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ISSUE 119 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/16/2005

Thomforde begins final year

By Emelie Heltsley
News Editor

Friday, September 16, 2005

Last summer, students received an e-mail stating that, by decision of the Board of Regents, President Christopher Thomforde would not be returning to St. Olaf after the 2005-2006 academic year.

Thomforde expressed surprise about the Board’s decision, but said that he was doing well. “I’m fine,” he said. “I’m disappointed, but I’m fine.”

In a later interview, Thomforde stressed that, despite his disappointment, the members of the Board of Regents had acted in a way they thought was best for the college when they came to the decision last June that this year would be his final one as president.

"I've never had a professional goal [regarding a college presidency]," Thomforde said, noting that the Board's decision did not ruin any personal life-long goals. "I'm a servant of God," he said. "I’m interested to see what will happen next."

Thomforde had no idea it would be a relatively short term when he accepted the position in 2000. "I hoped to stay to retirement," Thomforde said.

Both Thomforde and the Chair of the Board of Regents Jerrol Tostrud ‘60 brought a recent, nation-wide trend to attention. "The length of college presidencies is shrinking," Thomforde said, noting that St. Olaf presidents used to have terms of over 15 years. In the last century, however, lengths of college presidencies have shrunk from an average of 20 years to an average of five years. "This is not unusual," Tostrud said regarding Thomforde’s five-year term.

Although Tostrud said he could not discuss matters that led to the Board’s decision, he did stress that last spring’s sale of the college-owned public radio station, WCAL, was not a factor.

"[The sale of WCAL] was not President Thomforde’s decision," Tostrud said. "It was a unanimous Board decision, and President Thomforde got far more flak than he should have."

As chair of the Board of Regents, Tostrud has received responses regarding Thomforde’s leaving. "Some people are puzzled and some people understand," Tostrud said, "but [the level of response] has not been overwhelming."

In the June 6 e-mail to the student body, Tostrud listed several of Thomforde’s successes since he became president. "He has done a number of things extraordinarily well," Tostrud said, mentioning in the e-mail the growth of St. Olaf's endowment by $70 million, a first-year retention rate of 94 percent, the ability to hire all 16 of first choice faculty, an increase in campus sustainability and the implement of strategic and marketing plans.

During this transition year, Thomforde hopes to put the focus back on the St. Olaf community. "Hey, this is a great school," he said. "Let's put the attention on the students."

In his address to the faculty, Thomforde addressed his goals for the 2005-2006 academic year. "Together, we have been able to accomplish so much that has strengthened the college’s mission," he said, thanking those present for their support throughout his presidency.

Thomforde’s goals for this year include aggressive fundraising for the new Science Center, working to make St. Olaf an inclusive community and continuing to improve the college’s financial sustainability.

"This is a great place, and I look forward to making it a great year," Thomforde said. "We need to keep moving along."

While Thomforde does not have any definite plans after leaving St. Olaf, he has been receiving many suggestions from friends, family and members of the St. Olaf community. So far, the suggestions fall into three main groups: parish ministry, Lutheran higher education and an "other" category.

"My first goal was to make sure the year got off to a good start," he said.

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