Jo Allen, ’80, officially began her tenure as president of Meredith College on July 1, 2011, becoming the first alumna to serve as president in the College’s 120-year history. Allen returns to Meredith from Widener University, where she served as senior vice president, provost and professor of English.
President Allen answered questions for Campus Connections during her first week on campus.
Q: What would you like faculty and staff to know about you and how you are spending your first days as Meredith’s president?
A: My first days are probably just as predictable as you think---moving boxes, getting acquainted with the office staff, getting my computer and printer hooked up, scheduling meetings, and getting briefed on pressing issues. The greatest joy, no doubt, is how very kind and welcoming everyone has been—faculty, staff, and students. It definitely feels like Meredith is the special place I’ve always remembered.
That said, it certainly feels very new to me as well. Of course, my role is quite different, and seeing the institution from this vantage point as something of an outsider while also being an insider is, I suspect, a unique perspective afforded only to an alumna president. I am very mindful of that conundrum—that knowledge of history and tradition, even if just from a student’s perspective, set against the realities of all higher education these days: public scrutiny and skepticism, budget complexities, access and enrollment issues, accountability, all set within the context of a data-informed focus on academic quality, organizational leadership, institutional and learning assessment, curriculum, and student life. So, the temptation to luxuriate in the nostalgia of Meredith must be balanced with the sense of urgency about the fast pace of current realities in higher education.
When I think about that dichotomy, I am particularly excited that there is some growing energy about a new strategic plan and the incorporation of the broader community into that conversation. I think Meredith is at just the right point in its history to have a healthy, inclusive conversation about its future, one that is poised to capitalize on both its strengths and opportunities. Some of my first days, therefore, have also been spent in imagining and talking with others about how to frame that conversation in the context of current realities about higher education, economics, and the ongoing need for strong women’s colleges. And, because so much of my professional work has centered on communication and assessment, I’m particularly mindful of the need to be inclusive in this conversation, clear about its contributions to our future, and accountable for its outcomes. I think our college and her students deserve nothing less than a realistic projection supported by data and the can-do spirit that characterizes the entire Meredith community.
Q: How can employees assist you in meeting your goals for Meredith?
A: The greatest contribution employees can make is to recommit to an honest appraisal of Meredith’s strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities and then to set in motion the hard work of making a shared vision come alive. Of course, my own nostalgia can trick me into idealizing the old days of Meredith, and everyone who loves Meredith—employees, students, alumnae, and the community—may feel a similar pining for “the glory days.” But I honestly don’t know of a single robust college or university that is not undergoing some critical changes. They face and survive those challenges, and even thrive, by focusing on what they are good at doing, scanning the environment for new ways to express and capitalize on what they are good at, and finding new and innovative ways to communicate that quality to everybody. But how do you know, for sure, what you are good at and how you can grow within that context. For Meredith, I certainly have my ideas and opinions and even some data that are worth further analysis. But in all, our best option is to create a strategic planning process that is inclusive and realistic. All employees will have an opportunity to be involved in that process, and I am hopeful that not only will they contribute their time, energy, ideas, and passion, but that they will enjoy the experience of hearing multiple perspectives on what Meredith can do to thrive in these highly challenging times.
Q: How would you like to hear from faculty and staff?
A: Aside from the strategic planning process, I hope faculty and staff will feel free to e-mail me (at firstname.lastname@example.org) with their ideas or concerns. I also plan on having coffee hours to which anyone—faculty, staff, or student—may drop by, along with some highly focused roundtable discussions on particular topics. As soon as we get a bit more settled, I also hope to start an academic leadership roundtable, working with faculty and staff who want to explore topics facing 21st century institutions and testing their own interest in higher education administration.
For more on President Allen, visit www.meredith.edu/president/default.htm.
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Have you presented research or attended a professional meeting recently? Has your department earned an award? Share news of these accomplishments and more with the Meredith community. Faculty and staff are invited to email items to Melyssa Allen, “Campus Connections” editor, at email@example.com.