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President's Blog

Archive for February 2010

Indoor Tennis

Yesterday I caught part of the very first ever indoor tennis match held in the FAC! Looking out the windows at the piles of snow still covering our fields and courts, it was obvious what a wonderful thing it is to be able to compete indoors.

Ferrum College was visiting. I arrived just as the doubles match was wrapping up (we won!) and stayed through several singles sets (we won!) Details are here. We have some strong and smart players, and they’re a joy to watch in action.

Spectators occupied the track, and could even watch the matches from inside the Lounge area (if, say, they wanted to sip a cup of coffee from the Bistro without losing track of the play.)

Go Sweet!   

A Day of Talking

Sometimes when I meet people who ask what I do, I say “I preside.” Every once in a while, someone will ask me what a college president actually does, and in truth, most days, the answer would seem to be “talk.”

Yesterday was a day of many conversations and “talks.” I talked with the president of SGA about student elections and the SGA constitution, with a group of student organizers about their “Relay for Life” benefit, and with the Executive Committee of the Board about the to-do list emerging from last week’s Board meeting. I chatted with the SWEBOP director about a sustainability conference, with the chair of the Philosophy search committee about how that’s going, with the Athletic Director about the Vixen costume, and so on.

And I gave three more formal presentations. First, I met with the faculty to do my regular post-Board meeting report and to introduce the strategic planning process in more detail.This meeting was very helpful in identifying issues we need to pay extra attention to in the next faculty meeting and in upcoming written reports.

Then, I met with Professor Ross Mecham’s “Corporate Leadership” class. Each member of the class will be interviewing three leaders, using a standard interview protocol and analytical methodology. I got to be their “practice” interview! I was very interested in the way the discussion with the students tended to center on issues of authenticity. How can a young professional choose mentors and role models that will help her grow into her own authentic leadership — rather than, say, those who will simply be trying to clone themselves?

Then, in the evening, I went in to Lynchburg to meet with the Estate Planning Council, a group of lawyers, financial advisers, and other professionals who work in the area of estate planning. That was fun, too — they were interested in hearing stories of the Fletcher family’s connections to Lynchburg and also about how important planned giving is to higher education in general and Sweet Briar in particular. (Did you know that on average, Sweet Briar receives about $2M in realized bequests each year?)

So, if you’ve ever wondered how the president of Sweet Briar spends a typical day on campus, that’s about it!

Vixen on Skis

No, she’s not skiing behind Guion or down Monument Hill — although after this winter she sure could be!

Photo courtesy Judy Grant

She’s actually skiing in a charity event in Winter Park, Colorado. Director Judy Grant, ’66, is a supporter of the charity (which serves disabled skiiers) and of course of Sweet Briar, so she arranged a special guest appearance by the Vixen.

The picture seemed too appropriate to this winter on campus not to share!

Professor Eleanor Salotto

Several readers have asked whether there is any additional information about Professor Salotto, who has been missing since late last week.

Alas, there is no news. The Lynchburg police are continuing to search and the College continues to assist in every appropriate way.

On campus, we continue to hope and pray. Colleagues are covering Professor Salotto’s classes and duties as department chair. Co-Curricular Life staff and the Chaplain are providing support for those most keenly affected by the current uncertainty.

When we have any news, it will appear here, on sbc.edu, and in other media. In the meantime, I know that your thoughts are with Eleanor and her many students, colleagues, and friends.

Regular Post-Board Meeting Update

Following my practice of reporting to the whole campus community after each Board meeting, I’ve circulated a brief summary of key points from the just-concluded February meeting. You can find it on my “remarks” page.

Please bear in mind that these reports are the furthest thing possible from minutes! Rather, they are a quick sketch for students, faculty, and staff of the major points that affect the college generally. Open meetings are held on campus after these notes are distributed so that any who have questions or would like to discuss them have a chance to talk with me directly.

I’ve been working this year to create communications channels that allow all members of the community (whether on campus or off) to feel they have access to timely, reliable, and useful information about what’s happening at the Briar. This post-Board meeting update is just one example. And of course, your thoughts as blog readers about how I can better accomplish this are always welcome!

Concern for Professor Eleanor Salotto

The announcement below is being posted on the College’s web site today. I thought I’d share it with you here as well.

The Lynchburg News & Advance reported yesterday that there is no new information to release on the disappearance of Eleanor Salotto, an associate professor of English at Sweet Briar, although authorities have said they do not believe that she is the victim of a crime.

College administrators and campus security officers are working with Lynchburg Police to locate Salotto. The entire community continues to hope and pray for her safe return, said Sweet Briar President Jo Ellen Parker.

According to Jonathan Green, dean of the College, Salotto was last seen on campus on Thursday, Feb. 11, and was seen later that day in Lynchburg. On Friday, a friend of Salotto’s arrived in Lynchburg for a visit and became concerned when Salotto did not meet her at the airport as planned.

The Lynchburg Police Department was notified and went to her apartment to check on her, but she was not there. The following day, a missing-person report was filed, and a formal investigation and search were initiated.

Green said the dean’s office is in the process of providing coverage for her classes, and associate professor of English Marcia Robertson is serving as acting department chair.

“Dr. Salotto has been on the faculty at Sweet Briar for twelve years,” Green said. “She has been an influential professor for many students, particularly as she has developed and led our film studies minor.”

Green also said the chaplain’s office and health services are providing counseling for students.

Ethics Bowl

Let’s say you’re a student. One day, your roommate is leaving to take an exam and you notice that she’s written notes on her inner arm. You can only assume she intends to use these notes to cheat on the test, so you confront her. She gets a little angry and tells you that she’ll wash the notes off her arm before taking the test and leaves the room in a huff. What do you do? After all, you didn’t actually see her cheat, and maybe in fact she will wash off the notes. Although you doubt it.

