Letter From the Board Chair
Dear Sweet Briar College community:
Oh, what a journey we have traveled together! We are so very grateful for you and the tremendous support you have shown us as we fortify and shape Sweet Briar College to meet its bright future.
Some months ago, when President Phil Stone quietly urged that I, as Chair of the Board of Directors, begin the long, challenging and thoughtful process of selecting the next leader of this great institution, I confess that I politely ignored him. I hoped that if I did not acknowledge his suggestion, it would not be and we could continue in the successful fashion we had all too recently designed and he had so adeptly implemented.
President Stone insisted, however, his role had been to work with us to right this ship — to undo what had been done and to chart a course to calm water — which he did. He insisted further that though he loved Sweet Briar, he was not the one to lead it to where it needed to be, that there was another who would cast a vision for this College. He is a wise and selfless man. We owe President Stone, and his wife Cherrill, our deepest gratitude for giving of themselves and leading us to this point of celebration today.
Last spring, as we announced President Stone’s impending retirement and prepared to survey the field for our new leader, we were blessed twice: once with the capable search firm of Storbeck/Pimentel and once with a search committee of 13 strong, diverse, thoughtful and committed souls determined to do the very best thing for Sweet Briar College whatever the demand on their time or whatever the hindrance to their other commitments.
That process led us to a result I do not think we could have imagined some eight months ago. We had no shortage of superior candidates for the position of president of Sweet Briar College. One hundred and fifty people applied, or were nominated or otherwise contacted in regard to the position. Some 42 candidates were referred to the search committee as qualified candidates, 29 were reviewed in-depth and discussed by the search committee, 11 were interviewed and one stood out as a star among stars.
We have found that right fit to lead Sweet Briar at this time. It is with great excitement that I, on behalf of the Sweet Briar College Board of Directors, introduce to you the unanimous selection of the Search Committee and the unanimous selection of the board, our 13th President, Dr. Meredith Woo.
President-elect Woo is a bold change-agent in the most positive sense, stating in her own words that while change is essential in order for higher education institutions like Sweet Briar to thrive, “you must remain faithful to who you are — your authentic DNA.” She “gets” Sweet Briar in the most profound way, stating in her interview with the Search Committee, and referencing the work of poet John Donne, that “Sweet Briar is a ‘little world made cunningly’: it requires a subtle understanding of its complexity and purpose.”
Noting the strong sense of belonging inherit in our Sweet Briar community, this sisterhood and ethos we create together, she said: “It would be a privilege to work with an organization so beloved.”
President-elect Woo is as eloquent as she is elegant. She is led by her sharp mind and her open heart. Most importantly, she has a Vixen’s spirit.
Her impressive biography speaks for itself. She is known in higher education circles, nationally and internationally, for her keen assessment and problem-solving skills, and for creative solution making where few others see a path forward. She does not shy away from a challenge and is thrilled to be a part of this effort to retool Sweet Briar College for a new era of educating strong women leaders.
President-elect Woo is a fierce advocate for liberal arts education and women’s education around the world. She believes that when you educate women, you educate generations and she has lived her life demonstrating that motto.
She is all this and she is a wife and a mother. Her husband, Bruce Cumings, is an author, lecturer, and the Gustavus F. & Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of History at the University of Chicago. Her son, Ben Cumings, 23, is a recent graduate of Bowdoin College and an aspiring actor.
In the coming months, we look forward to you having the opportunity to meet Meredith. She will hit the ground running with a six-week transition period starting April 3, working alongside President Stone to ensure a seamless hand-off of leadership. She will officially take office on May 15.
Please take a moment to review President-elect Woo’s professional background and accomplishments on our website, as well as details of the search process that led us to this celebratory day. And, please join with me in congratulating President-elect Woo and welcoming her to Sweet Briar.
We are bound together by this special place. May this bright casting of our future reinforce for you that together we will do great things for women’s higher education in the coming years. Onward!
Very truly yours,
Teresa Pike Tomlinson ’87
Chairwoman, Sweet Briar College Board of Directors