[Editor’s Note: Lesley’s current president, Joseph B. Moore, has announced he will retire at the end of the 2015-2016 academic year, after nine years. Reporter Chris Anderson sat down with him to look back on his years at Lesley and to discuss his accomplishments.]
Looking back at a career at Lesley that spanned for nine years, can you talk about the person you were coming into your Presidency, and how Lesley has affected you personally?
Well first of all, I spent most of my career in public higher education, so coming to a private university was a big transition for me. What it’s done for me is given me an exposure to a different type of institution, and stressed the importance of leadership. Leadership, not just in the President’s office, but how leadership can pervade throughout the institution throughout different levels; leaderships in offices, programs, departments, academic leadership, staff, and the role of the board. Everything is more tightly wound in a private institution. I think another factor to take note of is that I served as President during the Recession. It really affected me as I thought about who has access to higher education. That’s become a greater challenge and now more of my time is spent trying to figure out, as the middle class diminishes, how traditional higher education is going to respond to the needs of a more diverse population. I also wonder, with a growth in income inequality, how are we going to shape ourselves as an institution. I think that’s been a powerful experience for me, trying to think that out with colleagues.
For the average student reading this, can you give some insight into the less publicized tasks that demonstrate what it takes to be President of a university?
I think you need to understand how higher education institutions work, which means there’s an experiential base to this, which a lot of successful presidents have. A critical question I ask is, “Do you think of yourself as a CEO or an educator?” Sometimes you have to make a choice between the two, and it’s not always the same choice so experience is a necessary. In this day and age, you must be familiar with the finer details of higher education finance. Otherwise, you will not be successful. You need to be open to both change that you think should happen and change that may surprise you. With that change, you need to get involved with both, which can be a challenge for everyone. The other piece is that you need to be an academic in the following way: read broadly about what’s going on in higher education in order to put into context your own institution. I do that by reading broadly, but also trying to talk to people both in and out of higher education about the trends that I think are affecting higher education. I do that and share it with colleagues here so that we can make sure we are moving forward in the optimal direction. It’s a combination of experience, intellectual engagement, and emotional engagement. If you want to do a job like this, you have to like, it because it is all-encompassing.
So over the course of these nine years is there a goal or accomplishment during your career that sticks out to you?
Not one thing, because what happens when you’re a President leaving is that you’ll get disproportionate credit for things that require the work of a lot of people. This is because they often associate it with you. But for me, there’s a heading under which I can put some things, which is trying to create a more unified Lesley University, while retaining our attention and focus to specific programs within the four schools. I hope that means that the name Lesley University means more than it did nine years ago. LUCAD moving to Porter Square signified not only trying to get the brand right, but to also get the location correct. Our integration into the neighborhood adds a lot of value to the university. Also, the variety of ways that we deliver courses. Lesley offers low residency graduate programs, online courses, a partnership with Bunker Hill, and internships. I think the diversity of what I call delivery models through which students call learn, is a real richness here; it’s a complexity, but overall it’s a huge benefit to this university. I hope that we’ve tried to support that and develop those during my time here at Lesley. I think it’s very important for the future of the university.
As President of the University, how has the culture of the student body impacted you?
The degree in which students influence the people that work at a university, is something that’s not talked about enough. There are student stories that are so amazing, it makes whatever challenge I’m having look like nothing. Frankly, many of these stories are not even familiar to the vast majority of students. Whether I am interacting with threshold students, traditional undergraduate students, adults that are coming back to get a degree, there are phenomenal stories. I’ve also benefitted from the stories of alumni; women, ninety to one-hundred years old who told me their stories of coming to Lesley during the 20’s and 30’s, and taking multiple trains to get here for classes from Monday to Saturday. I find that I am constantly surprised and frankly humbled, by the effort that a lot of students and their families make in order to get a college education. I think the other piece for me, and I hope that any educator would agree with this, is that as we age to be constantly surrounded by younger people gives you a sense of energy and enthusiasm that a lot of places can’t match. I enjoy being around younger people. When we added the Brattle Campus, some people thought the President’s office should be in the location’s nice house. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to stay in the center of the traditional campus, so I could see the young people more often. That’s what keeps me engaged in my work. So I’ve heard a lot of specific things from students in terms of my interactions with them, and how kindly they’ve interacted with me. This spans across the whole university from the arts, to student government, to community service, to athletics, and to individual student situations.
There’s going to be a time when someone new sits in this office. If you could offer them any insight or advice, what would it be?
First, share the passion that people have for the mission of this place. Number two, communicate as much as you can do about the mission of this place, and what you and your colleagues are doing here. But I think the communication piece is really critical here at Lesley. People want to know as much as possible about what’s being thought, what’s being planned, and what’s going on. I don’t mean just from the President, but throughout the university people generally want to know what’s cooking. I think if my successor has that inclination, gets the support of colleagues to do that, and get other colleagues to do it as well, then the odds of Lesley’s success goes up.
What is it about retirement that entices you the most?
There are a few things. I’ve been in the ‘biz’ now for forty years. The last twenty have been as provost and two presidencies, so number one is controlling my own schedule. The thought of being able to choose how I want to spend my time is particularly appealing to me. Secondly, there have been things intellectually that I want to pursue, and the notion of having the time to do that is attractive. Third, is the simple matter of fact that I will have more time for family and friends. So, I am looking forward to seeing what it’s like but I am trying to get out of a highly prescribed, scheduled phase of my life. I want to see how I can operate with choice.
Any last words for the Lesley community?
I’m not a big fan of the dramatic statements. I often joke that if the President gets hit by a bus and is done, classes still meet and sporting events still take place. Life goes on for the vast majority of people. If that happened to a faculty member, we got a problem (laughs). It’s not false modesty, it’s just the way it works. The institution will still continue. So, you hope that you’ve done the right thing for that stage of that institution, and that the next person that comes in can move it to the next level by working well with everybody. But nobody ever does that stuff alone. I do think it’s a very special university in terms of its design, how it’s evolved over the years, and the role it can play as higher education becomes more bureaucratic, too expensive, and runs the risk of becoming dissociated from the vast majority of people who can’t afford its services. I think Lesley has got an inclination to fight a good fight on that. I hope that it continues to engage in the tensions that come from trying be a little bit different and more reflective. I also hope that whatever its form looks, that it always stay true to its non-profit educational mission. It will require some radical thinking over the next twenty years because these trends that we are dealing with are very tough. When I look at other schools, I don’t think they have a chance to make much of an impact. This place still does.