While this semester brings many additions to campus—construction by the dining hall and townhouses, new parking lots, a new incoming class—something will be missing: the president.
President Chip Pollard announced to students at the first chapel that he would be taking a sabbatical for three months in Sydney, Australia. His wife Carey and 15-year-old son James will accompany him.
In April, the Board of Trustees approved a sabbatical policy for upper level administration and then encouraged Pollard to consider taking one, Pollard said.
While Pollard is gone, his responsibilities will be divided between the members of his cabinet. Ed Ericson, vice president of academic affairs, and Steve Beers, vice president of student development, will speak at events such as visit days. Kim Hadley, vice president of finance and administration, will lead cabinet meetings which will mainly deal with the budget. Jim Krall, vice president of advancement, will do some speaking at fund raising events.
Sabbaticals are a normal part of university culture, Beers said. Since the president’s job is mainly to give direction, leadership and vision, he does not have to manage most of the day-to-day issues as directly.
“The strength of our institution is what makes it possible for the president to be gone without the school missing out on anything as far as operations,” Beers said.
Not having the president here to help facilitate communication between the cabinet members and provide a higher-level vantage point will probably be the biggest challenge, Beers added. In his absence, they may need to “over communicate” with one another to stay in touch with what is happening in the administration.
Administration officials will try to protect the president’s sabbatical by not pulling him back in to running the school, Beers said. At the same time, technology makes it easy to get ahold of him if a serious need should arise.
“We have a strong cabinet and a strong board,” Beers said. “I am assuming it will go well.”
The presidential duties are typically paired with a cabinet member anyway, Ericson pointed out. In addition, most of the current vice presidents have participated in the University’s administration for longer than Pollard has been here.
There are some things the president will miss, Ericson said. He will not speak in chapel, participate in Mock Rock skits or attend the fall board meetings. But he will be back in time for Candlelight and December graduation.
Pollard’s goal is to not check his University email, he said. Instead, his administrative assistant will send him a report every couple of weeks. Cabinet officials will be able to include any questions for him.
Eight years ago when Pollard accepted the job as the University’s president, he was preparing to take a year off from his position as an English professor at Calvin College. His role as president includes a lot of speaking and requires thinking about the future, Pollard said. Now he is planning to take time off from that and replenish his stock of ideas through reading.
“I have felt dry coming to the well recently,” Pollard said. “I want to use this time to renew myself intellectually, spiritually and physically.”
Pollard’s wish list for his time in Sydney includes rereading some literature books such as King Lear and reading theological books by Henri Nouwen and Tim Keller. He also plans to write for a couple of hours a day, testing out ideas he has for potential book projects. These include reflecting on loss or looking at idea about leadership found in literature.
The family is looking forward to the adventure of being in a completely different place, Pollard said. They may go to see the Barrier Reef or do other sightseeing. They will be living half way between the beach and the University of Sydney, where a longtime friend of Pollard’s serves as chancellor.
“We are grateful to the board for this opportunity,” Pollard said. “It is a gift and a blessing to be able to do it.”
Sophomore Mikayla Roberts said she thought it will be kind of odd not to see him around campus this semester. At the same time, she did not expect to notice a real difference on a daily level.
“There are great people on campus who can take care of things in his absence,” she said. “It is a good thing for him to take a break and get away.”
Senior Kelsey Daugherty, Student Government Association president, said she did not think Pollard’s absence would affect the running of the school.
“The cabinet is more than capable of doing what needs to be done in order to keep campus going as it has been,” she said. “I think the biggest difference students will notice will be not having the ability to see and interact with the Pollards on a daily basis, which is something I know the campus community enjoys. We hope that they have a restful and productive time in Australia and look forward to their safe return.”