Chestertown Spy Editorial: Find the Local Flow Madam President

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It is with delight that the greater Chestertown community welcomes Sheila Bair as the 28th president of Washington College. It must come as a tremendous relief that the last remaining glass ceiling has been broken with the appointment of Ms. Bair as the first woman to hold that position in 233 years. To be able to do so with someone as qualified and dynamic as Ms. Bair speaks volumes for the quality of the institution as it does her faith in WC’s historic mission and purpose.

As a student of Washington College, the Chestertown Spy, having watched college presidents come and go since the Daniel Gibson era of the 1960s, does have a modest observation worth sharing as President Bair prepares for her inauguration.

To start, it might be helpful to recall a few years back a poll was done of new university and college presidents after their first year in office. The study found that a high percentage of them turned out to really hate their jobs after twelve months. While that might be the experience for many in their first year of employment, regardless of the profession, it can be said that college presidents have a particularly good reason to feel this way.

For the disenchanted, it is sometimes budget issues not known during the hiring process or perhaps the sudden loss of personal privacy. Others experience the kind of fatigue normally reserved only for candidates in retail politics. And all of them seem to combat the very high, and often times unrealistic, demands of trustees, major donors, prickly faculty, and marginalized alumni. This all happens at the same time the students (and their parents) press to see more value-added results for their six-figure four-year investment. Even with a high salary and sense of professional accomplishment, those college presidents were pretty unhappy campers.

It’s hard to blame them. The stakes have become so high in higher education, even for small, rural liberal arts colleges like Washington College, that it is hard for a new college president not to feel like T.S. Eliot’s poor character Prufrock who was on track to become a “predestined failure,” as a scholar of Eliot’s work once suggested, with no roadmap to navigate these treacherous and sometimes unforgiving waters.

Of course, these men and women would have our unending sympathy if it were not the case that throughout history, at least for Washington College, there has never been a roadmap for college presidents. And it has been our observation that those who genuinely enjoy the task of setting a new, uncharted course for this institution are the ones who love their jobs the most.

From Smith to Douglass Cater, Cain to Johnny Toll, these individuals saw their tenure as a great cause rather than an assignment – they knew where they wanted to take this school. They could withstand the pettiness and folly that comes with all institutions because they saw a bigger picture in front of them. That sense of direction not only acted as a force shield against the daily irritations of leadership but created for themselves a zone of fulfillment and usefulness that results in their own personal happiness.

This phenomenon is not new and does have a name. As defined by the writer Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, it is those that have found the “flow” in their work, and thereby are “fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

And part of the trick for a Washington College president is to know how this must be found locally. The intertwined relationship braiding the college, the community, and the river together yields the greatest gifts when seen collectively as the source of that flow. And by grasping the power of the region’s three greatest virtues, and the importance they play in the education of a student creates sense of pride and purpose for all.

And that zone is available for all who seek it. We wish President Bair grand tidings and heroic stamina to do so.

Letters to Editor

  1. Roger Brown says:

    Dave
    You have identified the various constituencies with conflicting interests that make the President’s job really tough. I wish the best for Ms. Bair . She did a great job s FDIC Chair.

    Roger

  2. Margaret Fallaw says:

    Well stated!

  3. Jack Brosius says:

    I read with greatly mixed feelings the editorial welcoming the new Washington College President Sheila Blair and would like point out a few things that I feel need to be addressed both in the editorial as well as things that were not addressed.

    First of all President Blair was not selected because she is a woman and would break the “glass ceiling”, she was selected because she was best qualified to meet the needs of the college community by making a commitment to LEAD this community to continue & improve it’s academic & community status. It is now incumbent on the part of the entire community (the board of directors, the college community from the top down & the Chestertown/Kent & Queen Anne’s communities that help support the college) to also make a commitment to listen and work with President Blair. This may/probably will require a lot of patience on both sides since President Blair will by necessity be learning what has and has not worked and the communities by the same token must examine the same issues as it applies to each role each member plays and then work out what “corrections in course” must/should be made in order to go on to greater and more wonderful things.

    In addition to the above there is the expectation that President Blair is going to be a “great” fundraiser which based on the commitment of the communities involved to make the college a top rated community with President Blair leading the way will happen. Stressful,maybe,satisfying and challenging, Yes. It is up to the communities as a whole to now step up and make a commitment to work WITH president Blair and not FOR her. If we all do that then she and the community will enjoy great success.

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