Departing Creighton lauded for transparency

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If students have often been critical of Interim President Joanne Creighton’s understated leadership style and lack of presence on campus, her send-off has been glowing compared to the quiet exit of her charismatic and popular predecessor, Stephen Emerson ’74.

Many students told The Clerk that they were disappointed by Creighton’s lack of outreach to students and absence around campus. In the early months of her presidency, when asked about this absence Creighton admitted that she “didn’t know how” to reach out to students but was open to suggestions.

On the other hand, the tone of the administrators and faculty that we spoke to has been overwhelmingly positive, with many lauding Creighton for improving communication and moving the College forward during what could have been a static two-year transition period.

Unlike President Emerson’s downplayed departure, Creighton’s official thank-you has included a “Squirrel Whisperer” t-shirt gifted by a board member, a reception during Alumni Weekend and a new scholarship in her name.

The College marked the official transition on the Haverford website’s homepage June 27, with an image of Creighton sitting on the steps of the President’s house at 1 College Circle. Creighton, a Professor of English, will resume a rotating professorship starting with the University of Massachusetts in the Fall. On July 1st, the website welcomed Daniel H. Weiss as the 14th President.

Creighton came on board August 2011, just a month after Emerson resigned. Emerson stepped down just one year shy of completing his five-year term, following an independent review into his conduct and a petition, signed by a third of the faculty, expressing “serious, and numerous, faculty concerns about the workplace environment created by the President.”

“Healing” was one theme of Creighton’s presidency, says Board of Managers member Sarah Willie-LeBreton ’86, who is also a professor of Sociology at Swarthmore College.

At an April scholarship luncheon attended by board members, administrators, donors and alumni, Willie-LeBreton said Creighton filled a void at a College lacking communication between different interests and “sorely in need of a leader.”

“When she arrived, because of the very quick transition with Emerson leaving and her coming in … there was a feeling of fragility, even though the fundamentals [of the College] were sound,” said Willie-LeBreton in a later phone interview.

“I think that she sensed that there would be weight on her shoulders [to be] moving forward, and the expectation would be that she help heal old wounds and try to provide the space for the appropriate airing of frustration,” she added. “But not to dwell on the past.”

Initially, Creighton intended to stay on at Haverford for one year until the next president was selected. But as Weiss insisted on finishing his term at Lafayette College, Creighton postponed her professorship at UMass and agreed to stay on for a second year.

Like Willie-LeBreton, Manager William Marsden ’78 said Creighton improved transparency and helped “refocus” the College.

“She led a very productive and inclusive process with the faculty, administration and the Board to begin articulating our core values in ways that will help us make good decisions when faced with competing priorities and finite resources,” Marsden wrote in response to a post in an unofficial college LinkedIn alumni group.

Chief of Staff Jesse Lytle, who worked with Creighton at Mount Holyoke for seven years, said her administrative strategy at both Mt. Holyoke and Haverford has been to “read” the identity of an institution rather than create her own.

“She’s the kind of leader whose doesn’t impose her own vision on a place, so her metaphor for leadership is a college being its own text. You come in and you have to read the text and learn about the characters and the plot,” said Lytle.

During her two-year stay, Creighton supervised the drafting of the College’s strategic plan, a statement of priorities for how the institution will allocate resources to achieve its vision. That planning process has included extensive discussion to re-tool spaces like Ryan Gym, renovate Magill Library, upgrade technological infrastructure and expand academic offerings.

“I think Joanne Creighton has done an excellent job bringing the faculty together around a shared vision for Haverford.  She is articulate, constructive, and pragmatic, and she has brought out the best in us,” said former associate provost and Professor of Anthropology Maris Gillette in an email.  “For me, President Creighton has been a role model. I am very grateful for her energetic and committed leadership.”

According to Vice President for Institutional Advancement Michael Kiefer, Creighton was mainly hired to manage internal affairs, although she did do some fundraising. On the interim, a few members of the Board of Managers took a more active role in meeting with donors and in the College’s “quiet” fundraising campaign.

When asked how much the College has raised during Creighton’s tenure, Kiefer said that fundraising should be viewed as a long-term cultivation of relationships with donors, and recent gifts could reflect connections made by previous administrations.

The institution raised roughly $23 million in gifts during the 2012-2013 year, down slightly from the $24.9 million it raised last fiscal year. The endowment as of May 31 was worth $433 million, up from $387.5 million the previous year, according to figures provided by senior staff.

The College’s 2011 annual tax form reports Creighton’s compensation as $124,616 in salary and $51,546 in other benefits. Creighton also received free housing at 1 College Circle and travel on College affairs, for herself and her spouse.

When asked to specify on the compensation numbers given in the tax form, Vice President of Finance Dick Wynn said the figure “is most definitely not the entire salary/compensation President Creighton received for 2011-12,” but would not disclose Creighton’s full salary or other benefits, citing a policy not to discuss personal salary or compensation information, other than what is required of nonprofits by the IRS.

That compares to Emerson’s salary of $393,452 and benefits of $125,311 for that same year.

The College still has a long way to go to fund its ambitious plans; an April draft of the strategic plan set a working campaign goal of $250 million, with a final goal to be set by the Board in April 2014.

Moreover, as the total cost of attendance nears the $60,000 mark, sustaining the College’s no loan, full-need financial aid policies continues to pose a problem.

Creighton’s name and office were drawn into the center of that debate in late January, when a student circulated an email in her name fabricating changes to the College’s aid policy in regard to undocumented immigrant students. Since then, the College has not made any substantive moves toward changing the policy.

But what Creighton did not do, Willie-LeBreton says, is where President Weiss comes in.

“When you’re not an interim there’s space and freedom to connect with students at a deeper level,” said Willie-LeBreton. “Those things are really key, and [Weiss will] nurture all those other pieces Joanne helped put in place.”

“I don’t mean to make her sound like a saint,” she added. “I just think that someone who comes from outside but has those leadership skills can be really great, as long as they don’t have their own personal agenda for grandeur. And [Creighton] had retired, she served 17 years as President of Mount Holyoke, she doesn’t have anything to prove to anybody.”

Read a Q&A with the departing Joanne Creighton.

Photo by Jim Roese for Haverford College.

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