This is an abbreviated version of an actual case considered today here at the Ethics Bowl. I’ve had great fun serving as a judge (oddly enough, I was asked to fill in for Roger Mudd at the last minute!) Each of the member colleges of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges sends a team of students and a faculty adviser/coach. Teams are paired off and given cases like this one to discuss. Judges award points for how well each team engages the facts of the case, considers their implications, reasons through the issues, articulates complexities, and poses questions.

The only unfortunate thing about being a judge was that I couldn’t get to the sessions in which Sweet Briar was presenting. (This being an Ethics Bowl, they’re sorta sensitive to conflicts of interest.) But I saw our team at dinner tonight: they felt they’d done well today and were looking forward to more rounds tomorrow. Here are two of our three participants with faculty adviser Kevin Honeycutt of the Philosophy department.

To my  mind, this event really hones in on what’s important about a liberal arts education. Reasoning from evidence, framing issues in context, articulating logical connections, expressing complex ideas, considering  implications and alternate interpretations, seeing situations from a variety of points of view — these abilities are invaluable in thinking through ethical dilemmas.

In case you’re wondering, in the round I judged today the teams from Lynchburg and Hollins both took the position that the student in the situation above SHOULD refer the case to the Honor Council. Is that what you would have done?

A Day at the Capitol

Yesterday I spent the day in Richmond visiting with various legislators. Here I am with Senator Patricia Ticer, a respected member of the Senate since 1996 and a Sweet Briar alumna!  

I also had the opportunity to speak with Delegate Ben Cline, in whose district the College is located. Delegate Cline is also an alumnus of a private college, in his case Bates.

And it was private colleges that I was there to talk about. Sometimes I think that the public generally, and legislatures in particular, tend to forget about the public good produced by the private sector in higher education. For example, in Virginia, it is much more cost-effective for the commonwealth to support a student attending a private college through the Tuition Assistance Grant program than it is to support a student enrolled at a public university — and generally the private college student is more likely to complete her degree in four years. Virginia hopes to increase the number of citizens earning college degrees but many of its public institutions are operating at capacity. The private colleges of Virginia, however, could absorb as many as 15,000 additional students (according to Robert Lambeth, president of the Council of Independent Colleges of Virginia.) And, of course, as Delegate Cline and I observed, often a small private college like Sweet Briar is both a primary employer in a small town and a magnet for educated residents.

Not to mention that private colleges produce leaders like Delegate Cline and Senator Ticer themselves!

Like most other states, the Commonwealth is struggling with its budget; we all understand the extraordinarily difficult decisions our lawmakers face. But I was glad to have the opportunity to remind them of how very proud Sweet Briar is to be a Virginia private college and to serve Virginia families — and how important the tuition assistance program is to our ability to help the Commonwealth meet its educational goals.

To round off the day, since I was in Richmond, I enjoyed a cup of coffee with President Emerita Betsy Muhlenfeld. She says “hi, everybody.”

More Snow, and a Little Night Music

Photo Courtesy Alaina McKee

Yup, still snowing!

Class are canceled for today and the College is officially closed — it was simply unrealistic to expect faculty, staff, and non-residential students to make it to campus.

Students are sledding (or, well, traying, or cushioning) down the hill behind the Chapel and over by Guion. As I walk the dogs, we encounter snow art of various kinds. There are a few places on campus where greenery is poking up through the snow; these have become popular gathering places for the deer.

Gathering places for the students include, of course, the FAC, where staff are making sure that everything is kept running even though they’re a bit shorthanded. Students who might be feeling a touch of cabin fever can go over there to play, snack, work out, or hang out.

Last night, in a brief interregnum between snowfalls, I got to hear some wonderful music in Pannell. Virginia Schweninger and Lynn Buck are both instructors in our music program. Virginia teaches harp and Lynn, flute. They performed a short program yesterday evening surrounded by the art of the current exhibit. (Which I highly recommend, by the way, to any who will be on campus.)

Faculty, guests, students, and staff sat together in that stately room, surrounded by pieces from Sweet Briar’s art collection, listening to two of our own make music. My favorite piece was one in which a 20th-century composer had written a flute part to accompany a much older piece of music for the harp. The way in which the new voice both commented on and harmonized with the older voice struck me as a perfect metaphor for education and for the College: a melody rich in history and a contemporary creation, interdependent and more beautiful together than apart.

Snow and Ice

Here on campus we continue to struggle with extraordinary weather, with more predicted in the coming days. We’ve had delayed openings and the grounds crew is working hard to make sure the roads and paths are cleared. Even so, there are spots on campus where the footing is treacherous.

I thought I might share a note I just posted on Facebook here as well:

First, and most important: if a student feels she can’t make it safely to class or any other scheduled activity, she should make safety her first priority (and of course, contact her professor, coach, supervisor, or any other relevant person to explain.) Everyone will understand; we’re all trying to cope the best we can.

Second, I’ve asked Vice President Davies to make sure that pathways to Prothro from all residences are a top priority, since getting to meals is essential.

And third, anyone who needs special urgent assistance (you need medication and can’t drive to CVS, etc) should contact Public Safety or Dean Cheryl Steele’s office.

When they make the call about whether to close the College or not, Vice President Davies and Dean Green are balancing a number of factors: student and faculty safety is one, keeping the academic program on track is another. Obviously, this winter is presenting us all with extraordinary challenges and they will be assessing the situation as it develops. In the meantime, do your best, make safety your priority, and talk with your professors if you can’t make class.

On a lighter note, I keep having a slight sense of deja vu — wasn’t there a controversy recently about an unexpected snowfall, a new president from a much more wintry part of the country, and a remark about “flinty toughness?”