P: A recent Chronicle of Higher Education report notes that many critics are asking if it’s even worth it to take on the job of college president. How would you answer them?
ST: It really depends on the school, the person, and the fit. It’s a much harder job than it used to be, without a doubt. Every year the average tenure of college presidents falls (to fewer than 6 years now). I asked one of my mentors who’s been a college president how his outlook on the job has changed. Specifically, I asked if he’d do it all over again now (as opposed to when he first got into the role). There was a long pause before he answered, “I think so.” He really had to think about it given the landscape of higher ed today. That was an instructive moment for me.
There are a lot of schools where I wouldn’t want this job and just a few where I would. Pitzer is one of the few in that special category for me. Pitzer is unique, a word I don’t use lightly. After spending two-plus decades in large research universities (going back to graduate school), I chose to move back to the small liberal arts college sector because I wanted to be at an institution guided by a shared, values-based mission. In so many ways, Pitzer is a model in how it lives its values and its mission, and the way the faculty and staff help all students to achieve and succeed (and support each other in doing so) inspires me. I still get a thrill out of the practice of building something bigger than any of us, of contributing to the development of an institution that serves such an important purpose in higher education and the world. Even though the presidential role may be harder than it used to be, I still find it rewarding and fulfilling.
P: What do you think are Pitzer’s greatest strengths?
ST: It’s interesting to look at it from a longer-term perspective. While in one sense I’m new to Pitzer, I’ve observed and admired this school for a very long time. I first arrived in Claremont in 1984, and I think Pitzer has stayed true to itself and its values and honed them ever since. What is compelling is how the world has come around to Pitzer’s values now. The College has always emphasized the values of interdisciplinarity, sustainability, social engagement, social justice, applied learning, and community engagement, and now you see the rest of the world of higher education finally embracing these ideas. When you look at all the challenges and opportunities we’re facing, it becomes clear that the world needs Pitzer now more than ever.
P: You sound very optimistic about Pitzer’s future. Why? What do you imagine?
ST: I am. Pitzer just has so much going for it: its mission, its values, the lived student experience, its community, and the consortium, to name just a few. Our faculty and staff impress upon students the notion that anything is possible, that they can make a difference, and then help them acquire and develop the tools to make that happen. It’s not just lip service or platitudes here. Pitzer continues to attract such an impressive, bright, and talented group of students. We have some real changemakers on our campus, and they’re doing amazing things, with so much more to come. We will continue moving forward to make sure they have as many opportunities as possible to hone their knowledge and skills to prepare for the world after graduation.
You can see this happening across the campus (and beyond) in real, tangible ways, on a daily basis.
P: Such as?
ST: To cite just one example among many, look over at the construction of the Nucleus science building, which will open in fall 2024. Building on our existing strengths to create new ones, these integrated science facilities are going to take our interdisciplinary approach to education to a whole new level for our students and Scripps students.
P: For you every answer seems to circle back to making sure that our students have a chance to develop their sense of self-identity and discover their own path forward, right?
ST: Yes, exactly. That’s what I experienced all those years ago as an undergraduate. I want that for our students, too. I could not be more excited to be here.