While for most students the year is only nine weeks old, President Audrey Bilger has been hard at work for the last four months, toiling away in the summer months before students returned in late August. I reached out to President Bilger and Executive Director of Communications and Events Mandy Heaton to learn how Reed felt about Bilger’s first few months. They said Bilger has made an exquisite transition to Reed, and has begun getting to know the community. They drew attention to her leading the conversations that we have about ourselves and emphasized her commitment to the community, to alumni, to responsibilities, and to robust fundraising. As a scholar of literature, I can’t think of a more admirable way to get to know a community than by leading and listening to the conversations they have about themselves.
While Bilger has done a lot of good and has made a lot of people feel more stable, I would be remiss not to reference the higher-level staff departures. Dean of Faculty Nigel Nicholson, whose departure has been planned since before Audrey’s arrival, and Vice President for Student Life Mike Brody will both be leaving at the end of the year. All but one of the folks in the Office for Student Engagement have moved to other institutions, and the Assistant Dean for Inclusive Community has moved out of higher education entirely. Many of the reasons these people left are the same reasons that brought President Bilger to Reed. This is a time of change, and her presidency will be defined by who we are when the dust settles.
The HCC is in a similar state of instability. It will be remembered as the kind of mess that only happens when a larger problem is suddenly brought to the surface. While it had seemingly begun to stabilize, it was just announced that the Associate Dean of Health and Wellbeing, as well as the Director of Counseling, have both declined their positions only a few weeks before they were supposed to start. This is just the most recent in a string of HCC related blunders, the most notable being the large number of staff departures at the beginning of the year, accompanied by an email from Mike Brody. The staff departures ultimately culminated in the creation of the Students with Disabilities Coalition (SWDC). In keeping with tradition, some administrators, including Bilger and Mike Brody, met with the group to address concerns. However, the SWDC has expressed disappointment with the productivity of the meeting. Other students have regularly expressed concerns about being seen regularly at the HCC for mental health counseling services. While there have been five therapists and one telepsych counselor added to HCC roster, many students still have concerns about using HCC services in this time of strife. But large changes cannot happen until new staff have been hired.
We expect a lot from Bilger, but that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t strive to do it all. That’s why I assume the paycheck is as large as it is. The person who took the job was going to be saddled with a lot more than they could handle. Bilger’s job is impossible, so the question becomes what parts of the previously impossible will she work to achieve. We don’t ask why she can give us the things she is able to, but why her failures exist at all. In many ways her position exists to disappoint, but that doesn’t mean it will be constant, or even something you personally experience.
President Bilger is doing her best, and that best is excellent, but this job is impossibly large to a point where no one can do it in a way that makes everyone happy. That being said, Bilger can only do her version of the best as well as she can. That will fall short for some people because of the things she has decided to prioritize, while others will be disappointed that she isn’t doing enough in the areas where she has placed her efforts. Ultimately, Bilger hasn’t yet done anything to enrage students, and that will hopefully stand throughout her time here.
There has been a lot of celebrating and some important substance in the first few months of Bilger’s presidency, but I’m really looking forward to what comes next. Not the conversations Bilger has led, but those that she will. I have hope that she will buck the trend by continuing in the valuable work of the college and asking us questions about how we know ourselves.