New president can be nontraditional: Presidential Search Committee drops requirement of doctorate


by Rachel Neumann, Special to the Simpsonian

When evaluating candidates, Simpson’s Presidential Search Committee is willing to accept a more nontraditional background to lead the college.

Stated in the Search Prospectus, a document given to potential candidates, the sole required qualifications are a bachelor’s degree and “progressively responsible executive-level experience and demonstrated record of success.”

Student Body President Jailyn Seabrooks, a member of the Search Committee, says the college is looking to go in a new direction.

“It is less important about the degrees they hold and maybe it is less important that they come from the traditional path we see presidents come from,” Seabrooks said. 

Since 1898, every Simpson College president has held an advanced degree. Joseph B. Harris was the exception when he served as an interim president for one year in 1898.

The idea of college and university presidents having advanced degrees is common.

According to a study conducted by Gallup and Inside Higher Ed, a majority of college presidents believe their position should require a Ph.D. and an extensive career in education.

However, the controversial choice of a nontraditional president to lead one of Iowa’s universities is not new.   

The selection of the current president of the University of Iowa, Bruce Herrald, a businessman with limited experience in academic administration, centered on the belief he could cut costs and find new sources of revenue for the school.

An ability to generate money is high on the priority list for Simpson. Financial woes within the last year resulted in several rounds of layoffs and closing of departments.  

Some believe this will come through shifting the target demographic and embracing a different population.

Jackie Brittingham, a faculty member on the Search Committee, says the college plans to emphasize the Des Moines metropolitan community in its new strategic plan and mission and vision statements.

“Simpson has to recognize that those demographics are shifting. Small towns are not growing,” Brittingham said. “We are in a unique position among other small, private colleges in Iowa in that we are so close to the Des Moines metropolitan area.”

Des Moines is currently home to two private colleges, Drake University and Grand View University. 

Another way Simpson is taking a more holistic approach to education is by allowing students a choice to exclude standardized test scores in the application process.

Students with a 3.25 GPA or higher can choose to submit other information instead of an ACT score to better represent their abilities in the classroom.

Terry Handley, a member of the Board of Trustees, was unable to be reached for comment.