On the Hot Seat: President Chopp

Steve Sheridan (SS): You and the Class of 2006 came to Colgate at the same time. Do you hold any special regard for this year’s senior class?

President Chopp (PC): Absolutely. It’s my class. I have my 2006 Orientation T-Shirt, and I hope to wear it under my robe at Graduation. It’s going to be sad for me in a way to have you graduate. I think that’s very common for presidents and other people that there’s a special attachment – I’ve learned this school through your eyes.

SS: Do you feel you’ve learned a lot over the last four years?

PC: I’ve learned a lot, and I will continue to be learning.

Frank Badalato (FB): Sort of along those lines, what do you feel have been the biggest changes at the University over the last four years?

PC: I think the Residential Education plan was a big change. I think we’re finding that, while some found it enormous, it wasn’t as huge as we thought it might be. The Residential Education plan had a whole lot of different things in it, trying to help first-year students get settled better academically and get their feet on the ground. The Democracy program is in its second year, we’ve built up debate through the Model U.N., we’ve built the Townhouses, as well as committing to the Greek system and acquiring the houses and developing better relationships. That was probably the hardest thing from the last four years, but I feel good about it. So that was probably the biggest change, the Strategic Plan. Colgate really needed to have a sense of where it was going in educating students for the 21st century, and what you needed and what you were in comparison to what students needed 10 years ago. But I think it was a good change for the institution, because this allowed us to evolve to the next stage of building.

SS: Going back to the fraternities and sororities, how do you see your relationship with the Greek system at Colgate changing over the next few years?

PC: I think the relationship will continue to develop as a good, positive relationship. I’ve never felt personal issues – I’ve had some criticism here and there, but I’ve always accepted that. But this year, we just have all sorts of layers of relationships that we’ve never had before and I think Colgate is much more effective in helping the houses flourish and I think the houses are much closer to Colgate because everything from the janitor to the president to the faculty involved. And I think that will continue. I think the students have done a phenomenal job of stepping to the plate – I really expected this year to be a very difficult year and it has not been. There have been little bumps, but everyone has worked together and the students have done a great job, I think some of the staff like Sue Smith and Tim Mansfield have done a great job. I’m very optimistic and I think a vast majority of alumni are supportive. I think everybody feared that acquisition somehow meant elimination and we kept telling them that it was quite the opposite. But of course, being human, they just had to see it to believe it. But now I think people realize that the investment, the time and the intention was really quite different from that. I think the relationship will continue to grow.

FB: What are your thoughts of the SGA’s performance this year? Do you think that it has been a disappointing year for the SGA?

PC: I have been very impressed in the last couple of months with the SGA. I think the issues with the SGA were as much as the fact that it was a structure from the 1970s or 80s as any individual. I think it’s easy to say that “this person didn’t do that,” but it was the structure that has been unchanged and I think it was great that this group of students took it upon themselves to ask fundamental questions and they started in the summer with one group and, more recently, with other groups – even the Executive Board came forward. I think they’re trying to figure out what the fundamental principles ought to be, what does representation mean. When the school was 300 men coming in a year, it probably made great sense to have an East Hall, a West Hall and Stillman representative, but that’s not who we are anymore. So I think it’s great; I’m very impressed with it.

Every group at Colgate is looking at its government. The faculty has just done some remarkable changes, they just passed a new Advisory and Planning Committee for the president, the Board of Trustees has done some major restructuring in its government. Something is in the air, every major group is saying, “How do we organize ourselves in this day and age?”

SS: Do you feel like you interact a lot with members of the Student Government?

PC: I meet regularly with the president and vice-president of the SGA – the editors of the Maroon-News and the SGA president and vice-president are the two groups I meet with regularly. I’ve met with the Executive Board, so I think it’s been a good working relationship.

FB: From my perception, the shift of Spring Party Weekend (SPW) to Broad Street has gone pretty successfully, although this year it seems like the quantity of events has diminished somewhat. What is your perception of SPW, comparing now to four years ago?

PC: It has made this big change from one big event on Whitnall Field to up and down Broad Street. My first visit to Colgate was four years ago this weekend; I had just had my first interview. I had never been up here, so I snuck up for the weekend and acted like a parent (laughs). SPW then was fine, but I have to say there weren’t many people involved, so I think that the shift to Broad Street at least the first year seemed to get a lot of people involved. There was a high level of attendance and I heard great things about it. I don’t really have any comment on it, since SPW is for the students to organize and I know, like we all do, that the BAC (Budget Allocations Committee) is struggling for funds.

