After 10 years, seven buildings and 3,597 graduates, President S. Georgia Nugent announced on Monday that she will be stepping down at the close of the 2012-2013 academic year. Interviewed shortly after her announcement, she said it was a decision three years in the making. “I just kind of had a philosophical feeling that 10 years is a good amount of time to lead an organization,” Nugent told the Thrill. “My idea was that any leader comes with strengths and biases and blind spots and they do what they can do best and … after about 10 years … it makes sense for the organization to have different leadership.”
Her announcement comes after a tumultuous summer during which Nugent faced criticism over the administration’s decision to outsource Kenyon’s maintenance operations to a private firm. (That plan has been tabled pending the conclusion of the newly-formed Maintenance Management Advisory Panel.) But she said the controversy had no bearing on her decision to step down. “I understand that that will probably be a prediction, but that’s a wrong perception. What I would say is that throughout my tenure, there have been decisions that have been difficult or unpopular and that’s a normal thing in the course of an institution and a chief executive.”
As for the commute between Gambier and New York City, where Nugent’s husband, Thomas Scherer, serves as senior vice president and general counsel at Chartis, Inc. (a division of AIG), Nugent said it wasn’t a factor. “The College has been great. I love the College. … I think a lot about the structure and the leadership of organizations, and I just had a longstanding view that organizations need kind of cyclical change.”
Before arriving in Gambier in July 2003, Nugent was Dean of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton University, her alma mater. Early in her Kenyon term, she founded the Presidential Advisory Communications Team (PACT), which opened a dialogue between administrators and employees. Her other early laurels include her involvement with the Amethyst Initiative, a coalition of over 100 college presidents working to lower the drinking age, and founding the Gambier Child Care Center.
And, of course, there are her buildings. The Kenyon Athletic Center, the renovated Peirce Hall and the Gund Gallery are among the seven buildings that opened during Nugent’s presidency. And many of them were made possible by Nugent’s “We Are Kenyon” capital campaign, the most successful in the College’s history.
She also found time to teach. A professor of classics at Swarthmore College, Cornell University and Brown University, Nugent offered a host of classics courses at Kenyon, including an advanced look at Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Her name will live on, too. Last spring, the S. Georgia Nugent Award in Creative Writing, a scholarship prize, was made possible by a $1 million gift from an anonymous member of the Kenyon Review Board of Trustees.
In her final year, Nugent hopes to further her goal of making Kenyon more affordable. “I was a total scholarship kid,” she said, noting that she was a first-generation college student, “and my own contribution to Kenyon’s campaign was to establish a scholarship with first-generation students” (Nugent gave $100,000 to the Hannah More Scholarship fund). “That’s probably something that I’d like to look more at, and maybe as I depart that’s something I can do more of.”
Plans to select a successor have not been finalized, but Nugent hopes, at least, to play an auxiliary role. “I would want to share [with the search committee] what I’ve learned about being here and what works and what doesn’t work and the values of this community,” she said.
Mum’s the word on Nugent’s post-Kenyon plans. She still has over a year left in her term as Chair of the Board of the Council of Independent Colleges. In addition, Nugent serves on the Board of Trustees of the American University in Sharjah, which is located in the United Arab Emirates.
As for her last year in Gambier, “I think in many ways my objective is for it not to feel very different,” Nugent said. “I just want to see the College moving forward.” But it will also be a celebratory year, she said. “A lot of great stuff has happened in the last decade.”
Additional reporting by David McCabe