Read firsthand accounts of student and alumni interactions with President Durden, during his Office Hours and beyond.
April 11, 2013
"I believe that office hours in the Quarry started after I left in 2004, but I remember Bill always being incredibly accessible. He established himself as always open to feedback and I know that as a student I took advantage of that via e-mail and as I saw him around campus. Bill has set the standard high for my expectations of how a college president should interact with students and I hope to emulate him one day." —Colleen Haggarty Bunn '04
"My meetings with President Durden taught me a great deal about the role that interpersonal relationships and direct communication play in both conflict resolution and routine matters. I distinctly remember him instructing the students that when someone asks, 'Where did you go for your undergrad?' an alum should not immediately assume that the person has never heard of Dickinson. Instead, we should confidently say 'Dickinson!' just as one would say 'Harvard!' or 'Princeton!' It seems like a given, but this sort of marketing on the alumnus level plays a big role in building the college's reputation. This example speaks to President Durden's dedication to re-branding the school and inspiring students to take pride and ownership in their Dickinson degrees. His success in doing so will be one of his biggest legacies.
President Durden was not only very accessible, he constantly and actively encouraged students to approach or contact him either in person or through e-mail. That level of exposure says a lot about a leader. As student government president, he would often copy me on e-mail replies he sent to students who reached out to him directly about particular issues or concerns that he felt the student government could help with. Often, the time stamp on those e-mails was 4 or 5 in the morning, and they were always thoughtful responses. It was very reassuring to know that even before he drank his first cup of coffee in the morning, he was keeping his promise to students.
It is human to distrust people or entities we do not understand well. Therefore, the lack of civil discourse and mutual understanding that would have resulted from a secluded campus leadership would have easily bred a strong sense of resentment and contention among the student body, especially when difficult decisions had to be made. It would have been harder for students, faculty members and college administrators to work together to respond the long list of campus and community issues that we faced. Thankfully, as college president, he set the example for his colleagues. While I'm sure many of the other administrators would have been accessible either way, I think President Durden struck a strong tone of transparency that made it difficult for those under him to not follow his lead.
From talking to friends who went to peer institutions, some of whom were student leaders themselves, it appears that President Durden's accessibility to students seemed to be a uniquely Dickinson experience." —Mike Bilder '07
"I was lining up at convocation with two of my closest (and still close) friends and the weather was starting to look bad as Carlisle frequently did. Somehow we started laughing at the sense of irony that it would rain our last full day on campus. In hindsight, I regret joking about the weather. Somehow I stated that someone tied to Ben Rush or another Pennsylvania politician remarked the Carlisle was where the nation came to blow its nose. My friends started laughing and suddenly behind me I heard that oh-too-familiar voice: 'I'm pleased to see that are students are only knowledgeable on Dickinson but Carlisle as well.' I turned around, and Bill Durden was walking behind us, smiling and appearing to be silent laughing to himself about my comment. I look back on that now and still smile. I was lucky to have attended Dickinson under a man who had no problem opening up to the students and showing that he had a sense of humor about campus, Carlisle and a number of other things." —Betsy Nelsen '08
"I did not go to the office hours, but senior year I was president of the Student Senate and had a standing meeting with President Durden. I was never quite sure which direction our meeting would take (despite my carefully prepared plans), but it was invariably fascinating and exhausting.
Here is a story from my sophomore year that I just now (7 years later) came to appreciate. There was a Common Hour titled "Are Students Getting a Bad Rap?" It was prompted by President Durden's remarks at convocation that fall, which were informed by a number of books that came out around that time, critical of the Millennial generation, including Binge and I am Charlotte Simmons. During the discussion, as I was trying to make a point of disagreement, President Durden engaged me in what he later called 'a quick give and take.' As a 20-year-old, I got completely overwhelmed, and nearly broke down in tears. I later wrote him an e-mail (must have taken me an hour to write it!), where I expressed my frustration with having been interrupted so publicly and having my comments be misrepresented by him. Of course, in typical President Durden fashion, he quickly responded. I wasn't satisfied by the response back then, but I did save it. Here are two excerpts:
- 'Part of the process of stepping out into the world eventually is to move through the give and take of dialogue-some of it smooth; some of it interrupted. You must simply persist.'
