AR: You found out you had been named president
at a busy time at Albright and took the helm right away. Was it a challenge
to make such a quick transition?
LOM: I took office four days before Reunion Weekend,
and found out that I was expected to speak. I had already been learning
everything I could about Albright, but the first couple of weeks were
a little like trying to drink from a fire hose! Everybody was tremendously
helpful and my staff were great at helping me figure everything out.
AR: Your background has been in advancing private liberal
arts colleges, through development, public relations and alumni relations.
What has attracted you to liberal arts institutions?
LOM: My undergraduate experience at Washington and
Lee University was the most crucial in fostering my understanding of
the transforming effect that the liberal arts can have in a young person’s
life. I was inspired by gifted teachers who awakened in me a zeal for
learning and an appreciation for intellectual life in a community of
personal integrity and honor. Initially, I had the goal of becoming a
professor of English literature. Although I completed my doctorate in
1986, years earlier I had the good fortune to convince Ladell Payne in
the early days of his presidency at Randolph-Macon College that my strong
communication skills and commitment to the liberal arts were just what
he needed in his director of public relations. That fateful decision
led to an unexpected, although highly rewarding, career in the advancement
and support of liberal arts colleges.
Colleges like Albright play a vital role in the lives
of the young people they serve and an equally important role in our culture.
Our liberal arts colleges have an impact far beyond the relatively small
segment that they represent in American higher education. Not only
do they set the standard of excellence in undergraduate education,
but they are also workshops for moral leadership and public service.
It is here that we are preparing the next generation of community
builders, business leaders, and, of course, scholars and teachers.
It is noble work, and I have long been proud to be a laborer in this
field and an advocate for its aspirations. I can promise Albrightians
that I will be a passionate advocate for the liberal arts and for
Albright in particular.
AR: Every president has a personal style of leadership
that he or she brings to an institution. What is your style?
LOM: The college president’s pre-eminent responsibility is to be
the most visible and effective advocate for the college’s values,
needs and aspirations. I believe in teamwork and delegation but also
in taking responsibility for my actions and giving direction and focus
to my team. I am very comfortable with balancing the demands of consultation
and collaboration that are essential to an educational community with
the necessity to make decisions, explain those decisions, and move
The chief academic officer must be one of my closest colleagues and confidants.
Since the heart of the residential liberal arts college is its academic
program, we will work closely to promote active engagement by members
of the faculty in the life of the institution at all levels, not merely
in the classrooms and laboratories, but also in setting institutional
priorities, grappling with the difficult choices that limited resources
always entail, and in supporting the advancement of the institution
in ways appropriate to their diverse talents.
I have long felt that members of the faculty reflect the quality of
the college community in their level of enthusiastic engagement beyond
the classroom. A priority for me is to encourage and support the faculty
in its commitment to shared governance and to call forth the best that
they have to offer.
AR: How are you approaching our
LOM: As a father of five children, I have some experience that is relevant
to the college presidency. Not only do I have direct experience in
the challenges of parenthood, but I also genuinely enjoy being around young
people of all ages. I am able to talk comfortably with them, to gain
their trust and confidence, and even occasionally provide useful counsel.
I have met many students in my first weeks in office, and I delight
in working closely with them to support their education, and to challenge
them to realize their own highest capacities. I will go to the places
where they are, find out what they have to say and what is important
for me to hear from them, and how they can participate not only in
their education but in the future of Albright College.
AR: What is your vision for Albright’s
LOM: It seems to me that the key to the future must be found in Albright’s
past. We have been successful for 150 years at meeting the educational
needs of students. The proof of that is the way graduates have been successes
for years in a wide variety of fields. I believe the kind of education
Albright has historically provided is nicely described as “a different
way of thinking,” and represents a very succinct way of describing
what properly should happen to educated people – that they are
challenged to cross boundaries, and can escape from narrow provincialism.
That they are able to see others’ perspectives in a balanced,
and even sympathetic, way without necessarily agreeing with it.
A liberally educated person is someone who is going
to contribute to a civilized, and civil, society. I was really touched
by the image at the induction ceremony of Psi Chi [the psychology honors
society] where they each held up a candle. It made me think that was
a perfect image of what we do at Albright College. We light candles one
at a time and send forth our graduates into a world with a lot of darkness
and we challenge each of them to be a source of light.
AR: What do you feel
is the value of interdisciplinary education, especially Albright’s
brand, where students have the option of tailoring majors, and created
more than 200 different combinations of majors last year?
LOM: The interdisciplinary ethos that we see that we
have here at Albright is a great strength. I think it’s a remarkable
tribute to the faculty that we have such a rich and diverse range of
curricular offerings when you consider how small we are. Our faculty
deserve real accolades for their creativity and imaginative ways of combining
and recombining and finding connections between disciplines. Not only
does interdisciplinary study help students have a higher measure of confidence
that they are preparing themselves better to navigate the world, but
I think it actually does challenge them to make connections in ways that
may not be as likely to happen if they only focused in on one academic
discipline. It is wonderful to see so many students respond to that.
can promise Albrightians that I will be a
passionate advocate for the liberal arts
and for Albright in particular.”
– Lex O. McMillan III
But having said that, the fundamental core curriculum
at Albright is designed – regardless of what one majors in – to prepare
our students to be successful in a wide variety of ways in life. I really
believe that a liberal arts education is an education for leadership.
