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Weiss outlines his priorities at student forum

By   /   September 29, 2013  /   No Comments

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Newly appointed President Daniel H. Weiss outlined his priorities at a student forum last Thursday, the first of a series of informal events for the president to interact with and get-to-know Haverford students.

During the next academic year, Weiss will lead the College as it drafts and refines its Strategic Plan, a document which outlines how the College will deploy its resources over the next several years. According to the timeline posted on the Haverford website, the Plan should be approved by the Board of Managers in April 2014. Next Fall, the College will launch its public fundraising campaign.

These are daunting tasks for the president of a liberal arts college, according to the Draft Strategic Plan:

[The liberal arts college] lacks economies of scale and public visibility. It is acutely people dependent and consequently incurs high operating costs and must charge high tuition – which need to be offset by ever more financial aid that, in turn, erodes the college’s revenue base. It has escalating operating costs -­‐-­‐ including energy and technology, faculty and staff salaries, buildings and grounds – which strain the college’s budget. Its alumni donor base, even if incredibly generous in giving back, is necessarily limited in numbers and capacity. And recently, the recession of 2008-­‐09 took its toll on the liberal arts college and families of students as it did on all other aspects of the global economy.

At the event, aptly titled “What does a president do?” Weiss explained, to an intimate crowd of 12 students, his long-term vision for his presidency and what he considers the ten key roles of the college president.

What Does a President Do?

  1. Oversee the College’s operations and finances: “My job is to make sure the budget is balanced and the buildings don’t fall down…it’s a small business that has to be run effectively.”
  2. Oversee a staff: about 10 senior staff report directly to the President.
  3. Strategic leadership, or leading the College with a long-term strategic vision in mind: “The issues that face higher education in our society are moving so quickly and are so profoundly consequential that if we’re not thinking carefully about who we’re investing in and how we’re thinking about how the world is changing…we could find ourselves in a very difficult position.”
  4. Oversee academic leadership: the President’s Office oversees tenure and other appointments.
  5. Fundraising: “Most presidents spend maybe 25 to 30 percent of their time [fundraising], and in some places presidents spend 70 percent of their time doing that – which is a lot, and more like a traveling salesman.”
  6. Engaging with the community.
  7. Make the College competitive with peer institutions.
  8. Work with the Board of Managers, who have two major roles: “oversee the fiduciary health of the institution and hire and dismiss the president.” (To that second role, Weiss joked, “So clearly this is of relevance to me.”)
  9. Communications and Outreach.
  10. Teaching: As an art historian, Weiss has a faculty appointment with Bryn Mawr’s Art History department. He has a book coming out next month. “[Teaching and writing] are important, it’s not just a hobby – it helps me to remember why we’re here. If I sit in that little office over there and get caught up in balancing budgets and meeting donors…you could lose sight of why we are even here. In the end, what we do is so inefficient, so counter-trend, that it’s important to remember why we do these things.”

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Items on the Agenda

Weiss also listed some of the top issues and items on his agenda, including the College’s finances, the strategic planning process, financial aid policies, the Dining Center, the Bi-Co relationship and upgrades to IT infrastructure.

On debates over the viability of the no-loan policy and whether the College should offer financial aid to undocumented students, Weiss acknowledged the importance of both conversations, but shied away from offering any assessments or endorsements. He said both issues “need to be brought to some resolution and in a way that’s consistent with our values.”

Weiss frames the financial aid policy with three key questions: What effect does a change in policy have on genuine access for students who benefit from it? Does the policy affect the competitiveness and attractiveness of the school? What can the College afford?

He said there was “no question” about the need to upgrade and remodel several campus buildings, projects which are being outlined in the current strategic plan, especially in the interest of the College long-term.

Weiss also noted complaints from many students about the quality of food at the Dining Center.

“This is not a resort. But eating together and health and fitness are tied into the quality of the food you eat. It’s one of the few venues where you have a chance to be together,” said Weiss.

Vision for the Presidency

On his vision for the presidency, Weiss underlined the importance of being fiscally responsible and preserving the College’s competitiveness, without sacrificing its core Quaker values.

“I think it’s important to lead with a strategic vision. Haverford’s values aren’t alone sufficient to sustain a vision….that stuff all actually costs money – it requires commitments. So I think it’s important to think about the past and what makes us who we are and balance that against where we need to go,” said Weiss.

“We’re modeling and creating a community that exemplifies the world that we live in. I suppose that’s what the Haverbubble means…and that’s not a bad thing. It’s the closest approximation to the values you hold…and when you go out in the world , you take some of that [with you],” he added.

Asked where social justices issues fit into the vision, Weiss said the College should provide “genuine leadership on ethical issues,” but that there are still always limits to any aspiration.

“We have those pragmatic parameters – social justice is an aspiration. There are always going to be limitations. What does perfect social justice look like? Finding all those things in balance are part of what this community has to do,” said Weiss.

During this “listening” phase of his presidency, Weiss says there are still many issues he has yet to encounter and encouraged students to email him, should they have questions or concerns.

Next weekend, Weiss will host a retreat, organized by Cathy Quero ’15 and dean Theresa Tensuan, to discuss issues surrounding diversity at the College.

“I look out the window onto Founders and wonder, God. I hope it’s going okay,” Weiss said.

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