Haverford is searching for a new Athletic Director after the departure last July of Wendy Smith, Haverford’s Athletic Director since 2007. Smith’s absence created a notable hole in the athletics department: “Wendy had an insider’s knowledge of Haverford Athletics. She clearly cared deeply about all the teams and programs,” said Deborah Strecker, Assistant Vice President for Institutional Giving.
To replace Smith, Michael Vienna was immediately hired as the interim athletic director for the 2021–22 academic year. Vienna came out of retirement to help guide Haverford through this transition thanks to his long and successful history of being an athletic director. He spent twenty-three years as the athletic director at Salisbury University. Following that, Vienna spent time at both Emory University and Marymount University. Dean of the College John McKnight said Vienna “has done an amazing job supporting our athletics and coaches” during this interim period. However, now Haverford is looking for a candidate to permanently hold this position.
In order to ensure that the college will hire the best possible candidate, the search committee, chaired by Strecker and McKnight, brought in an external firm, Parker Executive Search, to help facilitate the process. Strecker said the firm will make sure “[our] net is cast as widely as it can be because they have familiarity with the networks that already exist.”
In the search for a new athletic director, the committee is looking for “someone with a unique skill set.” McKnight explained: “The Athletic Director is a complex leadership role, which serves a lot of different constituencies: students, recruits, alumni, parents.” He emphasized that the athletic director must have the rare quality of being “someone who can interact with all these different groups with an equal level of comfortability.”
Haverford’s administration has made it a priority to fill this vacancy. The process to find candidates started as early as October when the search committee and Parker Executive Search first sat down to determine what professional experience and personal qualities that they wanted to see in the ideal applicant. Strecker said it was agreed that the Athletic Director “must understand the importance of school-life balance, must be able to advocate well for the financial needs of athletic programs, and must be passionate about Haverford.”
There are hopes that a new Athletic Director could help bridge the noted social divide between athletes and non-athletes on campus. Strecker called it a “great opportunity for Haverford for athletic programs to become more integrated into the community,” saying that a new leader for Haverford Athletics “opens doors to engage in dialogue and to be more communicative with everyone at Haverford.”
McKnight also sees the vacancy as representing “a new era” for the relationship between Haverford Athletics and Haverford at large. However, McKnight cautioned that “everyone needs to play a role in healing a social divide.” He also stated that he did not have “any specific concerns about any ‘X’ team, but he has heard observations about social spaces on campus” and that he knows “people on campus want to have a conversation.”
With all this in mind, the search committee started to host listening sessions with many different groups affiliated with Haverford. The search committee met with the Parent Leadership Council, which defines itself as a “volunteer committee of family members of students and alumni who work closely with the Office of Annual Giving.” They also sat down with Haverford Athletics Leaders, a group of graduated Haverford athletes that, in their own words, “aim to connect alumni with opportunities to support the current goals of the Department of Athletics.”
The senior leadership of the college was also consulted via a listening session. Additionally, the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, the Athletes of Color Coalition, and Students’ Council all have a representative on the search committee.
The deadline for candidates to apply is December 10. After that, the search committee will review the applicants and bring finalists to campus for in-person interviews. Tentatively, these final interviews will happen in late January.
Ideally, the search committee aims to tap their chosen candidate in early February. The chosen candidate will immediately replace Vienna as head of Haverford Athletics. Strecker said “the goal is to start as early in the Spring  semester as possible” and she is “optimistic” that this will happen.
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