Incoming President Sits Down With The Voice

President-Elect Anne McCall discusses diversity, international students and community relations in an interview with the editors-in-chief. Image courtesy of Samuel Boudreau ’23.
Lark Pinney, Editor-in-Chief
Samuel Boudreau, Editor-in-Chief
Kaylee Liu, News Editor
Gianna Hayes, News Editor

This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lark Pinney: What have you enjoyed most about your time here so far today? Has there been anything surprising for you?

President-Elect McCall: What I’ve enjoyed most is meeting people. I met upwards of 70 people in the search process, but that’s a tiny percentage of the community here. Getting to meet more people whom I hadn’t met before has been exciting. The first group I met was the Scot Council this morning. Starting to get student perspectives on what’s great here and what we need to develop to stay as good as we are, and to become even better has been illuminating. That’s been the most fun part and I haven’t been surprised yet. Surprised isn’t the right word, but I was interested in hearing from the Scot Council members about the different things that they felt were really exciting here and where we could make a difference in some of the areas I hadn’t heard about, including some of the buildings they thought required renovation – I hadn’t heard their names before, so that was the closest thing to a surprise.

Samuel Boudreau: What are some of the qualities you’ve kind of seen so far from students, faculty members and staff members at the College? 

President-Elect McCall: Intellectually curious and ambitious, and that is priceless – you can’t put a value on that. A university or college cannot be great unless it has that and when you have that, everything becomes possible. Whether it’s the students, faculty or staff – that’s [who] I’ve seen –  they are committed to the success of the college. The other thing I see is concern for each other. I’m seeing people in situations where they’re happy overall, but I’ve also heard about people advocating for other people, and I’m very impressed by the strength of the community.

Lark Pinney: So, in addition to your role as president, you’re also going to be a faculty member. Why is it so important to you to not just be president but also engage with the student body in that way? 

President-Elect McCall: Because I am a faculty member – I can’t stop being a faculty member. My professional identity is bound up in that, and my commitments, as a president, are bound up in that identity. As a president, I’m concerned about everything: advancement of the student experience outside of classes, the facilities students live in and that employees work in, the relationships with the community, legislators. All of that is under my purview. But the core mission of the university is the academic process, so giving up on that function and title isn’t negotiable for me. 

Lark Pinney: Will you be available to advise independent studies? 

President-Elect McCall: I would love to. I already met three French majors today. I’m hoping they’re in different years or that they have great advisors in areas that they care about.

Samuel Boudreau: One of the major concerns on campus among faculty, students and staff members is administrative turnover in Galpin Hall and the presidency. This past presidency term was the shortest since the 1910s, so I was just curious if you would like to speak on that, for people who are concerned about being here [for] the long term and along those lines. 

President-Elect McCall:  I’m going through a lot of organizational work to move here. I took my time thinking about where it would be that I would like to serve with the goal of arriving at some place where there would be a strong fit, and that I would want to spend a significant amount of time. It is true that if you look at the national stats, what you’ve been experiencing at Wooster is commensurate with national trends, so there are other issues at play besides particular administrators who are here and who have left. If you’re looking at how the past might be indicative of the future, I’m in my seventh year as a provost which is almost double the years of an average provost role, so I’m looking forward to moving in and doing a good job and wanting to stay… It takes time to learn the role and learn the institution to be effective. 

Lark Pinney: Along the same lines of moving in, I know a lot of people are curious if you will be living in the President’s House. 

President-Elect McCall:  Oh, of course, absolutely! We spent 2 hours there this morning, my husband and I, talking about paints. There are some rooms that could use a little refresh. We’re very interested in living in the house. I think that’s one of the great perks I’ve always loved throughout my career. I’ve always lived as close as I could to a campus. And it’s across the street from the library, which is just so moving to me. 

Samuel Boudreau: In your introductory Q&A, I know you talked a lot about maintaining some of the College’s traditional, educational missions, such as I.S., but you also focused a lot on evolving with the current liberal arts [trends] in the country. We’re currently kind of going through an Academic Program Review (APR), and so a lot of faculty members are anxious, there might be some animosity, so I wonder how do you look to approach, especially with your previous experience,  the educational challenges of maintaining what makes Wooster a special place, but also implementing things that can help the educational component of the college grow?

