Brand new era (page 3)

in political science, Brand gained valuable administrative experience at Grinnell overseeing institutional and budget planning as well as the college's gallery, facilities management, and office of community enhancement.

In 2005, he accepted the position as president of Doane, where he built up a run of impressive achievements: Exceeding the goal for the college's capital campaign, attaining two consecutive years of record enrollment, completing several new facilities, and overseeing the addition of majors in biochemistry and journalism, among others.

Much like the liberal arts colleges he's served for more than a decade, Brand is both grounded in the past and looking toward the future. There's not a much better example than his reading material: A perfect day for him would include a cup of coffee, a long run, The New York Times and reading Rabelais. He doesn't teach French anymore, but that hasn't kept him from 16th-century French literature. LaBarge is an avid reader as well, and holds undergraduate and master's degrees in English literature, from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-Riverside, respectively.

Ready to learn

Brand has a lot of ideas about what liberal arts colleges can and should be doing better, particularly when it comes to modernizing. Cornell must stay rooted in its history, but the changes that have already started need to continue.

"The external environment keeps changing," he said. "Liberal arts colleges need to be alive to what's fundamental to the liberal arts, but also recognize the need for greater experiences off campus, more opportunities for research with faculty, and more opportunities to apply skills in a practical setting. We have an opportunity to help our students take all of their courses and create a unified sense of knowledge—how they understand the world around them through their personal lens."

That doesn't mean there will be major changes when he officially becomes president on July 1. First, he said, he understands that to lead effectively, he needs to become a member of the community. To him, that means sustained dialogue about what the students want and need, where faculty interest lies, and what best suits the college's long-term strategy.

Secondly, he said, Cornell isn't a place that needs a drastic, top-down shake-up. A symbol of this is that Brand asked Jim Brown, who spent the year as interim president, to stay on as special assistant to the president, the role he held from 2005 through 2009.

Brand said he believes in the power of groups of people to make better decisions. That concept of shared governance, where faculty, staff, students, and trustees have input into where the college is heading, is central to Brand's leadership style.

"I know enough to know I don't have all the answers," he said.

That respect for shared decision-making goes beyond just thinking it leads to better outcomes. Brand said that the way faculty, staff, and administrators interact with each other provides a model for students. When they see effective leadership, a search for consensus among diverse constituencies, and respectful communication between all parties, then they learn a valuable lesson about how they should interact with others after they graduate. The educational mission of Cornell extends far beyond the classroom, and offering students examples of good leadership and constructive interaction is part of that.

Brand told the King Chapel audience he wants to model effective leadership to the entire community, both on campus and off.

"I promise that when I make a mistake, I will own it and I will learn from it," he said. "And I will surely make mistakes."

Values alumni connections

Part of the strength of a college like Cornell, Brand said, is the alumni. At 12,000 or so strong, they're a massive body of people with a shared sense of the importance of the college and a desire to see their alma mater endure and prosper.

Their support takes many forms: coming back to campus to speak or to teach, helping advise young alumni or current students about where to live or career choices, helping advise the college as decisions are made, and giving financial support.

That last item can sound mercenary, Brand said, but it isn't. Rather, the act of supporting one's college is deeply personal. It's an outward sign of a profound inner connection, and the idea that support enhances something you care about is gratifying.

"One of the best aspects of American higher education is that we are able to invest in institutions that matter to us. To ensure that future generations are able to have what past generations had, and hopefully even more," he said.

And alumni-student connection works both ways. "The experience that students communicate to alumni is so much more powerful than anything a president or administrator can communicate," Brand said, adding that strengthening alumni relationships with Cornell enriches student lives, enhances the quality of education, and solidifies the college's continued success.

"At small colleges, the alumni are particularly important," Brand said. "It's true at Cornell. Alumni are passionate about their connections because they feel so transformed by their time here."

Champion for Cornell

Brand and LaBarge spent most of their time on campus meeting people. From facilities staff to the athletic department, from students and staff to community members, their day was filled with lines of people waiting to greet them.

It was the first step of what Brand is sure will be a long process of joining the community. It's a start, but only a start.

Next comes the enjoyable work of really getting to know people. At Doane, Brand and LaBarge had faculty over for dinner in groups of 10. Those groups met once a month for three months and during the dinner parties discussed how they came to Doane, Doane's history, and how they were helping to create Doane's future. The pair had students over regularly, especially after groups came back from off-campus study experiences.

The beginning of their time at Cornell will likely look much the same. One thing they already know is that they want to have each and every student over to the President's House, and though they haven't determined the format, it will include food.

After that, there are many priorities to consider. The Commons looms largest, and fundraising continues with groundbreaking planned for summer of 2012 (see news digest item). There are academic tasks, too. The implementation of an eight-block calendar. The expansion of the programs that have made Cornell increasingly distinctive: The Berry Center, Cornell Fellows, Dimensions, Pre-Law, Off-Campus studies. Planning for the opening of the McLennan Center in Chicago. The list goes on.

All that might seem daunting, but this time when Brand and LaBarge come to Iowa, they won't be wondering what they've done. They know that they're coming to Cornell because they want to build on the successes the college has already had and to lead the college to even greater heights. That's a mission that Brand is taking seriously, as he told the students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered in King Chapel, and dozens of others watching a live webcast of the speech.

"I promise," he said "that I will champion Cornell College and its distinctiveness in every setting—nationally, internationally, and in the higher education community."

Page 1 | 2 | 3