our president

for more information

Lisa F. Tedeschi
Chief of Staff and Director of Strategic Planning
(603) 526-3451

president's messages

A New Academic Year

October 2009

The 2009-2010 academic year at Colby-Sawyer College began this fall with a record-size student body of over 1,100, including a record-breaking entering class of 446 students, more students studying overseas than ever before, new academic majors and new faculty members. While fundraising continues, we've also begun the construction of a new Windy Hill School and a significant five-year strategic planning effort for the college, which, along with managing challenging economic times and the effects on our campus community, has kept us extremely busy.

That said, it is also an appropriate time for us to pause and take stock of what we do and why we do it. At Colby-Sawyer we continue to make every major decision by asking “How will our students benefit?” We continually strive to provide each and every student with a personalized education that integrates their learning in the liberal arts and sciences with professional preparation in their field of study. We are always asking ourselves how we can even more effectively provide our students with an education that prepares them well for the intellectual and professional challenges of their lives and careers.

As we assess ourselves and seek to improve, I also try to evaluate my performance as your president and consider how I can do a better job for our students, our faculty, our staff, our graduates, and our entire community. I do so with enthusiasm because I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in this position. It is the most stimulating, exciting and challenging job I have ever had. And it is in an institution where each and every decision matters in a student's or colleague's life. The rewards and the opportunities are important and real, and what we do often directly and immediately impacts someone's life. That is one of the beauties of working in a small, caring college community.

What Does a College President Do?

So, how did I go about determining my effectiveness as your president? First, I asked myself, “Just what does a president do?” I found no shortage of descriptions in the popular and academic press. I learned that while everyone believes a college president should be the leader of an academic institution, opinions vary on the kind of leadership that colleges require today. Some maintain that a college president should be a CEO—a chief executive officer—a certain type of leader who reports to a board. As president, I do report to a board—a dedicated, supportive and hard-working Board of Trustees—which has primary responsibility for articulating Colby-Sawyer's academic policies and goals.

Yet the CEO title has a distinctly business-like connotation for me. While I have engaged in many debates over the years with those who see higher education as a business—and I agree with many of their points—I do not believe higher education's primary purpose or function is quite the same as most for profit business entities. We seek to succeed yet our “bottom line” is harder to quantify than for a typical business. As Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust wrote in an essay, “The University's Crisis of Purpose,” in The New York Times Book Review (Sept. 6, 2009):

"Higher education is not about results in the next quarter but about discoveries that may take—and last—decades or even centuries. Neither the abiding questions of humanistic inquiry nor the winding path of scientific research that leads ultimately to innovation and discovery can be neatly fitted within a predictable budget and timetable. Nor can the measure of what a student learns be easily compressed within a “predictable budget and timetable” unless the budget could miraculously reflect the actual costs and benefits of vital assets such as curiosity, love of learning and intellectual fulfillment, and the timetable could encompass the entire life spans of our students and their family and friends. Additionally, the typical corporate CEO would likely struggle with the nuanced notions of shared governance and collaboration that characterize colleges in general and Colby-Sawyer in particular."

Some people believe a college president must be a visionary leader. That idea both inspires and alarms me. What does it mean to be visionary? I take it that it is not a job prerequisite that I have visions (or revelations) but rather, that I possess the ability to articulate, grasp and convince others to adopt a vision for our college. While this might work for some presidents, I believe the future for higher education and for our college cannot be based on the vision of any one person. Rather, we must aspire to create a shared vision of what we expect of education in America and at Colby-Sawyer.

As we engage in creating a five-year plan to implement our Strategic Plan, we will do it together. I am surrounded here on our beautiful hill in New London, N.H., by faculty, staff, board members, emeriti, alumni and friends who have vast and deep knowledge about our traditions and our evolution as an institution. And after three years here I know that our new colleagues and students bring fresher knowledge of the world outside New London than I do. Thus, I see myself more as a facilitator and champion of the visioning process and the person to help to implement it.

