Meet Stetson's new president
Wendy Libby has led Stephens College, the nation's second oldest college for women, for six years. Come July, she'll become the first female president of Stetson University in its 125-year history. On Friday, she visits the College of Law in Gulfport. She spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about her views and herself while waiting to catch a flight from Missouri to Florida.
Why did you decide to leave Stephens and come to Stetson?
This has been clearly the most bittersweet decision I have ever had to make in my career. Stetson is a phenomenally attractive opportunity, but Stephens has been a real emotional and professional home for us for six years. I think that the opportunity to take a university like Stetson that believes so firmly in academic excellence and the transformation in the lives of its students is just something that I don't want to miss leading. And there are some special challenges that all universities have right now, economically providing access and affordability to their students, attracting and retaining faculty. These are things I've had experience with. And I think I can make a difference with Stetson University in that way.
What do you see as Stetson's major needs right now?
Stetson has distinguished itself across the country for the fine academic program and the way it changes the lives of its students. It's got a great law school. What we really want to do is make sure everything we do is excellent, whether it be our teaching, our athletic program, the provision of services to our students. And that's a real challenge with the economy that we're facing and we're going to be facing for the next year or so. We want to make sure that in everything we do, we do it well so we can have pride in it.
Are there special programs or ideas that you want to bring to the school?
I think the most important thing that I do is I start by listening to the people who have invested so many years of their lives there and see what their dreams are, and then see how we can make choices to make a difference. I don't come with a set package of programs that I'm bound and determined must be put in place.
There's a law school and the separate campuses. Do you have different ideas about how each one fits?
I think the key for me is I really want all of the campuses to have a strong, strong identity with Stetson University. There are strengths at every place that can benefit every other place. One of the reasons I am headed to Tampa (on Thursday) is so I can go to the Gulfport campus (on Friday) to help them to see my enthusiasm for how the College of Law fits in with the entire university.
What do you think that people should know about you?
Well, I think they should know I have a sense of humor. I have a lot of courage to help people come to making right choices for the future. And I will listen to their opinions and be very inclusive in how we move the institution ahead.
So you have a sense of humor. Can they play some practical jokes on you when you get there?
(Laughs) Sure. Sometimes when things are at their darkest and the choices seem to be really, really hard, that's when you have to pull back the lens a little bit and laugh and relieve the tension. I think that's what my sense of humor is more than having practical jokes played on me.
And as far as your courage for standing up for things, can you give me an example?
Without fail, the most important thing to stand up for is to have the best you can have in the academic programs. When there are financial concerns, that can be really hard. But the university will not have a chance to move forward if it stands for anything less than outstanding academics.
So there won't be any scaling back of that attitude even if there has to be a scaling back of the finances?
No. You don't scale back and make things mediocre. You make choices.
What do you see as one tough choice that lies ahead?
I feel like I'm repeating myself, and I apologize for that. But I don't think we know what the financial landscape is going to look like, and so we're going to have to make choices to prosper with very tough financial times, where students and their parents will find it increasingly difficult to invest in education. But really, there's never been a better investment in the world than in education. So it's very clear that we have to help them to make that decision.