This is the second part of an interview conducted on September 18th with new Goucher College President Kent Devereaux. This part, conducted alongside Quindecim Editor-in-Chief Neve Levinson, covers questions ranging from concerns about Kent’s previous tenure as president of New Hampshire Institute of Art, his decision-making strategy and vision, to questions about upcoming construction projects on campus.
Thinking about student concerns about campus changes following the at-times turbulent, change-filled, final couple years under President Jose Bowen, the Q asked Kent what he saw as his biggest challenge in his first year at Goucher. Kent laughed.
“The biggest challenge is getting everyone to row the boat in the same direction. That’s you know, that’s part of it, there’s been so much change. That part of this is kind of calming things down and getting everyone moving in the same direction and unified behind these ideas of focusing on global education and social justice, and I think that’s a big part, and so a lot of that will be a big challenge. The other big challenge will be finding a new provost, finding a new vice president of advancement. There are a couple key leaders we need within the organization to make sure that we can move forward effectively. So I think those are the big challenges.”
Following up on Kent’s answer, we asked him to characterize his decision-making process. We also asked him to lay out his strategy for implementing changes and big ideas.
“I never make a decision alone, and I come from a big family, and we’re all very close in age… I have a tendency to want to get around the table and discuss things and do that and [sic] kinda hash things out and throw out an idea and bounce ideas off. So, my decision-making is very collaborative, and I’ll do that – the other thing is also I’m very methodical, metrics-driven…I really wanna understand the facts, not the anecdotes, that kind of thing…One thing that I have learned in my lifetime that took me a long time to learn is whenever something does not feel right, if your gut is telling you – trust your gut…I’ve become much more sensitive to that part of the intuitive side, where I go “mm,” you know when they say ‘sleep on it’? Well, there are certain chemical processes in your brain that allow you to make these connections. So I’ve become much more trusting of my process over time in terms of decision making. But it’s always about a lot of input, a lot of input, a lot of conversation, and once I make a decision, it’s like, ‘Okay, great. Make a decision. Let’s move on. Let’s implement. No regrets. Let’s not revisit it. Let’s move, let’s move, let’s move.’ I hate the analysis paralysis that happens in academia…you get a bunch of smart people in the room and really kinda try to unearth the facts and get to the data, [and] you can get to some pretty good decisions pretty quickly. And it may not be perfect, but it’s good. You don’t want perfect to be the enemy of the good.”
We then asked Kent, where things stood regarding the construction projects proposed by President Bowen, specifically with the Hoffberger expansion and renovation and a proposed interfaith center. We explained that many students had felt these projects were being talked about less and less recently.
“Well, you know there’s four projects in the campaign they’ve talked about: the interfaith center, [the science center], upgrading the equestrian facilities, and upgrading the athletic facilities. So, we’re going back to the drawing board with some of the other ones and [because] things have changed, with each of these areas. So, I don’t know now, but by January, we’ll know how they sequence out, like this one will happen, then this one and this and this. So, they’re all gonna move ahead over the next four years, but I can’t say which one is gonna come first. Other than I gotta keep saying, science, science is our number one priority. Cuz they’ve waited a long time, and that’s gonna impact more students than any of the other ones, quite frankly. I mean, the equestrian [program] is badly in need of upgrade, but it doesn’t affect a big percentage of the population. But the other side is, that project, because it’s the smallest of them, could happen overnight if I go out and meet some equestrian donor who says “great, here’s five million dollars,” and we’re like “great, fantastic, that’s done in no time,” but [currently] who knows, we just don’t know.”
We followed up on the question asking whether Kent about plans for Stimson Hall which has been phased out of use and is currently sitting unused at the end of Van Meter.
“That will come next. And so that’s why we need a campus plan. We haven’t even decided what we’re gonna put where Stimson is today. Does that become other housing, does that become more academic buildings…there’re some pretty interesting ideas people have started to toss around, some pretty, kinda bold, revolutionary ideas for Goucher, that fit with who we are, but I don’t want to speculate on that stuff now. That’s why we need a process that’s kind of and iterative process, but it’s really about ideation, it’s really idea generation, it’s really about “well, if you can dream big, what would make people feel at Goucher really proud that we took that on? …my vision would be more that ten years we really move toward being much more of a living-learning community, and have much more opportunity for faculty to live on campus, so they’re available much more into the evenings, and we have much more activity, and we have much more performances, and films, and lectures, and other you know things happening on campus throughout the course of the year. And it’s not just limited to the campus alone—we invite in the outside community much more, so we just don’t know the sequencing and the fundraising.”
Our final question for Kent concerned his previous post as college president of the New Hampshire Institute of Art (NHIA). A small liberal arts college, Kent had overseen a merging of the NHIA with New England College. Some students, reading about Kent over the summer, had expressed private concern over whether Goucher would be heading in a similar direction under Kent. Kent responded to the question directly.
“Yeah, we’re not [merging]. I was not hired to merge this institution with another one, and the board is not considering merging with anyone. So that’s not part of the strategy and for two big reasons, so number one is that what is going on in New England is pretty unique in America. And what is going on is that demographics of New England are changing. So New England is the fastest aging in the US and it’s high school population is, and it’s true for Vermont and Maine…it’s becoming an aging population faster than any other region of the United States, so 22 colleges went out of business in the last two years. So, it’s a very different region. So we saw that when I got there [to NHIA], and we looked at the demographics and we said, “Well, we’ve got two choices: either we go out of business or we start talking to potential partners there and then merging.” So that’s what we started the search, and we realized, “Here’s another college, it’s twenty miles away.” They did not have art and design…they had liberal arts and sciences, and we said, “Oh, this is a perfect thing because they are kind of a rural campus and we were an urban campus.” And they wanted to expand their computer science and their business management and their health and medicine [programs] which makes more sense in an urban environment…[B]y combining our two endowments we would actually get to a point, they were only 1100 students and we were only 400 students, so you combine them and you end up with 1,400 students, and then you’re kinda here at the scale you need to be. The biggest danger of colleges going out of business is if they are fewer than a thousand students. We [Goucher] are today about 2,300 students undergraduate and graduate, so we’ve got about 1,400 undergrad and 800 in the grad programs, so we’re more or less 2,300 [total student]. And we’ll probably add in both: the graduate program is growing, and we’ll probably add at the undergraduate level over the next 10 years from about 1,400 to about 1,800 and we could go as high as about 2,000 with our current facility with computer science and athletics, so that’s kinda where we wanna be.”
Overall, I was personally left with a good impression of Kent and his vision for Goucher. Since I joined the Goucher community as a first-year last year, there have been countless upheavals to the campus, student body, and policy which had made me feel a little lost amid the turbulence. The Goucher community felt fractious, suspicious of change, and openly hostile to anything out of former President Bowen’s office. While time is the ultimate judge of actions, Kent seems to understand that stability and measured, incremental change – rather than wholesale structural change – is what is needed on campus. I was most impressed by his response to our question on what makes a Goucher student (see previous Quindecim issue) which homed in on commitments to social justice, activism, and studying abroad. For a campus which has, for the past few years seemed filled with spirit but lacking a clear identity, this specific answer filled me with a greater sense of confidence for my Goucher journey ahead.