Whitman College President George Bridges to Step Down Following End of Now is the Time Campaign

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Photo by Annabelle Marcovici

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, President Bridges announced to the campus that his time has come to step down. Coming to the end of his 10th year in office, the decision marks not only the president’s transition, but the college’s as well.  The announcement was made a year in advance to give the Board of Trustees enough time to do a thorough search for Whitman College’s next president.

“This [time] has been a great joyI’ve learned so much about Whitman, about higher education, about students, and about what it takes to create exceptional opportunities for student learning.  said Bridges.

During his time here, Bridges has increased student and faculty diversity, improved academic programs by adding more experiential learning opportunities and increased national visibility for the college. In addition, by Sept. 15, 2015, the Now is the Time capital campaign will have successfully raised $150 million.

According to the case statement for Now is the Time, the campaign will be split into three sectors: $75 million will be devoted to strengthening academics at Whitman, $50 million will improve access and affordability and $25 million will be dedicated to strengthening financing at Whitman to create flexibility and long-term stability. The Now is the Time campaign has been one of Bridges’s most prominent accomplishments and one for which he will certainly be remembered.

He put the college on a sounder financial footing than ever before, but he also pushed forward with a number of curricular and extra-curricular initiatives that will serve the college well,” said  Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, provost and dean of the faculty.

Though Bridges is the face of the Now is the Time campaign, he attributes its success to Whitman’s hardworking community. His accomplishments stand on their own, but according to Bridges, the best parts of his time at Whitman have been the people around him.

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Photo by Annabelle Marcovici

“The people who I have had the privilege of working with, this has been the best part, it outweighs any satisfaction I might have about personal contributions I have made to Whitman. Our work offers a great demonstration of collective accomplishment…our collective effort is what I value.  I never sought to lead from the top, I have sought to be part of a collective enterprise that advances common goals,” said Bridges.

According to veteran faculty member Professor of Geology Pat Spencer, Bridges has strengthened the student-to-faculty connection at Whitman. Experiential learning has become a priority during Bridges’s presidency.

“[Educational experience] becomes more of a collaborative exercise between groups rather than individual learning …. It’s always been a family here, and I think that particular part of it has continued and has been strengthened during George’s time,” said Spencer.

Looking to the future, Whitman will continue the work Bridges has begun, but as Whitman pushes forward, it will face a new set of problems. According to Spencer, expanding diversity will be Whitman’s next big challenge that the next president will have to address.

“Which direction to take and [how] to wisely use the endowment to strengthen the student body and faculty will be the new president’s biggest challenge. The next big challenge, in one word, would be diversity. That is the next step, to be more reflective of society more generally. That is really important,” said Spencer. 

According to Bridges, pushing Whitman to improve diversity within administration leadership will be crucial.

“In staff meetings I’ll often wear bow ties, and a colleague recently asked if I thought the next president would wear bow ties.  It was a joke of course but I said, ‘I doubt she will’. Many laughed. But Whitman needs diversity in its leadership, and I know the Board of Trustees will look for diversity in who selecting the next president,” said Bridges.

Spencer agreed that change is good as Whitman searches for the next president, but he asserted that finding the best fit will be the top priority.

“I would welcome a female president … I think it would be a great step in the right direction. It is time. I think it’s the next step, again, to diversify the students and have faculty that reflect them, but I think again the most important thing is to find the right person,” said Spencer.

With his time to step down approaching, Bridges reflected upon his decision to resign.

” I felt like it was time. The college needs a succession of persons in leadership positions who can help advance the college, and that is what I have tried to do. We have accomplished what I wanted and it is time to find someone new who will take the college to another level,” said Bridges.

According to Spencer, Bridges’s announcement to step down at the completion of his capital campaign in 2015 is fitting.

“Change is always good, I think. George has been here 10 years and will have, realistically, successfully completed that campaign. That is a good note to go out on. To go out on something else that would be as well remembered would be hard,” he said.

As Bridges moves forward, he faces similar problems that Whitman College as an institution will face in the future: staying connected and keeping up with the world around him. 

“You know, we have many options. My wife, Kari and I are considering what is next… there are lots of possibilities and honestly we have made no plans.  But we are certain to stay connected with students in some way, that is the challenge and the joy as we look forward,” said Bridges.

While Bridges and Whitman will move forward, Kaufman-Osborn hopes that Bridges will contribute one last thing before he leaves.

“I do hope that George will leave us several of his signature bow ties for us to place in the Penrose Archives,” said Kaufman-Osborn via email.




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