Though bittersweet, the announcement that President Helen Giles-Gee and Provost Emile Netzhammer will be leaving Keene State College to pursue other positions has provided the campus community a period to reflect on the state of the college.
At a forum aimed at gaining feedback from the campus community held on Friday, April 30, University System of New Hampshire Chancellor Edward MacKay noted the values that Giles-Gee and Netzhammer have instilled in the college.
“We’ve all been very fortunate to work with Helen and Mel,” he said. “KSC stands for knowledge, service, and community. They understand the mission of the college. They embrace it. They love it.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Andy Robinson was saddened to hear of Giles-Gee and Netzhammer’s departure, but has reflected on what they’ve had to offer KSC. “They will both be missed,” Robinson said. “The happy coincidence that we’ve had them both here at the same time has been a wonderful advantage.”
He said Giles-Gee and Netzhammer have been essential in making KSC what it is today. He credits their initiatives for the successes of KSC over their tenure.
“This is long-term change in not only the way we work, but in our attitude,” he said. “They both had the ability to push and pull Keene State and help us believe in ourselves that we can be a quality public institution.”
Robinson said this idea of a quality public institution is important because too often public institutions become complacent, and don’t always provide the best available to their students.
Nona Fienberg, the dean of arts and humanities, was also saddened by the news, but is looking at the bigger picture. “It’s an unusual but certainly not unprecedented piece of timing where two outstanding academic leaders have developed the kind of national credentials that a very high level of academic institutions have sought them out,” she said. “It’s, in a way, a recognition of the enhancement of Keene State College’s place on the national scene. People around the country know Keene State.”
Gordon Leversee, the dean of sciences and social sciences, has seen this national awareness as well.
“One of the strengths that both Helen and Mel have had is that they’ve both been very national advocates of higher education,” he said.
Like Robinson, Fienberg too has seen cultural and educational transformations across the campus during their time here, calling Netzhammer a team leader and Giles-Gee indefatigable. She said they both were dedicated to articulating the message and mission of the college and meeting the necessary people for support. “They’ve both been wonderful supporters of our mission and values,” Fienberg said.
Professor Paul Vincent, who chairs the Holocaust and genocide studies program, said he was shocked upon hearing the news.
“Like most of my colleagues, I was stunned the day of the President’s announcement,” he said.
Despite the initial sadness, he said after reflecting for a few days, he realized how flattering this is for the college as a whole.
“This is a much better school because of the president and provost than it was seven years ago,” he said. Vincent also said the institution as a whole has grown and become more academically inclined. “When I got here in ‘85, the library was hardly ever used.”
He continued, saying that it’s an honor that our staff have been selected for positions at other schools, explaining that because KSC is such a model nationwide, other schools see hiring Giles-Gee and Netzhammer as a way to improve their own institutions.
Giles-Gee and Netzhammer’s resignations hit particularly close to home for Vincent; the Holocaust and genocide studies program was created three years ago under their leadership.
In just three years, he said the major has 25 to 30 majors and is still growing. As of July 1, it will become a department, not just a program. Vincent’s not concerned about the future of the program, crediting the continuing interest and endowed chair position as benefits to its continued success, despite leadership changes.
Looking forward, KSC administrators aren’t worried about where KSC is heading.
“This gives the institution a chance to take stock of where we are and where we want to be,” Robinson said. For example, he noted the Academic Excellence Conference which happened last weekend. “That’s the kind of thing we look at and say this really rewards students and shows the pluses.”
He said that in addition to being able to evaluate the college’s current position, a new president and provost will be able to come in with new ideas and enthusiasm to continue to push KSC to excellence.
“We’re really full speed ahead academically,” Robinson said.
According to Robinson, both Giles-Gee and Netzhammer began initiatives to continue to strengthen KSC academically, none of which will disappear after a new president has been appointed. He said he doesn’t expect students to see anything different. Fienberg agreed, saying that the shared values of Giles-Gee and Netzhammer will be continued through the new leadership.
“Students should not feel anxious,” Fienberg said. “It is very important for students to understand the college has a very strong structure.”
Although there’s a level of uncertainty about the open positions, Vincent said he is not concerned and he is sure the right decisions for the college will be made. “I think we have some very fine leadership on campus that can steward us through the interim,” he said. “I’m not worried.”
Allie Beddell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.