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A&S Alumni, Leaders in Higher Education

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Although UW President Mark Emmert is the first Arts & Sciences alumnus to return as president in nearly 50 years, several other A&S alumni have served as presidents of other colleges and universities. Here seven alumni share their thoughts on serving in that leadership role:

  • Jerilyn McIntyre, President, Central Washington University, 2000-present
  • Elaine Tuttle Hansen, President, Bates College, 2002-present
  • Robert Skotheim, President, Whitman College, 1975-1988
  • Virginia Smith, President, Vassar College, 1977-1986
  • Yehuda Hayuth, President, University of Haifa, 1994-2004
  • James E. Brooks, President, Central Washington University, 1961-1978
  • Elizabeth Kennan, President, Mount Holyoke College, 1978-1995

 

Jerilyn McIntyre (‘73)
President, Central Washington University, 2000-present

Jerilyn McIntyre

Jerilyn McIntyre. Media credit: Richard Villacres

After earning a Ph.D. in communications and history from the UW, Jerilyn McIntyre began an academic career that took her to the University of Iowa, and then the University of Utah, where she served twice as interim president and seven years as vice president for academic affairs. 

McIntyre became president of Central Washington University in 2000. She continues to teach one course biannually. “It keeps me in touch with students,” she says, “and sends a message to faculty that I still see myself as a teacher and value that aspect of academic life.”

You had experience as an interim president of the University of Utah. Were there still surprises during your first year at CWU?

Many of the responsibilities were similar. It’s just a different environment. Ellensburg is a small town; I came from a large city. And I was coming into a situation where there had been discord on campus and there needed to be some healing, so my immediate focus was on campus and community relations.

What has been the most satisfying aspect of your presidency?

That first fall after I arrived, our enrollment dropped substantially. We took a budget cut from the state as a result. We pledged we would regrow our enrollment, and we have. The campus community has really worked together as a team, coming together to deal with a difficult problem. We have not only recovered our enrollment but also have done so without sacrificing the quality of the institution. Each of the last four entering classes has been more prepared than the previous one. 

What has been the most challenging issue you have had to address?

Rebuilding our enrollment without adequate resources. For all of us in higher education, the absence of state funding and the morale issues that result when we are not able to reward our best people, present a challenge. Economic hard times affect what the legislature can provide. Ultimately, those hard times affect us all.

Did your UW education help prepare you for leadership?

My Ph.D. was in communications and history. Both fields are helpful in leadership in any organization, and certainly in higher education. As a university president, much of what I do involves understanding how communication works in organizations. And history gives a sense of context, an understanding of how situations can develop and solutions can emerge. 

Elaine Tuttle Hansen (‘75)
President, Bates College, 2002-present

After earning her Ph.D. in English from the UW in 1975, Elaine Tuttle Hansen began an academic career with an emphasis on Middle English literature, contemporary women’s writing, and feminist theory. She taught at Hamilton College, then Haverford College, where she later served as provost for seven years.

Elaine Tuttle Hansen

Elaine Tuttle Hansen. Media credit: Phyllis Graber Jensen

“She proved that someone can work at a very difficult job for seven years, and at the end of those seven years, people think more highly of her than when she started,” Haverford President Tom Tritton told Bates Magazine in 2002. “Because usually it goes the other way.” 

Hansen became president of Bates College in 2002.

What surprised you most during the first year of your presidency?

I wasn’t prepared for how loudly your silence speaks when you are in this position. In many of the most difficult situations you confront as president, what you can say publicly is strictly limited by the need to protect the confidence of the individuals involved and by the legal constraints on how much information can be shared. I would love nothing more than to tell my side of the story, but I can’t. I’ve tried to establish a very transparent process, so those required silences have been very frustrating.

What has been the most satisfying aspect of your presidency?

There are many satisfactions. I don’t know if I can pick one. I guess it would be either how satisfying it is to watch students blossom—feeling that you are part of an incredible time in their young lives—or the variety of skills and roles needed to be a college president. I enjoy multitasking, and I do not get bored in this job. There is never a dull moment.

What has been the most challenging issue you have had to address?

On a personal level, it would be the downside of being pulled in so many directions with a lack of time to craft and polish your work. And coupled with that is the visibility of the position. Many people feel they can do your job well and they are happy to share those opinions.

Professionally, one challenge for a new president coming into an excellent institution is defining what needs to change. Any change you suggest is going to sound like criticism, so you have to do a lot of consensus building. Everyone at the institution wants you to “take it to the next level,” but defining what that level would be is challenging in a strong institution. It’s much like a scholarly problem, where the challenge is defining the question.

