August 25, 2020
It is with much gratitude that I write to formally announce my retirement from CIIS at the end of June 2021. It has been my privilege to serve this community since 2002, especially as President since the end of October 2016. At 75 years old, I am ready to work less, spend more time with family and friends, pursue other activities, and embark on new adventures.
This timing is also right for CIIS. The University is now operating from a place of strength, with stabilized finances, rigorous academic programs, and a strong leadership team that will continue to steward CIIS toward its strategic goals and plans. I am confident that the search committee and our consultants will bring forward excellent candidates and that CIIS will have a new president in place when I leave.
Preparing to craft one’s retirement message always engenders reflection. When I think about the nearly two decades that I’ve been a part of the CIIS community, I am overwhelmed at just how far the University has come. When I arrived at CIIS, it was a much smaller place. I was able to meet with each core faculty member to ask about their work, their program, the University, and their hopes for the future. I learned so much from those conversations and from the books they gave me—books I treasure to this day. I always said that being Academic Vice President/Provost was the best job on any campus because you got to work with the faculty on a regular basis.
Out of those collaborations came friendships, new programs, new understandings of what we mean by quality integral education, as well as many new and clarified policies and procedures. We started programs in community mental health; human sexuality; ecology, spirituality, and religion; integral and transpersonal psychology; the MFA; and began weekend ICP. Working with Arisika Razak, I co-led our diversity initiatives for many years prior to the establishment of a faculty diversity committee and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. We started the Writing Center, changed the way we did program review, and began an assessment program. We adapted our technology for online learning and hired staff to support faculty teaching online.
As many of you know, my intention had been to retire in June 2017, but nine months prior to that, the Board asked me to step in as Interim President. It was a serious moment in CIIS’ history, and much was on the line. The University was facing a possible $3M deficit in the midst of an accreditation visit. We had to make very challenging decisions, very quickly, as the University could not support such a deficit. With incredibly strong teamwork, by the end of that academic year, we had restructured enough to eliminate the deficit.
Beginning any endeavor in a time of crisis is never easy. As president, I knew that the challenges ahead would be many, but as someone who cared deeply about the CIIS community and the need to see its values and mission alive in the world, I was committed to doing whatever was necessary to make the University thrive. Removing the WASC Warning and taking CIIS from the financial precipice we were facing was paramount. With hard work, we were able to build cash reserves that created stability and improved financial ratios that are important to banks, accreditation, and funders. It also enabled us to refinance the building at a lower interest rate, thereby freeing up funds to meet other needs. By changing our budgeting practices, we were also able to move the University away from the cycle of deficits that have plagued it and to provide salary increases during two of the last three years. Unfortunately, the pandemic did not allow us to continue that trend into this year.
One of my goals as president was to honor CIIS’ commitment to integral education and innovative thinking and teaching, while also asking what this means for current times. I firmly believe that our success has come from not trying to do everything, but rather by choosing carefully what fits our mission, and then doing that well and with uniqueness. Over the last three years, we have designed a number of degree programs for online learning and weekend intensives; likewise, we created certificate programs for more short-term learning opportunities, and expanded the Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research. It has also called us to make equity issues front and center, specifically to use an antiracist lens to assess our work.
Another goal I had was to improve operations. This included streamlining processes; building better coordination among offices; upgrading technology to provide stable internet; effective and up-to-date computers; and contemporary software. The transition from Jenzabar to Colleague reflects a major part of this. Our goal was to provide a seamless experience for faculty and staff, and quick responses to student questions. Of course, none of this could be done without a strong leadership team at every level, which was a third goal of my presidency. I added representation from the staff, from deans and directors, and from the faculty to the cabinet to give voice to all sectors of the University as we made decisions.
Improving operations also included our physical environment. Over the last three years, we completed two major building projects: We restored the historic façade of the building to eliminate the falling concrete and leaks; its beauty is now apparent for all to see. We also replaced both elevators, which had been experiencing leveling problems. This summer we are working on a third project: rehauling the HVAC systems to meet the needs posed by the pandemic. Unfortunately, our building search process had to be put on hiatus, but it is not forgotten.
I am confident that my last year at CIIS will be productive and busy. I am very proud of how swiftly and effectively CIIS has so far dealt with COVID-19. We will continue to be called upon to make decisions, review them, and sometimes change them as we work to keep this community safe and support students in achieving their academic goals. We also have vitally important equity and antiracism work to do, as well as new initiatives and degrees that we are inaugurating, such as the newly approved Master of Arts in Applied Psychology to be offered online to students in China.
There will always be aspirations than one cannot achieve, but as I stand at this significant threshold in my life, I feel proud of the work we’ve achieved together. CIIS will continue to provide high-quality education, emphasizing meaning, consciousness, connection, service, and holistic thinking, but I am also confident that CIIS is now well-positioned to meet the challenges of the contemporary world in unique ways. The next president will be fortunate to join a community with such creativity and innovative spirit.
In closing, I offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who I have worked with these past many years and to everyone I will continue to work with over the next year. All of you—the ideas you bring and explore, and the commitment to thoughtful pedagogy—make CIIS very special. I will always carry you with me.
California Institute of Integral Studies