October 24, 1999 - Syracuse Herald-American: Unusual president charms two colleges

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Directors of the Peace Corps: Mark D. Gearan: August 11, 1995-August 11, 1999 : Gearan: October 24, 1999 - Syracuse Herald-American: Unusual president charms two colleges

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, September 24, 2003 - 2:32 pm: Edit Post

Unusual president charms two colleges

Unusual president charms two colleges

Unusual president charms two colleges

Unusual leader charms colleges

Sunday, October 24, 1999

By Rebecca James
Syracuse Herald-American

Like most people on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, senior Jessica Cubas has met the new president, Mark Gearan.

Gearan, who was inaugurated Friday, has been busy charming the campus of 1,800 students. He's hosting faculty dinners at his house. He eats at fraternity houses and housing co-ops. He drops by student organization meetings.

He's also one of the youngest college presidents in the country. At 43, he's barely in the same generation as most students' parents.

"It's kind of cool that he's so young," Cubas said. "I like that. It reminds me of JFK."

Gearan left a high-profile job as director of the Peace Corps to come to this small liberal arts school with his wife, Mary, and two young daughters. He has never been a college professor or administrator. He doesn't have a Ph.D. His background is in politics and the Clinton White House, not academia.

Gearan is clearly still in the honeymoon period at his new post. But at Hobart and William Smith, and campuses across the country, people question whether college presidents really need to be scholars who rose through the academic ranks.

"Fund raising is, inescapably, the core activity of college presidents in the United States," Peter Wood, associate provost of Boston University, wrote in the summer edition of the journal Academic Questions. "Men and women do not pursue advanced research degrees because they aspire to lives filled with chatting up rich alumni and trustees."

Gearan said he doesn't think fund raising is his main job, but he knows it's important. And members of the search committee who tapped him think he's up to the task.

"He should be super at that," said geoscience professor Donald Woodrow, a member of the search committee.

Gearan, Vice President Al Gore's campaign manager in 1992, is no stranger to direct fund raising. He honed his lobbying skills on Capitol Hill. He started as Peace Corps director just after Republicans led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich cut the agency's budget 7 percent.

"He was facing cuts from Newt and the gang, and he turned that around," Woodrow said. "That's a tough league."

Gearan trimmed more than $10 million from the Peace Corps budget, looking at what countries had the greatest need for Peace Corps volunteers and shutting down operations in some countries. He went on to introduce the Peace Corps to other countries and to convince Congress to increase the number of volunteers from 6,500 to 10,000.

But hiring a savvy Washington insider with international experience wasn't the original goal of the search committee charged with replacing Richard Hersh, who was president eight years and left to follow his wife after she took a job in Connecticut. Hersh had a doctorate in education, and the other finalists to replace him also had Ph.D.s.

"I think we all went into the search thinking that would be a must," Woodrow said. "That sort of faded away. Now that doesn't seem to be an issue on campus."

In Washington, Gearan had told headhunters that he would like to be a college president. Although he had already put his name in the ring for other presidencies, which didn't work out, he wasn't eager to leave the Peace Corps or Washington.

"This was something, I guess to be honest, I thought might have come a little bit later in life," he said.

But Gearan's career has always seemed on fast forward, probably in part because he hit the campaign trail at age 12, passing out pamphlets for his local congressman, the Rev. Robert Drinan of Massachusetts.

When he graduated from Harvard, after majoring in government, he joined Drinan's staff as press secretary. His future wife, Mary Herlihy, was also on Drinan's staff.

While he worked on Capitol Hill, Gearan went to law school at night at Georgetown University, finishing his degree not long before the arrival of his first daughter, Madeleine, now 7, and in time to turn his full attention to the Clinton-Gore campaign.

Gearan worked as director of communications in the White House.When the job of director of the Peace Corps opened up, Gearan let Clinton know he was interested. "I wanted to run something," Gearan said. And he appreciated that this agency was the legacy of President Kennedy, who, like Gearan, was an Irish Catholic Democrat from Massachusetts.

There are pictures of famous Democrats all over the president's house in Geneva, including one of Gearan and Gore both dressed for Halloween wearing vampire fangs.

But Gearan said he does not want to offend anyone with overt party politics, and he insists he made plenty of Republican friends during his Peace Corps days, including Rep. James Walsh of Onondaga, a Peace Corps alumnus.

Gearan comes to the colleges - Hobart enrolls men and William Smith women - at a time when there are no pressing decisions or problems. And he is not starting his job by telling people what changes are needed.

"That would be both profoundly arrogant, and it really just wouldn't make any sense," he said. "What I felt would be best is to take the time to listen to our students, faculty, staff, community leaders here in Geneva, really listen and to learn from them."

Hersh, his predecessor, led a capital campaign that started with a $75 million goal and closed with $102 million last year. He oversaw the decision to change the colleges from trimesters to semesters, which takes effect next year. Hersh also had to make the call during the mid-1990s, when many schools were reducing, to cut 12 tenure-track jobs from the faculty.

The cut took a toll on faculty morale, but it also made the faculty open to a nontraditional leader who could mark "a refreshing new beginning," said Jodi Dean, associate professor of political science.

"It was a concern that Gearan didn't have a liberal arts background," she said. "People were impressed by his experience in communications and fund raising and also what he was able to do at the Peace Corps. He took a large organization in crisis and re-inspired it."

But colleges are infamous for red tape and complex, unspoken power structures. History and committees loom large.

"He has a lot to learn, I think," said John Vaughn, associate professor of mathematics. "It's a really smart thing on his part to get to know as many people as possible."

In meetings so far, Gearan has not made any embarrassing gaffes, such as suggesting something that is idealistic, but impossible, said Susan Henking, interim dean of the faculty.

"He's a very quick read. He very much believes in democracy, and he's very respectful of other people's opinions," Henking said.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Syracuse Herald-American

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps Directors - Gearan



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.