On Friday, Feb. 8, just hours before she was announced as the next President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Dr. Joyce Jacobsen sat down for an interview with the Herald. In a wide-ranging interview, Jacobsen discussed how she learned about HWS, her cat Putters, and her academic career.
Dr. Joyce Jacobsen comes to HWS after 26 years at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut where she is an endowed chair in Economics and the Provost. As someone who comes from the faculty as well, Jacobsen is uniquely attuned to campus. “I was myself a student, and I’m a staff, and I’m an alum, and so being a faculty means I’ve really got it all covered now, while someone who comes in who wasn’t from the faculty, that’s not something they necessarily understand: faculty culture,” she said.
Faculty are a big contingent on campus, and hold quite a bit of sway over the majority of aspects relating to campus – more prominently: the academics. In recent years, there have been shake-ups within the administration and faculty that have fed into faculty worries. Jacobsen hopes to alleviate that: “I understand where they’re coming from, what the pressures are on faculty members nowadays – the pressures to be both an excellent teacher and an excellent scholar – the constraints on time being the most critical one … And it will make it easier for me to communicate with the faculty, as well as being interested in what they’re doing. I like to go all different kinds of lectures and events, and can talk with faculty across a number of fields from my years on the faculty and as Provost.”
As a professor of Economics, Dr. Jacobsen is used to thinking about “trade-offs … costs and benefits, and constraints, and multiple goals,” and then applying those to higher education as an administrator. She noted that she was “a problem solver” and loves to “analyze problems,” which also attracted her to the Colleges: “setting up processes by which we can solve problems more effectively at the Colleges.”
When discussing the finances of the Colleges, she imagined “a campaign that focuses on building the endowment, with a focus on financial aid, building academic resources, which also can be done as an endowment aspect, and then facilities, most specifically the science building but probably a few other smaller projects as well.” The last capital campaign for the Colleges began in 2006 and culminated in the 2016 opening of the Gearan Center for the Performing Arts.
At the Gearan Center on Friday, President-elect Jacobsen was able to meet a handful of the students and faculty at HWS after the announcement. She said that after she begins full-time in July she is looking forward “to talk to yet more people … [and] to really understand more about the place and how all the different constituencies and individuals here see the Colleges.” She also wants to do a thorough inspection of all the buildings on campus. “I like to go bottom to top on buildings … because physical space is an important aspect of how students and faculty and staff experience the Colleges.”
Even while she is not on campus, Jacobsen will continue to be accessible to students. Already, her email account is set up and she plans to visit campus a few more times before the summer. She wants people to “always feel that they can contact me and tell me things they think I need to know.” Jacobsen plans to be very accessible to students, which was already evident by an earlier meeting with select students before the announcement.
It is that accessibility along with her willingness to help others and step into action that has brought Jacobsen to HWS as president. She said that at Wesleyan, “whenever I was asked to serve or something, I would say ‘yes’ because I thought I could do a good job on this and it freed somebody else from doing it and I will learn more from it.” Each time she was asked to step up, either as chair, dean, or provost, “it was because I was asked to do the job, it wasn’t because I had volunteered for it, but that I felt that I would step up and serve through my leadership – or lead to serve.”
Now Jacobsen is moving forward by accepting the position of President of the Colleges. She said that she was looking for her next step and found the idea of being President of a school to be interesting. When she began looking she said that “the main attractor is the Colleges and I think thinking that this would be a good match in terms of my skill set, that, again, Wesleyan isn’t that different from Hobart and William Smith, it’s relatively similar in size of the undergraduate student body size, the acreage, the type of curricular structures you have. So there’s things that are different, but it’s not so different that it will take me that long to get up and familiar with it.”
One of the most important elements of the announcement was that Dr. Jacobsen would be the first woman president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She noted that it was something that attracted her to the job, and that “it just says again that another place where people weren’t used to seeing women is now becoming increasingly a place where it is perfectly normal to see all types of people and that doesn’t have to become a factor going forward as much.”
Jacobsen concluded by saying that she looks forward to meeting more students at the Colleges and understanding “how I can make this a better Colleges for them as well.” Jacobsen begins her tenure as President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges on July 1.