- 'Please don't fall into one of the stereotypes of your generation that people are writing about [...] Don't bail out-or register such outrage-because you were critiqued or perceived you were challenged or interrupted. Remember, the critique of your generation is that generally most students cannot take any form of criticism. What they do is run or protest by taking on high moral ground inappropriate for the situation.'
The 20-year-old didn't understand this, because President Durden was talking to my future self. His message: personal resilience. Our exchange at Common Hour, his contentious annual addresses to the Student Senate, our conversations in his office when I was representing the students as Senate president—all of those things helped prepare me for future work in Washington.
Having experienced the 'real world' where people aren't always nice, where you do get interrupted, and where your ideas are constantly questioned and often misrepresented, now I can appreciate the resiliency President Durden was intentionally building up in me and other students who engaged with him. He wasn't just trying to frustrate us—he was teaching. And I do believe that it was intentional. As president, he was not just the CEO of Dickinson, but the 'educator in chief.' In that 2005, e-mail to me he even said, 'It is a good learning moment.'
As a result, I now have the confidence and the stamina to engage in public discussions, to learn from failure, and to simply persist." —Anya Malkov '09
"Although I never actually went to office hours, I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with him. While I was at Dickinson, I was the news editor of The Dickinsonian. Every other Tuesday at 8 a.m., I—along with the editor-in-chief and the managing editor—would sit down to breakfast with President Durden (and oftentimes Vice President Massa and Dean Vari) in the caf. President Durden was always interested in what we were working on, and he was eager to give us the scoop on any stories we may not have had on our radar. I remember describing these experiences to friends at different colleges, and they were always shocked—many of them claim to have never interacted with their college president, and some didn't even know who their college president was.
I will always remember President Durden fondly because of these breakfasts. Not only was he extremely interested in how students were spending their extra-curricular hours, but he was invested in making me the best journalist and editor that I could be. I will always be grateful for his support, and I wish him well as he makes his next move—I know he made my first step beyond the limestone much easier thanks to his support and guidance." —Miriam Weiner '09
"I feel that I have a very unique story about Pres. Durden's office hours. At one point during my junior year, my roommates and I all had questions about some campus policies. We decided to go to Pres. Durden's office hours, and discuss them with him. Our back up plan, should we not have enough time to discuss all of our questions, was to use that time to invite him over to our on-campus house for dinner. As it turned out, his office hours were pretty busy that week, so we ended up inviting him to our house to have dinner and discuss Dickinson campus policy. To this day, that is one of my favorite stories to tell about my time at Dickinson, and what sets Dickinson apart from many other schools." —Olivia Lewis '10
"I served in the Student Senate my entire time at Dickinson and served as the Student Senate president from 2009-10. President Durden and I regularly had one-on-one meetings to discuss the issues of the day. While I would normally come with an agenda, what would most surprise me is that President Durden would come to me and other student leaders with issues and questions. He wanted our input and had a relationship with the Student Senate where he did not want any major college decision to be made without consulting students and the student government.
He taught me to always have my facts straight and to have a basis for an opinion. He disliked vague anecdotes about student issues and wanted to hear specific facts. Like on any college campus, rumors would spread around, and he would always challenge me and other students to think through all the different facets of an issue. He did not just allow us to give our opinion and make requests of the administration; he made us ground our opinions and requests in fact and he helped to prepare me for law school by forcing me to articulate a rationale for any opinion I held or argument I made. President Durden loved hearing from me and other students but he would always challenge us to back up our convictions and beliefs with hard facts.
