About Scope    Editor’s Mailbox    Back Issues    Skidmore Home

Fall 2003

- - - - - - - - - -





Centennial spotlight

On campus

Faculty focus

Arts on view



Class notes


Meet the prez
Among the newcomers on campus this fall is Philip A. Glotzbach, Skidmore’s seventh president. He and his wife, Marie, drove to Saratoga this summer from California’s University of Redlands, where he was vice president for academic affairs. While still unpacking boxes in his Palamountain Hall office, he agreed to an introductory interview with Scope.

Q. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How did you wind up in academe?
A. I had wide interests but no idea what field I wanted to pursue. My mother was a full-time mom, and my father was an auditor and comptroller. I grew up in Kansas City, Chicago, and Ohio, and I just always wanted to go to Notre Dame University. It turned out to be a great place for me. It had a wonderful philosophy department, with faculty members doing major research and publishing while also caring very much about teaching.
     My interest was initially captured by existentialism and phenomenology, which dealt with questions that I, as a sophomore in college, was dealing with myself. This was 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War protests, and when I read Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre I really felt that they were speaking to me. And that summer I discovered academic journals in the library. The idea that people wrote essays about these topics, and published them for others to read, was very exciting to me. I decided I wanted to spend a lot of time with philosophy.

Q. What areas of philosophy have you focused on?
A. I became very interested in theories about our perceptual relationships with the world. It seemed to me that those relationships underlie the acquisition and creation of knowledge. I thought a lot of philosophers’ theories of perception didn’t make much sense. I wanted to reconcile philosophical theory with what psychologists and neuroscientists had to say about perception, and I spent the next twenty years thinking about that. I found it a fascinating intellectual journey.

Q. How does teaching fit in?
A. As a teaching assistant during graduate school at Yale, I learned how much fun, and how satisfying, teaching can be. Then I went to Denison University, in Ohio, and that’s when I really understood the intensity of the faculty-student relationship at a liberal-arts college and the attention one needs to give to the craft of teaching.
     I tried to engage the Denison students by showing that basic philosophical questions were relevant to their lives—for example, in the intro course, I really focused on the theme of ethical responsibility.
     Denison had a very active philosophy department, where I worked with students and faculty beyond the classroom. Part of the senior requirement for philosophy majors was an annual retreat, where each student presented a paper and responded to the others’ papers. It was a genuine intellectual community.
     As a vice president at Redlands, I was able to teach very little—I didn’t have time to do justice to what the students deserved. But I think it’s very important to continue doing some teaching, so that’s one of my goals at Skidmore. I’d love to do some teaching as soon as I can fit it in. (Marie and I have even talked about the possibility of team-teaching a course.)

Q. What drew you to Skidmore? And what will you miss about Redlands?
A. I was struck by the interdisciplinary emphasis of Skidmore’s faculty. And I was struck by the high level of commitment to the college and its mission across the board; I kept seeing that in every office and community member. Marie and I were also attracted by the inclusiveness of this community, the way it opened itself to us. Everyone here clearly places a high value on community—and that’s real, not just rhetoric. I’m looking forward to being a part of that.
     Dreading the cold weather? Are you kidding me? We love this climate. I’m a skiier, and Marie is originally from Minnesota. Of course it’s difficult to leave longtime colleagues and friends, but people have been so welcoming that we feel at home already—on campus, in Saratoga Springs, and in Scribner House. In fact, Marie and I are very eager to start using the house as the living room of the campus. We’ll be inviting faculty members, students, and other groups in to talk together and dream together about Skidmore’s future.

Q. What does leadership mean to you? How do you define and practice it?
A. First, I need to approach the task with integrity: I need to represent myself as who I am and espouse the values that I actually embrace.
     In an academic community, leadership involves facilitating effective collaboration—not just with faculty and students and other administrators, but also with the board and alumni and others. It means taking advantage of the fact that there are many smart people here who can help address a problem or question, and it means helping the group reach a point where it can accept a solution. The solution doesn’t have to be the one I might have crafted on my own, but it’s very important that you reach decisions and not just continue on in conversation. As a faculty member I could engage in research indefinitely, always pursuing new questions; but as an administrator I need to make sure that decisions are made and implemented.
     An important part of the job is to help articulate our collective vision of where we are going as an institution. For that, I need to listen to the experience and perspectives of people who have been living in this community, bring in my own ideas as part of the mix, and then come back and say, “Here’s what I’m hearing; here’s where I think we should be going; what do you think?” That way, together, we can arrive at decisions that we can support—and go about seeking the resources we need to achieve our goals.

