Debbie Barker and Jes Staley on Bowdoin’s Presidential Search

Debbie Barker '80 and Jes Staley '79

Debbie Barker ’80 and Jes Staley ’79

On Monday, after the big announcement that Clayton S. Rose is the unanimous choice to serve as Bowdoin’s 15th president, the Bowdoin Daily Sun sat down with Board of Tustees Chair Debbie Barker ’80, P’16 and Presidential Search Committee Chair Jes Staley ’79, P’11 to talk about the process, the choice, and what made them nervous about the responsibility to come up with Bowdoin’s next leader.

BDS: Given the make-up of the search committee, with intentionally broad representation from different constituencies and varied priorities, you could have ended up with a lot of competing interests. Did it ever seem like that?

Staley: It was a marvelously eclectic, excellent search committee that reflected the Bowdoin community in all its depth, quality, and diversity. You had very different points of view, and the quality of the debate and discussion was amazing. But the committee was cohesive in the sense that it completely agreed that Bowdoin needs a president who can connect on many different levels with many different constituencies. And so I think everyone listened hard, and all the different groups just got more and more excited about Clayton.

Barker: Everyone came to the table with particular interests—some members were focused on academic credentials; some members were looking for leadership experience; some thought it was important to have a Bowdoin graduate. So you had people with strong opinions but who were willing to listen. And there was just a tremendous amount of respect in the room. Once we began working, it was clear that everyone was willing to really roll up their sleeves and find the best person to do this job. And that’s what we did.

BDS: What was it about Clayton Rose that made him the Committee’s unanimous choice?

Staley: What I think resonated with the group is, here’s someone who had a very successful career in finance but who, in his mid-forties, starts taking the Amtrak down to Philadelphia to study sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he becomes extremely popular with the sociology department and with students. Then he goes from there to teaching at the Harvard Business School, where he excels. It was his ability to be embraced by and very successful in very different communities, which was then witnessed in action by the search committee. The search committee chose Clayton enthusiastically and from the widest diversity— literally from the left and the right of the economic spectrum, the social spectrum, they all rallied around him.

Barker: He’s just a tremendous person. He’s got really strong academic credentials; he’s great in the classroom and has great respect for faculty. He has terrific leadership skills. Clayton is a true believer in the liberal arts; he’s incredibly smart; he’s willing to take into consideration others’ opinions. He thinks really hard and he cares. He is committed to social justice, so he will continue the advances we have made to access and affordability, and continue our fundraising efforts, to make sure that the doors are open to every student who deserves to be at Bowdoin. He will fit really smoothly into the culture of Bowdoin; I just think he’s going to be a terrific leader for us.

BDS: What was the most difficult thing about the search?

Barker: After fourteen years of tremendous leadership from Barry Mills, it was difficult to articulate our challenges. Bowdoin is on this wonderful trajectory, and we needed a president who could keep that going. We don’t have a physical plant that needs full reinvestment. We don’t have sagging admissions numbers. Our challenge is to take what’s going well and find ways to make it better while also determining whether there are other things that we should be doing. And, at the same time, protect access and affordability, the quality of the faculty, and the quality of the student body. They are happy challenges, but they are challenges.

Staley: Saying no to the other finalists once we made our selection. It was incredibly painful to disappoint them. That was one of the harder things that I did.

BDS: You both obviously know Bowdoin very well. Was there anything you learned about the College in this process?

Staley: I learned some things about the academy that I didn’t know. I learned that those in the liberal arts environment are clearly worried that the cost of higher education could compromise higher education’s commitment to the liberal arts, and that defining the curriculum is a critical part of that. And I learned that the tenure process can be a lonely and isolating endeavor. I realized more than ever that being the president of a college like Bowdoin requires a diversity of talents that very few people have.

Barker: I discovered that Bowdoin is regarded as part of a very small number of colleges that have the potential to be thought leaders on the liberal arts going forward. People admire Bowdoin very much, recognize its influence and recognize how special it is. And I learned what a great leader Jes Staley is: he makes sure everyone makes a contribution; he set the guidelines clearly; he listens and encourages dialogue; and he is absolutely tireless. He was a tremendous partner to me in this process.

BDS: Were you ever nervous?

Barker: The whole time! We all recognized what a huge decision this is. Think about it. This is a college that’s been around since 1794, and we were in charge of trying to find only the fifteenth president in its history. That’s a huge responsibility.

Staley: Absolutely. When we got down to the finalists, it was stressful. It is very difficult to choose from such a talented pool of people. So, sure, I was nervous. But now I feel great.



  1. Bill farley says:

    Well done n well said. Congratulations!!!

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