Babson answers critics over choice of Kerry Healey
Protests roil campus over pick as new president
WELLESLEY — Babson College is on the defensive over its selection of former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey as its next president, after students, faculty, staff, and some alumni raised objections to her qualifications and the process that led to the pick.
The chairman of Babson’s board of trustees held two meetings Friday — one with students, the other with faculty and staff — and delivered a five-page rebuttal to questions over the choice. Healey said that she has met with hundreds of Babson community members, including students, faculty, staff, and trustees, to answer questions and gain their trust.
“I haven’t been able to touch everyone yet,” she said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “There are still outstanding questions I need to answer. I plan to answer every question and sit down with every constituency.”
Healey, 52, was named Babson’s next president late last month, a position that would make her the first woman to lead the college. The former Republican officeholder is to succeed Leonard Schlesinger, who announced in December that he would step down from the private, business-oriented school, which has some 2,000 undergraduates and 1,300 graduate students. Healey is to assume the duties July 1.
A search committee had considered more than 170 candidates for the opening.
But on campus and online, some students and faculty have complained that the process was hasty and incomplete, and they question whether Healey has the experience in higher education and entrepreneurial issues to lead Babson.
Babson student Soham Khaitan, 18, said he is skeptical of the selection because of Healey’s political background. “I don’t know if she knows Babson,” he said in an interview.
Jackson Courey, a student from San Diego, also expressed concern, citing Healey’s lack of business experience.
“The difference is between a businessman and a politician,” he said, adding that “moving to more of a political mind-set, in a place that is already so political, is dangerous.”
Babson student Chelsea Haraty, 20, of Palmer said she does not want to offend Healey, but she is concerned that the school chose a former politician as its leader. Haraty said students have expressed discontent with her stance on issues while in office, such as her opposition to gay marriage.
“It will be interesting to see how things change with someone who is a woman and a public figure,” said Haraty. “I’m open to change, but I think there is going to be some controversy.”
In a question-and-answer document, members of the Faculty Senate wrote that “college morale — faculty, staff, students, alums — is deeply affected, with the high potential for long-term damage. How can we address this?”
Separately, a petition on Change.org calling on the Babson board of trustees to “take action in regard to the community’s opinions” has generated more than 150 signatures.
“During the selection process, we anticipated that the administration would seek out an appropriate candidate to embody Babson’s inherent values of ‘integrity, honesty, respect, trust, fairness, and ownership,’ ” the petition says. “While we value and respect the administration’s efforts in the presidential search, the results make us question whether these values were the sole focus of the process. We question whether our input as a community was heard.”
Danté Love, a Babson alumnus who graduated in 2008, criticized the administration for rushing the selection process. Babson should reopen the search and take community suggestions seriously, he said.
The college’s trustees “made a highly questionable decision, and they are unwilling to reconsider alternatives,” said Love, who lives in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Michael Chmura, a spokesman for the college, said in an e-mailed statement that the chairman of Babson’s board of trustees, Joseph L. Winn, met with faculty and staff last week to discuss the transition and fielded questions from students in a separate meeting that lasted for about two hours.
“We expect the conversation will continue and evolve among faculty, staff, students, and alumni, all who care deeply about Babson,” Chmura said. “We are confident the community will move forward to make this a successful transition.”
In a written response to questions about the selection, trustees said they are committed to helping the college community understand how the process was conducted, and why “we believe Dr. Healey is the right president for Babson at this pivotal time.”
The statement went on to say “it is clear that there are members of our community who want to know more about how this decision was reached, and/or don’t agree with the choice we made.
“There also are large numbers of faculty, students, staff, and alumni who have reached out to express their support and their commitment to work with the president-elect to move Babson forward.”
Chmura said that providing formal responses to questions raised by the Faculty Senate is a common practice at Babson.
Healey served as lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2007 and was a member of the Republican National Committee. A Harvard graduate, she holds a doctorate from Trinity College in Dublin.
Universities and colleges often select former political figures to lead their institutions, such as former US representative Martin Meehan, who is chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Healey said she is no longer involved in partisan politics. She resigned from the Republican National Committee and has stopped advocating for candidates. She said she is unsure whether she would run for public office again. “I can’t even think more than six years ahead,” Healey said.
She said Tuesday that she has been an entrepreneurial leader in the political and nonprofit sectors. “Babson embraces all kinds of entrepreneurship, including social entrepreneurship and people who are entrepreneurs in their approach to government, as well as those who work in the private sector,” she said.
After the announcement, Healey told the Globe that she hopes to transform Babson into a global institution.
Dean Dennis Hanno, a popular figure on Babson’s campus, said he is confident that Healey will bring a new energy and network to the college.
“Len Schlesinger has had much of an impact,” he said. “And I think people are or were generally concerned about losing that moment, and I’m not.”
Matt Muller, 22, Babson’s student body president, said he is pleased with the board’s choice, and how the administration has responded to student concerns.
“On a personal level I’m pretty excited that Dr. Healey is on board,” he said. “Len is a very difficult person to follow up, in terms of his decisions and strategies for the school.’’ Muller said Healey will do well: “Having had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Healey at length, she gets what Babson is about.”