November 7, 2012

An Interview with Roseman

Carl Socolow '77

Roseman during her first visit as President Elect.
Doctor Nancy Roseman, formerly of Williams College in Massachusetts, was recently selected to be Dickinson College’s 28th President.

A professor of biology and a former dean, Roseman will be beginning her term after the 2013 Spring Semester.

During her first visit to Dickinson as President Elect, Roseman sat down with The Dickinsonian for a brief interview.

Matthew Korb: Now, to start out: What made you decide to apply for the position of Dickinson College’s president?

Dr. Nancy Roseman: I served as a senior administrator at Williams College for seven years. I found it to be the most rewarding experience in my life. I felt that making change at an administrative level was a really amazing chance. And, after serving for seven years, I went back to the faculty, which is the norm. I had a little sabbatical after that and started teaching again. Soon after I was asked to shepherd some projects by the college president and the senior staff. I had the title of Assistant to the President for Special Projects. I think doing that, doing something at an institutional level and making progress, it was really fun and I got tremendous pleasure out of it.

I was asked afterwards to do the Oxford program that, at Williams, is seen as a way for the institution to say thank you for work done on behalf of the college. I was also asked because they wanted an experience administrator there and, in particular, someone to improve our relations with the science program at Oxford.

During that time I realized I wanted to get back into administration. And, literally, when I arrived in the United States from Oxford my cell phone rang. The woman who was running the Dickinson search, who I had a past relationship with professionally, said, “I have something I think you should take a look at. I really think you will love this place and I think it is a really special place. I think you would be a good fit.” After that off we went.

The minute I started reading about Dickinson I thought it was a really interesting place doing really interesting things.

Korb: While we are on the topic, what do you feel was your greatest accomplishment at Williams College?

Roseman: I am very proud of the student center, the Paresky Center. I think the center is so successful and it’s really an incredibly satisfying thing to be involved in the designing of such a space and think about how architecture will be used by a community and then see it as a reality. You can design space with great architects and all kinds of notions of how it is gonna work and see if fail miserably.

To work with a great team of architects, to really feel like I knew the community and how it would function in that space was just unbelievably rewarding. And every time I walk by that space I just smile. I feel so good about it and I’m so proud of it.

Korb: Recently the school has been pushing forward with a large amount of construction. Do you have any plans to continue the expansion of Dickinson College’s facilities and dorms?

Roseman: Certainly. You have to keep pushing and improving the college campus. Deferred maintenance is an issue in all college campuses. I know that from Oxford. It has absolutely ancient facilities, hundreds of years old. And it’s something you need to be constantly on top of and constantly raising money for so as to keep your facilities functioning and serving the purpose of your intuition as well as it can. You look at the strategic plan and it has identified the physical needs of the campus to make the HUB work better and be more appealing to students. But I also plan to take a good long look at the residence halls and make them more appealing to students.

Korb: I lived in a dorm during my first year. I can tell you, a few certainly need some attention.

Roseman: That’s the great thing about Dickinson. For me to be a president of an institution, the college needs to share my values. One of them is honesty and transparency.

Dickinson is not shy and will not be shy in the future about talking about its weaknesses or where it needs work. If you look at the strategic plan, it very honestly assesses the college’s dorms and their age and how long it has been since they have been completely refurbished. The need is not a mystery. The school is very open about it.

Before we move forward, it’s going to take some time for me to understand it and work with the administration of the school to understand the student ecosystem, as I’d like to call it.

Korb: Speaking of plans, do you have any plans for your first year as president of the college?

Roseman: Not yet. It’s really important for me to get to know the community and get to know Dickinson. I can’t be effective unless I really know the place. I have to know the institution for myself and soak it in.

The obvious priorities are to keep the institution moving forward, keep aggressively acquiring resources and keep the momentum that Durden has been so masterful at maintaining. I don’t have a pre-conceived agenda. That would be a mistake. I want to understand the wants of the students first.

Korb: While we are on students, President Durden had a lot of student outreach programs. Do you have any plans to continue them or create your own? Roseman: To be an effective president you have to know what’s going on around your campus. The only way to do that is to make yourself as accessible as possible to everyone - students staff, faculty or alumni.

