WELCOME TO BENNINGTON from Bennington College on Vimeo.

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

Bennington College invites inquiries, nominations, and applications for the newly created position of chief of staff to the president. The anticipated start date for the position is mid to late-October 2021.

Bennington is an innovative and distinguished residential liberal arts college that has, since its founding in 1932, been a laboratory for new ideas and an intellectual home to countless artists, activists, and thinkers who have shaped contemporary culture. The college was the first to include the visual and performing arts in a liberal arts education, and it is the only college to require that its students spend a term—every year—at work in the world. Bennington’s 800 students work intensively with faculty and staff to forge individualized and hands-on educational paths around their driving questions and interests, and also devote themselves to a number of community outreach efforts, often tied to the endeavors they are pursuing in their coursework.

Bennington is in the midst of an immensely exciting and transformative period in its history. In advance of the college’s upcoming strategic planning process, President Laura Walker has constituted and empowered two critical campus working groups: the President’s Working Group, which is charged with envisioning a future for Bennington College that is more diverse, more inclusive and is actively fighting against racism, and the Shared Governance Task Force, whose charge is to explore and agree on a shared governance statement of principles, responsibility matrix, and shared governance design. President Walker has also overseen successful national searches for key executive leadership roles in academic affairs; advancement and communications; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and student life. The college is poised to double its endowment in the next five years and recently received a $300,000 two-year grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, which will support restructuring the academic leadership team to strengthen the student experience.

Situated on 440 breathtaking acres in Bennington, Vermont, the campus is a convergence of creative minds, distinctive buildings, and expansive spaces. Bennington has been named one of ten college campuses with the best architecture by Architectural Digest. From campus, it is a short drive to MASS MoCA, Clark Art Institute, and other cultural offerings of the northern Berkshires in Massachusetts; Albany, New York; and many of Vermont’s top recreational centers. New York City, Boston, and Burlington, Vermont are all within three and a half hours by car.

The Position

Role of the Chief of Staff at Bennington College

Reporting to President Laura Walker, the chief of staff (CoS) will be a senior advisor responsible for leading cross-departmental initiatives and serving as a “force multiplier” to the president’s efforts to lead the college at this time of transition and unparalleled complexity. They will develop ideas and processes for internal program integration, as well as stronger relationships and collaborations between Bennington College and internal and external partners, including the Board of Trustees.

Key responsibilities of the chief of staff are the following:

  • prioritize and manage the president’s schedule and activities strategically, ensuring she is using her time wisely and in the best interest of the Office of the President and the college;
  • fully prepare the president for all meetings and programs, including but not limited to preparing reports, analyses, speeches, and communiques;
  • represent the views of the president and serve as a delegated authority in her absence on strategic and operational matters to a variety of internal and external stakeholders, including Bennington faculty and staff, alumni, friends, and trustees of the college;
  • create and operationalize the systems, processes, and infrastructure necessary for meeting strategic imperatives and goals;
  • lead selected college-wide operational initiatives;
  • ensure constructive collaboration and communication among campus and external stakeholders;
  • provide complex and confidential project management leadership; and
  • support the efforts of unit leads within the college around the coordination of resource allocation, personnel, and continuous and integrated improvements.

History of the Position

This is a newly created position designed to support the President and expand her capacity in tandem with advancing Bennington’s academic mission.

Opportunities and Challenges of the Role

The chief of staff will join the college at a transformative time. They will be expected to bring strategic and change management experience, as well as curiosity and excitement for a collaborative and analytical approach to strategic work in support of Bennington in the 21st century. While there is broad recognition that as an inaugural position there is a great deal of fluidity initially as specific projects, tasks and responsibilities are further defined, broad priorities for the chief of staff are as follows:

  • earning the trust and confidence of President Walker and developing a deep understanding of her vision, style, and priorities;
  • establishing strong and collaborative relationships with the members of the president’s cabinet, Board of Trustees, and other senior leaders across the college;
  • conducting a thorough assessment of the structure of the Office of the President and leveraging the full extent of the talents and skills of the team;
  • providing strong and effective leadership for the process that will lead to the launch of Bennington’s strategic plan;
  • actively displaying an eagerness to support strategic priorities that advance the college’s commitments to diversity, equity, justice, and anti-racism; and
  • working across campus with administrative leaders, as well as with community based partners, to establish systems of collaboration that intentionally and sustainably strengthen Bennington’s operations and impact.

