The Glotzbach Years: Reflecting on the Past, Present and Future of Skidmore’s President
The day Philip Glotzbach announced his retirement as president of Skidmore College was one of his favorite moments from the last 15 years—but not for the reasons you’re thinking. The day he made his 2020 departure official was also the day the Board of Trustees approved a plan to accelerate construction on the Center for Integrated Sciences (CIS).
To think of the school’s future even when reflecting on the past is fitting for a man at the head of Skidmore’s two decade-long strategic plans. Glotzbach, the seventh of Skidmore’s presidents, has always led with an urgency toward lasting change.
While the average tenure of college presidents stands at six years, Glotzbach will finish off his Skidmore career at an impressive 17. When asked about his decision to leave at this moment, he says, “It’s the right time. We’ll be halfway through the [2015-2025] strategic plan. The presidential transition will happen at a good moment: we can stop, pause, evaluate.” It’s hard to get Glotzbach to truly answer questions about himself separate from Skidmore, yet those last three words—to “stop, pause, evaluate”—aptly color his time here.
As a driving force behind the Arthur Zankel Music Center, Northwoods Apartments and renovated Dining Hall, along with doubling the college’s endowment, Glotzbach has worked to ensure the campus finds positive change in new additions. “We have a lively, more energetic campus,” he finds, when a majority of students can live on-campus, enjoy better food and are surrounded by engaging spaces like the Tang Teaching Museum.
While developing Skidmore’s infrastructure has been his main goal, Glotzbach remains especially pleased with the people he’s been able to bring to these buildings. He talks about the increasing strength and diversity of Skidmore’s campus, both in the student body and faculty. “Skidmore is just a richer place…the faculty are stronger; we have terrific young faculty being tenured…[and] that’s a legacy for the future—they’ll be here for 30, 40 years.”
Legacy seems to be on the president’s mind these days—but surprisingly not his own. He wants to leave Skidmore “in as good shape as possible” for his departure, and his confidence in doing so stems from the people around him.
He feels good about Skidmore’s senior leadership team, which he calls “a tremendous asset” who “can take this college into the future.” And he credits the faculty for allowing Skidmore to stand as a more confident school today: “Something I’m proud of that we’ve kept within the faculty is a fundamental commitment to teaching and interdisciplinarity. People understand the strength of our academic offerings.”
If this all sounds like he’s reading straight out of the college’s viewbook, it’s because Glotzbach has so long been at the helm of Skidmore that it’s not difficult to see the college’s accomplishments as inseparable from his own. From establishing the first-year seminar early on in his presidential role up until the approval of the CIS, Glotzbach has been central to Skidmore’s academic evolution, and he envisions a promising future.
He talks about the aspirations the college has for the CIS—to give students the chance to think in creative ways and pull on different strands of the liberal arts even in a place of hard science. Essentially, to embody Skidmore’s mission in the building itself: “The science center is an expression of that.”
Glotzbach seems to have come full circle then, leaving the college with a mark of his commitment to creativity, the same reason he wanted to come to Skidmore in the first place. To Glotzbach and his wife, Marie, the college’s motto, Creative Thought Matters, was “a very attractive expression of value…a distinguishing characteristic” they could get behind.
Yet Skidmore’s values were not the only thing drawing Glotzbach to his role as President. The chance to interact more with students was something he couldn’t pass up. No stranger to academia, Glotzbach came to Skidmore in 2003 after serving as dean and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Redlands in Redlands, California. But he wanted more.
“I connect with students [as president] more so than when I was a dean,” he says. While seemingly counterintuitive, this statement rings true in efforts like Glotzbach’s fireside chats or the first-year seminar gathering, which takes place at his and Marie’s home in the beginning of every academic year.
For all Glotzbach’s achievements in buildings and finances, it is these personal connections he will miss most when he is gone. “I will miss interactions with students…watching them grow from first-years to seniors.”
Glotzbach still has a year before the 2020 academic cycle comes to a close—time to build even more relationships to students, including the incoming Class of 2023.
And then there’s retirement—where Glotzbach doesn’t just plan on going fishing. He aims to finish some writing projects he’s been working on over the years, which have been impossible to finish while serving full-time as Skidmore’s president, as well as traveling and spending more time with his family. While Glotzbach won’t be involved in the presidential search to replace himself, he believes Skidmore will undoubtedly attract a strong pool of candidates for his successor, even if that person doesn’t outdo his near two-decade reign.
“It’s unusual to stay here for so long,” Glotzbach reflects. Yet we are so glad he has.