I will make every effort to make sure that barriers between me and the students are as low as possible. I plan to have opportunities for students to come talk to me and for me to be present and available. It’s difficult, however. You have to be determined. The computer is constantly calling at you. The phones are ringing. You have to be very disciplined. But that is how I recharge my batteries: Interacting with students. It’s the joy of being on a college campus.

Korb: One of Durden’s largest and earliest projects was the expansion of the endowment. Do you have any plans for continuing the expansion?

Roseman: A major job and responsibility of any college president is fundraising and increasing their institute’s endowment so that they can have the resources to make their college the best possible. We are in the second capitol campaign and, in a sense, we are just continuing from the first. It will be my job to pick up the reigns and keep pushing the campaign forward.

Korb: Thirty percent of the college’s population is a member of a fraternity or sorority. Do you have any plans on what will happen to Greek life on campus?

Roseman: I don’t have any firm plans. I just want to come to understand student life, social life, Greek life and the role all these different groups play first. There’s so many pieces of student life – Special interest housing, housing separated by class year and other groups that identify themselves in special ways - that I need to understand first. I need to look the whole big picture and how Greek life fits into the campus’ community.

Korb: The question on the value of the liberal arts education has been frequently tossed around. People have been talking about a need for a more practical education. What are your thoughts on the usefulness of a liberal arts education and what that question means to Dickinson?

Roseman: People have been predicting the demise of the liberal arts for hundreds of years. If you look, you can see writing on this point that goes back for decades. Certainly there are liberal arts colleges that disappear from the landscape because of their financial situation. I firmly believe, however, that liberal arts as an educational paradigm is very healthy and highly valued in our society and around the world. In fact, there are a number of countries without a liberal arts tradition coming to the United States and studying what we do and how we do it. They see the value of it.

There is no question, if you look at the data, that graduates of liberal arts education over-populate across the board in business, politics and science. I think that our graduates are very well prepared to have very successful lives.

I’m not trying to measure success professionally; I really believe –as a graduate of a liberal arts college – graduates can have successful personal lives, satisfying personal lives, because we have this tremendous breadth and an appreciation for things outside of our specialized area.

One reason I was so attracted to Dickinson was its approach to the liberal arts. I think it is incredibly well-suited for the times we live in. It is such a flexible institution. You can see it in its curriculum. Our faculty have this great fount of ideas. We have a marriage of the practical with a core liberal arts approach.

Korb: Was there anything that attracted you to Dickinson specifically?

Roseman: Lauri and I came to campus in early December last year. Only three people knew we were there. We referred to it as our stealth visit.

We got a little bit lost and a woman stopped us. She asked if she could help us. We said that we were and that we were looking for the Trout Gallery. Though she was headed in the opposite direction, she told us she would be happy to take us there. There is a vitality to this place, a great energy. And, even if you are just going around town or in a store, someone walks in and everyone knows one another. It’s how people greet one another and the genuine warmth of that greeting. It resonated with us.

Korb: Carlisle has recently been trying to get more involved with the Dickinson campus. Did you have any plans or projects for the college to get involved with Carlisle?

Roseman: I think it is absolutely crucial for Dickinson to partner with the town and its local institutions. We rise together or we fall together. We are all dependant on one another. I am looking forward to partnering with people the school already has a relationship with. We’ve had a wonderful relationship with the U.S War College, the Dickinson School of Law and Carlisle. I was really moved today when I met a member of the local council and he couldn’t have been more complimentary to the college. We owe so much to Bill Durden’s leadership and this was one of the many things he paid attention to and that he understood. It was so critical to Dickinson. A thriving town benefits contributes to a thriving campus. When you are recruiting students and faculty, they are looking for a great quality of life. A healthier Carlisle means a healthier Dickinson.

Korb: Do you have any message you’d like to give to the general population of Dickinson?

Roseman: I want to thank everyone for – beyond my wildest dreams – such a warm welcome. It was such a fantastic experience for me. The greetings I got after being introduced to campus couldn’t have been warmer. And I’m looking forward to getting to work on behalf of Dickinson.