Colby-Sawyer President Thomas C. Galligan Jr. announced Sept. 1 that he will step down after 10 years in office when his second term ends on June 30, 2016. He made the announcement at a meeting for faculty and staff after informing the Board of Trustees in February.
“I’ve had a wonderful nine years, and I’m sure I’ll have a busy and wonderful tenth,” said President Galligan. “The whole time I’ve been at Colby-Sawyer, one of my themes is that change is good, and it's inevitable. You have to live your message and the institution, as always, will benefit from fresh ideas.”
President Galligan was dean and professor of law at the University of Tennessee College of Law when the Colby-Sawyer Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name him the college’s eighth president in 2006 for his first five-year term.
The keen intellect, analytical mind, respect for campus and community constituencies, and enthusiasm for Colby-Sawyer’s liberal education program that search committee members noted a decade ago were put to the test as President Galligan led the college through the toughest economic times the country has faced since the Great Depression. He never wavered in his belief that Colby-Sawyer would not only survive but would thrive as a college that integrates a strong liberal arts education with professional preparation.
According to Tom Csatari, chair of the Board of Trustees, President Galligan’s legacy is a college that is better prepared for its future than it has been in many decades, with an expanded full-time faculty, a student body of talented and diverse young people, improved facilities, enhanced support from alumni and friends for the college’s mission, and strategic planning that will lead the way forward.
“Tom Galligan’s leadership has inspired our students and faculty to reach new heights, while drawing out every ounce of talent and wisdom from the Board of Trustees to serve and enhance Colby-Sawyer College’s future,” said Chair Csatari. “But Tom Galligan is first and foremost a talented educator. Who will forget how he can hold a group spellbound with his Socratic verbal skills, whether it be students in a classroom, faculty at a committee meeting or the trustees while discussing daunting challenges?”
A search committee chaired by trustee Pete Volanakis and composed of board members, faculty, staff and students will work with the firm AGB Search to identify candidates and manage the process of appointing the college’s ninth president. The Board of Trustees hopes to announce President Galligan’s successor in February.
In this first of a two-part farewell to President Galligan, he contemplates his decision to move on and his future, as well as what comes next for the college he has loved and served so well.
The average length of a college presidency is seven years. Did you consider a third term?
I’m not quite sure there’s ever a right time for a transition like this, but my contract is ending and, as my wife, Susan, will tell you, I’m a rolling stone. As people read this, I’ll be 60. So for my own life cycle, it seems now is the chance to reinvent myself again.
Professionally and personally, though, it was a hard decision. I’m emotionally attached to the institution, and we love New London. I love the people I work with. I believe in the institution and what it stands for—I’m a preacher for its mission. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and it was also a hard decision because there’s still wonderful work that will be done at Colby-Sawyer. The college’s potential really is infinite.
What are your plans for life after Colby-Sawyer?
I got into higher education because I wanted to teach, and teaching remains the most rewarding thing I get to do. I hope to devote myself even more fully to it. I was a law professor before; maybe I’ll go back to a law school environment. We’ll see.
What will your successor inherit?
A really wonderful place that continues to innovatively integrate teaching and learning in the liberal arts and sciences with professional preparation. I’ve been saying that for nine years, but every day I believe it more. It’s imbued in who we are. My successor will come to a place that believes in that mission and does it better than any other place I’ve been or seen. He or she will have something to cherish and foster. The new president will see a place where experiential opportunities for learning have increased in recent years.
The maple sugaring and brewing courses, the permaculture and organic garden courses, the field studies courses, the course on designing a college bookstore, the Student Managed Investment Fund, the evolving partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center—all of those exemplify learning by doing and enrich the Colby-Sawyer experience. They are fantastic things the next president will be able to work with and look at through the Colby-Sawyer prism, but also through his or her own prism.
And, the next president will join a much more diverse and inclusive community than existed 10 years ago. The Progressive Scholars Program and our initiatives to internationalize the student body have changed the face of Colby-Sawyer College. My successor is going to come to a small, wonderful town that is not so diverse in terms of race and culture, but this college is a microcosm of a much broader world. Hopefully, they’ll build on that.
What do you want to accomplish before you say farewell?
At the top of the list is to keep the Power of Infinity Campaign moving along. We launched it in April and started out incredibly well. We raised more than $20 million in the silent phase, and I want to see that pace continue through my tenth year.
One of the campaign’s focal points is the health professions. As we speak, we’re creating new ways to provide an even sharper, more public identity for our nursing, public health and other health professions programs. We have a fantastic relationship with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, and I want to continue to foster it so my successor can inherit an even stronger connection to that institution.
In terms of soft spots in my heart, it really gets back to diversity. It matters to me that we were able to increase the number of students from underrepresented populations. Our financial aid is phenomenal, and the average student pays a lot less than the posted price, but some of the students who have come to Colby-Sawyer and benefited from it can’t afford anything near even a 50 percent discount. So when I think about programs like Progressive Scholars and the college’s internationalization, I want them to survive, and the most effective way is for us to find funding sources for those programs. That’s another thing I’m going to emphasize as I do my campaign work. I would hate to come back in 20 years and not see these programs alive at Colby-Sawyer.
In 2006, Colby-Sawyer was looking for a president who would sustain a consultative community; enhance revenue streams in support of the college’s people, programs and facilities; provide visible leadership and creative management; and promote diversity, which you just spoke about. Have you achieved those goals?
