By Alice Horner
In a little over two months, the Washington College presidency will turn over to Mitchell Reiss, and according to Chief of Staff Joe Holt, there is a lot to accomplish.
In order to tackle the task of adjusting Reiss to the WC community, a transition team was formed to gather campus concerns and ideas, and to prioritize Reiss’s first six months as president.
“The team has been broken down into smaller units that will each focus on a different aspect of trying to introduce Elizabeth and Mitchell [Reiss] to the college community. And those teams have been encouraged to go out and take soundings, and see what other people think,” Holt said.
Holt said that the first project is to produce a survey for students, faculty, and staff to take that Reiss will use to get to know the WC community.
The survey will be “asking people to share their thoughts about the current state of the college, what their aspirations are for the college, what are their points of pride,” Holt said.
“Elizabeth and Mitchell will be on a learning curve to learn about the place, so the survey will be largely open-ended. It won’t be ‘check this box,’ it’s going to hopefully get people to think and write. And the transition team will collate all of that, summarize it for Mitchell, and I’m sure at some point in time it will go back out to the college community so people will see what others had to say,” Holt said.
The survey results will depict what students, faculty, and staff view as the most urgent priorities and challenges, opinions which will help Reiss carve out a sense of place and determine where he needs to take the college during his presidency.
The team will also develop a strategic calendar for Reiss’s first 180 days. “It’s a tall order to get someone up to speed in six months with as many constituents as we have. We have probably eight to 10 alumni chapters, and about 500-800 major donors,” Holt said.
“He has everyone on campus that he needs to get to know, and then we have a 9,000-member alumni body, donors and friends of the college, government officials, tons of people that he needs to meet. What we’re going to try and do is come up with a reasonable schedule so that we don’t run him into the ground the first six months he’s here, but we still need to cover a lot of ground so that he can get up to speed,” Holt said.
When President Baird Tipson arrived at WC, the team was “more board-driven than campus-driven, so this time around I think it’s more broadly constituted,” Holt said.
“The board thought it would be best to have a broadly constituted group that could bring all thoughts to the table at once and help set priorities. And once we make our best effort, we still have to make sure that Mitchell is comfortable with the choices that we’re proposing, and the pace,” Holt said.
Tipson said that both Reiss’ different experience and lack of physical presence on campus will make this transition much different from the last.
“When I came here, I’d been a college president for nine years, and an academic administrator for 17 years. Mitchell does have some administration experience, but its not as broad. So I think it’s going to be a little more important for him to get a feel fairly quickly for the various parts of the college,” Tipson said.
Tipson believes the transition team will be helpful for Reiss to connect with the area of Chestertown. “He did come for the board meeting in February, but he’s trying to finish a book, and he just hasn’t been able to put his mind on the college yet. I completely understand where he is, but I think he’s going to need the transition team more because he hasn’t actually physically been on campus as much,” Tipson said.
Tipson said Reiss may change some procedures. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the same people that report directly to me are not necessarily the same people that report directly to him. I think what he will do is start a planning process fairly quickly, set a new vision for the college. Based on the results of the survey, he may do some things fairly quickly,” Tipson said.
Holt said the first six months will be hectic in maintaining a balance of Reiss both networking and developing a presence on campus.
“We need to prioritize in a way to allow him enough time to be off-campus, but at the same time to remain a level of visibility here on campus leading the institution,” Holt said.