Forward Thinking: A Conversation With Scripps’ New Leaders
Interim President Fritz Weis and Dean of the Faculty Cecilia Conrad sat down together this summer to discuss their thoughts and plans for the College in the months and years ahead.
Q: What are your particular goals in the near term?
FW: As an interim president, I’m in an unusual position. I am here to provide a sense of stability and security at a time when people may be anxious about what is happening at the College. During this transitional period, it’s important for us to work together to prepare the College for the next president.
CC: Scripps is at a critical juncture. It has had great successes over the past ten, fifteen years. It’s about to launch, to implement, some aspects of the strategic plan. There’s an opportunity to innovate, to be creative. The faculty I have talked to are excited about that, and so am I.
FW: We are on our way with this magnificent anonymous $10 million gift we’ve just received. I also hope to secure a major gift for the dance facility, which is an unfunded building project from the last campaign. We also need to complete the fund raising for the Tiernan Field House. We need to continue to raise money for scholarships. The success we’ve had with programs such as Questbridge and the Summer Academy enhance Scripps’ reputation as a leader in education for underserved young women.
Q: What are your thoughts on the college’s new strategic plan?
CC: I’m interested in the globalization part of the strategic plan. I think about it in fairly broad terms. Our commitment to making sure that our students are prepared to compete in a global world sometimes gets interpreted as Scripps students going off to see the world. But I’m also interested in the flip side of that—finding ways to bring international scholars and students to Scripps, and what we need to be able to do that.
FW: I’m also concerned about how we successfully integrate our students’ increasing interest in science with the core mission of the institution, which is an interdisciplinary focus on humanities. I think you have some great ideas on how to relate those two and make it work successfully.
CC: In talking with faculty in Joint Science, there are a number of them who want to know how they can contribute to the general education at Scripps in terms of the Core—we have a mathematician teaching in the Core this year— to make sure that the sciences are an integral part of the liberal arts.
FW: Science has become a larger part of our curriculum, and we need to keep the balance.
CC: Another challenge, which connects with this issue of the sciences, is the notion of the women’s center for leadership and research [a recently proposed College initative], and defining what that means in a way that has substance, ties to the curriculum, and encompasses the sciences, the humanities, social sciences, social activism, and the arts. That’s going to be a project for the faculty because it’s a different kind of interdisciplinary enterprise than what Scripps has done before.
FW: The women’s center is clearly a highlight of the strategic plan. We need to figure out what, exactly, is its structure, purpose, and goals, and its place within the College and the consortium.
CC: We have a bit of an opportunity since Scripps is part of a consortium of liberal arts colleges that has a grant from the Mellon foundation—the Mellon 23 it’s called. Part of what the 23 colleges are going to do is bring faculty together to talk about different areas that are important to small liberal arts colleges.
The first topic is interdisciplinary studies, and I’m excited about using that as an opportunity to think through the women’s leadership and research center.
Q: How do you plan to work together?
FW: You and I haven’t worked together before, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about you from everybody, especially from Pomona—I keep hearing, “I can’t believe that you got Cecilia.”
CC: If I could have dreamed a dream job, this would have been it.
FW: That’s the attitude we hope to find in our next president—a person who is dreaming of the job as president of Scripps College.
For my part, I will do whatever it takes to ensure that we have a smooth transition. I encourage all members of the transition team to keep their constituents informed of the progress of the search.
CC: So, you’ve been going to these alumnae transition forums?
FW: I’ve been to one, and I’ve used that as an opportunity to meet with some trustees, both before and after the forum.
Besides the hiring and firing of a college president, the Board has a significant role to play in setting policy and planning for
the future. I need to understand what the trustee’s concerns are about the College, and what they believe are its strengths so that we can successfully convey that to the candidates as they come to campus.
Q: Other key concerns?
CC: We can’t tread water—we need to continue to move forward. In my role as dean of the faculty, my primary charge is the academic mission, the curriculum, and that’s something that can’t stand still. We have to continue to fill, and hire, and make replacement choices and decisions. And those decisions, even though they are sometimes responding to an immediate need or concern, have long-term implications. I’m trying to introduce a longer-term focus in the way faculty plan, the way they deliberate, and the way departments come forward with their needs.
FW: The transformational gift that we’ve received will help us improve salaries for the current faculty, and it will also give us a competitive advantage in attracting new faculty and retaining existing faculty.
I’m hoping it inspires others to make gifts to the College on behalf of the faculty, because there’s really not much point in expanding the student body until we’ve got the student-faculty ratio to a point where we want it. We’re in a strong position now—but we aren’t in a strong enough position to grow, so we need to shore up some of these areas before we can do that. I’m glad the strategic plan talks about a ten- year time line because I think that at the end of ten years we will have successfully accomplished all of the goals.
CC: This gift has had an important impact on morale. There’s a feeling among the faculty that the gift says we’re excited about what’s going on, we trust you, we value you. Just by itself, without spending a dollar, the gift has had an immediate impact on excitement here.
FW: I agree that it is a great morale booster and it will help in our recruiting tremendously. Down the line, it will begin to help us solve the critical housing issues we have for faculty. We have yet to resolve the best way to deal with that, but this gift will inspire us to find appropriate solutions.
Q: What else do you hope to accomplish for the faculty?
CC: One of the things I’ve wanted to do is create a map for Scripps that shows where the faculty live so we can see the pattern. My guess is what we’ll see is the older faculty are still very close to campus, but the younger faculty are dispersed in a way that presents some challenges for a residential liberal arts college. We want faculty to be able to go for evening strolls on campus, meet up with students, and have the kind of casual encounters that make this a special place.
FW: Nowadays, many faculty members come as two-income families, so we have to be sensitive to where the other spouse or partner is working. This causes some of the dispersion that we have, I agree. A residential campus needs to provide ample opportunities for informal faculty and student interaction.
CC: Because we are small, each faculty member is likely to be the only person in his or her specialty at Scripps. It is important to take advantage that there is a whole group of colleges, and while you may be the only one i
your field at Scripps, there’s probably somebody in Claremont that you need to meet and have the space and opportunity to develop relationships.
FW: Being the most interior of all The Claremont Colleges, we should be the leader in trying to bring together faculty from various disciplines from our sister institutions. Not only is it in our best interests, but because there is no longer a faculty house, that’s the only way it is going to happen. We need to create opportunities for this interaction at the Malott Commons and other venues on campus for lectures, seminars, readings, and other intercampus gatherings.
Q: Final thoughts?
CC: Sometimes I tell people that, when I think about the consortium, I keep drawing analogies with trade agreements in countries, and that Scripps is Switzerland.
FW: That’s an excellent and appropriate analogy. I especially like the quality aspects: Swiss watches, fine quality.