 

Qualifications

Qualifications and Characteristics

Bennington seeks candidates who have a bachelor’s degree or higher; a record of success at the leadership level in nonprofit, private, or public sectors; and a clear track record of analytical and collaborative project management and leadership. Experience working in higher education administration is preferred but not required.

The successful candidate will be entrepreneurial, energetic, and analytical with the ability to analyze and propose new solutions and processes to address complex problems and execute key initiatives. The ideal candidate will have outstanding planning skills and will ensure that the President is prepared for all meetings. They will be a strategic thinker with a history of leading through change; experience managing complex projects and ability to analyze and make sound and well-informed recommendations/decisions on complex issues; and well-developed mediation skills. Demonstrated skills in short and long range planning, program and project management, facilitation, and collaboration are critical. In addition, the CoS will have a proven ability to focus on priorities and strategies, and an advanced ability to develop systems of collaboration at all levels of the organization.

Additionally, the chief of staff position requires the following skills and aptitudes:

  • demonstrated emotional intelligence and influencing skills;
  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills, including written, oral, listening, and presentation skills;
  • strong analytical skills with ability to synthesize information and data;
  • familiarity with different tools and technical solutions to aid in assessments; and
  • ability to work effectively in a fast-paced environment with deadlines and multiple viewpoints.

Bennington particularly invites applications from individuals who have a passion for working with creative minds; a deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and an affinity for the distinctive mission and character of Bennington College. Applicants from diverse realms of interest, backgrounds, experience, and accomplishment are encouraged to apply.

Institution & Location

Bennington College: An Overview

Institutional History

In the early 1920s, Bennington College emerged as an idea shared by a group of forward-thinking educators and civic leaders who believed that America needed a progressive new college to forge a new direction in higher education. In 1932, with charter and land secured, the college welcomed its first class of 87 women and this idea was given life. The college became co-ed in 1969 and is still flourishing eighty-eight years since its founding.

It did not take long for Bennington to distinguish itself as a vanguard institution among American colleges and universities. Dancers flocked to the college in the 1930s and ’40s to chart the course of modern dance. In the 1940s and ’50s, as Bennington was the first college to include the visual and performing arts as an equal partner in the liberal arts curriculum, painters and sculptors gathered on its campus to redefine the visual arts canon. Always a fertile ground for writers, the 1980s and ’90s saw an influx of young talent eager to push the boundaries of contemporary literature. Today, Bennington is still a hub for artists, writers, scientists, scholars—innovators in every field—who want to apply their individual talents to addressing global issues of urgent concern.

The underlying purpose of Bennington has been clear from the start: to place students at the helm of their own education; to guide them in the direction of their greatest potential; and to enlarge, deepen, and transform their lives. Through a genuinely distinctive education, Bennington cultivates a mindset for change, a capacity to break new ground, and the conditions for progress.

The Bennington Commencement Statement

“Bennington regards education as a sensual and ethical, no less than an intellectual, process. It seeks to liberate and nurture the individuality, the creative intelligence, and the ethical and aesthetic sensibility of its students, to the end that their richly varied natural endowments will be directed toward self-fulfillment and toward constructive social purposes. We believe that these educational goals are best served by demanding of our students active participation in the planning of their own programs and in the regulation of their own lives on campus. Student freedom is not the absence of restraint, however; it is rather the fullest possible substitution of habits of self-restraint for restraint imposed by others. The exercise of student freedom is the very condition of a meaningful education and an essential aspect of the nurture of free citizens dedicated to civilized values and capable of creative and constructive membership in modern society.”

Bennington, VT

Tucked into the southwest corner of Vermont, Bennington is a beautiful town of 15,000-plus people situated at the foot of the Green Mountains. It offers an exceptional experience for those who want a small-town atmosphere coupled with proximity to major metropolitan areas. The downtown area is noted for its historically preserved architecture, outdoor seasonal dining, locally owned shops, cafés, Memorial Fountain Park, antique shops, and river walk.

