Interview with Chatham President David Finegold, DPhil
On July 1, 2016, David L. Finegold, DPhil, became the 19th president in Chatham's 147-year history. Dr. Finegold has nearly 30 years of experience in higher education as a researcher, author, professor, academic dean, senior vice president and chief academic officer. Read more about Dr. Finegold and the presidential search process here.
A renowned scholar and educational innovator, Dr. Finegold has dedicated his career to education reform, the design of high-performance organizations, and extensive research on education and skill-creation systems around the world. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1985, and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he received his DPhil in Politics in 1992.
CG: Dr. Finegold, thank you for your time today. Can you tell me what your first impressions of Chatham were?
DF: They’ve been wonderful, really. First, I’m so impressed by the different campuses, the beauty of the historical Shadyside Campus, the arboretum, the tremendous architecture, and then the exciting new Eastside location, right next to Google in this growing high-tech part of the city. Then to get out to Eden Hall and see the huge promise there and the excitement of being the first campus of its kind in the country, maybe the world, as a home for the Falk School of Sustainability is just great.
The second thing is the people. Everyone has been so welcoming and friendly, from the trustees to the faculty to the students I’ve met. It feels like it will be an extremely welcoming community for myself and for Sue to come to.
The third thing is the level and rate of innovation. I’ve already learned about “Chatham Time” and been impressed by the number of things that the University’s been able to accomplish and how quickly they’ve been done. Having been at big universities like Rutgers and USC, the idea of transforming the whole structure of the university, going coed, changing gen-ed requirements, all at the same time, are things we still would have been planning at those universities, much less having done them all at once. I’m very impressed by that level of taking things on.
I see my role in these first few years as less about charting major new changes in direction than about seeing through some of those key things that have been initiated so that we can really capitalize on those. ”
CG: What was it about Chatham that attracted you to this position?
DF: Certainly all the things I just mentioned were big attractors. That willingness to take on new challenges and to continually innovate is a real fit with the things I’ve done in my career. The other thing I liked about Chatham is that I’ve always thought that if I had the opportunity to lead a college or university, I’d like to do it at a place the size of Chatham, where it’s possible to get to know all of the faculty and staff and to get to really interact with the students. At a large university these days that’s very hard for a president to do.
CG: Looking back at your career, what experiences would you say have best prepared you to be president at Chatham?
DF: I’ve had a chance throughout my career to focus on promoting inclusion, access, and true equality for students of all types. For example, when I led the School for Management and Labor Relations, we were one of the national leaders on issues around diversity. We had a Center for Women and Work, and we were the host of the Gender Parity Council, which was an innovative organization that New Jersey set up to try to ensure things like equal pay for equal work.
At Rutgers, Douglass College went coed, and we had a lot of the same concerns that I know many students and alumnae have had here at Chatham. I’ve been able to hear those very legitimate concerns but also to see the huge benefits for young women that came about thanks to that transition and the fact that we could still be known as a place that’s a champion for gender equality and for looking at issues around women in all aspects of work. I think we can do the very same things here.
“One of the things I hope we’ll be doing at Chatham is focusing on lifelong learning, opportunities for people to engage with us and find that they can continually refresh themselves.”
CG: What do you see as the top priorities for your first year?
DF: I see my role in these first few years as less about charting major changes in direction than about seeing through some of those key things that have been initiated so that we can capitalize on those. I would say there are three or four that are top on my list. One would be realizing the sustainability vision, and particularly finding the best ways to get the Eden Hall Campus to critical mass. So finding the best ways to do that, working with everyone to figure out the academic vision and how we get the resources for it — that will be one of the key things.
The second one is seeing through the reorganization of the Schools and undergrad education, completing the implementation of the new gen ed curriculum and the Chatham Plan; helping each of the Schools to realize its potential; and working with the faculty to put all that in place.
A third area where I think I can immediately add value is expanding the numbers of international students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Chatham has had a long history of being an international institution with the Global Focus program and creating opportunities for students and faculty to go abroad, but I think in terms of diversity of the student body there’s still a great deal of opportunity to add to that.
And the final thing is around engagement with our undergraduate alumnae and graduate alumni. I’d like to get out to meet, visit, and talk with them. How can we serve our alumni better? How we can help someone be a mentor, offer an internship, hire a graduate, or connect people to an issue they’re passionate about – say sustainability, or health and wellness, where Chatham has so many exciting things going on?
CG: What do you consider to be the role of higher education today?
DF: That’s a big question. I believe that anybody, regardless of financial circumstance, ought to have the ability to go to their best-fit college or university, and as they benefit throughout their career, they can pay that back. Having a degree in today’s knowledge economy is increasingly the minimum you need for a successful career, and we’re seeing that it’s not enough to get that first degree; you’re probably going to have to go back over the course of your life to get another degree or perhaps shorter continuing education. One of the things I hope we’ll be doing at Chatham is focusing on lifelong learning, opportunities for people to engage with us and find that they can continually refresh themselves.