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College Try
September 21, 2010 - 4:15pm

One doesn't grow up wanting to be a college president. Firefighter, yes. Doctor, certainly. But college president? Even the principal's kid wouldn't have thought of it.

But here I am, starting out my first academic year at Alma College, a liberal arts college I've known and admired for years.

For colleges and universities, presidential transitions offer a great opportunity to answer lingering questions about identity, to determine aspirations, to recall core values.

For the new president -- just another freshman, I've been saying on campus as students have returned--the aspiration is to listen and learn from the traditions of the place, even as I prepare for a plan that will inevitably involve change.

Every day, I have the opportunity to model the sort of president everyone wants: collegial, ready with a joke, reflective, strategic, transparent.

Of course, I also have the opportunity to model the kind of president no one wants: dull, overly cautious, mushy, living at 5,000 feet, top-down thinker.

I expect I'll do best by sticking to what I know. I knew I'd made the right match as a candidate, when I was no longer worried about either impressing or putting off but could just be myself, when one conversation after another demonstrated the depth of the match.

That sense has only grown deeper three months into the job.

And now comes the real work: at a time when everyone in higher education seems to be calling for a revolution, with college leaders foreseeing the end of higher education as we know it, how will the role of the president, and of the liberal arts college, change in the years to come? I've learned a lot in three months, and I'll take up these questions in this space in the months to come.


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