Bennington is within an hour of some of the best hiking and skiing in the Northeast. Access to the Long Trail, Vermont’s oldest long-distance hiking trail, is a short walk from campus. There is trout fishing on nearby Walloomsac River and camping and swimming on Lake Paran. Bennington is an hour from the Albany International Airport and Amtrak station, twenty-five minutes from Williamstown, North Adams (home to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute), the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and MASS MoCA. The cultural resources of the Berkshires, including Jacob’s Pillow dance school, Tanglewood, and Shakespeare and Company are just over an hour away. Bennington is a three-hour drive from both New York City and Boston.

headshot of bennington college president Laura Walker

Leadership

Laura Walker, President

Laura R. Walker took office as the 11th president of Bennington College on August 1, 2020. Prior to this appointment, she was the president and CEO of New York Public Radio (NYPR), a position that she held for 23 years.

Walker is a visionary, mission-oriented, strategic leader who spearheaded the transformation of NYPR into the nation’s largest independent non-profit public radio station group and a groundbreaking producer that serves more than 26 million people each month. Walker’s vision of fearless journalism that represents the breadth of American experiences helped establish the station’s role as one of the world’s preeminent podcast producers. During her tenure, NYPR was awarded ten George Foster Peabody awards and many other honors.

Behind NYPR’s superlative journalism was a sound and strategic long-term financial model. With regular reexaminations of the media landscape, NYPR was able to consistently adapt to shifting trends and stay ahead of challenges on the horizon. Walker led three separate five-year plan processes at NYPR, translating goals into executable tactics for program production, fundraising, and partnership-building. One measure of that success is the organization’s extraordinary growth from two city-owned radio stations with an $8 million budget and 1 million monthly listeners to an independent nonprofit with a $100 million annual budget, 26 million monthly listeners on 8 radio stations, 20 nationally distributed programs, and a staff of 500. Following her time at NYPR, she was an Executive Fellow in Residence at the Yale School of Management and an advisor to media startups and nonprofits.  Walker sits on the boards of The Commonwealth Fund, the Eagle Picher Trust, Yale University’s Honorary Degree Committee, and the President’s Advisory Council of Wesleyan University.

In 2009 and again in 2017, Walker was named by Crain’s as one of New York City’s 50 Most Powerful Women. She has been honored with an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She was recognized in May 2020 with the honorable Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award by the Municipal Arts Society for her notable contribution to the public media landscape.

Walker holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a BA in History, magna cum laude, from Wesleyan University, where she was an Olin Scholar.

Meet the President’s Leadership Team: https://www.bennington.edu/about/college-leadership

FY21 College Priorities

Academic Programs and Faculty

Bennington College distinguished itself early as a vanguard institution within American higher education. At Bennington, learning and making are inseparable. The faculty are committed not just intellectually, but also as leading practitioners in their fields. Students develop ideas in the classroom and then test those ideas where it counts—through hands-on work in the world. The result is a learning experience free of artificial barriers where students imagine, shape, and pursue their best work.

Bennington graduates are notably confident in their capacity to engage and succeed in the world because at Bennington, learning and making—on campus and in the field—are inseparable. Three structures make this possible and set a Bennington education apart:

  • First, graduate-style academic advising allows students to map a territory for study and practice that goes beyond the bounds of a traditional major and serves them at Bennington and after graduation, a process known as The Plan. Students work closely with an advisory committee of three faculty to guide their progress over four years and to ensure that their Plan is challenging, academically sound, and significant. By building, articulating, and advocating for the substance of their education, Bennington students hone their ability to thrive in a world without givens, to tolerate ambiguity, and to see clear to a solution even when a path is not laid out before them.
  • Second, Bennington is the only college in the country to require an annual internship since its founding. For six weeks each year, students work with an organization or institution of their choosing, anywhere in the world, to apply what they have learned on campus and to focus what they study and make at Bennington. In this way, students join the field that interests them without waiting for graduation.
  • Third, Bennington is a highly engaged community of active makers and practitioners, regardless of their field. The faculty and administration are mentors and peers ready to engage with students’ work in addition to being subject matter experts.

In addition to the bachelor of arts degree, Bennington offers an MFA in dance, low-residency MFAs in writing and public action, and a post-baccalaureate premedical program. With 61 full-time and 63 part-time faculty, Bennington’s teacher-practitioner model is an essential component of the college’s mission: scientists, scholars, writers, and artists, active in their fields, develop and share their work with students in the classroom. From lab assistance in faculty research to performance projects as a prelude to professional productions, students encounter faculty members’ professional activities in multiple ways.

