Presidential search committee swiftly begins with listening sessions

The Gilman Fountain in front of the AGC Administrative Center, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Zachary Galen/The Occidental

The Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC) is in a time crunch as they work towards appointing a new president at Occidental by the time President Harry Elam makes an early departure in June 2024. According to Committee Chair Art Peck ’77, the last search took well over a year. The PSAC had their first virtual meeting Oct. 18 and have been organizing listening sessions across the Occidental community since then.

The Occidental Board of Trustees sent an email to the student body Oct. 20 stating that they had finalized the roster of the PSAC. According to the email, the PSAC consists of eight trustees, deans of the college, members of the administration, members of the faculty and two student representatives. The PSAC, formed by the Board of Trustees, is responsible for developing the position profile, soliciting applications from candidates, generating a pool of candidates with the returning executive search firm Isaacson, Miller and submitting qualified finalists.

In this same email, students were invited to participate in listening sessions the following week. According to the Board of Trustees, which will ultimately make the hiring selection, student involvement is crucial when informing the role description and reviewing applicants.

“The board has the power to just make a decision and appoint a president and move on,” Peck said. “But there’s no way that the board would not want to have the process be inclusive and as transparent as possible.”

According to Peck, this is one of several misconceptions about the Board of Trustees with regard to the members and their intentions. Peck said there are approximately 40 trustees – including alumni and parents – and they are uncompensated, which means each trustee takes on responsibility for the sake of the Occidental community. In fact, according to Peck, they are expected to make annual financial contributions. As a member of the Board of Trustees, Peck said he is driven by Occidental’s role in shaping the world.

“At a time when we live in what seems like an increasingly divided world… to educate leaders as critical thinkers, who are representative of the communities that we live and work in, is a big part of what Occidental stands for,” Peck said.

According to Peck, the PSAC is searching for a candidate who shares Occidental’s culture of care and will make swift strides with the integrated strategic planning completed during Elam’s term of The Occidental Promise, a declaration promising academic excellence, forging unique and mutually beneficial relationships with LA and educating the whole student for a restorative community.

Peck also said this intention to move forward on The Occidental Promise is one aspect of how the presidential job description will differ from the previous search.

“A lot has happened since then — the pesky pandemic, The Occidental Promise, the integrated strategic plan… Half the people on the board today were not around for that search,” Peck said.

Biology professor and the Faculty Council President John McCormack said he helped select the college faculty members sitting on the PSAC. McCormack said that he intentionally selected faculty members that represent all axes of diversity, including division and rank.

Students mentioned protections for professionals, among other initiatives they are looking for in the next president, in the most recent listening session Oct. 27 led by Isaacson, Miller. Students also said the president should attend to increased accessibility on campus, reimagining Campus Safety, fair wages for employees, an investment in mental health resources and a direct statement from administration condemning the current conflict in Gaza.

There are also qualities of Elam that these students hope are reflected in the next president. Both student representatives Claire Kosek (sophomore) and Julien De Goldsmith (sophomore) said that they admire how involved Elam is in student activism and student life.

“It was nice to see him familiarize himself with other students,” De Goldsmith said. “Like a support system for students [that] embodies [their] values.”

Presidential Search Committee Student Representative Julien De Goldsmith (sophomore) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 24, 2023. Jonathan Henry/The Occidental

Kosek and De Goldsmith encourage students to fill out the presidential search scoping survey as well as reach out in person in order to voice their needs and desires for the next president.

“If they see me on the Quad, they can come up and say, ‘Hey, in your next meeting I really think that it’s important that you have someone who’s sustainability-oriented’,” Kosek said. “I’m here to represent the student body.”

Presidential Search Committee Student Representative Claire Kosek (junior) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 23, 2023. Johathan Henry/The Occidental

Kosek also said that students have a special ability to voice how a president can change the campus culture.

“I think for the student body, it’s mainly about the personability and the human side of the applicant,” Kosek said. “A change in president will change our campus culture, but it can be something beautiful.”

Contact Yanori Ferguson at


  1. I am a member of the local Occidental community of Highland Park. What is the reason for Pres. Elam’s upcoming departure ? I don’t think the article mentioned that issue.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here