Leaving for Elizabethtown: Dean departs College for president position


    The nine o’clock hour approaches as College of William and Mary students take their seats in the tiered Blow Memorial Hall classroom. One by one, notebooks and laptops emerge from zippered book bags, and students turn to each other in conversation. Within minutes, however, their chatting and occasional laughter subside as the professor initiates a discussion: “How do we identify ourselves and others?” he asks. And so begins another insightful global history class taught by Carl Strikwerda, who will soon vacate his current post as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to become the president at Elizabethtown College.

    “I am going to miss a lot of things about William and Mary,” Strikwerda said. “I am leaving a lot of great people behind. [But I look forward to] the satisfaction of helping faculty and moving an institution forward.”

    A native of Grand Rapids, Mich., Strikwerda joined the College faculty in July 2004 after a 17 year tenure at the University of Kansas. By that point, he had already established himself as a reputable historian and professor of modern European history. Indeed, it was his passion for history that led him to enroll in graduate school at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan and, ultimately, to teach at Hope College, State University of New York: Purchase, University of California: Riverside and his undergraduate alma mater, Calvin College.

    His interest in academic administration, however, did not arise until 1998, when he was appointed Associate Dean of the Arts and Sciences at Kansas.

    “When you are a faculty member, you not only have time, but you are actually encouraged to be focused on things — you are focused on research … or when you are teaching, you are really focused on creating the course, teaching the course, and working with the students,” he explained. “The change to being an administrator, and why a lot of faculty find it very difficult to make that switch, is that it is all about multitasking.”

    Fortunately for Strikwerda, who was in the process of publishing his three books, the “switch” proved effortless.

    “I think I have been as good at it as I have because I am a little bit of a restless person, and I don’t mind multitasking,” he said. “In some ways, I almost work a little better multitasking … and as an administrator, that is all you do.”

    Strikwerda found this new administrative experience “intriguing and satisfying” and soon transferred to the College to use his skills as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Within a few years, he expanded the foreign language faculty to include six new full-time professors, helped redesign a global studies degree program for Arts and Sciences, established the Center for Geospatial Analysis, all while generating funding for the Faculty-Student Research Initiative. He also improved the Scheduled Semester Research Leave program to award semester or year-long sabbaticals to more professors.

    In spite of his extensive work at the College, he is most fond of his time spent working with faculty.

    “Both hiring and encouraging faculty, and promoting them, and helping them develop ideas about courses, and making research move forward — it’s just very satisfying to work with such a great faculty base,” he said. “They have more ideas than I can fund at any one time, but that’s actually probably a good thing — they are just so innovative and creative.”

    But none of his accomplishments would have been possible without the help of a “great team.”

    “I have a great group of both budget officers and what we call ‘contact deans’ to help,” Strikwerda said. “I think we have accomplished a lot and moved Arts and Sciences forward, but of course, there [is] still lots to do.”

    Now his time at the College is drawing to a close, and in August, Strikwerda will replace Theodore E. Long as president of Elizabethtown College, a small liberal arts school in Lancaster County, Penn. Established in 1899 by the Church of the Brethren, “E-Town” as it has been nicknamed, is a co-ed institution that boasts 56 majors, a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a mission to “educate for service.” Among its most notable attributes is its Ware Series on Peacemaking and Social Justice, which is, according to Strikwerda, an “endowed colloquium where they bring in Nobel Peace Prize winners.”

    Even though the formal search process took approximately one month, he had been considering a change prior to his first interview in November.

    “Even though I love William and Mary a lot, in some ways, just personally … Just looking forward to the last part of my career, I was thinking, ‘What have I enjoyed most at William and Mary?’ and I think it’s helping [out with] undergraduate education,” he said. “There’s more ability to just interact with the faculty and the students. This is a pretty demanding job; and I didn’t want to stay in it too long and not be fresh anymore … but I still wanted to have another administrative fling, if you will. And so I thought [joining a] small college that’s really focused on undergraduate education would be kind of satisfying to me, if it were one that [was] doing a lot of what I had worked on here — student-faculty research, international studies, civic engagement.”

    With its commitment to undergraduate education, service, and global studies, Elizabethtown College seemed to be the perfect fit. He has already enjoyed working with Elizabethtown’s staff and looks forward to the opportunity “to do some new things” for the college.

    Until then, however, Strikwerda will continue to teach — his first love in the world of academia. Inspired by his own professors, he hopes students come away with a better understanding of how past events affect the globalized world we live in today.

    “I have always loved history,” he said. “[It is] satisfying to be a college professor like the college professors I had, who influenced me … just about the world and life and just helping me understand how the world worked. I want to be able to give that to other students.”