VOICES: A personal view of President Spiegler
Gerhard Ernst Spiegler, the first non-Brethren president of Elizabethtown College, died Monday, Aug. 24, after a brief illness. He served the College from 1985 to 1996, overseeing transformation of the campus and curriculum. This is a remembrance.
Like many others, I suspect, my relationship with President Spiegler was complicated. In his first year in office, 1985-86, he decided to change my employment status from a terminal contract to tenure-track. If not for him, I would not have received tenure and promotion to associate professor of political science at Elizabethtown. In his final year as president, 1995-96, I received a promotion to full professor and served in his administration as associate dean of faculty. I’ve been in academic administration ever since, so I owe my second career to his initial vote of confidence.
Working for President Spiegler was an interesting experience. I didn’t see him all that much, even though the associate dean’s office was down the hall from the president’s office on the first floor of Alpha Hall. He tended to work with a close circle of advisers, relying on weekly reports from those at the director level and above to keep informed. That’s right – weekly reports. Under President (Ted) Long, they became monthly and then quarterly reports. President (Carl) Strikwerda requires reports only prior to Board of Trustees meetings and an annual report. It was difficult to think of something to say each week to Dr. Spiegler. Sometimes my weekly reports were about the experience of writing a weekly report.
The general impression of President Spiegler around campus was that he was remote and austere. My few direct dealings with him were pleasant. He had a keen wit, a twinkling smile, and enjoyed good conversation. I will admit that the laughter was sometimes forced, since he was a serious man with serious things on his mind. He didn’t mind jokes at his expense. Seemingly out of nowhere in the early 1990s, a homemade publication called The Eclownian appeared with articles lampooning his administration. I’m told he enjoyed most of them, though he and everyone else wondered who the authors were. As far as I know, it’s still a campus secret.
There was one time his sense of humor was sorely tried. For some reason he decided that all Senior Staff members should have reserved parking spots. This did not go down well with the faculty, so a week later he decreed that there will be no reserved parking on campus. A faculty colleague decided to test the new policy, so he parked in the space normally reserved for the president. Dr. Spiegler was not pleased and, after a confrontation with the faculty member, the policy on reserved parking was slightly modified.
The Spiegler Presidency was consequential. There were the buildings – the High Library, Leffler Chapel, the Annenberg Center (now the home of the Jay’s Nest and Dining Services), and the Young Center. There were new programs such as Into the Streets, SDLCs, and the Pledge of Integrity. The endowment grew significantly, though it remained comparatively small.
Sometimes the president forced the action, other times he deferred to others. He made it clear the core program needed reform, tried to change it once by proposing a common humanities course, then pulled back and let the faculty develop the current model that includes the First-Year program and Areas of Understanding. A big change in which I was involved was the establishment of the Faculty Assembly. I don’t know how it happened, but as a junior faculty member, I chaired a committee whose purpose it was to reform campus governance. The governing body at the time was the Community Congress, a remnant of the 1960s that included the full-time faculty and the Student Senate. Not many took it seriously – the faculty didn’t show up but Student Senators were required to attend.
My committee decided the faculty role needed to be strengthened, so we proposed that the Community Congress be abolished and that an assembly of full-time faculty assume control of academic policies and professional life. The only trouble was that in order to make this happen, the Community Congress had to vote to abolish itself. You can imagine how that went. President Spiegler was convinced the new plan was right, however; so he took the proposed structure directly to the Board of Trustees and secured approval.
My final interaction with Dr. Spiegler was unfortunate. As associate dean in charge of faculty development, I had worked on an interdisciplinary program in which clusters of faculty members sat in each other’s classes and then developed interdisciplinary courses together. The model was promising, so we submitted it to the Council of Independent Colleges, which initiated a national grant program funded by the Pew Charitable Trust. In early 1996 we learned we were one of 25 institutions to be accepted into the grant program and President Spiegler was delighted. One week later, he announced his retirement. Because the conditions of the grant specified that the president of the college must be in place during the entirety of the program, CIC informed us we could not participate.
Thus, my work with Dr. Spiegler ended on an unhappy note. He never returned to campus after that spring, and I never got around to telling him how much his support over the years meant to me.
~ Fletcher McClellan
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Fletcher McClellan is dean of faculty and professor of political science. Prior to his present administrative position, he was associate dean of faculty, chair of the Department of Political Science, president of the Faculty Assembly, and interim provost. He arrived at the College in 1982.
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