Summer 2003 Magazine Archive & SearchMuhlenberg Home


President's Message

Colleges and Communities need each other

Last summer I was asked to assume Muhlenberg’s presidency so that a nationwide search for new presidential leadership could begin. I accepted this challenge with confidence because I know (or thought I knew) the institution and the capabilities of its faculty and staff. For Nancy Steffy and me, this experience has turned out to be one of the most interesting and rewarding years of our lives.

One of the most satisfying aspects of working at a residential liberal arts college is the excitement of observing students learn. Although I knew that student accomplishments at Muhlenberg were at a high level, I must admit that I did not know how high. Setting the stage for those student accomplishments are close interpersonal and mentoring relationships between faculty and students and between staff and students. But that is only the starting point. The heart of the Muhlenberg experience consists of effective teaching in the classroom and is accompanied by a wide array of related co-curricular experiences beyond the classroom. It also includes extensive extra-curricular programming as well as supportive services for students, a Muhlenberg hallmark.

A small sampling of activity that took place this year included the induction of 45 students into Phi Beta Kappa; a highly effective, campus-wide Teach-In on the first day of the Iraq War; 200 student volunteers hosting the inner-city Allentown school students for a field day on campus; an off-Broadway Muhlenberg Theatre production of “Anything’s Dream”; a number of prestigious post-graduate honors bestowed on our student scholars, including a Jack Kent Cooke and two Fulbright Scholarships; and a record-setting track and field performance by student Will Elson. The list goes on.

Knowing that I am a musician and conductor, people ask me whether I found leading a College comparable to conducting an orchestra. In an orchestra the conductor hires, leads and teaches. A college president hires, leads and facilitates teaching by others. In an orchestra, each musician from the solo violinist to the second bassoonist must be capable and dedicated, or there is dissonance. There is a parallel with the faculty and staff of a college. In an orchestra, every section from the clarinets to the double basses must blend and balance to contribute to the overall performance. This also pertains to the academic and administrative departments of a college.

How our faculty and staff produce and play the notes on Muhlenberg’s score will not only shape our students’ college career, but their subsequent accomplishments. There will be beautiful sounds, some indecision, and yes, some occasional discords. Therein lies the role of the conductor and the players - to influence and guide the orchestra toward a stellar performance that resonates across the country.

We pass the baton to President Randolph Helm and await his downbeat with great anticipation.

James Steffy

Interim President



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