Last June, I passed my one-year anniversary as a college president. It was an exciting year, with a major anniversary (125 years), my inauguration, an extensive alumni “welcome” tour, trips to China and Ecuador for academic program discussions, and campus-wide strategic and master planning dominating the landscape.
As I contemplate this past year, I've been thinking about one particular piece of advice I heard often in my transition to the job.
Every how-to-be-a-college-president handbook -- as yet there is no Idiot's Guide to Being a College President, though at times I have certainly felt qualified to write it -- notes in happy tones that a president's first year is time to “listen, question, engage, learn.” It’s a time to introduce one's self to the community, meet faculty and staff, get to know traditions -- a time for contemplation and meditation.
In a tone more foreboding, most of these guides also warn that this first year is not time to -- perish the thought -- act. The thought seems to be that a new president, selected over hundreds of applicants, needs an orientation year to learn the intricacies of the new institution and, perhaps, build goodwill.
I'm afraid I have been resolutely unsuccessful on this particular goal. What is one to do when a key message on every listening tour I've embarked upon has been “Let's get moving....”? And so we have. I am at least somewhat gratified that the fellow first-year presidents with whom I have spoken have said the same.
The times won't allow liberal arts colleges a year or more to breathe easy.
What have we done at Alma? The list is long, but a few of the highlights:
- We made major commitments to become a part of our small city's downtown and moved our bookstore from campus to Main Street.
- We developed a new partnership with an international studies center in Washington, D.C., the Osgood Center, with the intention of bringing more students from China to our campus.
- We added five academic majors – the first new majors the College has added in 17 years -- over two years (including the year prior to my arrival).
- We added four new varsity sports, the first additions to our athletic offerings in 23 years.
Each of these developments emerged alongside key aims of our strategic plan.
I have learned much of Alma in a year, but not at the expense of inaction. I’m grateful to a college community – faculty, staff, students and alumni – that has been open to a faster pace of responding to the challenges of our time.