Some people view a college president as a major fund-raiser—and no doubt we are. Yet I view this aspect of my role as a privilege and a responsibility to seek support for our fantastic students and those who teach them. Excellence in our students' education is our goal, and financial support is critical to our ability to achieve that end. We seek support from inspired people who wish to make a positive difference in the lives of our students. Most directly, we seek support to benefit our students, and by contributing to their knowledge, learning, experience and wisdom, we aspire to bring about positive change in our region, state, nation and world.

When we ask for support, we seek to ignite people's passion about the possibility of a better world for all of us, which is a noble endeavor and goal. Consequently, we are extremely grateful to those who support Colby-Sawyer and its students. I'm pleased to tell you that, in the past year, the college saw a rise in Annual Fund gifts and an increase of about $600,000 in total giving. Your faith in the college during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is awe-inspiring. We hope you will continue in the years ahead to believe in and support our students' education through your incredible generosity. And let me express my appreciation to everyone on campus, our Board members, and our alumni, because each and every one of us is a fund-raiser. We engage others in our wonderful college by what we say and do every day on campus and in the community.

Leading through Teaching

So, if I do not view myself as a CEO, visionary or fund-raiser, per se, what kind of leader am I and how do I assess my performance? As I consider what drew me into higher education in the first place, I go to my love of ideas and knowledge and of challenging what I think I know. The reason I left the practice of law and became a law school professor was because I wanted to teach and to work with students, and lead discussions about the law and other topics I found interesting, difficult, important, confusing and confounding. I knew I would lead a more enjoyable career and life if I were sharing and developing knowledge and inquiry as a teacher.

For these same reasons, I went on to become a law school dean and now a college president. As a dean and college president, I would be in a position to help others have a positive experience in learning and teaching. As a college president, I would be able to do another kind of teaching as well. I would have the chance to teach alumni and community members and foundations and policy-makers about all the wonderful work underway in education and specifically at Colby-Sawyer. I would be able to extend my teaching world, which is very exciting for a teacher. And it has been incredibly exciting—meeting and talking to each of you, and perhaps sharing some things about Colby-Sawyer that you might not have known.

Moreover, I believe that for me as a person and as an administrator in higher education, it is still extremely important to teach and learn in the classroom. Why? Well, first because I love it, but also because part of the message I hope to convey to my students and to all of you is that one of the most important things I continue to do is meet students in the classroom.

Teaching allows me to continue to practice my trade and craft and keeps me connected to students and to my discipline. It requires me to consider and reconsider how a teacher meets a subject and how students learn in a changing world. It forces me to confront new technologies, adapt new teaching styles and understand new ways of learning. It teaches me about the cycles of academic life at Colby-Sawyer. When are mid-terms? When do students feel particularly pressured? When does faculty teaching, grading and advising take place? When is the worst time to ask someone to take on one more responsibility?

I certainly do not claim that all college presidents must also teach—that is a personal decision. But I do know that for me it is a crucial part of my life. When I am not teaching, I am not serving my students, my community or myself as I feel I must. So, if you are interested, please come visit one of my classes sometime. Or you may wish to attend an alumni event and listen to us teach others about Colby-Sawyer and how the college of today seamlessly connects to the college of yesterday. And please listen to us try to describe and teach why you and your involvement are so crucial to the continued success of our college.

In conclusion, I believe in and aspire to the role of teacher-president, for teachers are ideally the kind of leaders who can unleash the talents, ideas, powers and wisdom of individuals and communities. As a teacher-president at Colby-Sawyer, I seek to lead the collective Colby-Sawyer community in realizing its highest and best potential now and in the future.

So, how do I assess myself? Maybe the best way in the end is to ask you—how am I doing? How are we doing? What do you like? What would you like to see us do for you and for the college? Let us know! And when you write, e-mail, call or visit, ask us about:

  • The record-size entering class of 446 students
  • Global Beginnings Program
  • The Progressive Scholars
  • Our New Majors
  • The Windy Hill School
  • The Arts Center
  • The New Teaching Enrichment Center
  • Our Seven New Faculty Members
  • H1N1 Planning
  • Student Government
  • Campus Activities
  • The Learning Commons
  • Athletics
  • Communications

I look forward to hearing from many of you about your vision for Colby-Sawyer College.


Thomas C. Galligan Jr.

President and Professor of Humanities