|President Ross Reviews the Year Past and the One Ahead on Day 367
August 25, 2008
Contact: Stacey Schmeidel
On Friday, Aug. 1, Davidson College President Tom Ross '72 began his second year on the job. After a small surprise party in a Chambers conference room, Ross looked back on his first 366 days (his first year was a Leap Year!), and looked ahead to the coming year.
President Tom Ross in his office.
Today is the first day of your second year. When you look back on your first 366 days, what are your thoughts?
The first year was fascinating, fun, at times overwhelming, all I'd hoped it would be and more. It was an adjustment, personally; there were some periods of self-doubt and discomfort in the role. There were other days when I felt like it was the right fit. I have all sorts of different emotions and reactions.
You said that the year was fun. What was the most fun?
The truth? Running up and down the bleachers in Detroit and Raleigh helping the crowd believe we could do it.
What was overwhelming?
This job has lots of responsibilities. Because you're accountable to so many different constituents-students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, neighbors, and so on-there are lots of demands on your time. Because of the schedule, the job at times feels like more than one person can manage. I'm sure [presidents emeriti] Sam [Spencer '40], Bobby [Vagt '69] and John [Kuykendall '59] managed just fine-but at times it felt like more than I could manage.
So how do you manage it?
I do my best to understand what my priorities should be. For someone as compulsive as I am, that's difficult. But I work hard to try to spend my time on the things that are most important.
Talk about your experiences with students during your first year.
Well, the most unexpected encounter happened after I'd gone down to the court to congratulate the team after one of our tournament games. As I was walking back to the stands, the whole student section stood up and started chanting my name. That was unexpected! I was completely overwhelmed. I'm overwhelmed thinking about it now.
The most fun encounter was probably the reaction to my bit role in the dance ensemble video this spring. After the video aired, the students at the concert started chanting my name. And Jim Nash [technical director at the College Union] tells me that it's the first and only time someone's name has been chanted in Duke Family Performance Hall.
You guest-lectured in a couple of classes during your first year. How did those experiences inform your impressions of the college's academic program?
I realized that the really talented faculty we have at Davidson work hard to prepare for class and to be creative and innovative in their teaching techniques
One of the distinguishing characteristics of your first year has been the strategic assessment process. Can you talk about where that process stands?
When I came to Davidson last summer, I had set certain goals for myself. First, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the college. Second, I wanted to use the transition to encourage the college community-students, faculty, staff, alumni-to think about what Davidson is today, what the future holds, and how we could best align ourselves to that future. I've done this kind of strategic assessment in other organizations, and I think that the timing of the strategic assessment process is important. In this case, I thought it was important that we undertake that process right away-if we didn't, we'd perhaps lose our chance.
My own style is to be as inclusive as possible, because none of us has sufficient intellect to have all the answers; the more people you have engaged in the process, the better your results will be. So I feel good about where our strategic assessment process is. A lot of hard work has been done; at the same time, there is still a lot of hard work to come. We've spent the last year examining the external and internal forces that are shaping the college, and dreaming about what the college might look like 10 years from now. It's easier to dream when you're not bounded by reality. My hope, as we enter into the second year of this process, is that people have been involved enough that they'll understand that we now have to start tempering our dreams with reality.
|Staff members in Chambers Building surprised President Ross with a cake in celebration of his first year in office. |
It's also important that the process continues to be inclusive. And it's my hope and my goal that at the end of this year we'll have a road map for where we want to go. That doesn't mean we'll have every move mapped out-the world changes, things happen. But we'll have a plan in place-and when you have a plan in place, you're able to respond to changing circumstances.
First-because it's the right thing to do, and because of the state of the economy-we need to do our best, as an institution and a community, to develop a lifestyle that's as sustainable as possible. We need to conserve energy (and perhaps even create energy), conserve water, think about water quality, and understand the role we play in our local community in a period of growth. I'm excited by new opportunities in this area, and optimistic that we can live in a more sustainable way.
Second, we need to continue the strong, powerful discussions we began last year regarding issues of difference and diversity in our community.
Third, it would be nice if all of our athletic teams went undefeated this year! But I guess I can't make that my personal goal.
Fourth, as we work through our strategic assessment process, we need to develop a campus master plan that will look out 10-12 years and assess our campus resources. We'll build this into a plan that will allow us to be creative and thoughtful about the issues facing us, rather than just reacting to them.
Finally, I hope that we'll continue to strengthen our relationship with the town of Davidson. We had a good start with that last year, and I think we can build on that in the years to come. We also need to continue to reach out to the broader Charlotte community, to help them understand the gem that is Davidson College, and to make them aware of the cultural, athletic and engagement opportunities that we offer. By the same token, it's important that we become involved with the greater Charlotte community in a way that's consistent with our stated purpose.
One of our challenges this year will be managing in a difficult economy. We already know that next year's energy and food costs will be higher than we've budgeted-and that will have a significant impact in a residential community like ours. This is something that we knew was coming-but it jumped up on us more quickly than we'd expected. This will be particularly challenging because the cost of education at Davidson is already high. It's difficult to shift more of the burden to our students and their families. We want to be sure we're managing the college as efficiently and effectively as we can so that we can reassure families we're doing the right thing. I'm not sure we've done that yet.
I think that the strategic planning process has helped us understand the college's future direction and our future needs. Now we'll begin to catalog and prioritize those needs in order to create support for them. When I came here, I knew that we would need to raise $70 million for The Davidson Trust. That's something we're very proud of-both on campus, and among our alumni body-but we can't just be proud. We have to raise the money to support that commitment. There will be other needs, too, and we'll have to figure out how to support them.
Looking back on your first year, is there anything you'd do differently?
I came in with some understanding of the time demands of the job-but I understand those much more fully now. I remember having conversations with the College Relations staff at the beginning of last year; they were planning 16-18 alumni events, and I pressed them to do more. I thought that in my first year it was important to meet as many alumni as possible, and to get them engaged in our strategic assessment process. (One of our strengths is our connection with our alumni; our graduates have earned the right to participate in the planning process.) So we agreed that I'd do 21 alumni events in my first year. And I'm glad that I did. But that did result in more time away from campus. And that's hard. I wish I'd had more time on campus to interact with faculty and staff. I wish I'd had more time with students. I wish I could have done more alumni events! All those groups are important to Davidson, and there's never enough time.
I did a lot of things in my first year-and all of them were new. I hope that I can be more efficient in my second year, if only because I won't be doing things for the first time.
How's Susan doing?
Well, I hope you'll ask Susan! My own opinion is that she's very happy here. She's very glad to be a part of Davidson. At alumni events, I frequently joke that the reason the search committee hired me is that they really wanted Susan, and hiring me was the way to get her here. Really, she's a tremendous asset for the college; she attends alumni events and on-campus events, she's hosted dozens and dozens and dozens of events at the President's House, always with a smile and a real interest in what's going on.
Well [laughing], she's really struggling; she doesn't get nearly enough attention and petting. It helps that the Admission Office tours now stop at the President's House and point out the friendly dog in the back yard.
In Year 2, will you still be counting days?
Yes. It helps me keep perspective. Last spring, when I was feeling really overwhelmed and wondering why I couldn't do more, it helped to remember that I was only on Day 231, or something like that. A person can only know so much by Day 231. I know a lot more now, on Day 367!
Posted By: Bill Giduz