A Change of Seasons

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Tom and Susan Ross
The news broke in late August: a son of Davidson had been elected president of the oldest state university system in America, and Davidson would be saying farewell to its 17th president, Tom Ross.

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by Meg Kimmel

Tom Ross famously kept track of the number of days he had served as Davidson’s president. After a brief but stellar 1,249 days in office, he leaves Davidson to assume his new duties as president of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system on January 1, 2011.

Ross struggled with his decision to accept the position. “Going to the University of North Carolina will require that I leave a job and place I love dearly,” he said.

Day 1: The Davidson Trust
Ross accepted the Davidson presidency in March 2007, just after the creation of The Davidson Trust—the college’s historic choice to meet demonstrated financial need with grants and campus employment, but no loans. As a trustee, he had voted for the policy and understood the deep commitment it would require from the college family.

Alumni, parents, and friends responded with enthusiasm to The Davidson Trust, and The Duke Endowment made a significant gift toward funding goals. College trustees began to develop plans to support the policy; after Mackey McDonald ’68 became trustee chair in January 2008, he convened a committee to spearhead the effort to fund The Davidson Trust. Today, more than $56 million has been committed to make Davidson possible for qualified students from all backgrounds. Much remains to be done, but the college’s belief in its legacy of access is resolute.

Day 2: Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
From his earliest days in office, Ross engaged the community in a broad, inclusive planning process. What, he asked, did the college need to maintain and strengthen its position as a leader among national liberal arts colleges? It was the first step toward a comprehensive vision for Davidson’s future.

Alumni, faculty, staff, students, and trustees took part. After two intense years, a campus master plan and a strategic plan were presented to the board and approved unanimously in October 2009. Curricular revision, civic engagement, and student aid—need-based, academic merit, and athletic merit—lead a list of ambitious goals for Davidson College.

Day 136: Sustainability
Ross signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in November 2007, pledging Davidson’s cooperation in a broad leadership initiative in the higher education community. Reducing the college’s carbon footprint and increasing environmental awareness became central to a Year of Sustainability in 2008–09, spurring dramatic progress in conserving water, plastic, energy, and paper—with the added benefit of trimming college expenses.

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Ross struggled with his decision to accept the position.
“Going to the University of North Carolina will require
that I leave a job and place I love dearly,” he said.
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Day 274: The Elite Eight
Basketball coach Bob McKillop came to Davidson in 1989, and Stephen Curry enrolled a year before Ross took office, but the president was happy to lead the cheers during March Madness 2008. The college family came together both literally and figuratively during the run of victories to the “Final Five,” and the national spotlight shone directly on Davidson and its commitment to academics and athletics at the highest level.

Day 467: Facing Down Fiscal Challenges
The global economic crisis that crested in fall 2008 resulted in a 25-percent loss in Davidson’s endowment and a college family shaken by its own financial challenges. Jobs were lost across the country, but not at Davidson. Administrators and trustees looked long and hard at the budget, asked for projections, and met with key constituencies across campus. Choosing to protect the academic and student experience first and foremost, administrative offices tightened their belts and the college froze hiring and pay.

Today, Davidson’s endowment is back up, budgets are recovering, the college is fiscally sound, and the goals set forth in the strategic plan are being implemented.

Tom Ross and Orientation Staff

President Tom Ross posing with Orientation Team members. (l-r) Alice Phillips ’12, Juliana Porter ’12, Tom Ross, Chris Marsicano ’10, Jackie Kim ’11

Day 944: The Alvarez Scholars Program
In January 2010, Davidson announced a new initiative in financial aid, one that addresses strategic goals of inclusivity and global connections, while extending the hand of access across national boundaries.

Malú Alvarez ’02 came to Davidson as an international student in 1998. Her parents, Carlos and Malú Alvarez, have now made a personal investment in the international student experience at Davidson, creating the Alvarez Scholars Program with a $10 million gift.

Three Alvarez Scholars joined Davidson’s academic community this fall, coming from Pakistan, Ghana, and Ecuador. Many more will follow in years to come, bringing a global perspective and gaining a Davidson education, prepared for lives of leadership and service.

Day 1,095: Family Loyalty
The 2009–10 fundraising year was, as they say, one for the books. Records were broken, and the college family celebrated its position as first in the nation in alumni participation—61 percent of alumni made a gift to alma mater. The Annual Fund raised a record $10 million; parents gave a record of $9.2 million; and the total gifts and commitments were a record $55 million.

Davidson is strong, and the college family is behind its mission.

Day 1,152: Toward Continued Excellence
When news came of Ross’s election to the UNC presidency, Mackey McDonald sent an e-mail message to the college family, saying, “The college is well positioned for what comes next. Davidson is financially sound, and through the recent strategic planning process, our community has shaped an exciting vision for our future. In characteristic Davidson fashion, the vision that has emerged from that planning process is truly our community’s vision. We have all been a part of developing our goals—we now share the responsibility to carry them out.”

UNC chose a Davidson man, a judge steeped in the Honor Code and an ethic of service, to lead its statewide system that serves more than 220,000 students on 17 campuses. Davidson College is sorry to see him go, but proud that he will carry red and black into the land of Carolina blue.

And although Tom Ross leaves Davidson sooner than expected, he can do so knowing that he made the most of his 1,249 days as president of alma mater.

Photos: Bill Giduz

Presidential Search Committee
The Board of Trustees has named President Emeritus John W. Kuykendall ’59 interim president, effective Dec. 10, and elected Kristin Hills Bradberry ’85 chair of the presidential search committee, which will include trustees, faculty, students, and staff. For more information, see www.davidson.edu/presidentialsearch.

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