Emerson taps Storbeck Search to find President Lee Pelton’s replacement


The Berkeley Beacon Archives

President M. Lee Pelton.

By Dana Gerber and Frankie Rowley

Emerson tapped Storbeck Search, an executive search firm that specializes in leadership hiring for education and nonprofits, to assist the board of trustees in hiring the college’s 13th President on Jan. 22. The move comes with just over four months until current President M. Lee Pelton is slated to step down to head the Boston Foundation.

The board of trustees’ Presidential Search Committee is committed to finding President Pelton’s successor by the end of the academic year, an email sent Friday by current board Chair Jeffrey Greenhawt said. More details about the search process are expected in the following weeks, and input from members of the Emerson community—including students, faculty, and staff—will be included throughout the search.

Pelton’s predecessor, Jaqueline Liebergott, announced in December of 2009 she would be stepping down at the end of the 2010-11 academic year. Pelton was announced as the successor in September of 2010 following an intensive national search—also spearheaded by Storbeck. The 12th President of Emerson and the first Black person to hold the position, Pelton did not assume office until July of 2011, after an eight-month transition period.

Sofiya Cabalquinto, associate vice president of communications and marketing, declined to comment on the timeline of hiring Pelton’s successor.

“The college will share more information about the search process with the Emerson community, including a sense of the timeline, as soon as that becomes available,” Cabalquinto wrote in an emailed statement to The Beacon.

Given the stated timeframe of the hiring process, if Pelton’s successor is hired at the end of the academic year, there will likely be no transition period. Instead, the 13th president will take the helm of the college as it navigates reopening for the fall 2021 term—likely still amid the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine distribution. The hastened hiring process raises the possibility of the college appointing an interim president until a permanent replacement is found.

Cabalquinto declined to comment on whether or not Emerson will appoint an interim president.

The college anticipates incurring only $30 million in losses for the 2021 fiscal year, a figure considered a “best case scenario” following projections of up to $100 million in losses. Pelton’s successor will likely have to navigate the continuing financial impact of the pandemic, including deciding when to discontinue mitigation efforts, such as the partial hiring freeze, college-level cost-cutting, and a pause on retirement contributions.

Liebergott served as interim president beginning in 1992 before fully assuming the role in 1993.

Pelton will step into the presidency at the Boston Foundation, a philanthropic organization that partners with donors to provide grants and other support to local nonprofits, on June 1.

Emerson has employed Storbeck Search in the past. The firm recruited seven positions within the institution, including Vice President for Administration and Finance Paul Dworkis in 2019 and Vice President and Dean for Campus Life Jim Hoppe in 2016.

Storbeck Search is “committed to working proactively to recruit excellent and diverse pools of candidates to ensure an equitable and inclusive process for all,” Greenhawt wrote in the email.

Founded in 2007, Storbeck has worked with other institutions in the Boston area, such as Berklee College of Music, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Suffolk University, and Tufts University.

When recruiting and assessing potential candidates, Storbeck Search will “draw on our broad networks and proactively recruit accomplished candidates who may not be looking for new positions as well as candidates with strong ties to the client institution,” according to their website. They help the Search Committee evaluate potential candidates, as well as pursue a six-step vetting process, which includes exhaustive background checks and references. Storbeck Search consultants also advise on the terms and compensation of employment.

Storbeck Search declined to comment to The Beacon.

Michael MacWade, a class of ’84 alumnus and incoming chair of the board of trustees, will be leading the Presidential Search Committee. MacWade also declined to comment to The Beacon.

In his decade-long tenure, Pelton oversaw the creation of the business of creative enterprises and comedic arts majors, the development of the Office of Internationalization and Global Engagement, and the opening of Emerson’s Los Angeles campus. Pelton, who earns nearly $900,000 a year, according to the college’s most recent tax forms, also led a merger with Marlboro College last year that netted Emerson approximately $20 million in assets.

When announcing his resignation, Pelton reflected on how the college has personally impacted him in the decade he served as president. He added that he intended to remain president for “the next several years,” but said “the triple pandemic of COVID-19, economic devastation, and the public exposure of systemic racial disparities that have long plagued our country” compelled him to turn his attention elsewhere.

“We are called to seize the moment, to help write a new chapter for Boston and for future generations that will follow,” he wrote in a community-wide email on Dec. 1. “I believe the Foundation has enormous potential to address these inequities and make a difference for people long overlooked by society, and I intend to do just that. I hope that I will make you proud.”