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View From Founders - Fall 2013

I already had a high opinion of the quality and character of the Haverford community, but after witnessing my first Customs Week, I was overwhelmed.

It was one of the most remarkable experiences of my professional life. I watched how these students—a constellation of strangers from around the world who came to this place with enthusiasm and ambition—were, in a very short time, embraced and welcomed into the community, such that within 24 hours they were in the Quaker Meetinghouse talking in the most personal and thoughtful terms about what is important to them and why they are here. From what I could tell, a true cross-section of the community participated—no social stratification, no “hierarchy of cool.” Everybody was there together.

By week’s end, Customs had reaffirmed my belief that it is fundamental to human experience to seek community. And though many people may be thwarted or disappointed in their search, Haverford College does not disappoint. I was thrilled and inspired by what I saw unfold.

And that was just in the first week. With the semester in full swing, I was soon reminded that Haverford brings to the educational environment something so powerful and so meaningful that there is no question that we will be able to face the challenges that lie ahead in the context of building on strength. The bedrock of our community, to overuse that term, is our approach to values- driven education. As Isaac Sharpless said, we are interested in the intellect, but we are more interested in character. Putting the two together is an enormously powerful thing. And that is what we do: educate students who will contribute meaningfully to the world, and we do so one student at a time.

I have two major objectives this year. First, I will continue to get situated and educated, and then we will build on the planning work that is under way. What makes that work exciting—challenging, to be sure, but exciting—is that nobody in our community would disagree with our guiding principle: Haverford College is a thing apart; it is worthy of our greatest efforts; and though we must change, we must not change what matters most.

Though formally begun by my predecessors Steve Emerson and Joanne Creighton, the elements with which we are working date back further and include the Blueprint for Academic Enrichment, our campus Master Plan, and the Middle States Association self-study that accompanied the reaccreditation process. We are now synthesizing what we have learned in defining a path forward that must be distinctly Haverfordian, rooted in who we are and what distinguishes us, that focuses on our strengths and distinctive advantages, and that remains open to change in our changing world.

Operationally, we have convened a number of steering committees that will guide our work in the areas of academic enrichment, space planning, financial aid, admission, and the quality of the student experience.

Some basic principles:

  • I believe that effective leadership is collaborative, and that the best ideas come from sharing our ambitions in a serious and candid way so that, at the end of our process, ownership and credit are widely shared. As I have said to those around me, my biggest fear is that people will not say what they really think.
  • We are small. That brings special opportunities and special challenges. We can be nimble; we can speak with a shared mind that is informed by community values and collective experience; we can identify and incorporate collaborative engagement with other schools in a way that might be more difficult for a larger institution. Ultimately, we are a little place that makes a big impact by focusing our energy and talents on what matters most to the educational experience of our students. We put our heart into it, and that is going to work to our advantage.
  • We are committed to the highest-quality academic experience. This means the best faculty, with the most powerful resources, who bring the utmost commitment to mentoring the world’s best students. As higher education seeks new ways and examines new models, it’s reassuring to do so in collaboration with faculty who are equally eager to plan the next chapter in our history.
  • We are not just dedicated to preserving our core values; we are guided by them. And in that heritage lies our future: a Quaker sense of purpose that seeks the Light in all and challenges us as individuals to live up to our obligation to the community. Haverfordians have a sense of ownership that is unlike anything I have ever seen. We will plan as if we were going to live with our decisions, because we will.
  • We are determined to maintain operational and financial excellence. We are not as wealthy as our competitors, so we need to function at the highest levels of efficiency. We have managed well in the aftermath of the Great Recession, in our staffing, financial planning, and investment strategy. We have much work to do, but I am confident.
  • We will be strategic and ambitious. The world is changing, and so it is crucial that we understand who we are, where our natural strengths lie, and how to capitalize on what we do as a matter of course, habit, and temperament. We will follow our shared instinct and nurture growth and change that emerge organically, and not simply by grafting on that which may be new, different— exciting, even—but may not be a natural fit.

Our “plan for the plan” calls for us to complete our best thinking this fall and winter, with an eye toward sharing our vision with the Board of Managers in the spring. That is also when we will seek endorsement of our stated priorities for the upcoming comprehensive fund-raising campaign, which will likely launch next fall. Look for exciting and innovative initiatives involving academic enrichment, changes to campus spaces, and our continuing commitment to access and affordability, so that those who are best able to benefit from and contribute to the Haverford experience are able to do so, regardless of their ability to pay.

I am delighted to be here, and grow more engaged and excited by the day. Re-reading what I have written, I see that I began this to-do list with the need to situate and educate this President. Being educated in the ways of Haverford is among the best parts of the job. I look forward to working with you and getting to know you at events such as Alumni Weekend and the many receptions, in cities nationwide, to which I will be traveling in the coming year.

The ramp from Magill Library with Ryan Gym and Sharpless Hall in the background.

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