I still grieve for the loss of former President Christopher Thomforde he was a huge presence on the St. Olaf campus. He had a deep love for the college, expressing such sadness when he left. He made a sincere commitment to serving the students, as evidenced by his willingness to interact with them, saying hi to everyone as he walked around. In all my interactions with him I never felt condescended to, even getting a wonderful note once that thanked me for my reporting on a speech he had given. His mysterious and abrupt departure in some ways leaves a cloud over Andersons beginnings. In my mind, Anderson certainly has some big shoes to fill.
After my short and rather benign conversation with him Saturday, I am beginning to feel optimistic about Anderson meeting the challenge of taking Thomfordes place. Anderson obviously has love for the school as an alumnus. He has a commitment to the faith-based education St. Olaf offers. As an English professor, he has interacted with students over the years he is not the corporate drone that some feared would take the place of Thomforde for the sole purpose of raising revenue. Anderson also is willing to make progress, to work with the Board of Regents to make necessary changes, to foster the community he himself has been a part of for so long.
At the same time, Anderson is obviously not itching to change everything about the school. As he said in his inaugural address on Friday, We seek to combine in one college the academic excellence of the elite institutions of higher learning in America, the living and abiding connection with a faith that we proudly confess of the most centered colleges in America, the richly complex treatment of vocation that characterizes the most outwardly focused colleges in America, and all of this in an environment where changing patterns of race and class are defining new parameters in which we operate. These are necessary goals for sustaining St. Olafs growth into the future.
Anderson faces these challenges with the necessary tools: a sense of humor, an investment in the tradition of the college, an openness to the students the constituents of the school and ideas to bring take the college into the future. While I think I will never truly get over the departure of Thomforde and I feel the shroud of mystery surrounding it does something to taint his name and creates an atmosphere of mistrust and conspiracy I have hope that Anderson will be able to make me trust the school again.