President Durden was Dickinson, and his caring nature made my Dickinson experience so much better-serving as Student Senate president was kind of like serving as the mayor of a small town and President Durden was my key partner in that endeavor. I really don't think he ever slept. He was (and from what I hear, still is) attached to his smart phone. I would e-mail him with a quick question or to get his opinion and it would be rare that I would go more than an hour before hearing back from him. Students might not always have agreed with everything President Durden did or said, but they respected him because he knew he was an active member of the campus community and always listened to students and student concerns.
Whenever I had a concern, President Durden would be there to address it. I felt that we had a very strong professional relationship but that by the time I graduated, I was able to call President Durden my friend. When President Durden was drafting speeches and essays, he would frequently ask me to take a look and give him feedback—me, a student! Not even 22 years old and he wanted to know what I thought—and he even sometimes listened to me!
After my first year of law school, I lived in Carlisle and worked part time for Dickinson's General Counsel Dana Scaduto—I got to renew my relationship with President Durden and see more into how he operated and how he could inspire people to do their jobs to the best of their ability." —Lee Tankle '10
"What I really appreciate about President Durden is not just his reputable accessibility and presence on campus, but his friendly yet professional enthusiasm and openness. I have had multiple conversations with him ranging from international politics to my generation's 'hook-up' culture. We are both fearless inquisitors, and he has reinforced my mantra, 'You never know until you ask.' When I found a summer internship program in DC that I wanted more than anything, I met with President Durden and boldly asked him if he'd be willing to write a letter of recommendation as part of my application. He not only shocked me when he said yes, but also when he invested in learning about me as a student and my career interests. Realizing that my friends at other institutions could barely fathom such a personable college president has made me feel even more lucky that he has been part of my distinctly Dickinson experience. President Durden has been an open book and an amazing resource; and this is one of the aspects that has made him an incredible president for the passionate, intellectually curious student body that Dickinson tends to attract. I am thankful I have the honor of graduating with him." —Terra Joy Allgaier '13
"I feel so fortunate knowing that I have the opportunity to talk with the president of the college one-on-one in an informal setting. It is an invitation extended by President Durden himself, and it is a sincere one. This complete openness that is encouraged from the very beginning is what makes every discussion memorable. President Durden trusts in the maturity of Dickinson students to approach conversations as invested members of the Dickinson community. Knowing that President Durden is truly interested in what the students think has meant a lot to me. I have attended his Office Hours on several occasions for a variety of reasons, each time knowing that President Durden would welcome any topic I brought up; if it was important to me as a Dickinsonian, he wanted to hear and talk about it. Some conversations comprised of brief comments about future initiatives of the college. Others were more in-depth discussions of a concern regarding current actions on campus. All have been constructive. Few situations are more frustrating than having a comment but no one with whom you can discuss it. By offering this outlet for communication, President Durden has not only shown a desire to foster a genuine, frank relationship with the student body, but also has, as a result, encouraged the students themselves to feel more connected to the college and its future. We understand that taking initiatives as students to strengthen Dickinson is more than possible-it is our privilege and duty. Was spurring this realization his plan all along? 'Engage the world' has become a ubiquitous mantra of the college that is instinctively associated with Dickinson's impressive global focus. But having the opportunity for candid conversation with the president of the college has been important in showing students that they should never shy away from leaving their constructive thoughts unspoken. When I attend President Durden's Office Hours, I know that our conversation will be more than him jotting down my comments into a small notebook that is later squirreled away, forgotten, in a desk drawer somewhere. Instead, it will be a dynamic dialogue where he not only listens, but also asks incisive questions in return. As a tour guide of the Liberty Caps Society, I never miss an opportunity to share the reality of this open dialogue—a distinctive feature of Dickinson. Visitors are consistently impressed when I tell them that the president of the college takes time out of his schedule to invite students to chat with him, informally. Their surprise confirms something that I have long come to appreciate through my conversations with President Durden: dialogue is the source of change. That President Durden has instilled this principle so deeply in the mission of Dickinson speaks volumes about his conviction that we students are capable of making a difference. Let us celebrate the future that lies ahead, ensuring that we never leave his call for 'comments, questions and outrage' unanswered." —Amanda Jo Wildey '13