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Notes for a letter that I will not send to the BoT (#1071)

Topics/tags: Grinnell

A few days ago, we received an update about Grinnell’s current Presidential search that said, in effect, the search is still on. I realize that the message was intended to be hopeful and encouraging, and I suppose it was, but it also got me thinking. I’ve put those thoughts in the form of a draft letter to the Board of Trustees (aka The Grinnell BOT [1]). It’s not one I intend to send.

Dear Members of the Grinnell Board of Trustees,

Thank you for your hard work in these difficult times. I can’t imagine the difficulty of managing so many competing needs and expectations, particularly the ways Grinnell can support our students and our academic program while also acknowledging the responsibility to ensure that the Grinnell we all know and love persists.

I am writing to you with comments about the Presidential search and some related issues.

As you likely know from my comments at the open forum [2], there are many characteristics I would like to see in the next President. We need someone who deeply values liberal education and the special characteristics of a Grinnell education and who can speak clearly and perhaps even off-the-cuff about those values, particularly in these times. We need someone who can be a peacemaker, who can help steer the faculty, administration, staff, and students into a coherent and mutually respectful whole. We need someone who can communicate with and between multiple groups.

Our President also needs to be able to work well with the Dean (or vice versa), which leads me to reflect on the associated roles of the Dean. Like the President, the Dean must also embrace both liberal education and Grinnell’s own approach. The Dean must be able to help the faculty develop and refine our academic program. That second goal also requires not only that the Dean understands the many processes at Grinnell but also that they have the vision and ability to help us approach issues in new ways. The Dean must have the respect of the faculty. And, of course, the Dean must also be able to help build connections and respect on campus.

I realize that there are many other necessary goals and expectations for both President and Dean. But I consider embrace and explain Grinnell and build connections to be core characteristics. I hope you do, too.

I’m glad to see that you have made contingency plans for an unsuccessful or delayed Presidential search. As you know, Anne Harris is a gem. We are so fortunate to have brought her to Grinnell. Your decision to appoint her as Interim President suggests that she has another characteristic I value, the ability to work well with the Board. Elaine Marzluff, our Interim Dean, has been a core member of the Grinnell community since her arrival, a tireless advocate for diversity, an innovative thinker who has brought new approaches and new programs to the College, someone who knows and loves Grinnell, but is unafraid to push it in new directions, a colleague valued enough to be elected Chair of the Faculty.

And that makes me wonder. Would it, perhaps, make sense to call off the Presidential search? Anne would make a great new President. Elaine would make a great new Dean. We know that they can work together well. Why not close the search and take the awesome choices we are about to have in place? Wouldn’t certainty and stability be useful things in these turbulent times?

Take care and be well.

– SamR

I have no idea whether Anne has an interest in being President rather than Dean of if Elaine is willing to spend the next five or so years away from teaching, but I really do think they’d be awesome in those roles, both individually and in a pair. And wouldn’t it be better to avoid having to bring a new President up to speed during a time of chaos and wondering how well they will work with our wonderful Dean?

I think Anne’s done a great job of getting up to speed about Grinnell’s too many academic policies and practices. But I’ve also watched both Mike and Anne make decisions or choose approaches that run counter to those policies and practices [3]. Elaine understands our policies and procedures better than almost anyone [5]. And, as I noted, she’s been a tireless advocate for diversity, has created novel programs [6], and has the respect of the faculty. I would love to work under the two of them. I expect others would, too.

Will I send this letter? Probably not. My goal wasn’t to write a letter to send. The letter was just the form that seemed best for getting my thoughts in order. Maybe I’ll pass the suggestion on to the Chairs of the Faculty [8] to get their take.

[1] This time, I’ll let you make the snarky jokes.

[2] Or my musing on the topic, if you happen to read my musings.

[3] Will I ever be able to let go of Mike’s utter surprise at hearing that the Instructional Support Committee has some oversight responsibility for the bookstore and that they should therefore have been involved in the review of the bookstore? [4]

[4] It appears not.

[5] Certainly better than me, and I think that’s saying something. I will not list those who I expect know these policies and procedures better than either of us.

[6] Such as new faculty orientation and the ECFS [7] group. I know that there have been many more.

[7] Early Career Faculty & Staff.

[8] Outgoing and incoming.

Version 1.0 of 2020-05-16.