President-Elect McCall: I am absolutely committed to the liberal arts mission. At the same time, the liberal arts mission has never been static. I like to think about philology, for example, which seems so old-school conservative [compared to the] methods of today. Philologists were fighting words in the 16th century. That was hot academic stuff [back then]. Topics and shapes of disciplines change over time. Sociology didn’t exist 150 years ago, right? So it’s normal that the curriculum itself should evolve. If not, it becomes a dead language. I think keeping up with where knowledge is taking people today, what kind of methods need to be learned to tackle the big problems of the day, how we look at the problems and shape them through our field of knowledge help determine the solutions we’re going to find. If we’re going to tackle the five big questions that I think a lot of people in the world care about, and we haven’t made a lot of progress on them, then we better keep thinking about how we produce the knowledge, how it’s shaped, how it’s taught, and where your generation is going to take it. For those in your generation who go on to become faculty members, you’re not going to be teaching what we’re teaching today, even if we think it’s the latest and greatest thing. So I think we have to be really thoughtful about it. We have to follow the combination of where the evolution of knowledge is taking people and where the big social need and human questions are coming from. 

Lark Pinney: The College is currently well into many of its primary long term initiatives, such as the Connect, Create and Discover Strategic Plan and the Wooster Promise Campaign. Are there any parts of the College that you were interested in initiating similar long term plans and how do you plan to guide the existing plans? 

President-Elect McCall: So the existing plan is in its final year, to the best of my understanding. One of the things that I want to do with everybody else who’s interested in looking at it is [examining] where we are not done. We do need to look at a few areas of work and wrap them up in a bundle and see what we could do to make progress on them and, simultaneously, begin reflection on what the next steps for the College are. And with that, we have to be mindful of two things that often are hard to succeed in simultaneously. One is having it be very participatory, because good ideas come from everybody in the system and simultaneously moving quickly enough that the plan remains relevant. For example, the past few years changed a lot of plans, so we have to figure out how to make our plans flexible and dynamic enough that a major change in context doesn’t paralyze us.

Samuel Boudreau: In the past, sometimes, when there’s a difficult decision for the board of trustees or the administration to make, segments of the College community, such as staff, faculty [etc.], might not feel like it is transparent. So I wonder, in your role as president, when there’s a tough decision that you believe needs to be made, how do you kind of view yourself as a communicator and also an includer?

President-Elect McCall: So including people in tough questions that the College needs to take on is key because people who live [in] the system will, in many cases, have either the best answers or at least important insights. Sometimes it is good to have people who are not in the middle of things and see it with fresh eyes, but everybody’s perspective adds to the mix of knowledge, so you do want, in as many cases as possible, to have the opportunity to speak in and speak up. At the same time, part of the role of leadership is to make decisions, and some people will appreciate some decisions more than others. In terms of communicating, I’ve always thought that it’s a whole lot easier to say things the way they are than to try to overly finesse it, because the reality is there and people are smart and can see it for themselves. There are things that you can’t share that are confidential, but, for things that can be shared, as a general rule, I found it more productive to share them than to keep them to myself. 

Lark Pinney: In recent years at the College, many students from the BIPOC community have expressed concerns regarding the lack of representation in mental health resources at the College as well in various academic departments. The College has also struggled to retain BIPOC faculty members. In your position, how do you look to help to create an environment, particularly in these areas where students and faculty from the BIPOC community feel welcome and supported? 

President-Elect McCall: It is a multi-pronged approach. First of all, the College needs to make itself as welcoming as possible and take steps in its recruiting process to elicit a diverse, robust pool, and then do its best to bring in the people who have the best understanding of the mission and who are prepared and desiring to help our students, and then have a community such that people from different backgrounds feel supported. It’s also important that it not simply be on racial minorities, or, in other cases, gender minorities or religious minorities to carry that burden alone. For instance, it cannot simply be the role of BIPOC health professionals to carry that weight. That’s unfair and that doesn’t reflect the equity and justice [of the] world that we want, so we have to have a combination of representation [,] awareness and interest on the part of others to expand their horizons and think about what it means to support all of our students. 

Samuel Boudreau:  A major kind of source of tension among students has been Beall Avenue. In the past, students have been shot by B.B. guns, and I imagine the majority of students [have been] verbally yelled at. There’s always been animosity, not just from the town’s perspective to the College but also the College’s perspective towards the town. How do you look to improve those relations and be visible between these two spaces, especially between local and public officials in the town, county and the College? 