Q. What constitutes a really great day at work?
A. It’s a day in which I feel that I made some progress in a number of different areas. An ideal day would give me the chance in the morning to answer some e-mails and do some writing. (Along with my inaugural address, I’m working on a plenary address for a joint conference of Phi Beta Kappa and the American Conference of Academic Deans on “Intellectual Leadership in the Liberal Arts.”) Then later in the morning, I’d meet with people about some important issues, like budgets or curriculum planning. A good day would include a meeting with one or two of my senior staff about the issues that they’re dealing with. Finally, that day would include meeting new people, in which Marie might join me, because we’re both working to get to know this community better. (Marie is a genuine partner in this position; she has a great deal to contribute.) And if, somewhere along the line, I got a chance to address some of other things that are on my desk, that would be a very good day indeed.

Q. Are you a smoke-jumper who relishes thorny problems and crises?
I enjoy the challenge, both intellectual and political, of navigating difficult problems. But I wouldn’t say that I enjoy a crisis or putting out fires. It’s much more fun to do the positive things—help people start a new program, or add a new position to the faculty. I also really enjoy meeting with alumni and other groups and sharing thoughts with them.
Click here to sample Phil Glotzbach’s ideas about liberal-arts education and college administrative approaches.
     The hardest part of any administrative job is coping with scarce resources. You’re typically having to decide among good ideas, and you know that one of them is going to receive short shrift. I don’t think anybody enjoys that. But it’s important to stay focused on the primary mission of the college and keep the students in a position to get primary attention: how does each decision affect them in the classroom or laboratory or studio? or in the residence hall or on the athletic field?

Q. If you had more time, how would you spend it?
A. For me, reading is something that gets pushed aside too often. Reading and reflecting are very important for somebody in this kind of position. I enjoy reading widely—the New York Times, New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Chronicle of Higher Education, American Scholar. And I enjoy a wide range of books. I’m reading a book right now by a friend of mine, Richard Fern, called Nature, God, and Humanity. Another book I’ve started and would like to finish is Shouting Fire, by the lawyer Alan Dershowitz. I’m also reading Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours. I tend to keep several books going at once.

Setting the stage for a new role

In August, a visitor glancing in the front door of Scribner House would have seen bare wooden floors and empty parlors—not a stick of furniture, except for a kitchen table, on the entire first floor.
Marie Glotzbach, resident/curator of Scribner House.
     This was no problem for Marie Glotzbach, who took up residence at Scribner House in July with husband Phil, Skidmore’s newly appointed president. Those empty rooms would soon be furnished, she said, and furnished in a style that would make Mrs. Scribner herself feel right at home—literally.
     As part of the Glotzbachs’ plan to establish the founder’s house as “the living room of the campus,” they’ve brought out of storage many of Mrs. Scribner’s art objects, including Chinese and Japanese pottery and Venetian glass, and furniture, such as her original dining-room set. Additional furniture was chosen with an eye to maintaining “a feeling of the house as Lucy Scribner knew it.” In this setting so resonant with Skidmore heritage, the Glotzbachs plan to display artworks by students, faculty, and alumni and to host a range of receptions and conversational gatherings. As educators and parents, says Marie, “we’re used to having our students, our kids, and their friends around the house.”
     If it sounds like a job for the truly dedicated, Glotzbach says that’s exactly how she sees herself at Skidmore—as an essential partner to the president. After all, she adds, “that’s been our approach to our marriage and our lifestyle for our thirty-two years together.”
     A major component of that lifestyle has been her work in vocal music, theater, and teaching, most recently as assistant professor at the University of Redlands. She was playing keyboard at the age of seven and church organ by twelve; she sang the high-school musical leads and choir solos and acted in the plays. Then “I discovered the power, joy, influence, and magnitude of teaching, and I’ve been passionate ever since about performing arts as a way to inspire students.” She has staged more than 130 theater productions (from Our Town to The Laramie Project) for groups ranging from middle-schoolers to college students and adults. Glotzbach has also administered secondary-school programs, directed university donor relations, coordinated arts conferences, and held leadership posts in the Educational Theatre Association.
     For the time being, however, that’s all on hold as she explores and defines her new role at Skidmore. “The details are going to evolve,” she says simply. “I’ll observe, do research, and be flexible. We came in fully available to assist the college in whatever ways necessary, so right now I would choose to fundraise for the new music building rather than direct a production.”
     “What I always miss when we leave a place,” she adds, “is that cocoon of familiarity that allows freedom and taking risks. But that’s the fun of shaping a life—motifs emerge that you didn’t know were there. You embellish those themes and make your symphony.” —BAM


© 2003 Skidmore College