Bennington students are expected to study broadly, exploring a range of questions and modes of inquiry and progressing to advanced work in at least one area of study. Faculty, conversely, engage students in their own work, but within the context of a wide-ranging liberal arts education. Academic advising, interdisciplinary initiatives, and long-range curricular planning, among other activities, constitute each faculty member’s participation in the development of college-wide goals and policies. Faculty discipline groups assume many essential administrative functions, including oversight of guest speaker series, production and capital expense budgets, faculty searches, curricular development, and review of graduate applicants, where appropriate.

The Plan

Central to Bennington’s founding vision was the belief that a dynamic, relevant education could best be achieved when students themselves define its direction. Further, the college envisioned that students, as a result of such purposeful self-reliance, would take with them when they graduated not only what they had learned but also the way in which they had learned it. What began as a conviction has been continuously verified over time as the college has grown, resulting in an increasingly intensified intellectual and artistic trajectory for its students.

The Plan process is essentially the soul of a Bennington education and can be seen as a theoretical map drawn by every student with the aim of reaching an identified curricular destination. This destination often changes, sometimes slightly, sometimes significantly, as students identify more enriching routes of scholarly and artistic discovery. When such redirections occur, the map is re-drawn, the Plan revised. The oversight and assessment of each student’s respective Plan at Bennington is multi-faceted and broad. It includes individual faculty members, an advisor, a Plan committee, and faculty from the disciplines that make up the student’s declared areas of study.

With their Plans as aids and reference, Bennington students progressively formulate the questions that drive their areas of study, with the aim of bringing them to fruition in sophisticated work. The process assumes that meaningful learning works best when rooted in a student’s ever-expanding curiosity, rather than being imposed by following entrenched institutional paths. Internal sources of order replace external templates as students, in consultation with faculty, design the content, structure, and sequence of their curricula, taking full advantage of the college’s varied resources.

In devising and implementing a Plan, students are asked to write and rewrite a series of prospective and reflective essays that form the basis of their ongoing discussions with faculty advisors and Plan committees. These focused narratives not only require them to detail their academic goals and strategies, but also to describe their commitment to and deepening immersion in their studies and the degree of progress toward their aims.

https://www.bennington.edu/academic-services/bennington-college-plan-process

The Student Body

The student body consists of nearly 700 undergraduate students and 102 graduate students. Most graduate students are enrolled in low-residency MFA programs. A Bennington education extends from the classroom into the library, dining halls, recreational spaces, campus organizations, and Vermont outdoors. Students devote themselves to a number of community outreach efforts, often tied to the things they are pursuing in their coursework.

Many students take an active role in campus governance, contributing to and helping foster discussions of academic policy, community living, and other aspects of life at Bennington. Through committee work and ongoing conversation, they join with faculty members and administrators to create a culture informed by respect for individual differences, self-discipline, and a commitment to the common good.

Student Demographics (as of January 2021)

Total undergraduates: 697

Women: 70 percent

US students of color: 19 percent

International students: 18 percent

Number of countries represented: 60 (including the US)

Out of state students: 96 percent (among domestic students)

Top 5 states represented: NY, CA, MA, VT, and TX

Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1

https://www.bennington.edu/about/outcomes/fast-facts

Benefits Overview

Bennington College offers the following comprehensive and competitive benefits to employees:

  • Medical Insurance
  • Dental Insurance
  • Vision Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Voluntary Accident Insurance and Critical Illness Insurance
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Long Term Disability Insurance
  • Employee Reimbursement Accounts
  • Statement of Domestic Partnership
  • Retirement Plan
  • Education Benefits

For more information: https://www.bennington.edu/human-resources/benefits-information-and-forms

Application & Nomination

Bennington College has retained Spelman Johnson to assist with this search. Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. To apply for this position please click on the Apply button, complete the brief application process, and upload your resume and position-specific cover letter.

Confidential inquiries and nominations should be directed to Michel Frendian, Search Consultant, at mrf@spelmanjohnson.com. Applicants needing reasonable accommodation to participate in the application process should contact Spelman Johnson at 413-529-2895.

Visit the Bennington College web site at www.bennington.edu.

Bennington College is committed to a policy of nondiscrimination as defined under applicable state and federal laws, including but not limited to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. The College does not discriminate in its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV test, or any other legally protected status.