the next steps in the process is the development of the leadership profile. This document will outline the priorities for the next president as well as the professional qualifications and personal qualities the president should have. That document will be available mid-July and will be shared via email and posted on the presidential search website.

As we go into summer months, we hope that you plan to take some time to relax and spend time with friends and family.

With best wishes,

Maureen Karnatz Smith ’85
Chair, Presidential Search Committee

Patricia Wiedner Purcell ’69
Vice Chair, Presidential Search Committee

+May 13, 2019

Dear Members of the Saint Mary’s Community:

We are pleased to announce the launch of our presidential search website. Regular updates on the search process will be provided on this website and via email.

Important in this process are the voices of our students, parents, faculty and staff members, alumnae, and friends of the College. We invite you to offer your thoughts about the qualities that are important in our next President through this brief survey, which will be used to assist in developing the profile of the next President.

The search for Saint Mary’s next President will be conducted using a Hybrid Approach. A detailed explanation of this approach can be found on the presidential search website. In summary, a hybrid approach means that a select number of representatives of the institution will participate in the final interviews and provide input to the Board. These representatives will sign a confidentiality agreement. The reason this is important is that it makes candidates who do not want to be publicly interviewed for fear of losing their current positions comfortable with the application process. We believe the hybrid approach will yield more applicants.

We look forward to serving as your search chairs and supporting Saint Mary's during this exciting time at the College.


Maureen Karnatz Smith ’85
Chair, Presidential Search Committee

Patricia Wiedner Purcell ’69
Vice Chair, Presidential Search Committee

Daffodils on campus at Saint Mary

Share Your Thoughts

Provide Feedback

Important in this process are the voices of our students, parents, faculty and staff members, alumnae and friends of the College. We invite you to offer your thoughts about the qualities that are important in our next president through this brief survey.

Complete the Survey

Nominate a Candidate

Nominations of candidates for consideration are welcome from all members of the Saint Mary's community. Please submit all nominations via email to Additionally, we invite you to share your opinions and suggestions about the search through this email address.

Nominate a Candidate

Cross atop Haggar College Center — Saint Mary

About the Process

The Hybrid Approach: Balancing the need for transparency with the need to protect candidates' privacy

Traditionally, presidential search finalist candidates have appeared in public before the community of the hiring institution. This methodology facilitates community engagement and comfort with the search process. Positive effects of this approach include improved community acceptance of the candidate of choice.

Unfortunately, in recent years candidates — especially those in very senior positions dealing with high-stakes issues such as principal gift fundraising or delicate negotiations with accreditors — have become unwilling to undergo such public scrutiny. Candidates' concerns are not unfounded. Those involved in fundraising place at risk the likelihood of a major gift. And although this was seldom, if ever, the case historically, many final candidates now face sanctions at their home institutions for considering new opportunities. Those sanctions range from simple doubts about loyalty to demotion or even outright dismissal. There are multiple stories in higher education trade publications and even in the mainstream press about individuals being fired when it becomes known that they have interviewed for another job. As a result of the probability of such sanctions, many senior leaders now choose not to take the risk of participating in searches unless there is a guarantee of confidentiality throughout the entire process and in perpetuity. Because a sufficient number of institutions will accommodate that need, institutions that will not are at a significant disadvantage in the recruitment of experienced leaders who are successful at their current institutions and are not, therefore, in need of employment elsewhere.

In an effort to optimize the value of community engagement and yet still recruit the strongest possible pool of candidates, many institutions now conduct their final interview using a practice called the Hybrid Approach. In this methodology, the various constituencies of the institution — typically the faculty, staff, students, and alumni, with others as appropriate to the institution's construct and culture — are represented by a select number of their peers in vetting the final candidates and providing input to the board. These representatives, who join that constituency’s search committee in this undertaking, typically execute a confidentiality agreement, pledging that they will keep the identities of the candidates and the content of their feedback completely confidential. The methodology for selecting these additional representatives varies by institution and circumstance, but most typical are either an election or the invited involvement of already-elected representatives, such as a faculty senate, national alumni board or student government officers.

Search committees and boards, then, are faced with a very difficult decision: use the traditional methodology and limit the search to candidates willing to take the risk of "going public" in the final round of interviews, or acknowledge the merits of a necessarily less inclusive process using the Hybrid Approach to leave open the possibility of considering candidates who might not otherwise apply.

We have discussed this dilemma. We will utilize the Hybrid Approach to ensure that we do not limit the pool of candidates for the position. We are determined to serve the interest of the community by ensuring we see the best possible pool of applicants.


+How will our representatives be chosen?

This is still under discussion and is meant to provide representation for all groups including faculty, students, staff, and alumnae. The process will likely either involve a special election or will bring the previously elected/appointed representatives of the constituencies into play — the Academic Leadership, the Alumnae Association Board of Directors, officers of the various student government organizations, etc.

+There would still be a lot of people involved. Won't there be leaks?

The search committee has a responsibility to ensure that candidate privacy is as well protected as possible. We must rely on our constituencies to honor their commitments to confidentiality. Our expectation is that representatives will understand what is potentially at stake for the candidates and for us, will live up to their covenants and will not share information. Most importantly, our consultants at WittKieffer tell us that candidates with higher education backgrounds are familiar with the traditional methodology and understand that the Hybrid Approach is a compromise accommodation. They are almost invariably willing to take that much of a chance, the theory being that 50 people have a better chance of keeping a secret than 500 people.

+What changed to make this necessary?

There are several factors, but the two most important are likely 1) the immediate availability of information on the internet and 2) the size of the financial transactions in which leaders are now typically involved. There used to be local news, but now everything can be known everywhere in real time. Candidates are no longer able to show up someplace without their home institutions knowing that they have. Also, higher education leaders are now often engaged in negotiations — especially principal gifts or sophisticated financial transactions subject to bond ratings, etc. — that can be severely compromised by a lack of faith in that leader's commitment to their current institution.

+Shouldn't someone who wants to be our President be willing
to take the chance and show up nonetheless?

Any candidate will come into this search knowing that they have competition. Humble people will recognize there is a chance that that they will interview and not be offered the position. Asking candidates to risk their current livelihood or to subject their families to upheaval with no guarantee may deter even the most dedicated individuals. Perhaps there are applicants who will come from low risk positions who will be willing to participate in a fully open search. People in jeopardy, however, not only will not show up for an open public visit but will not even apply — will not even investigate the institution and the opportunity — if there is no possibility of doing so in confidence.

+Does the Hybrid Approach work?

Our consultants at WittKieffer have undertaken this methodology with great success for several years. In fact, it is now the predominant approach in their searches for private institutions, and public institutions are increasingly working to make it possible for them as well.