Yes. Any goals for a president are institutional goals and depend on the community’s ability to come together to support the initiatives. I think we’ve done an awful lot. We mentioned diversity. We’ve nearly doubled the number of our majors. We’ve increased the size of the full-time faculty and the percentage of courses taught by full-time faculty to a level of which we can be proud.
We built a new Windy Hill School and expanded and renovated the Ware Student Center. We improved other facilities. We managed to get through the worst economic period in American history since the 1930s. We’ve created a Presidential Fellow Program that provides recent alumni with a gateway position to their careers. We’ve seen fantastic growth in the Wesson Honors Program. We revamped, in record time, our liberal arts education requirements and accomplished a curriculum conversion that shifted courses from three credits to four. We started online education programs. We added athletic teams. We’ve opened our campus to outside events to generate revenue. When my ethical standards wouldn’t allow us to continue in our old conference, we acted. At Board Chair Tom Csatari’s urging, we’ve undertaken the college’s most significant marketing campaign in its history.
We’ve had a good relationship with the town. We continue to try to educate each other on what a dynamic 21st century college needs to survive and thrive in an affluent, relatively traditional New England town.
We’ve also tried some things that haven’t worked out, and that’s okay, because you can’t be afraid to fail. Just as much or more will happen in the next 10 years because we’re at a time in the history of American higher education when we’re not quite sure what tomorrow will look like, but we’re doing our best every day to do what we know is best for our students based on the past and our best guesses about the future, and the future is never quite what we expect.
What qualities do we need in our next president?
We’re an attractive place and will get great candidates. We need somebody who’s creative, innovative and inspirational. Someone who is willing to try new things but isn’t afraid to fail, someone who understands what we are and what we’ve done and where we come from.
The end of your term coincides with the end of Board Chair Csatari’s. How will the college community handle this multifaceted transition?
The new chair will come from within the board, so it will be someone the board trusts. I’ve been lucky to work with two incredible chairs, Anne Winton Black ’75/’77 and Tom Csatari. They have been partners in this. They listen to me. They understand the issues that face the college. They hear more about the day to-day things that I deal with than the whole board. They’ve been mentors. They’ve had great ideas. They’ve been confidants and inspirations. I have every confidence that the next chair will be fantastic.
Any time there is a leadership change, other people may decide it’s time for them to move on as well. That is just the life cycle of an institution, and we’re attuned to that.
Regarding the presidential transition, I’m sure there are people who are ready for a change. There may be others who are nervous, but my advice to them is you’re going to have a say in the process. You’re going to have a chance to meet and talk to people. Have confidence in yourself to know what feels right and to communicate that to the key decision makers. When it comes down to it, the president’s really not an expert in much of anything. She or he has to rely upon the folks who are the experts in their areas. When people are scared about transition, they have to realize they’re the brains of the institution at what they do—they need to relax and have confidence that the institution is going to be fine.
You’re really not very worried about this.
I’m concerned about the future of the college, but I’m not concerned that it’s not going to be fine. I just want to do everything I can to give my successor everything she or he needs to be able to succeed and to make Colby-Sawyer even better. I’m concerned about making sure I do the right things to make that happen, but I have every confidence that this institution has an incredible ability to find the right match. There were wonderful presidents before me; I think Colby-Sawyer probably wouldn’t exist today if it hadn’t been for Peggy Stock. She was the perfect person at the time. And then Anne Ponder was the perfect person for her time. This institution and its community will find the right person to fill this role and lead the college. No, I’m not worried about that.
On the personal side, I like change, but it’s kind of scary. I’m never going to have a better commute. I’d be amazed if I’m ever going to face quite the level of creative opportunity and challenges that we’ve been through over the past 10 years. One of the wonderful things about Colby-Sawyer is there’s always a surprise just around the corner. I’m going to miss that a lot, and I’m kind of wondering about what I am going to do and what Susan is going to do and where we’re going to go, but at the same time, there are only so many adventures in your life, and I’m curious to see what the next one will be.
What advice do you have for your successor?
Listen, just listen. You don’t have to agree to everything, but just listen. Also, keep smiling and get out and walk around because it’s a beautiful place.
One more thing. Those of us in traditional higher education— particularly faculty, but also many staff—we did not choose the world of business, of profit and loss. We wanted to live our professional lives in a world devoted to education and a world devoted to what for us seemed like a higher calling. The challenge for us in higher education today is that college has, in many ways, become a business, but the people who are tilling the soil in higher ed never wanted to be business people. So we’re living with that tension. But how do we realize that being smart in a business sense is a key to our ability to survive and provide an education students can afford but also maintain our commitment to not being ruled by profit and loss? How do we take those two discordant tunes and make them one melody? We find ourselves in a business where the realities of the current marketplace demand certain business skills and acumen so that we can do what we love even better.
What has it meant to you to be Colby-Sawyer’s president?
You’re calling for serious reflection! It’s been rewarding. It’s been challenging. It’s been the most wonderful job I’ve ever had. It’s been the hardest job I’ve ever had. It opened my eyes to the history of a wonderful institution and a microcosm of a part of American educational history. It gave me a wonderful education. I would say that I’m a trees person. I can see the forest, but I start with the trees. I can answer that question better in five or 10 years when I look back on the arc of my career. But it has indeed been my great good fortune to be the president of Colby-Sawyer College.