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Taking the Helm

Graduate recognition ceremony 20210515 loh 097 john jones dickinson magazine summer21dsonmag

Interim President Jones delivering remarks during the 2021 Graduate Recognition Ceremony. Photo by Dan Loh.

by interim President John E. Jones III ’77, P’11

Some people will do anything to write two straight columns for Dickinson Magazine. Careful readers will note that this space typically alternates between the president and chair of the board of trustees, and in the spring 2021 issue I penned a column called “Expanding Access” under the chair’s byline. In it I talked about our international reach and its importance, and in particular my good friends Adrian Zecha ’52 and his wife Bebe. When I wrote that piece and submitted it before the publication deadline, I had no idea that my own world was about to be turned upside down.

As you know, this past May I was appointed interim president of Dickinson College. The way it happened makes for a pretty good story in and of itself. As I attempted to steer our board through the process of selecting an interim to succeed Margee Ensign after she signaled her desire to return to her prior post at the American University of Nigeria, I walked my board members through the various options available to us. Then came a fateful Saturday morning when a valued colleague called me and simply said, “John, you’re it.” While I concede the thought of stepping up intrigued me, it took me several days to get my brain around the concept of retiring from a life appointment to the federal bench to lead our college. But as I have frequently said since then, I soon concluded that it was an opportunity that I simply could not let pass.

It is important to stress that the designation “interim” should not be misinterpreted. Mine will not be a caretaker presidency. Both the challenges and the opportunities demand otherwise. Accordingly, in July I announced the Dickinson Forward: A Revolutionary Future initiative. Included within it are a financial task force that is composed of faculty, staff, students and trustees. Its mission is to ensure our financial health by presenting balanced budgets commencing in fiscal year 2023 and thereafter. Next up is a strategy committee that will have a similar membership mix and will assist us in charting a course forward that keeps Dickinson on the cutting edge among our liberal-arts peers. This will include enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion. Finally, we will launch a campaign to raise money for scholarships and student success to make sure that our students have expanded opportunities in internships, research and leadership experiences so they have the best foundation to thrive after graduation.

While I am excited about Dickinson Forward, it is but a start, and there is much more to do in the years ahead.

One of Dickinson’s endearing traits is its institutional humbleness, because we Dickinsonians tend to be a modest bunch. While that has its place, it is my determination that we need to tell the world about what a Dickinson education offers. Dickinson graduates are remarkably successful, and we will be loudly and proudly talking more about that.

I am blessed with a supportive group of trustees, a tremendous staff and a world-class faculty. Our students awe me with their intelligence, poise and drive. Our alumni are more engaged than ever before. But like all institutions of higher learning, as Dickinson emerges from the searingly difficult COVID-19 pandemic, there is uncertainty about the future. I am certain that we will succeed and prevail because it is the Dickinson way to leverage our shared governance model and lean into our challenges. That process is already underway.

So yes, I’m “it.” I am excited, humbled and eager to get to work. I hope you’ll join me in this exciting adventure. Stay tuned, and see you on campus!

Read more from the summer 2021 issue of Dickinson Magazine.


Published August 13, 2021