President Herbst’s Plans Spark Controversy and Rumors on Campus

Since Jeffrey Herbst’s inaugu­ration on October 3, 2010 as the sixteenth president of Colgate University, the campus has been abuzz with questions and con­troversy over what its new leader has in store for Colgate. While many are excited by Herbst’s appointment, others are not as supportive of the new president. Whether it’s his plans to ex­pand technology or his attitude towards Greek Life, people on campus are talking and rumors are circulating. In an interview with the Maroon-News President Herbst set the record straight on many of these important issues.

During the past semester at Colgate, Herbst has spent time getting to know students and lis­tening to the opinions of alumni and professors. Some are getting anxious to see the changes that Herbst will ultimately initiate.

“Everyone is kind of holding their breath,” Charles A. Dana Pro­fessor of Political Science Michael Johnston said.

One issue that has made profes­sors particularly anxious is Presi­dent Herbst’s plans to improve technology on campus. While he has yet to reveal his overarching plans for technological advance­ment, Herbst did mention several areas of improvement which in­clude uploading videos of campus events to iTunes U.

“There are a lot of opportuni­ties open to us to engage even more alumni. We recently opened up our spot on iTunes U, which is actually receiving a fair number of hits,” Herbst said. “And I think what we want to do is move down the road to see if we can have an organized set of lectures for alumni who are looking for things on the Internet.”

Many alumni are pleased with President Herbst’s forward thinking about the digital future of Colgate.

“By addressing the idea that Colgate may need to be more than just a physical place in the digital world, President Herbst has got­ten me more engaged with Colgate than I have been in a long time,” Mark McLaughlin ’80 said.

But some professors remain skeptical.”There is suspicion among the faculty that using technology might displace many of the elements of the type of interactive learning that we al­ready use,” Russell Colgate Dis­tinguished University Professor of Astronomy and Anthropolo­gy and Native American Studies Anthony Aveni said.

Since President Herbst has yet to announce his plans for technol­ogy, faculty have been relying on rumors. Recently, one circulated among various departments sug­gesting that professors would be encouraged to record their lectures so students could listen to the lec­tures for homework, ensuring that class time would be reserved only for discussions.

“We are operating on rumors here until we get a plan. I’ve heard it from various quarters,” Aveni said. “My understanding is that the suggestion had been made that we could tape our lectures. I think that would be a shame because there is a performing aspect of the lecture which promotes better learning.” Another long-time senior profes­sor, who asked not to be identified, echoed Aveni’s opinions.

“It is inconceivable that any university administrator would or should be in a position to dictate to faculty members how to teach their students. I hope that those are only rumors,” the professor said.

When asked if he heard of this rumor, President Herbst said that he had.

“It’s false,” Herbst said. “I have pointed out that one of the oppor­tunities available to us is to push out some lectures on a variety of digital media platforms to allow more time for class discussion, but I took that as illustrative of the op­portunities that digital opportuni­ties offer to us and that it was going to be required of no one.”

Professors are also concerned about the ways in which Colgate is currently marketed. The Colgate website and pamphlets often display images of students having fun and enjoying the beauty of the campus. Some professors refer to this market­ing technique as “Camp Colgate” and believe this is an inappropriate way to attract perspective students. However, President Herbst believes that the admissions office is equally stressing and reinforcing Colgate’s scholarly worth.

“If you look at their [Colgate Admissions Office] communica­tions flow to students, I think the overwhelming emphasis is on the extremely valuable liberal arts educa­tion that you can get from Colgate,” Herbst said.

Professors across academic dis­ciplines largely disagree. Many would rather see an emphasis placed on Colgate’s intellectualism and scholarly atmosphere.

“I think we need to get away from the happy valley self-congrat­ulation thing and grow up as an institution,” Johnston said. “It all comes down to the marketing.”