President-Elect McCall: First of all, it’s the president’s job and not only the president’s job, to be visible in the community and to build relationships with leaders throughout the community and to participate in the community in different ways. I don’t really know yet what that means for my husband and me, as a couple. I know what it means for myself at meetings and things, but I know that I want to go out and do a lot with him, to go out and experience [the town] and see what that’s like for us. I don’t know all of the [local] groups, but, for instance, I know that the YMCA has health and fitness classes and [there is] the pool at the high school. I want to go check that out and see if that’s the right thing for us to do or [if] we should just stay on campus. I love the arts, etc., and participating in things informally as well as simply going to meetings. One of the things that’s really challenging is when you don’t have those relationships and then suddenly the first time you’re really talking to somebody is when something bad has happened. It’s challenging to have that trust that helps people find solutions together. To avoid that, people need to meet each other. The reception that is taking place tonight is a preliminary step in that direction to meet some of the business leaders in town. I know that the chief of police is a Wooster alum. That’s a wonderful asset for our community. I don’t mean to call a person an asset but from a positional standpoint, it’s true. So to build those bridges with different people in the community and different institutions in the community, that’s one thing. Our students need to feel safe, and it seems to me that the steps that have been taken in response to the behaviors you’ve mentioned are strong and are in the right direction. Can we force everybody in the world to behave the way that they should? No. But we can try to make it so this is not a community that people with that much hate in their hearts want to go to and do those things. You want to create enough disincentives for that not to happen here. I think one thing that is worth thinking about too is that the town and the area around the town may not know all that we offer. Not just as the president, but as a college, making sure that there are relationships built through different actions of the College so that more people will say, “Well, wait a minute, that’s where Samand Lark are.” To humanize each other. And I was thinking of the student I met in Scot Council who’s a health ambassador, who goes into homes in the community. That’s already a very different relationship to have. The last thing I would say is, unfortunately, that kind of behavior that you’re talking about is not unique to Wooster. That doesn’t explain it away [or] take away from our responsibility to work on it, but I would say, as a woman, for myself, for my husband, as an Indian origin person, it’s something that we have seen in other communities. So we personally know from experience how hurtful it is and how scary it can be. But I think we also have to put it under a larger umbrella. It’s not just a Wooster problem. It’s actually a bigger problem, so we have to also use a different kind of lens sometimes to think about how to work on this. 

Lark Pinney: So as a college where almost 100% of students live on campus, as you mentioned, I’m sure students have brought up today the quality of living spaces. At the Voice we end up hearing about all types of problems: problems with bats, problems with mold, problems with accessibility. Where on your list of priorities would you rate housing improvements? And are there any concrete plans for any of the residence options on campus? 

President-Elect McCall: So I agree it would be dishonest of me to say that I have a priority list already mapped out, but through these types of conversations over the next several months I’ll be able to formulate that.So I don’t know what the priority list is. But I do know already that improving housing has to be right in the very top tier. It’s one, two or three, but it has to be very much in that top tier. They’re beautiful old residence halls. Council people laugh at this. I said, In 20 years everybody’s going to want to be in Holden Hall because a beautiful, renovated old dorm is better than a new dorm. You can’t imagine it today because that’s how bad it is. It’s also a manifestation of the history of the College and honoring that history. You want to write in the way that you look to the future, but you also have respect that you show for the physical assets that speak that identity. I’m very interested in figuring out exactly what it’s going to take, how many students need to be housed, how much money we need and how to line it up. 

Samuel Boudreau: This is just the final question. Wooster is also known in the Great Lakes area. And also just broadly for candidates, there is the international student population, which is a great kind of strength of the College, for lack of a better term. But I know for a lot of international students, especially like not being able to go home in the winter and also kind of adjusting just to kind of the curriculum, it’s a challenge. And so I wonder, with Wooster being at the  forefront and becoming more diverse with the international student population, how do you look to help also lead that? 

President-Elect McCall: I have a very deep commitment to international students, to the experience of education in other parts of the world. It’s as important that we get study abroad for Western students as it is for us to work with students. Those things always need to be in sync with each other. Studying abroad today, of course, isn’t like studying abroad when I was a student, but I didn’t spend [just] a year abroad. I spent ten years as a graduate student in France and in Spain, and my children studied abroad. My husband came to America as a student abroad. I think about these questions a lot, and I’ve taught many international students over the years. Thinking about the well-being of students who are especially far from home and often cannot go home and thinking about that culture shock and cultural differences is something that occupies a constant place in my mind. But I can’t answer your question yet because I need to hear from the international students. What are they doing today? What do they feel good about? What do they feel that’s good about Wooster? Sometimes we anticipate what the answers are without actually asking enough of the people who are experiencing that reality and then acting on it. So it’s a question mark in my mind. What are the top issues for them? I have some thoughts in my mind about what they might be, but I don’t want to just take them on and assume what the answers are. They definitely bring a lot to the table. I think it’s great for them. I grew up in Ohio and many of the people I went to school with didn’t go abroad. The idea that you might be going to universities just an hour or maximum 3 hours off the road and find the entire world you’re in and your intimate community, it’s just an incredible opportunity. So part of that process also means making sure that everybody in the community benefits from that richness. Including not simply direct international students, but students who come from different backgrounds. Including not simply direct international students, but students who come from different backgrounds.  Whether that is being a child of immigrants or from a different part of the country or from a very different socioeconomic class. There are a lot of places that have high diversity, but as a student, you don’t necessarily get to benefit from it. So that’s part of what makes you. That’s special and has to be nurtured.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: