Preparing for the presidential transition

One of the special privileges of serving as president of Wheaton is living in the Presidents’ House. It’s beautifully situated across Route 123 from the main campus and offers an incredible view of the Dimple, all the way to the Wallace library. It makes for one of the shortest commutes to the office that you could imagine, and it has made it much easier for me to fully experience and participate in campus life over the past eight years.

During our time on campus, my wife, Sue, and I have hosted thousands of people at the Presidents’ House—classes full of first-year students, parents attending special events, alumni visiting for reunion and other special events, and local townspeople. Still, the luncheon that we held this past weekend was a first: our guests were Wheaton’s ninth president Michaele Whelan and her husband Peter Wiederspahn.

To be sure, Michaele and I are not strangers. We have crossed paths regularly over the last few years, as members of the New England Commission of Higher Education. And from those daylong meetings, I have firsthand experience of her sharp insights and great sense of humor. I was thrilled when I learned that she would be appointed as my successor.

We’ve been meeting regularly, at least weekly, to prepare for the upcoming transition, always over Zoom. Similarly, members of the President’s Council and other senior administrators have held virtual meetings with President Whelan as well, sharing information about the current status of college operations and discussing existing plans for the immediate future.

I know from experience that these meetings are incredibly helpful in ensuring that the transition is as seamless as possible. When I was getting ready to start my tenure as president, I recall many similar meetings. President Ronald Crutcher was extraordinarily generous in setting aside time to brief me as did many others in those early months. I’m grateful that we’ve had ample time this semester to plan with President Whelan for the start of her presidency.

Nevertheless, our recent lunch was special. Despite all of the ongoing conversations, it was our first opportunity to meet in person since her appointment was announced in early September, mainly due to pandemic precautions. At the Presidents’ House, I pointed out pieces of the institution’s history, including the portraits of college founder Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton and her husband, Laban Morey Wheaton, that hang over the fireplaces in the great room. We also visited Park Hall (named for the college’s second president), walking past portraits of the most recent former presidents, Ronald Crutcher and the late Dale Rogers Marshall.

When you look around campus, the college pays tribute to a host of current and former leaders who have made Wheaton the place that it is today. As the presidential transition nears, it’s a good reminder that the college’s story has had many authors—presidents, students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents—each of whom has contributed new accomplishments to creating this current moment. A new chapter is about to begin, and I am looking forward to the fresh successes that lie ahead for our community.