What’s up with the President? Part I of II: An Interview with New Goucher College President Kent Devereaux

by
Goucher College President Kent Devereaux. PC: Goucher College Website

President Kent Deveraux began as Goucher’s President on July 1, 2019. Students heard news of the announcement on June 13 through an email sent by Ruth Shapiro Lenrow ’74, who serves as the Chair of the Board of Trustees. Goucher subsequently released a welcome video and several articles announcing some of Kent’s plans over the summer.  As is standard practice for the Editor-in-Chief, I sent an email to Kent asking to schedule an interview with him so we could begin building a solid working relationship. We coordinated a time for the interview, and Quindecim News Editor Jibril Howard ‘22 and I conducted the interview on September 18th, asking a range of questions focused on understanding how Kent is approaching his role as President. 

After introducing ourselves and sharing a bit about what we’re studying, I asked Kent, “If you can describe Goucher College in three words right now, what words would you choose?”

Kent paused, collected his thoughts, and responded: 

“…I hate to use the word ‘innovative,’ but what I’m trying to get at is welcoming and then there’s this other aspect of inquisitive, because people here–I hear that constantly–people are curious about things and the faculty is really interested and eager to sort of do things, so that’s definitely part of it. And [sic] passionate would be the other part of it, and I say that because all of our alumnae and alumni who I’ve met with so far are extremely passionate about Goucher…and so many students I meet here are passionate about what they are doing, and probably connected to the international study abroad component…those are kind of two sides of the same coin: the people who [went] here years ago are very passionate about this place and kind of the passion I feel from a lot of students I talk to about what they want to do.”

I followed up by asking if he sees those things changing or being different in the next five years or so as he spends more time here. Kent replied: 

“I don’t know. I hope we don’t lose those qualities; I think those are incredibly good qualities to have. I think some people describe they say, ‘you know, Goucher is not from the student experience, it is not a competitive experience, but supportive and challenging’ and I want to make it more supportive and more challenging. Competition for competition’s sake, apart from, perhaps, sports and some other things, is not an end all be all, so how do we kind of raise our game across the entire college, and everything we do, thinking more intentionally about the things we do. So I hope we don’t lose those three qualities, but I’m sure as time goes on I’ll have a better sense of the Goucher community and so some other things will come to the fore.”

One of the biggest questions Jibril and I had when we sat down to plan the interview related to Kent’s top three goals as President.

“First and foremost, our number one priority is raising the funds to build the new science center research facility…so we’ve gotta raise our game there…I don’t want to lose focus on academic excellence, because there’s been a lot of focus on building buildings, and buildings are not a college…we’re also launching the search for the new provost, the head, chief academic officer of the institution, so that will be nation-wide, really an international search for the best academic head of the institution. So that all to me is about academic excellence, how we can raise our game now. And the third thing is about increasing enrollment at the college, and that is just about making sure we have the right type of student who wants to come here…So we’re going to be doing a lot more marketing, because we want to make, we want to make Goucher more known nationwide. So I guess those would be the three things: science, academic excellence, and increasing enrollment. Because the campus now, with the First Year Village, we can handle, you know, several hundred more students and still be relatively small.

Kent further mentioned admissions and ways to market Goucher to potential students reminded me of a campus-wide conversation in Fall 2017 that originated from a Peace 220 class. Representatives from the class at the time wrote multiple articles documenting their processes and releasing the results of a survey they conducted with the student body, which are available on The Quindecim’s website, www.quinnews.com. One of the class’s culminating events was an open conversation centered around the question: “Does Goucher have an identity?” As a first year at the time, I participated in this discussion partially because I felt it tapping into something deep that parts of the student body were grappling with. I also felt a certain level of ambiguity towards the question, particularly during my first year on campus. With this in mind, I was really curious about how Kent was conceptualizing a Goucher student identity. His response honed in on two themes he repeated throughout our interview: global education and social justice.

 “We are still only one of three, maybe four schools in America that requires 100% study abroad. That’s not been in the previous marketing–in terms of our website, in terms of email, the literature going out, that was always not front and center. And I think it should be…[T]here is [also] a long history at Goucher for a commitment to social justice…I’m a firm believer that if you speak plainly and put that message out there, it’ll resonate with people and you will get the right kind of student who is happy here and who stays here all four years; they won’t transfer and say, ‘ah, this is not exactly what I thought [it would be].’ So, sometimes, you know, we think we’re being clear but we’re not being clear, and you have to be really clear: this is what we’re about. So people go ‘oh, I wanna go there.’”

When asked about his decision-making process, Kent made it clear that he “never make[s] a decision alone.” He also described his process as “collaborative.” When we asked about how he views sustainability on campus, he responded in part: 

“Well, I am, quite frankly, I was just surprised that we don’t have a sustainability plan. We have a number of sustainability strategies, but they are disconnected and not holistic in the way they need to be. And also realizing that part of this is you can’t do everything at once…Let’s have the conversation about sustainability and let’s come up with a plan. Let’s do it, and once we make a plan, let’s execute it… So that’s something that I see happening next year. Having that sustainability plan that maybe for 2020, where does Goucher want to be in 2030? Set some aggressive targets: could we be a zero-G campus in ten years? I don’t know. Some other colleges are doing some pretty interesting things, so there’s a lot for us to learn there.”

Tying some of these ideas together, we asked about Kent’s commitment or idea or strategy for accessibility on campus. Kent mentioned meeting recently with representatives from Equal Access, talking briefly about how the new dining hall is not completely accessible. He added, 

“…I look at accessibility and it needs to be–we haven’t done a campus plan in a long, long time. And you know, we’re building a science research center, we’ve got a couple buildings we want to build. I am of the opinion we need to pause, get the science research center going [sic], but then we also cue up a long-term campus plan, and that campus plan would really look at the accessibility issues. Because, you know, this building is reaching the age where it is going to have to be renovated; a couple of other buildings are going to need to be renovated, so when we do those renovations, how can we bring them into the 21st century?”

We followed up by asking about shorter-term issues that we know about, such as the frequency that the lift in Mary Fisher is broken or the elevator in P.Selz doesn’t work. Kent pointed to the necessity of hiring “key staff” in this area.

This is Part One of a two-part series. Please look forward to the next Quindecim edition for the second part!

Update: The Provost search was announced in an email from the President’s Office to the student body on September 24. 

Neve Levinson is a junior majoring in Spanish and American Studies. They enjoy playing frisbee, reading the news, and learning about peacebuilding processes around the world. As the Editor-in-Chief of The Quindecim, they intend to document and address the many changes taking place on campus. What other pieces of news need to be covered? Want to write about it? (Or just tell them about it?) Email Neve at nelev001@mail.goucher.edu.

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