Did your UW education help prepare you for leadership?

In every way, I loved my time at the UW. I think I came into my own there. I had great teachers and classmates; there was something about the atmosphere that led to very natural intellectual enthusiasm. I gained a tremendous amount of confidence. I’m very grateful for the experience. 

Also, I can truly say that having been in English literature has been a terrific advantage for me as a college president. Textual analysis and scholarly problem solving require the same skills I use in so much of my work today.

Robert Skotheim (‘55, ‘58, ‘62)
President, Whitman College, 1975-1988

After earning his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in history from the UW, Robert Skotheim taught at Wayne State University and the University of Colorado, then served as provost and dean of faculty at Hobart and William Smith Colleges before becoming president of Whitman College. After his presidency, Skotheim went on to serve as president of the prestigious Huntington Library, Art Collections, 
and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. He retired in 2001.

Robert Skotheim, shown here during his years as president of Whitman College.

Robert Skotheim, shown here during his years as president of Whitman College. Media credit: Wallace Ackerman

What surprised you most during the first year of your presidency?

What was most memorable about that period—the mid 1970s—was the pervasive prediction that private liberal arts colleges would be phased out because of public institutions. There was much talk that students would not continue to choose small private colleges when they could choose to attend big urban universities. It was a particularly threatening time to be the president of a private college. 

What was the most satisfying aspect of your presidency?

It was the response we managed to muster to that initial challenge. The very satisfaction came from confronting that threat. The survival and revival of the best liberal arts colleges is the happy ending to that time. In every respect, small private colleges are superior today to what they have ever been.

Have there been other developments in academia that have surprised you?

I’ve noticed a professionalization of management in academic and cultural institutions that has led to amazing success for these institutions. But there is an irony in this professionalization. As president of Whitman, I was able to strengthen the institution through professional management, but I was no longer able to teach. Like many professors who came to head academic institutions, I went into this field because I wanted to improve the quality of education as a professor, but my career became a management career.

Did your UW education help prepare you for leadership?

I got married and transferred to the UW as a sophomore, coming from Princeton University. I found the same high quality faculty at the UW as I had found at Princeton. The faculty provided such good examples of scholarship, teaching, and citizenship. The History Department faculty in particular was very well-rounded and community-oriented. Their example really inspired me.

Virginia Smith (‘44, ‘46, ‘50)
President, Vassar College, 1977-1986

Virginia Smith, during her presidency of Vassar College.

Virginia Smith, during her presidency of Vassar College. 

After earning a B.A. in general studies, a law degree, and a master’s degree in labor economics from the UW (in that order), Virginia Smith held a series of academic and administrative posts, culminating in the presidency of Vassar College. She retired in 1986, but agreed to step out of retirement in 1990, for one year, to lead Mills College through a turbulent period following its much-publicized decision—later reversed—to begin admitting men. 

What surprised you most during the first year of your Vassar presidency?

Vassar had gone co-educational six years before I arrived. I was surprised at how the alumni, and some faculty, had not yet become comfortable with the idea of co-education. I spent a lot of time talking with alumni about that during the first year.

Also, I had always thought about college as being all about students, but I soon found that I had to devise techniques and special occasions to have contact with students. Without such planning, even in a small residential college, a president can spend all one’s time with trustees, donors, faculty, other officers, and higher education organizations. One might as well be working in a business corporation.

What was the most satisfying aspect of your presidency?

I enjoyed being in a position to help others. For example, Vassar developed a joint program with La Guardia Community College in New York, called “Exploring Transfer.” It is a five-week summer residential program at Vassar College for community college students, giving them a residential liberal arts college experience in the hope that more of these students would continue college after their first two years. We were delighted with the results. The program is still going and has been replicated in a number of places. It is satisfying to be instrumental in adding an important dimension to Vassar and at the same time making a contribution to higher education more broadly.

What was the most challenging issue you had to address?

Finances are always a challenge. One of the problems was that a certain rhythm had been set up in the college that suggested that there was no way for a win-win situation—no way to get the finances in shape without huge program cuts or salary stagnation. There was a lot of distrust, and it was a challenge to get to the point where I could work with the faculty committee with two-way trust. We eventually got there, but it took a lot of work over several years.

Did your UW education help prepare you for leadership?

My education at the UW was excellent. I had several great professors both in undergraduate college and also in law school. Many of the classes were small and often rich in bringing about intellectual excitement.

 

Yehuda Hayuth (‘77)
President, University of Haifa, Israel 1994-2004

Yehuda Hayuth.

