But McAlexander has not waited to get fully engaged in the college’s business of “challenging the mind and inspiring the soul.” From day one, he has been a man in near-continuous motion, meeting and greeting, speaking and studying, learning and listening.
“I’ve done a lot of listening,” he said in one of his first speeches here.
That’s a smart approach - and no one who’s met McAlexander doubts that he’s a smart guy. He’s also likable and articulate, with an array of personal qualities and administrative skills that seem well suited to his new responsibilities. There’s a contagious quality to his passion for private higher education that should make him an effective advocate for LaGrange College.
And the new president has a good story to tell. Despite the economic downturn, LaGrange College recently welcomed a near-record, academically-talented freshman class. Overall enrollment is above 1,000 and the college maintained and even improved its rankings in several closely-watched surveys, including the U.S. News rankings. Long a jewel, the historic campus sparkles even more brightly with the recent addition of the spectacular Lewis Library and the completion of the Gulley Gateway, a classy pedestrian bridge that provides, with style, a much-needed link between the campus on the “Hill” and parking areas across Vernon Street.
The move of a new president into the renovated upper floor of Banks Hall is itself a reminder of both the strengths and the challenges facing the college and McAlexander.
While top administrators are now housed there, the primary focus of the renovated Banks - the former library -is the admissions office, now located in what amounts to the college’s “front door.” That emphasis is appropriate. Attracting and keeping quality students is a challenge for every college, but one that is particularly acute for private colleges. Every year, LaGrange College must persuade a new group of parents that the extra investment required for private, church-related liberal arts education is “worth it.”
McAlexander can tick off an impressive list of reasons why this is so, but in today’s market, a strong “now” is just part of the equation. Standing pat is not a good option, even if it were possible. Those who stand still typically get run over.
McAlexander understands that and, along with the college’s trustees, leadership council and alumni, is energetically focusing on the future, even as he assimilates and analyzes the circumstances of the present. It’s not yet time to break ground for anything or launch another major campaign, but the planning and preparation for that day is under way. A study group, for example, is actively exploring ways the college might meet the need for a 21st century science building.
For now, however, as Dan McAlexander gets his photos hung on the wall and books arranged in their cases, it’s perfectly acceptable for the community that wondered “How in the world can we replace Stuart Gulley?” to let out a sigh of relief.
A strong and purposeful leader is settling into a new office on the Hill. Comfortable and capable in his own shoes, Dan McAlexander aims to build on the successes of Gulley and other predecessors.
Here’s to a lot more “challenging the mind and inspiring the soul” ahead.