Leading and Learning

It is hard to believe that eight years have passed since I was named the seventeenth president of Lafayette College. By the time I leave in June, I will have acquired the equivalent of two bachelor’s degrees’ worth of education in everything Lafayette! I have learned a lot about this remarkable College and community.

Lafayette students are as different as the many states and countries from which they hail, but some common characteristics stand out. They are ambitious and hardworking, with an eagerness to engage fully in the varied forms of intellectual discovery represented by a liberal arts education. They are particularly drawn to material that connects the issues they are studying with real-world problems, and welcome opportunities to connect their growing expertise with a chance to make a difference in the world. Whether as student-athletes, musical performers, editors of the newspaper, or social activists, they throw themselves into whatever they do, living schedules that would worry their parents if they knew how little sleep their students were getting. They hold the institution to a high standard, and don’t hesitate to let us know when they believe we could do better, but they wear Lafayette swag with pride. When they say they’re going to “campus,” they aren’t referring to the actual campus—they mean Campus Pizza.

Our faculty are an amazingly talented, dedicated, and empathetic group. They demand a great deal from their students, but demand even more from themselves. Every assignment that a student groans about completing means grading times 20 for their professor, but faculty consider their written comments on student work as much a part of their relationship as classroom lectures and hallway conversations. Lafayette faculty talk often among themselves about their teaching and compare notes on technique, but their teaching styles are as varied as you can imagine. Reflective or dynamic, magisterial or casual, their individual styles combined with their wide array of specializations mean that every course is a unique experience. Students love finding out that their faculty are people with pets, children, hobbies, and lives beyond the classroom, and faculty are generous about creating occasions for that kind of personal connection. Deeply committed to college governance, faculty complain about the number of meetings they have to attend—but not as much as they would if they were excluded from discussions of important issues at the College.

Lafayette staff are incredibly dedicated professionals who run what is essentially a small city here on campus, managing everything from student housing and medical care to mail delivery and snow removal. They oversee well-structured office processes, but don’t hesitate to use their strong cross-campus personal connections to solve individual student problems or resolve bureaucratic logjams. Staff who have worked here for decades form the backbone of a community that also attracts lots of new talent. During my time here, staff have developed an increasingly strong institutional voice, offering input through the Administrative Council and demonstrating their commitment to the College by serving on college-wide committees. When I have occasion to thank staff at college-wide meetings or holiday parties, nothing means more to them than my sharing anecdotes about how much they are loved by our students.

Finally, our alumni, trustees, and parents form an external circle of dedication and commitment that binds this community together. Alumni love to share stories about their lives at Lafayette that may include antics like tearing down goalposts after a football game or driving a car onto the middle of the Quad; or may involve fond memories of an inspiring professor or influential coach; or may reflect key life lessons derived from setbacks or challenges they experienced. But they are equally invested in the College of today and tomorrow, and they welcome the opportunity to be partners in the enterprise of making the College stronger. Our Board of Trustees is specifically entrusted with the task of stewarding the College’s future, and their dedication, hard work, and knowledge of the institution form a strong foundation for leadership. As for Lafayette parents, I have sometimes said, “parents are the new alumni,” because their love for the College educating their children often matches that of Lafayette graduates. They are knowledgeable, supportive, and invested in the institution. All these members of the Lafayette community represent important voices that tie together the College’s past, present, and future.

It has been an extraordinary privilege to be part of the Lafayette community. Even when I am no longer serving as president, I look forward to remaining an honorary Pard! I am grateful to all of you for your friendship and support.

Alison Byerly Signature

Alison Byerly