One of the most pressing issues on Colgate’s campus is the role of Greek Life. Tensions between the Colgate administration and Greek Life have existed for many years. There are seven fraternities on campus, but only three sororities. During the recruitment process in the fall of 2010, sororities were forced to accept pledge classes of more than 65 members. Sororities may face a similar issue next year due to the larger size of the class of 2014.

Despite these issues, President Herbst’s attitude towards Greek Life has been both supportive and measured. But since he has yet to reveal the ways in which he intends to handle the current Greek Life situation, sorority and fraternity members are worried, including senior and Community Coordinator for Residential Life and House Manager of Gamma Phi Beta sorority Leslie Kessinger.

“We are having these enormous pledge classes that we have to deal with, but if nothing is done to al­leviate this concern in the future, we are going to start falling apart,” Kessinger said.

President Herbst acknowledged Kessinger’s concerns.

“Dean Johnson and I are well aware for the challenges posed by large classes. We think the sorori­ties did an excellent job in man­aging those large classes this year,” Herbst said.

When asked if he was for or against Greek life at Colgate, President Herbst made his position unclear.

“I don’t think that’s the ques­tion. That’s not an issue. The Board [of Trustees] and the uni­versity have made very clear that Greek Life is one important option for residential life, and we want the fraternities and sororities to be as strong as possible,” Herbst said.

However, Kessinger disagrees.

“Greek life isn’t just a residential option. It is a lifestyle option at this school. Most women in the chapter will never live in the house. This is a group of women that fully sup­ports the growth and development of strong character,” Kessinger said.

Administration sources indicate that President Herbst is amenable to colonizing more sororities at Colgate, but when asked directly, Herbst declined to answer and re­ferred to the actions of the Dean of the College’s Office.

“I know the Dean of the Col­lege’s office will continue to work with the sororities as they face these large classes,” Herbst said. “The is­sue is being discussed and reviewed right now, and we are trying to work out the best possible solution.”

Prior to his appointment at Colgate, Herbst served as Pro­vost and Executive Vice Presi­dent for Academic Affairs at Mi­ami University since 2005. He was also a professor at Miami University and held many ad­ministrative posts at Princeton University, where he attended as an undergraduate.

When asked what he was like at Princeton as an undergraduate, President Herbst smiled.

“Well, I prefer to let others answer that question,” Herbst said.

When his friend and colleague at Princeton University, Professor David Spergel, was asked this same question, he described Herbst as a serious intellectual. Spergel lived on the same hall as Herbst during his sophomore year at Princeton.

“I remember having really good, deep discussions about a wide range of topics with Jeff. Looking back on it, I’m not surprised he became a uni­versity president. He had very broad academic interests,” Spergel said. “But I don’t want to portray him only as a serious academic student. He was fully engaged, had a girlfriend, went to parties and fully participated in the life of the university.”

There is speculation that Herbst’s ultimate goal could be to return to Princeton as President of the uni­versity after his time at Colgate, but the question of the length of Herbst’s duration in Hamilton re­mains. In the past decade, Herbst’s predecessors have set a precedent of early resignation. Charles Karelis was president for only three years from 1999 to 2001. Rebecca Chopp served as president for seven years, but left in the middle of a capital campaign, “Passion for the Climb.” Professors were disappointed by her untimely resignation.

“I really did not like the way in which she left the university. She was in the middle of a capital campaign. That’s bad form. Stick around and fin­ish what you started,” Johnston said. President Herbst defended former President Chopp.

“The ‘Passion for the Climb’ was the university’s project. It is actually not that unusual to have a presiden­tial transition during fundraising campaigns,” Herbst said.

However, now that the “Pas­sion for the Climb” has reached its $400 million mark, President Herbst is determined to raise an additional $40 million dollars, which will provide funding for financial aid.

“If we can really make a signifi­cant impact on the resources that we have available to financial aid and if we can some day get to need blind or close to need blind, I think that will have a very important ef­fect on the long term future of the University,” Herbst said.

“We are now at the very begin­ning steps of creating a new strate­gic planning process, which I think will take Colgate into the future.”