July 1 was my first official day in the big corner office on the third floor of Mem, a day that I had been anticipating for months. My appointment as Whitman’s 14th President was announced back on November 13, so I had lots of time (some might say too much time) to ponder what July 1 would feel like. The best description I can offer is that it just feels right; it feels like it was meant to be.
I have known of Whitman College throughout my career. I learned more about this special place when Lori Bettison-Varga was appointed Provost. (I had gotten to know Lori when she served as an associate dean at the College of Wooster, and we have stayed in touch since.) Then in 2010, I was invited to come to Whitman to do a review of the structure of the Provost’s office, and I got to spend a couple of days on campus interacting with faculty and staff. That short, whirlwind visit stuck with me. I was enormously impressed with the level of engagement from both faculty and staff. When the Whitman presidential opportunity was posted last summer, I knew I had to explore the possibility.
It was at that point that I met Trustees Brad McMurchie ’84 and Nancy Serrurier. They flew to the Twin-Cities to meet me, and we spent a truly remarkable morning together. Their passion for all things Whitman was contagious, and I found myself hooked at a very early point in the search process. The Presidential Search Committee, with broad representation from governing board members, faculty, staff and students did the rest of the convincing. By October, I knew that I was going to be very disappointed if I did not get the opportunity to join the Whitman community.
So, now we’re here and beginning to get to know the Whitman and Walla Walla communities. We arrived on a Friday in late June to experience record-breaking heat in Walla Walla. Some people have suggested that we are somehow responsible for weather extremes in Walla Walla, since it snowed on the day my appointment was announced and temperatures hit 113 degrees the weekend we moved to town.
Everyone has been extraordinarily welcoming, with flowers, plants, bottles of local wine, and genuinely warm smiles and greetings. We’ve been to the Farmers Market, found a dry cleaners, roamed Pioneer Park on the 4th of July, and are really beginning to feel at home.
Since November, I have traveled to Portland, to Phoenix and to Walla Walla three times to continue building relationships with governing board members and the senior staff and faculty leadership of the college. I’ve asked a lot of questions and done a lot of listening, and I expect to continue that pattern during these first few months on campus. I’m counting on all members of the Whitman family to help me develop my understanding of the special culture of this place.
I spent a week in the middle of July at the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents, a sort of boot camp for presidents in their first year of service. At the end of the seminar, I had my first alumni/parent event, enjoying a great evening with Whitties just outside Boston. We are planning events in many more cities throughout this first year so that I can get to know as many members of our extended community as possible.
One of my first jobs on campus is to identify Whitman’s next Provost and Dean of the Faculty. I have already assembled a search committee and have had two meetings with that group. The position description is coming together, and the search firm is beginning to develop a list of prospects. We anticipate interviewing candidates in the fall, hoping to finalize an appointment sometime early in 2016. If you know of potential candidates, I welcome your suggestions.
I look forward to hearing all the great stories that make up Whitman’s history and to talking with you about your hopes for Whitman’s future. We have important work to do together. Now really is the time.