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ISSUE 119 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/3/2006

Desperately seeking president

By Andrea Horbinski
Opinion Editor

Friday, March 3, 2006

Poking around the St. Olaf homepage while wasting time on the Internet the other day, I discovered a hotlink that read, “Presidential search updates.” Ooh! I thought. Maybe there will be a list of candidates. But when I clicked on the link, all I saw was the old advertisement for applicants to the presidency.

It takes a bit of work to find Regent Tad Piper’s periodic updates on the presidential search – thank goodness for the power of Google. And, once found, it’s hard to imagine anything he might have said being vaguer, and it’s hard to imagine the candidates’ quotations being any less meaningful. “A conductor can’t be the orchestra,” said one. “Live forward, understand backward,” wrote another. “Being president of St. Olaf is not a job, it is a way of life,” opined a third.

After reading that last bon mot, one can not help but wonder (again) what will happen to St. Olaf after President Christopher Thomforde departs, and why the Board of Regents was so quick to fire him in the first place.

Was it the paint job on the presidential residence? Aside from it being ludicrous, “PT” did not pick the color scheme.

Was it the sale of WCAL? Jerrol Tostrud, chairman of the Board of Regents, has specifically denied that to Messenger reporters.

Was it President Thomforde’s “liberal” politics? But the Board surely must have been aware of his politics when it hired him in the first place.

Was it the lack of progress on the Science Center? Was it his divorce and subsequent marriage to a professor? But ground will be broken on the Science Center this summer, and half of all marriages in America end in divorce – really, it is a miracle it lasted as long as it did.

These are the rumors, counter-rumors and gossip which students, faculty and staff have swapped amongst each other since Thomforde’s termination was summarily announced last summer. Everyone is still as in the dark now as we were then.

Last December, Joel Bergeland ‘08 alleged in these pages that it was high time for the Board to come clean about the whole affair, while last week in these pages, Recent Graduate Regent Daniel B. Grossman declared that we should all keep our traps shut and trust the Board blindly.

They are both right. If the Board wants the community’s trust, it should make a gesture demonstrating its trustworthiness.

The Board not only should but must grant a full disclosure to the world and all of St. Olaf for the reasonings and motivations behind its giving Thomforde the old heave-ho. Only then can the College as a community “move on” and put its mind toward finding – and welcoming – a new great leader.

While it’s at it, the Board could tell us just who the candidates for that august office are, too. Grossman claimed that the Board attempts to balance confidentiality and a desire to inform its constituents.

The Board must have an inner ear problem, because so far its idea of balance involves no disclosure and all secrecy. From the tuition increase to our new president, students are always the last to know, and faculty are not far ahead.

Of course, a certain amount of “operational secrecy” is necessary in any potentially sensitive undertaking, but there are only three months left in Thomforde’s final year. We still have not the foggiest idea of who might possibly be the new face of our college next year.

The quotations Piper posted were, I’m sure, inspiring in the context of their interviews and applications, but without any idea of the people who said them they sound like the sort of Zen koan-type platitudes which the worst bosses are given to spouting in lieu of any real vision or leadership.

I sincerely hope that the Board has not condemned us to a pool of people out of “Dilbert.” But there’s only one way to know, and that is for them to tell us.

Opinions editor Andrea Horbinski is a junior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics with concentrations in Japan studies and in linguistics.

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