NORTH ADAMS — The field of candidates for the position of president at MCLA has been narrowed to two.
On Thursday, the Executive Committee of the MCLA board of trustees voted to focus on the final two candidates: Jaimie Birge and Alan Ray. The unanimous vote followed a discussion and review of the search, which began in July, according to board Chairman Tyler Fairbank.
"What we've got are two outstanding candidates," he said. "They're both delightful men, unbelievably smart, and either of them would make a tremendous president at MCLA."
The board will meet again at 5 p.m. Thursday in Murdock Hall room 218 to further discuss the candidates and to vote on which finalist to recommend to the Board of Higher Education as the next president of MCLA. The meeting will be open to the public.
This is the second search conducted to replace former President Mary Grant. The first search, which began in August 2014, yielded a finalist who accepted the position in March 2015, then had to withdraw due to family medical issues.
Board Vice Chairman James C. Clemmer is serving as interim president.
Once a candidate is chosen, the selection will be submitted to the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education for approval on Jan. 9. He would presumably start work within several weeks.
Both finalists have been thoroughly vetted, interviewed a number of times, and have visited with students, staff and faculty during visits to the school in mid-November, Fairbank said. Members of the college community were able to provide their impressions on the candidates through a website, which were taken into consideration during the evaluation process.
"We're very fortunate to have run a search that yielded such a strong field," he said. Birge, who is currently serving as interim president at Marygrove College in Detroit, has worked in higher education for more than 30 years.
He served as the fourth president of Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H., from 2009 to 2015. Previously, he served as the executive vice president and interim president at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.V.
Birge holds a Ph.D. in leadership studies from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., a master of education in guidance and counseling from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Westfield State University in Massachusetts.
Ray stepped down from Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., in June 2015 after seven years of service as president and professor of religion and society. He is currently in residence at Harvard Law School as a visiting scholar, where he conducts research on issues in higher education leadership.
Ray received his Juris Doctor from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law, and holds a Ph.D. in the study of religion from Harvard University. He received his bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, from the former St. Thomas Seminary College, in Denver.
The two candidates come from former leadership positions that offered very different challenges.
Birge's main challenge at Franklin Pierce University was financial: The small, private college has faced difficulties in meeting its obligations and recently had to eliminate several programs of study and 12 positions while its credit rating was downgraded by two rating agencies. Through debt restructuring, new offerings and a stronger student enrollment, the school continues to move forward.
During Ray's tenure at Elmhurst College — an established private, four-year college affiliated with the United Church of Christ, he was credited with several capital and educational additions to the school.