KSC leader leaves college for Washington State University Vancouver
On the afternoon of Monday, April 16, Keene State College Provost Emile Netzhammer casually walked into the Mountain View Room, which was lined with chairs and filled with faculty, staff and students of all kinds. He began talking about theater to a few women in the middle of the room, and although he was about to deliver his last lecture, it was immediately clear that KSC had become a home to him during his six years here.
During the lecture, called “The Last Lecture” modeled off of Randy Pausch’s famous last lecture before his death, Netzhammer was asked to think about what he would say to a group of students if it was his last opportunity. He emphasized the importance of self-identity and how individuals use those identities to create their own world views.
He said because he grew up in the segregated South and the influence of his parents, who brought him to anti-Vietnam demonstrations when he was a child helped him be very conscious of his own actions.
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“It’s sort of this sense of schizophrenia,” he said. “I’ve always thought of myself as two people, and I think this has been a critically important thing in being aware.”
He joked that at KSC, he’s always thought of himself as the provost, and the mini-me version of himself constantly checking on his decisions.
Senior Dayna Coleman was previously unaware of his experiences with race, but found them very interesting. “Mel Netzhammer is one of my favorite leaders on campus, I wanted to hear what he had to say,” she said. “I never knew he had so much experience with race.”
He said this has been incredibly important during the past several months, while the college has been undergoing lots of self evaluation. He said that regardless of how small the decision, each action taken on this campus ultimately has a rippling effect. “Keene State College is a very complex institution with competing interests,” Netzhammer said. He pointed out that although the college had a positive goal in increasing tenure track faculty, by adding 25 positions, this had the unintended consequence of cutting adjunct faculty sections by 150. “Communication becomes the most important thing,” he said in order to try to determine all effects of decisions made.
Ultimately, he said that despite the competing interests on campus, the students must be the center of the conversation. “Every time we have to make these tough decisions, I remind myself that this is all about the students and we can’t lose sight of that,” he said. Jen Ferrell, the director of student involvement, noted Netzhammer’s emphasis that change is natural, but “the idea that change is sort of inevitable and people always react.”
Netzhammer joked about professors never having left college, but said this is because of their passion for learning, which should be preserved after graduation. “Every moment of our lives is an opportunity to learn something that we didn’t know, either about ourselves or our world,” Netzhammer said.
He also differentiated between authority bestowed on leaders and the influence they have, noting that good leaders are important but have a very delicate task.
“As you move into leadership positions, you need to be careful to understand that authority and influence are not the same thing,” he said. “There are two ways to respond to a situation: intellectually and emotionally. And I think great leaders do both.”
Alex Brown, the director of Greek Life and student leadership, organized the event in order to “pick his brain” about what types of leadership experiences Netzhammer has had at KSC. “I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the last lecture,” Brown said. “How he’s taken those experiences and tied them to the campus really stood out.”
Netzhammer noted the student leadership at KSC and the student body’s ability to rally behind efforts that are important to him, something he says is important and unique to the generation. “The way students have pulled together in tragedy is really terrific,” he said. “There’s nothing more wonderful than students taking an interest in their own learning. They want to be a part of this community and the community at large, and they’re willing to stand up and demand that.”
As for his position as Chancellor of Washington State University at Vancouver, Netzhammer’s both excited and nervous. He said the college has only 18 programs, 14 campus buildings and roughly 3,000 students, and is working on building itself from the ground up.
“When we discussed in my interview history, there simply wasn’t,” he said laughing. “This is completely daunting and I don’t know what they saw in me except energy maybe.”
Despite his departure, Netzhammer hopes the best for KSC and is proud of the accomplishments of the past six years. “My greatest hope is that we continue down the path that we’ve walked for the past six years,” he said.
Allie Bedell can be contacted at