Julie Conlon

Equinox Staff


In the days following Emile Netzhammer’s announcement to end his six years as provost of Keene State College, Wesley Martin, associate professor of political science, explained his reaction to the news with a childhood memory.

“It’s a corny metaphor, but I do remember my father holding onto the back of my bicycle when I was learning to ride without training wheels. At some point, he had to let go.”

With the announcement of President Helen Giles-Gee’s departure from KSC coinciding with Provost Netzhammer’s appointment as Chancellor of Washington State University Vancouver, the professor looked to the future of KSC with wary hesitation.

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Martin commented on the upcoming interregnum period before KSC hires a permanent provost and said the college cannot afford to “coast” when it hires an interim.

“There is a good deal of trepidation on part of the people on campus who have worked with Mel on a couple of projects,” Martin explained. “It would be a pity if these things can’t run on their own in his absence.”

Martin continued the bicycle metaphor when he warned some KSC programs may waver with the potential to fail in the absence of Netzhammer.

Martin stated, “It may be that Mel has held the back of our bicycle seat on several programs on this campus, and he has to let go,” he said. “I see some (programs) wobbling and falling. That’s my hunch.”

Emile Netzhammer arrived at KSC in July 2006 as the college’s first provost.

Upon his arrival, Netzhammer gathered a sense of what the campus community expected in a provost.

“My sense was that people were interested in reaffirming, or as some said, reestablishing, the importance of academics on campus,” Netzhammer said.

He said, “It was that idea that the academic mission of the institution would permeate throughout the institution and I would get to be the leader of that, that was absolutely thrilling to me.”

Netzhammer commented on the formation of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies major as a significant accomplishment for the college during his time as provost.

On the program Netzhammer said, “It has a national importance and national visibility that really serves our campus, and it every day reaffirms our commitment to the importance of the liberal arts in the work we do.”

Kim Schmidl-Gagne, program coordinator to the provost, spoke further on Netzhammer’s accomplishments in relation to the recent creation of KSC’s nursing program.

“Mel charged (Dean of Professional and Graduate Studies) Melinda Treadwell and I with creating the best nursing program in the state,” Schmidl-Gagne explained. “We are a public liberal arts college and we need to be able to respond to the public good and public need, and nursing fulfills that.”

Netzhammer echoed Scmidl-Gagne and stated the nursing program as an answer to the public need in terms of the workforce and development of the Monadnock region.

“What does that mean when we say we need to serve the public?” Netzhammer prompted. “Well, there is huge need for nurses, and in my view, liberally educated nurses. So the idea that we would bring in a nursing program is absolutely consistent with our commitment to being a public liberal arts college. And the fact that we would bring in a masters program in occupational health and safety is absolutely important for serving the needs of our state,” he continued.

Netzhammer said, in his opinion, the combination of these two programs strengthened the campus and increased the identity of the college as the premiere public liberal arts college in the state of New Hampshire.

Another noteworthy accomplishment and answer to the public need is KSC’s participation in the American Democracy Project, a development Netzhammer initiated in 2008.

The project began in 2003 as a plan of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) in partnership with ”The New York Times.” Martin and Patrick Dolenc, chair of the economics  and political science department, head the American Democracy Project (ADP) at KSC.

Defined by Martin and Dolenc, ADP is a project aimed to “develop models of effective educational initiatives that teach students and the public about the fiscal crisis that confronts the American democracy and that empowers them to solve that crisis.”

Provost Netzhammer commented on KSC’s participation in ADP and referred to the KSC motto “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.”

Netzhammer said, “Citizenship is much broader than being a great worker and being able to be marketable in a career.”

Netzhammer explained ADP trains students to become civic leaders and engaged citizens.

“ADP reopens that door and it says part of what we need to be about in higher education is creating students who are civically aware and civically engaged;  who see part of their responsibility as adults as being engaged in their communities, and in thinking about the problems that our region, their cities, their hometowns, their countries, are facing,” the Provost said.

“This is a very complex world, and we want to graduate students who have a sense of commitment to addressing those issues.”

Schmidl-Gagne said Netzhammer’s inclination to join the project served as an example of his future oriented vision for the college.

“He’s always looking for ways to get the student’s voices heard and always trying to excite people about things.”

She continued on ADP, “He’s really put us on the cutting edge with that.”

