Fort Lewis College is about to hire a new president. Last May, current college president Dene Thomas announced her retirement. The college’s goal is to have a new president hired by the Spring of 2018.
It is crucial that FLC hire the right person for the job. Now more than ever, the college is at a tipping point. Enrollment is down 6.6 percent compared to a year ago. With a drop in enrollment comes a decreased budget.
FLC’s new president should demonstrate multiple qualities to be sure that they will steer us through a period of instability. The president should be transparent, know all aspects of FLC and have a vision for the future.
A transparent president is essential. Two events come to mind as times when the college lacked transparency under Thomas’ leadership. Recently, the college changed all of its courses from four-credit hours to three-credit hours. The change brought anxiety to the campus community. We are fine now, but students felt in the dark during the lead up to the change.
Last March, FLC hired Ramona Pierson as chief strategist. At a crowded public presentation, Thomas and Pierson declared that FLC would shift to being a more STEM-focused institution. Students in the arts and humanities voiced concerns and asked if their majors would be valued the same as STEM programs. Would the college invest more in STEM and get rid of arts and humanities? The women had no concrete answer. They had no plan.
Pierson resigned as chief strategist in May just two months after she was hired. Thomas was very confident in Pierson, so it is suspect why she came and went so quickly. We still don’t know the full truth as to why Pierson is no longer at FLC.
The new president must be familiar with and care about all areas of the college. FLC is looking to implement more STEM and professional-focused programs in what is being dubbed the :Summit Project. But STEM is not king. FLC has extremely valuable arts and humanities programs.
I would like to see the new president drop by a sociology lecture in the library. He or she should peruse the galleries in the art building. And interact with students and faculty while strolling through the English department in Noble Hall. A new president should make connections with students and faculty from all disciplines.
I believe that the new president’s most important and immediate task is to boost enrollment. There are many aspects of the enrollment issue, but one of the most important is that the college should have a vision and a brand for itself. Why should a prospective student want to attend FLC?
A vision should show off FLC’s diverse offerings. We have a new science building with state-of-the-art technology. We have an award-winning business school. We have a professional Journalism and Multimedia Studies program. We have incredibly smart and passionate instructors.
We are not Ivy League, but the experience of going to FLC should not be sold short. There is a reason why Durango is constantly billed as a top tourist destinationw. FLC should double-down on it’s strengths – that it offers top notch academics in a desirable place to live.
Fort Lewis College is in a dark period. Strong leadership is what it needs to spark a new era on the rim. A president who is transparent, interdisciplinary and has vision is what the school needs to succeed.
Ryan Simonovich is a Junior at Fort Lewis College and news editor of The Independent, the FLC student newspaper. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.