Yehuda Hayuth. Media credit: Arik Baltinester

Jerusalem-born Yehuda Hayuth is a world authority on shipping and ports. After earning his Ph.D. in geography at the UW, he taught at the University of Rhode Island before returning to Israel to teach at the University of Haifa, where he later became president—the first at that university to win re-election for a second term. Throughout his presidency, Hayuth returned to the UW each summer to teach a course in maritime transportation as a visiting professor. He stepped down from the University of Haifa presidency in September 2004.

What surprised you most during the first year of your presidency?

The first year was not a great surprise to me, as I came to the job of president from the same university, and I dealt with many familiar issues, although from a somewhat different point of view.

What was the most satisfying aspect of your presidency?

Seeing the University growing fast, in the direction that I had planned. I was particularly pleased to see the rapid growth of the Graduate School; the development of new programs, mainly interdisciplinary in orientation; a doubling of the built-up space; and getting IBM to build the largest research lab outside the U.S. on our campus.

What was the most challenging issue you had to address?

It was a challenge to maintain the development plan, academically and physically, despite severe government budget cuts—probably not a unique challenge among university presidents. 

Did your UW education help prepare you for leadership?

There was a strong emphasis in my Ph.D. studies on concentrating on a clear definition of goals and objectives, and then striving to meet them, despite all the constraints.

 

James E. Brooks (‘52, ’57)
President, Central Washington University, 1961-1978

After earning his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in geography at the UW, James Brooks taught at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, and Portland State University—where he was assistant to the president—before becoming president of Central Washington University, where he had earned his B.A. After stepping down as president, he continued on the faculty until 1994, except for two years as interim president at Yakima Valley College. Last year, Central honored Brooks by naming its library—built during his presidency—the James E. Brooks Library. 

James Brooks at the dedication of the university library named in his honor.

James Brooks at the dedication of the university library named in his honor. Media credit: Greg Kummer

What surprised you most during the first year of your presidency? 

I knew most of the circumstances at Central. But I was a bit surprised at how much my focus on the academic aspects, such as strengthening the arts and sciences, could be diverted to other pressing issues. An example: our campus consisted of 100 acres in a scattered, disjointed pattern located in a mostly residential area. It took years to consolidate and increase the campus to 350 acres. 

What was the most satisfying aspect of your presidency? 

I believe the greatest pleasure for any president is having her/his institution accomplish a great deal over time. When you have had continued support of trustees, faculty, students and the general public, and good planning has showed results as excel-lent projects and programs are in place, is there any better satisfaction for a president? 

What was the most challenging issue you had to address? 

Without a doubt, it was developing an excellent faculty, one that truly cared for students, and improving our academic offerings as we grew rapidly in enrollment. 

Did your UW education help prepare you for leadership? 

Leadership requires confidence in yourself. The members of the Geography Department helped me develop that. I was given encouragement, guidance, and positive reinforcement on many occasions. Yes, I benefited from taking classes across campus, my professors were good teachers, and I enjoyed my fellow graduate students, but the help I was given personally was very important in my life and career.

Elizabeth Kennan (‘66)
President, Mount Holyoke College, 1978-1995

Elizabeth Kennan

Elizabeth Kennan.

Elizabeth Kennan, who earned her Ph.D. in medieval history from the UW, served on the faculty of Catholic University for 12 years before becoming president of her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, where she graduated in 1960. A strong proponent of single-sex education, Kennan held steadfast to Mount Holyoke’s mission as a women’s college during a period when many women’s colleges became co-educational. 

In 2000, Kennan and another former college president, Smith College’s Jill Ker Conway, penned a mystery novel, Overnight Float. The setting? A women’s college in New England, of course. 

What surprised you most during the first year of your presidency?

I knew I would be busy and dealing with things that are new, but the sheer physical adjustment surprised me. The schedule is so intense and it occurs without a break for the entire year, seven days a week from early morning to late at night. It requires a whole metabolic shift.

What was the most satisfying aspect of your presidency?

Seeing students flourish and being part of their lives—that’s the best thing in the world. As president, I saw them in many aspects of their lives over a long period of time, first as undergraduates and then as alumnae.

What was the most challenging issue you had to address?

In my first five or six years, it was bringing the institution from one level of financial competence to one whole step above that, which was very necessary for the institution at that time. This took place during a period of stagflation, so it was a challenge.

The other challenge was to help the college community truly become multicultural and to live out an ethic of respect for the dignity of each member. That was ongoing work and involved a great expansion of minority participation on the faculty and staff and a radical expansion of the recruitment of minority and international students. It was an area in which you could really see improvements and measure them and relish them. 

Did your UW education help prepare you for leadership?

The University gave me my most important mentor, Dr. Solomon Katz.