SS: Do you know of any changes in the funding of the BAC, such as giving the committee more money, or is this something the students will have to fix?

PC: I know that we set the student fees pretty much in relationship to what people will pay. So I assume that the SGA will ask us to look at that next year and see if we are below our peers or if there is the capacity to raise [the fees]. Basically, that’s pretty standard, that’s how you get your funds.

SS: It seems as if Colgate has become a much more competitive school in the last few years. Do you feel like Colgate is bringing in a higher quality student? Do you feel like recruiting has become any easier or any harder?

PC: It certainly is true that every year, something increases, whether it is GPA or SAT or something. I’ll defend my class, the 2006 class. You were the need-blind class, and so the faculty loves your class; other classes may be as good as your class, but there are many faculty that would say that 2006 was a very special class. From an academic perspective, the numbers are important, but things like curiosity and being an interesting person are also extremely important. And I think when we go out and recruit, we’re not just looking for the 1460 SATs, we’re looking for someone who fits Colgate and who will flourish here. In a way being more competitive allows you to say, “This student will flourish in the community, they will give back to the community, they will edit the Maroon-News or play on the lacrosse team or whatever, and we will be able to support this student. That is how competition effects us.

SS: Do you feel that Colgate has gained more national recognition in the last few years, academically or athletically?

PC: Yes, I think there are four or five things. One is Gary Ross, who is a one-person recruitment team, and he has a phenomenal staff. I think he has been going increasingly national and I think that has helped us. We didn’t really have a public relations office until I got here, and it was one of the things I instituted. When I went through the interview process, my only real criticism of Colgate was that it was a light under a bushel. It just wasn’t promoting such a phenomenal school that was really poised for the kind of person that’s going to be successful in the 21st century. So, our PR department, first under Charlie Melichar and now under Barbara Brooks, have just done an amazing job. It seems like two or three times a week

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we’re mentioned in the New York Times. In fact this morning we were mentioned in a college admissions story, and that is just invaluable. It takes those type of relationships, things like the football team when it went to the National Championship game [in 2003], you cannot ever underestimate how much that means because even if you don’t follow football, you’re hearing “Colgate, Colgate, Colgate.” And I think our faculty are increasingly important, people like [Professor of Psychology] Carrie Keating who are in the news all the time. I think we are a much bigger national factor than we were five or six years ago.

SS: What is the status of the Dean of the College search? What exactly are you looking for in a new Dean of the College?

PC: We have two candidates that we are talking with, and many candidates behind that. I think we’re in a really good position with the search and that division; we’ve got a lot of senior experience, but some good younger staff as well. We’re looking for someone to continue supporting the Residential Vision, someone who can really communicate – ever since I’ve been here, I’ve heard from students and others the need for better and clearer communication. Again, I don’t think that’s about any one individual, I think somehow we need to invent better structures of communications, better practices. I am really serious about wanting someone who can communicate. Things like continuing to bring faculty into Residential Education is important. My sense is that students really like dinner with faculty, they like it when faculty go down to Creative Arts House or Phi Delt or whatever. I think there’s been good progress, I think our Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lyle Roelofs has been very committed to that. There are new initiatives in that area that we hope to pursue. A number of students are very interested in the Wellness Initiative, Healthy Living is very popular and is a great thing to support. I would like to look at first year, how we do housing and how we help first-years settle in.

FB: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

PC: I guess I want to say that I really hope that this class stays connected. I know it’s hard to stay connected in the first couple years, but if you could just do a little bit: come back for reunions or check the web. Why? Because my sense is that it’s really unique for most alumni, that they really love this place, and I think that connection is great. There are Colgate Clubs all over the country that help people settle in, watch athletic events or they have [William Henry Crawshaw Professor of Literature] Margaret Maurer come out and talk on Shakespeare. I mean, they’re always used to keep connected, and we need you connected. We need you in five years to come back. But I also think it’s a really cool feeling for alumni. So I hope everyone in the Class of 2006 stays connected.

SS: We hope so too. Thank you for your time, President Chopp.