President Carol Quillen: What’s In Your Elevator Speech?

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This just in from a campuswide “town meeting” with President Carol Quillen and several enthusiastic hundreds of her closest campus friends.

It was standing room only during Common Hour in the Lilly Family Gallery, 11:05 a.m., Sept. 3, 2013.

“What will be different because we had this meeting?” Carol Quillen asked the crowd. “I hope you leave here with a sense of the high level of aspiration we have for the next several years, as well as a sense of objectives we hope to accomplish this academic year.”

President Carol Quillen: “Inspired not by fears of what we might lose, but by dreams of what we can accomplish.” (photo Bill Giduz)

Against a backdrop of stunning campus photography, compelling video clips and a few brief, concise and specific bullet points about Davidson’s most current themes and aspirations, Quillen called forth the good will and good work of Davidson’s staff, faculty, students, alumni, parents, friends and partners—up to and including those we have not yet met.

That’s a lot.

So, what would your 60-second “elevator speech” be to someone who knows nothing of Davidson? Quillen asked the crowd at one point during Q & A.

But first, Quillen deployed her formidable skills at evoking the Davidson of this moment—this very present and changing moment—in the collective mind assembled. Together, she said, we have designed new facilities, built and strengthened “Transition to Impact” initiatives, capped the strongest fundraising year in history, created new courses of study, and recruited the best faculty and staff nationwide. Among many other things.

“It’s an iterative process,” she said, “and we need your continued guidance to make it work.”

Quillen touched on many facets of the Davidson character that reflect brightly into the world, including the Honor Code, Division I athletics, growing relationships in Charlotte, and The Davidson Trust. “How do we pay for all of it?” someone asked in a video clip. Quillen responded that to stand fast in who we are and what we are about, with an endowment notably smaller than many peers, we are seeking more funding from people who do not yet know us. See “elevator speech” above.

Yes, we are reimagining the liberal arts, Quillen continued, and our commitment to the liberal arts ideal grows stronger.

“Approaching the liberal arts educational philosophy as a historian,” said Quillen, a history Ph.D., “I can tell you it hasn’t changed much since the 15th century!”

That said, it is 2013. “Our subjects, programs and methods change over time,” she said.

Then she moved outward from a classroom perspective to the broader, quotidian life of the mind, body and spirit at a small, residential, liberal arts college like Davidson. With a fine and heartfelt tip of the hat to President Emeritus Sam Spencer for his visionary work to help diversify Davidson in terms of race and gender in the 1960s and 1970s, Quillen sprang forward to more recent strategic planning themes that Davidson’s people—many of them in the room—were engaged in even before her arrival: interdisciplinarity, global perspectives, sustainability in all its senses, diversity and inclusion to match and meet the world we live in.

On the “excellence and access” plank of the platform that must accompany and support diversity and inclusion, Quillen stated the case succinctly: “Economic opportunity must be more than two words we say.”

On Davidson’s ethos of leadership and service, and the resulting disproportionate impact for good in the world, she let a long and growing list of alumni examples do the heavy lifting, including Tim ’00 and Brian ’07 Helfrich’s Summit Coffee just down Main Street, OrthoCarolina CEO Dan Murrey ’87 in Charlotte, Lowell Bryan ’68 and Steve Justus ’78 at the Touch Foundation, the civil rights advocacy of Yale law professor and GLBT advocate Bill Eskridge ’73, Agnes Scott President Elizabeth Kiss ’83, Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx ’93, education accessibility advocate Tiffany Hollis ’04, scientific researcher Rachel McCord ’04, educator and spoken-word artist Clint Smith ’10, Colgate University Provost Doug Hicks ’90…. The list went on.

Back to the tasks at hand for ensuring that this list continue to go on, Quillen reviewed, renewed and refreshed many specific programs and initiatives for “exploring what’s possible” this academic year and beyond.

She encouraged staff and faculty to get outside their departments and meet their colleagues from across campus: “Ask how what they do relates to what you do. That’s where some really great ideas come from.”

Those who know Davidson best, she said, should call attention in Admission to students who would be a good fit here, particularly those who might not apply without encouragement.

We should ask ourselves what makes Davidson different, and what it is and what it is becoming. And each person who comes in the door—students most obviously, and by extension everyone—gets to help decide just exactly what Davidson is and what it’s becoming.

That’s inclusion, said Quillen.

So, staff, faculty, students, alumni, parents, friends and partners, what’s your 60-second elevator speech about Davidson College?

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