Posted by Gabe Weintraub
As of Nov. 1, President Philip Glotzbach is on a six-month sabbatical. In his absence, Vice-President for Academic Affairs Susan Kress is serving as acting president.
Kress has been at the college since 1975, teaching English and eventually chairing the department. While still a member of the English department, she became vice-president for Academic Affairs five years ago.
Kress is originally from England – she still has a faint English accent – and received her education at the universities of Manchester and Cambridge. "I had all of my education in one country, and I had never met a liberal arts college before I came to Skidmore," she said. "Of course, I immediately fell in love with this particular method of education, which was very, very new to me. I found a home at Skidmore." Before Skidmore, Kress taught at Cornell, CUNY Queens College and SUNY Albany.
Glotzbach's sabbatical comes at approximately the halfway-point in the college's 10-year Strategic Plan for Engaged Liberal Learning, which he has overseen since becoming president in 2003. He has numerous goals for the sabbatical but, above all else, he says it will be an opportunity to evaluate the success of the Strategic Plan, and to consider its future. "The luxury of this sabbatical is just having time to concentrate," Glotzbach said. "We spent all of last year thinking about, ‘OK, what have we done so far in the Strategic Plan?'" Kress said, continuing, "What do we still have left to do? What do we really want to be focused on?"
The next question, she said, and the question that Glotzbach will be contemplating during his absence is, "What about the next strategic plan? Where do we want to be, not five years from now but 10 to 15 years from now? What comes next? What are our next aspirations? What are the next things we would like to do as an institution, as a community?"
The sabbatical will be Glotzbach's first since the fall of 1991, when he was a professor at Denison University. While there may be some travel involved, Glotzbach's time away will be mainly a stay-at-home sabbatical, in part because his wife, theater department professor Marie Glotzbach, while teaching a reduced course load, will not be on an official sabbatical. He will return at the start of May, in order to be able to preside over commencement for the class of 2011.
"I do have his telephone number," Kress said, "but I'm going to try not to bother him. We will try not to encroach upon his time away. We're trying to pretend he's on another planet. But if we do need to take that rocket ship we can. It's a short rocket trip."
In the meantime, Kress,as vice-president for Academic Affairs, inherits the duties of the president. The order of succession is dictated by the college's bylaws, which stipulates that the VPAA serves as the acting-president in the president's absence. While she does have presidential discretion, her responsibility is primarily to maintain agenda items already set in motion.
"What we normally do," she explained, "is over the course of the spring and the summer, we set in motion our plans for the following academic year. So those plans are in motion and really it will be my job to be sure that we continue our program on the action agenda items that we said we would be working on. I don't expect there will be major new initiatives that come up in [Glotzbach's] absence."
Among the capital initiatives this year are the new Scribner Village and changes to the college's IT facilities. Kress has just released this years action agenda, which is available on the website of the Office of the President.
"I hope we'll make some progress on various other initiatives in Academic Affairs and so on," she elaborated. "So I think what I'd like is that when he comes back he'll some of the things he knows are on the agenda moving forward. And not too many big surprises; I'm trying not to move the furniture in his office."
One of her goals for her time as acting-president is to make herself readily available to students. She plans to have an office hour every Wednesday, starting Dec. 1, when she will be available from 4-5 p.m., in her office on the fourth floor of Palamountain Hall.
"As vice-president for Academic Affairs, I routinely met with the SGA vice-president for Academic Affairs," Kress said, "and in this position I will routinely meet with the SGA president, so that's a way for me definitely to keep in touch with what's on the minds of students with respect to SGA. SGA of course doesn't cover everything that people are interested in or want to talk about so I did want to keep some time for those other things."
While no longer a teacher, at least not in the classroom, she hopes the office hour can be educational, for herself and her visitors, and hopefully just as valuable as time in the classroom.
"This is a learning community, so the learning goes on inside the classroom, but you don't just close the door when you come out," Kress said. "There's learning going on all the time. Whether you're having coffee with friends or competing on the athletics field, you learn a terrific amount from being in a community and working with other people…
"For me, it's all part of a learning experience, that when you leave here in four years you say ‘I learned these things, not just because of my major but because I met people, because I made friendships that taught me something about how different people live and the different places they come from and their different perspectives. ' And who's to give what value to what?"