Fireside Chats Installment II: Semester Reflections

Beginning on October 30, 2014, the Echo started releasing a monthly installment featuring an interview with President David A. Greene. Each interview will cover a particular topic or issue related to the Colby community. Fireside Chats is aimed at keeping the Colby community, both on and off campus, informed about President Greene’s ideas for the future of the College, as well as to provide a line of communication between Echo readers and the Administration. The editorial staff of the Echo welcomes any topics, issues, or concerns that the Colby community may want President Greene to address. To send suggestions, e-mail incumbent Features Editor Simone Leung at skleung@colby.edu.

Echo: In general, how would you reflect on your first semester at Colby?

President Greene: Let me start with a couple of surprises first. The first surprise for me has been that the community has a much more powerful presence than I had imagined. It has warmth and openness and a collegiality that is unusual…. It’s such an incredible asset… that people have a love and admiration for this place… It’s hardly a perfect community… but I would say that of all the places I’ve been, this one has a special feeling to it…. A second reflection on this semester is that I came in believing that Colby was an extraordinary place, and one that was poised to be even better.

I would say after having been here now for five months, that this is even truer than I originally thought. It is a wonderful place, and there continues to be phenomenal potential at this institution….Every time I look around and I think all we can do to make Colby better, it’s just very exciting to me. On the frustrating side, I would say that it’s hard to move as fast as I would like on areas of improving Colby, and the biggest challenge I think is that we tend to be very lean in our staffing across Colby. Everybody is working as hard as they can right now, so asking people to take on more… is very difficult because there’s not enough room in the day for them to be able to do that…. And that’s something we’re going to have to work on.

E: What are some specific things that you might have wished that you had gotten to that you didn’t? How might you go about accomplishing them next semester?

PG: There are two things that are on my mind: one is that I’d like to structure a way for us to think together as a community about what’s important to us… and I was thinking that might be through the development of a Colby Community Counsel, a place where we could have really tough conversations about who we are, what we care about, what we want to become….We could have a group of people who are really committed to these issues…. And we haven’t done that yet, and I’d like to move forward with something along those lines. The second thing that’s been on my mind is how we approach issues related to diversity in our community in the most broad-based ways, and I think that that piece really needs some work and thought. It’s so essential, in my view, to who we are and the kind of learning environment that we create… and we have a lot of room for improvement in these areas, and this is an area where we haven’t made enough progress yet, but I want to make more progress next semester.

E: Do you have any other plans that you can share going forward?

PG: I’m very excited about what we’re doing in terms of looking at our performing arts facilities and thinking about how we can have fantastic facilities for Colby in that area. I think that [these additions are] much needed and it will add to our academic programs and our community life in rich ways. I’m also eager to look at our athletic and fitness facilities and how those can serve the Colby community and the broader community I hope, as well. I was just having a conversation about the nature of our relationship with civic engagement activities and how we would think about Colby connecting into the community in even richer ways than it does right now, and there’s a lot of good things happening already…. It would benefit Colby and the community and the individuals in the community in different ways. And finally, I think there’s some really exciting opportunities for us to partner with institutions in Maine and other spots around the world that would benefit our programs and provide opportunities for our students and faculty that would be unusual and enriching.

E: Do you have any thoughts about the progress that you, the administration and/or the community has made on dorm damage, alcohol culture, or bias incidents?

PG: I’ve actually been pleased to see that the reported numbers on these incidents have been down this semester, which I think is a very good sign. I think that’s largely due to the fact that students have taken it upon themselves to address this issue, and there’s no better way to do it. Having students take this on and think about what kind of community they want to live in and how they should behave toward one another and toward the community in which they live is, to me, a great sign….I find that very encouraging….There’s more that we need to do, but I would say that it’s moving in a positive direction. The more that students own this and own this sense of place, then the better off we’ll be.

E: Do you have any thoughts or reflections on the new committees on campus that you’ve created?

PG: What I’m trying to do is really open up our decision-making and engage people in the future of the College. There are so many smart and interesting people in the community, and the more that we can hear from people… the better decisions we’ll make. So these committees are really designed to… engage staff and students in a very meaningful way about their own work and where the College is going…. I’m confident that if we do that well, we’ll make much better decisions and the College will benefit from it. I’m excited about those. It takes a lot of work for these committees to work effectively, but we have a lot to do get ourselves prepared to make sure they function well…. I think these are a good step in the right direction, but now we have to focus on how to make these committees really empowered and do important work.

E: If our readers were going to take one thing away from this Fireside Chat, what would you want it to be?

PG: The one thing I would want people to take away is that we’re all in this together. And that’s really the powerful part of this community: is that everybody owns a piece of this community, and our ability to work together and to be able to imagine together what Colby can become is the most effective way for us to move forward on things….The more we can open up on conversation and engage with one another around difficult issues, the better of we’ll be as a community and the better off Colby will be in the long run, so I’m hoping that in some small way, this will all be a small step in that direction.