|By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, July 11, 2003 - 11:21 am: Edit Post|
Romania RPCV Alexis E. Santí says President Richard Hersh's resignation is Trinity College's loss
0,3563310.story?coll=hc-headlines-oped, Romania RPCV Alexis E. Santí says President Richard Hersh's resignation is Trinity College's loss
Trinity's Great Loss
July 6, 2003
Alexis E. Santí
I was a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges from 1995 until 1999. For two years, I served as one of the student trustees. During my final year there, we finished a $75 million capital campaign; revised the school calendar, moving away from our trimester system; tackled difficult conversations regarding drug and alcohol issues; and finally, dealt with President Richard Hersh's resignation. (He left to move to Connecticut, where his wife had gotten a job.)
With four years of experience in campus leadership, dealing with diversity issues, the fraternity system and alcohol awareness campaigns, and writing columns for all of the literary weeklies and monthlies on campus, I believe I am qualified to reflect on the soon-to-be ex-president of Trinity College. There are few students, if any, who have engaged Hersh in more conversations.
Dick Hersh is a man who takes himself and the mission of the liberal arts seriously. He is known in academia as one of the great advocates of the small liberal arts institutions, schools that promote a balanced education. He is a champion of the liberal arts cause; yet the typical liberal arts college is a place of dwindling numbers, decreasing caliber and stagnant finances. His academic career and administrative track record have earned him respect.
Hersh and I did not always get along during my time as an undergraduate. There were many times when I left meetings with Dick having been "Hershed" - having borne the brunt of Hersh in debate.
To engage Hersh in conversation was war. Hersh, though, was not interested in destroying students - he was interested in challenging them. He wanted to move students forward; he wanted them to continue fighting for what they believed in. Because our generation is reluctant to step forward, many students reacted adversely to this style of leadership. But those who stepped forward did so with passion.
I have read through the articles on Hersh in both The Courant and The Trinity Tripod. The open letter by Tripod Editor in Chief Abigail Thomas in April saying Hersh wasn't fit to be president was merely a pull-no-punches kiss-off typical of seniors on campuses across the country. However, I found no smoking gun in Thomas' letter, no well-crafted argument or evidence that backed up the call for him to step down.
Thomas' most succinct attack on Hersh was that he "conceives of college as an opportunity to civilize 18- [to] 21-year-olds." What Thomas does not realize is that college is indeed a place where students learn powerful, civilizing lessons in leadership and then make the world their own. She said that in a shaky economy, "Trinity cannot afford to flounder under a man with uncertain leadership abilities, fostering a sense of discontent and animosity within both the student body and faculty." Here is perhaps her greatest affront - that Hersh is unqualified to be president. In fact, perhaps all that Hersh is qualified for is leadership, as his record has shown; yet Thomas is quick to dismiss this man's career. In shaky times, what a college needs to do is differentiate itself from its peers.
Thomas also said in her letter that, "under the guidance of Richard Hersh, my degree will not be worth the money or the time I spent here." What Hersh sought to do was enrich the campus so that her degree would be worth more.
The most powerful lesson I ever learned from Hersh was when, in a campus retreat with our faculty, he stated at a particularly tense moment: "At least argue, at least fight, at least scream at one another, and come up with solutions to the issues that we face. In conflict at least I know that people care."
The man and I thrived on conflict - and yes, although we did not get along all the time, it was the product of our conflict that pushed me to lead.
Hersh's resignation letter stated "that to continue as a president would do harm to the very agenda for excellence now in progress." He suggested he had become too much of a focus of attention and he might harm Trinity. Here I disagree with him wholeheartedly and encourage the trustees to turn down his resignation. Otherwise, it will be Trinity's great loss.
Alexis E. Santí was a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania from 2000 to 2002. He helps manage information-technology projects for the federal Export-Import Bank of the United States in Washington.