With the recent departure of Rebecca Chopp and the announcement of the new presidential search committee, is there any better time to talk about the role of a college president? First, a brief retrospective: during her tenure as president, Chopp raised unprecedented sums of money, allowing the college to maintain operation at higher levels than its peer institutions — where Williams, Haverford and Amherst have had to reduce financial aid, we have not. We at the Phoenix do not wish to claim that Chopp performed inadequately at her job, as she excelled at it. But at this moment, we should give thought to what the president’s job is and what it should be.
In recent years, a president’s main duty has been to raise money for their institution, though this was not their responsibility in the past. Once, presidents changed the character of their college through implementation of policy and curriculum changes, giving a vision of what a college may be. We propose that there is value in having a vision. Consider: if there is no vision, why raise money? But this raises another question in turn, namely, “Why should a single administrator be allowed to change everything?”
We believe that accountability to students is the key. Why create plans, why realize a vision, if no student will appreciate the effort? It was a little-known fact that Chopp held office hours — in fact, a criticism leveled at her is that she often seemed unapproachable to students. It is unknown if she ever ate in Sharples, and that lack of memory hints at her avoidance of our beloved pasta bar. Often, parents, alumni and professors would speak on her personability; no student ever did.
Coming into the presidency at the height of the economic recession, Chopp’s primary duty was obviously to raise money for the school. That she did have a vision for the college, albeit one characterized by aggressive construction and created with little student input, must be considered a bonus, given her stated responsibilities. However, we at the Phoenix believe that those responsibilities should be amended to include a mandate of student interaction, and through that, accountability to the students. We wish to see a president who is committed not only to fundraising but also to understanding the student body. As a leader in the liberal arts, we must seek to redefine the office of president for the better. To have an excellent fundraiser as president is good. We cannot settle for just good.