I write to you all today at an inflection point in Lafayette College’s history: the beginning of a presidential transition. I believe there to be no greater responsibility of a college’s governing board than the attraction and selection of the president of the institution.
Earlier today, you received a note from President Alison Byerly stating that she has informed the Board of Trustees of her intention to step down as president at the conclusion of her contract on June 30, 2021, after eight years of exceptional service to the College and Easton community. I would like to comment on Alison’s tenure as Lafayette College’s 17th president before sharing some early thoughts on the upcoming search process.
It has been my distinct pleasure to work with Alison over these last eight years as a trustee, as vice chair of the board, and for the last two-plus years as chairman of the board. I first met Alison serving on the search committee back in 2012. From the beginning, it was clear to the committee that Alison was a wonderfully qualified and formidable candidate. By the end of the process we knew we had found someone special, someone who could confidently lead Lafayette College on the next steps of its journey. Alison’s tireless dedication to the College, her deep commitment to the community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents, and what I like to refer to as her intellectual fearlessness are of the highest order. Alison’s reverence for the institution, her unwavering professionalism, and commitment to excellence are exemplars for any individual serving in an executive capacity regardless of industry.
While Alison’s note to the community of earlier today is a wonderful summary of accomplishments under her leadership, it is in no way exhaustive. The College was strong when she arrived and is stronger following her presidential term. In particular, her personal modesty would not allow her to speak to all that she has done to lead us through these current and most perilous moments for the College. Navigating through the morass of decisions beginning with the re-opening of the school after last semester’s spring break all the way through the current decision-making process regarding the upcoming spring semester is complexity redefined. Leading through this moment with very few known truths, input factors to decision making remaining in constant motion, and divergent views among all constituencies on exactly what should be done in the moment is daunting. Alison’s leadership and committed focus during these past several months have been nothing short of exceptional. She has led and continues to lead us through a moment in history with the best interests of the entire Lafayette community at its core.
I would be remiss if I did not comment as well on the strong partnership between Alison and he husband, Steve Jensen. The two of them have served this institution with distinction and have gone further than most to open their home and their hearts to the community. Steve has not just been engaged in campus activities, where he can be seen at lectures, performances, and athletic events, but he has also been actively involved in local organizations, for example as chair of the board of the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society and Sigal Museum. Such involvement in the community is not requisite of the “first family” of a college, but Alison and Steve have made it part of their daily lives. As a community, Easton and the greater Lehigh Valley have benefitted immeasurably by Alison and Steve’s commitment and involvement.
As much as we will miss Alison’s leadership, we should also recognize that moments like this create opportunity for reflection, a revisitation of mission and vision, and a collective conversation about the institution’s future. While some level of sadness and anxiety that comes with change and concern about Lafayette’s future are reasonable and to be expected at this moment, so are optimism, hope, and inspiration about what the future holds for the College. Lafayette is a stronger institution today than it was yesterday, and tomorrow provides the promise of even greater strength.
Turning towards the future, we will of course immediately begin the process of a search for Lafayette’s 18th president. Such a search is, above all, an attempt to find a leader, whose skills, interests, and background match the needs of the institution in a particular phase of its development. To that end, we will impanel a committee of trustees, faculty, alumni, and a student. I will personally chair the committee, and I have asked the vice chair of the board, Linda Assante-Carrasco ’90, to serve as vice chair. We are in the process of finalizing the other trustee members of the committee, and the faculty will proceed with a process to select their representatives. The alumni (two) and student (one) representatives will be determined in the coming days.
As the committee assembles, we will engage in the selection of a search firm partner and proceed with the necessary activities. I do envision the committee engaging with the broader community in the early stages of the search. It is critical to a successful search that we hear from all of the vested parties of our community, particularly as the committee defines the profile and professional characteristics we would value in the next president of Lafayette College. I will plan to provide an update to the community once our committee membership is finalized and search firm partner determined. I expect the process to move at a pace where scheduling for community engagement sessions will be happening in the next week to 10 days, so please be alert for the appropriate invitations.
In closing, on behalf of the Board of Trustees of Lafayette College, I would like to congratulate and thank Alison Byerly for her commitment and success as Lafayette’s 17th president. Her term is not yet completed, and as she well knows there is plenty more to do including most appropriately recognizing and celebrating her service to the College and greater Lehigh Valley community.
Robert E. Sell ’84
Chair, Board of Trustees