Dottie Morris, chief officer of diversity and multiculturalism, said Netzhammer’s vision of the future competes as a highlight in addition to his academic accomplishments.

“I think a lot of what he brought was a new era in how academic affairs would function,” Morris said.

“The foundation was pretty strong, and I think he brought a different kind of dimension to the academic affairs and what we could become. He built on the foundation.”

Morris said that for an individual to lead, he or she must understand the past and current situation to make decisions about the future.

Morris said of Netzhammer, “He’s right on top of what’s the next trend, what’s the next thing coming up, and he starts thinking about it, but he stays present. He thinks about how we can better serve students and the world they’ll be living in the future.”

Similarly, Student Body President Colin Daly said Netzhammer created a college with a drive towards the future.

“I think with his role he’s done a very good job making the college forward thinking. He’s very progressive, especially when it comes to the technological aspects.”

On the subject of moving ahead in the use of technology at KSC, Netzhammer stated his view as being one where the college must meet its students where the students can learn.

The Provost said, “We need to teach in a way that is going to help them learn effectively, and that means, in a lot of ways, we have to move the focus from teaching to learning.”

Netzhammer continued, “We need to understand technology, to use technology, to support student learning, and to reach our students in new and very creative ways. And so that’s where I come from. That’s why my vision of higher education has such a strong technology focus to it.”

It is this vision of Netzhammer’s that instilled confidence in many KSC educators as they anticipate the college’s future in the absence of the Provost.

Melinda Treadwell, dean of Professional and Graduate Studies, said Netzhammer served as a mentor to her when she entered the role of dean in 2008.

Treadwell expressed no concern for the future of the college, assured a solid team remains until a permanent provost takes over.

Treadwell said, “A great testament to good leadership both from our President and our Provost is they’ve established good leadership structures.”

Netzhammer stated, “It wasn’t Helen’s vision, it wasn’t Mel’s vision, it was a shared vision that the community came together, and Helen and I just had the honor to be able to be the leaders. I have great confidence that KSC is in good shape and that this community will absolutely continue to thrive.”

Treadwell explained she too remains certain the academic integrity of the college will not falter with Netzhammer’s departure.

“It is scary to think what momentum might be lost because (Netzhammer) is such an energetic leader and they are big shoes to fill,” she said.

Treadwell went on to explain the Provost and President invested their time and resources in building a future that remains sustainable without their presence.

“No one person should be the pin that holds everything together,” Treadwell said.

Morris agreed.

“I’m secure in understanding that there are situations that set up because of the shared governance, because of so many things, that we will be able to stand the course because of the academic plan we have.”

Morris continued, “I’m not concerned. There is a firm foundation upon which we can continue to stand and grow as a result of the way he led. That’s the beauty of Keene State–that so many things are synchronized, and it becomes a beautiful dance.”

The Provost correspondingly said, “I think the college is in great shape. I do think that part of what Helen and I brought to the campus was a commitment that leadership is not invested in a single individual–that leadership is invested in every individual and that good leaders support other leaders and bring those leadership qualities out in them.”

Dr. Nona Fienberg, dean of arts and humanities, said Netzhammer is the ultimate “definition of a good boss.”

Dr. Fienberg said, “He’s been an amazing provost. He’s one of those bosses that you know trusts you, that you know will support you, that you know believes in your ability to do the job you’ve been asked to do.”

Dr. Fienberg commented further on Netzhammer’s characteristics and said the Provost not only makes working alongside him a learning experience, but a fun time, too.

“He’s great fun,” the Dean said. “He’s fabulous fun. In the Academic Affair Council we’re always laughing uproariously.”

Treadwell likewise added, “He’s just a funny guy. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is just a warm, energetic person. He’s fun to work with and he’s fun to work for.”

Schmidl-Gagne said, “I wish he didn’t have to go, but I certainly understand. Washington is very lucky!”

Professor Martin added, “He’s a complex person, and so I think we are a better institution. I think that we have gotten to be better people and better teachers as a result of his character and his informed, very judicious administration.”

Treadwell said, “He’s changed all of us who’ve worked with him. He’s given us all confidence that we’ll be okay—we’ll stabilize it. We owe it to him and his legacy that no one feels his loss other than those who worked most closely to him and won’t have his leadership, we’ll hold it together.”


Julie Conlon can be contacted at jconlon@keene-equinox.com






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