What Does Bro Do Anyway?
A former Colby president remembers a bright and earnest first-year student who showed up in the president's office on the third floor of Eustis during the first week of school. The young man made a lasting impression when he said, "I'd like to know more about what a college president does. And my first question is, is this a full-time job?"
By Gerry Boyle '78
| Photos by Fred Field
Published February 25, 2005
This is where you go and whom you see when you shadow the president: pre-convocation "robing— in Miller Library with a very colorful faculty; meetings in Eustis with senior staff and individual department heads (budgets, spreadsheets, sculpture); a fellow who wanted Adams to head an accreditation organization (he ultimately declined); a columnist for The Colby Echo
; a student with a question; a student who spent last summer in China. . . .
A meeting with development officers to discuss potential major donor prospects. A session of the Waterville Development Corporation when area economic development people talked about proposals to redevelop the former Hathaway Shirt Co. factory in Waterville. All of that packed into a nonstop on-campus schedule, followed by a trip to New York City that included meeting with a new trustee in offices at a mid-town high-rise, tea at the Harvard Club with a CBS News executive (and alumna) who agreed to be an overseer, a blind lunch with a possible donor, a heady and far-ranging discussion at the Mellon Foundation about a Colby science grant proposal, the place of athletics in private liberal arts colleges, and study abroad, among many other topics.
President Adams chats with Meghan Kuhn '08 and another student during a regularly scheduled lunch in Foss Dining Hall.
Illustration by Fred Field
"It's like being a utility player,— Adams said. "You've got to be able to play infield, outfield, first base.—
From New York, Adams flew on to Boston, where he had more stops. I was tired. I went home.
William D. "Bro— Adams was a professor in humanities at Stanford when he made the move that put him on track to be a college president. Adams was a close friend of Bill Chace, then Stanford vice provost and English professor, who became president of Wesleyan. When Chace headed east, he invited Adams to become his executive assistant at Wesleyan, a chief-of-staff sort of job that allowed Adams to get an intimate look at what it was like to be a college president. From his new administrative post, he saw good times and bad times on what can be a politically tumultuous campus. (On one occasion, the president's office was firebombed.) In general, Adams liked the world of college administration, and he inevitably wondered if he could be a successful president.
"I must say now that I understand that being two inches away from it and actually being in it and doing it are two very different things,— he said.
President Adams dons a mike for a Q&A session with students.
Illustration by Fred Field
Adams was recruited to apply for the presidency of Bucknell University, went through the extensive interview process that the job entails, and was hired. It was only when he was actually sitting in the chief executive's office that he realized that the job was fascinating, challenging—and never-ending. "The work didn't surprise me,— Adams said. "The things that came along didn't surprise me. It's the pressure and that kind of 'there's-nowhere-to-flee' feeling, that you can't get away. You're the person. Whatever happens, it's on your head.—
Exaggeration? Consider this from his predecessor, William R. Cotter, who was president of Colby for 21 years (and is the source of the anecdote in the opening of this story). "It's never boring, but it's wearing,— he said from Boston, where he now heads The Oak Foundation. "I don't miss the twenty-four/seven responsibility at all.—
With that responsibility comes opportunity, of course. Robert E.L Strider II, Cotter's predecessor and Colby's president from 1960 to 1979, was embroiled in the campus unrest of that time, a difficult period for the country, for students—and for many college and university presidents. Strider, now retired and living in Boston, recalls that restive period as tumultuous for Colby and sometimes personally painful, especially for his family. He also recalls reluctantly giving up teaching, his first love, because of the responsibilities of the presidency.
His reward, Strider said, was playing a part in shaping an institution that has continued to grow and thrive. "Would I do it again?— Strider asked. "Sure. Absolutely. Honored to do so. No question about it.—