Q&A with Dr. Nancy A. Roseman
On Oct. 27, Dickinson's Board of Trustees named former Williams College Dean Nancy A. Roseman as Dickinson's 28th president. During a campus visit on Nov. 2, Roseman took some questions about her plans for moving the college forward. Below is an edited transcript of that conversation.
How do you imagine continuing the momentum that Dickinson has achieved during the past decade?
What struck me immediately was the sense of vitality and energy on campus. We have this incredible forward movement across the board—our curriculum, facilities and name recognition—and it's imperative that momentum keeps going. You do that by keeping things great on the home front. You keep the academic curriculum going forward, you keep the faculty inspired, and you let those creative juices run. The work Bill has done as a voice in higher education is also critical. Our voice—Dickinson's voice—needs to continue to be heard. That will be something that I look forward to doing—speaking on behalf of liberal-arts colleges and speaking on the things that confront higher-ed over all.
What excites you about the second phase of the First in America capital campaign?
Our alumni are engaged in a way that they never have been before. People are starting to understand that this is an institution that means what it says. I'm excited to get out there and meet our alums and share with them my perceptions of Dickinson, how exciting it is here and the vision that's still unfolding at Dickinson. In so many ways Benjamin Rush's vision is absolutely relevant today, maybe more relevant than it's ever been given the challenges that we face. So the second phase of the campaign has to really help people understand how far we've come and how far we have to go.
Please talk about your committee work and shared governance at Williams. How do you imagine carrying that experience over to Dickinson?
There are a lot of similarities in the governance structures between Williams and Dickinson, but without question it is clear that the faculty at Dickinson, in fact the entire community, are the governance structure of the institution. What I learned in the shared-governance model at Williams was it gives you an opportunity to learn about other people's perspectives. You have people in the room who represent offices across the institution—alumni relations, facilities, the provost's office, along with faculty and students sitting in the room—and it helps you see all the pieces that go together. So all the governance work I've done at Williams has taught me how many pieces need to be working together to allow things to move forward at any institution. What I learned from my experience at a small, residential liberal-arts college is that nothing happens unless it comes from the community and everybody has bought in. It's the people who actually make things happen, not any one individual.
Please talk more about student life in the context of the college's Strategic Plan (SP) III. What excites you and what possibilities do you see?
There's no question that life inside the classroom is vibrant, rigorous and demanding for our students. The curriculum is just extraordinary, and the faculty are—I just can't wait to work with them—are so excited and passionate about what they do. But if you look around Dickinson, what you see is student life now needing attention. The neighborhood system is a wonderful place to start, and the student-development staff are working very hard, but one thing that's really hindered them are the facilities themselves. One thing I appreciate about Dickinson is we don't hide our warts. We confront them. We're honest about them, and certainly in SP III we recognize and talk about the fact that our residence halls haven't really had serious attention in many years. I know from building a residential-life program that if you don't have the architecture to support it, it's very difficult to do what you need to do. So we need to turn our attention to that, improve those facilities and help the student-development team get where they need to go.
What role does student life play in a small, residential liberal-arts college?
It's absolutely essential that any residential college campus provides opportunities—through events, clubs, sports, you name it—for students to randomly come together. In many ways, what students learn outside the classroom is just as important as what they learn inside the classroom. The educational experience does not end the minute class ends. It's just beginning.
One thing I feel very strongly about is that everyone at this college can and should play a role in the education of our students. I've had so many students over the years tell me about a staff member who played a huge role in their lives, who supported them at various points. It's often not a faculty member, but a member of a financial-aid office, or a coach, who a student looks to for support, for mentoring. So it's important on a college campus that everyone understands that we're part of this common enterprise, and we can play significant roles in our students' lives no matter what our job is.
What is the relationship between student life and the academic program?
It's absolutely the core mission of a liberal-arts college to provide our students not only with a demanding academic program, but also with a demanding residential program. If we're not doing both, we're failing our students.
What is the importance of the relationship that Dickinson enjoys with the town of Carlisle and the entire central Pennsylvania region?
Coming from a small community I am acutely aware of how important the relationship is between a college like Dickinson and the broader community. The health and vibrancy of Carlisle and the health and vibrancy of Dickinson must come together. I am very committed to working with all of the institutions in the area. I think we have marvelous partnerships with so many already, and it's essential for us to continue to develop them so that all of us can benefit.
What are your plans for the next eight months?
I hope to spend this time getting to know this community, going out on the road and meeting key alumni. I also hope to spend this time talking to leaders in higher education and seeing how various institutions and people on the front lines of various fields are thinking about higher education. I'm going to use this time as wisely as I can to be as prepared as I can be to be the 28th president of Dickinson College.
I think it's vitally important for me to be present in this community and get to know as many people as possible. For me to be successful, this community really has to have a sense of who I am and how I think about things. Bill is someone everyone knows so well and has such affection for, and so much of that is because he is so honest and transparent. Those are qualities that I hold dear, and I hope that as the days and weeks pass people will be able to really get to know me and have a sense of who I am.
How will you, as president, interact with students?
One of the great joys of working on a college campus is the students. It's what wakes you up every morning and inspires you to go to work every day. So as president I look forward to sharing meals with them, going to activities, going to their sports events, listening to lectures with them, watching debates—just getting to know them. There's this real sense of community here. And I look forward to entertaining students at the President's House. It's so important that students feel that they have a responsibility to the institution. I think events that happen on campus, events that give them a sense of the institution's history, can really help contribute to their sense of ownership and of being Dickinsonians.