Not that everybody is going to go out and be president, but our students
are the people who emerge as leaders in whatever sphere they find themselves
in, whether it’s a local Rotary Club or their company or their
church, because they have been trained to think differently. They rise
to positions of leadership because of the habit of thinking that they
have developed – a balance, a kind of tempering of thought,
analytical skills, communication skills.
I like the idea of an institution asking itself where
it can find an excellence that is uniquely its own, and the best way
to find that excellence is in the deep roots of the place itself – What
has happened there, what has been good there, what has been strong
there. We are fundamentally, and at our core, a liberal arts college.
We can develop many kinds of programs but the heart of our mission
is in this ideal of the liberal arts. And that’s where we seek
our excellence in a way that has its own distinctive flavor. One dimension
of that is certainly our interdisciplinary orientation. We are also
rooted in a commitment to a student-oriented culture, trying to serve
our students in a challenging but also caring and supportive kind of
AR: What kinds of things do we need to carry out that
mission? What needs to happen for Albright in terms of growth, facilities?
LOM: We are exploring the way to “right-size” Albright. What
is the optimal number of students for our campus? How do we balance educational
quality, institutional size, facilities and revenue? We need to have
facilities commensurate with the quality of people and programs at Albright.
We have a wonderfully committed faculty. We have a wonderfully committed
staff. We have a lot of people working to provide the best possible programs
for the students we have. But we need to build a new science center,
that’s the first priority. We need to enhance the facilities
devoted to fitness and wellness. We need to continually upgrade classrooms
and other learning spaces and laboratories. After we build the new
science building, we will do a thorough renovation of the old Science
Hall. But the facilities serve a purpose. While we are enhancing the
physical plant, we need to keep our eye on the ball, and the ball is
that relationship between students and teachers so fundamental to what
we are and the teaching and learning that occurs in this kind of environment.
We want our facilities to support that.
I’d like to see us become more widely known and
better appreciated for the strengths that we have. I’d like to
see increasing diversity among our students – both racial, ethnic,
cultural but also geographic. I’d like to see them come from a
swath of American society and expand our geographic reach.
We want to continue to be seen as good partners with
the city of Reading and Berks County. This is our community and if we
are going to prosper we need to be in a place that is prospering. So
we will look for opportunities to partner with our neighbors.
“The college president’s
is to be the most visible
and effective advocate
for the college’s
values, needs and aspirations.”
– Lex O. McMillan III
A pressing need at many institutions like Albright
is to enhance what I call a “culture of gratitude.” As a
philanthropic institution, Albright depends heavily on the support of
alumni and friends for its future success. The seeds of such support
are sown on the campus, particularly for students during their four brief
years of residence. The president must lead this effort by fostering
in faculty, staff and students a spirit of thankfulness for the role
of philanthropy in their lives, for the gift of the college itself. There
is a reason that US News and World Reports uses alumni participation
as a measure of “alumni satisfaction.” It
is because there is a direct correlation between how colleges have
flourished and the level of support from alumni.
AR: What do you think
about the many pressing issues facing higher education today, such
as increasing affordability, and calls for colleges and universities
to be more accountable?
LOM: There are big issues. Everyone in higher education
is concerned about the ability of students to afford college. One reason
been competitive is because of our commitment to financial aid. We
make Albright affordable for our students. Last year we offered $16.25
million in aid to our students. Most of our students receive some form
As to accountability – we simply have to do a
better job of demonstrating to the public how effective we are. Although
we are private, we operate in the public interest. We enjoy a privileged
position as a tax-exempt institution, so we do have an obligation to
show that we are using that privilege wisely and well. It’s difficult
to feel you have to prove anything to anybody because we know our level
of commitment, but we have to use that position to demonstrate that what
we are doing is in the public interest. It’s clear that higher
education no longer enjoys the level of public confidence it once did.
That is part of where this cry for accountability comes from.
do colleges and universities work to regain that public confidence?
LOM: I think some in the general public have a perception
of higher education that we have too narrow a scope. We need to be a
place where very different ideas can be voiced safely and without fear,
and sometimes that means very unpopular ideas. We ought to be a place
where these ideas can be voiced and not give anyone reason to think that
we protect only one set of ideas. That will do a lot toward increasing
public confidence in higher education. Our position is not to take a
to provide an educational environment where these matters can be
discussed in a civilized way. I like the idea of a forum, not necessarily
a debate but a conversation, with two folks who are interested in the
same problem or question. Let’s say stem cell research, for example.
a very hot topic. You get two well-informed people with different
takes who can speak with credibility. It can really enrich the educational
environment. At some events now you might get a handful of students
because a faculty member has required them to be there or they are
all persuaded this person is going to tell them the things they want
to hear. And so they come and say hooray for our side. That’s
not an educational experience. It is not advancing thought. We should
at least let them know there is another side, indeed many sides!
The demonizing of the opposition has
a devastatingly corrosive effect on the
body politic. These events can also be truly interdisciplinary with
faculty from different perspectives putting it all together.
other things are on your agenda for the first year?
LOM: One of the most important things I can do in my
first year is a lot of listening. I need
to learn the stories of Albright. I’ve already heard a lot of stories
and it’s been a lot of fun. I’m going to be on the road a
lot to get to know our alumni. But I’m also going to be on campus
as well, to get to know our students. I am blessed with a bright and
charming wife who has been my best friend and helpmate
for over 30 years. Dottie is my enthusiastic partner in meeting the obligations
and opportunities of the college presidency. The community of the college
is tremendously important to both of us, and we are committed to strengthening
the familial bonds of community that are essential to a residential,
liberal arts college.