When Dr. Christopher B. Howard became the 24th President of Hampden-Sydney College in 2009, he assumed the leadership of a liberal arts college unshakably dedicated to its founding mission "to form good men and good citizens." After nearly six years, Howard has accepted a new role as president of Robert Morris University in western Pennsylvania. He begins there on February 1, 2016, but not without remembering some of his times and experiences on the Hill. Here we'll take a look at some of the challenges and changes at the College during the Howard years as well as his leadership during these times.
President Howard came to Hampden-Sydney when the College was facing the challenges of the Great Recession. The entering enrollment had declined from a high of 1122 in 2008-09 to 1057 in 2011-12, and the endowment had declined from a high of $142 million on June 30, 2007, to $115 million on June 30, 2009.
President Howard, who holds a BS from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a doctorate from Oxford, and an MBA from Harvard, approved prudent reductions in expenditures and staff to maintain a balanced budget while actively involving himself in student recruitment and fundraising. He visited and spoke in 37 secondary schools in Virginia and 47 secondary schools in nine other states and the District of Columbia. The entering total enrollment in 2014-15 was 1105, the third largest in the College's history.
Despite the weakened economy, annual fundraising increased 44% to $11.32 million in 2013, the highest level of annual giving in five years. That same year, Hampden-Sydney received the Council for Advancement and Support (CASE) District III Gold Award for best annual fund program. The endowment recovered and surpassed its former high, reaching $153 million on March 31, 2015. The year-to-year percentage of alumni giving has increased in three of the last six years. The 2014-15 budget is in surplus and the College received the largest gift for a single project in its history during President Howard's tenure as president.
The last capital campaign provided the College with an outstanding new library and greatly enhanced athletic facilities, but the continued maintenance and enhancement of the historic campus is an ongoing necessity. The Ty Cobb Baseball Park was added in 2011 and the Coxe Residence Hall was renovated in 2012. A multi-year project, fully funded and currently in progress, is renovating all classrooms as well as upgrading teaching technology. In 2011, the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest was greatly expanded, and the entire building renovated. The Wilson Center now provides space for the ROTC program. During the last six years, three Hampden-Sydney cadets have commanded the Spider Battalion, which consists of students from Richmond, VCU, Randolph-Macon, Longwood, Virginia Union, and Hampden-Sydney. Eighteen Hampden-Sydney students have won ROTC scholarships.
Maintaining the best possible athletic facilities supports the College's outstanding NCAA teams, which have been expanded recently to include varsity swimming and wrestling, and in which about 30% of the student body participates. In the last six years, Hampden-Sydney teams have had four ODAC championships, 28 All-Americans, two Academic All-Americans, six ODAC Scholar-Athletes of the Year, and a Lanier Award winner (along the way, President Howard was responsible for creating both the "Game Ball Trophy" commemorating the 120-year rivalry against Randolph-Macon College and the "Gentlemen's Classic Trophy" marking the athletic competition against Wabash College). The football team has played in six post-season games, winning its first ever in the program's storied history. In November 2014, the basketball game between the Hampden-Sydney Tigers and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Bears was televised on ESPNU, one of only two D3 basketball games aired that year. Lights were added to Hellmuth field, allowing for night lacrosse and soccer games.
Two major capital projects-the renovation of Winston Hall to enhance the Fine Arts program and the construction of a student center-are well underway. Concept work has begun on a new science facility. The College has continued to add scientific equipment, including a unique Energy Research Laboratory, to support innovation and significant faculty-student research.
"When I first came here," Howard said, "someone told me there were three buildings that needed attention: there's the student center, the fine arts building, and there's the science building. So we're beginning on the student center in December , we've begun the renovation of the fine arts building, and we've chosen our architect for the science building. We even renovated the bathrooms in Venable and replaced two-thirds of the furniture in Whitehouse and Carpenter for the first time in 20 years," he said.
President Howard's deep and abiding respect for the role of the faculty in curriculum development and the fundamental value of a liberal arts education was evinced by his securing a substantial grant from the Mellon Foundation to assist the faculty with revising the College's Western Culture program, which now includes a semester on Global Cultures. Deeply committed to ensuring every student is prepared to communicate effectively, President Howard raised funds to endow the director's position in the Rhetoric Program; the endowment now bears his name as well as that of his wife Barbara. The Center for Career Education was expanded to include vocational reflection.
President Howard has established programs to support such vocational reflection, as well as personnel development. C Day, held at the beginning of each academic year, reinforces the academic community's sense of a shared mission and asks all students to reflect upon their role in the College, local community, and the world. Juniors and seniors are able to take part in the annual Professional Development Institute (PDI), which provides practical job-search instruction. Tiger Tracks brochures are used by students to navigate the liberal arts curriculum toward specific career goals.
Howard also worked to create connections between the College and local organizations. "The community partnership document in the strategic plan," he said, "says that Longwood, Prince Edward Schools, Fuqua School, Moton, FACES, and STEPS are our brothers and sisters in arms, and we're going to work diligently with them to achieve the goals and objectives of the local community. For example, we took all the freshmen to the Moton Museum this year to learn about the history of civil rights and the history of America." With support from the College, Howard also helped support fundraisers and charities, among other local community involvement. He carried on former President Walter Bortz's annual tradition of providing dictionaries to local school children.
Through President Howard's leadership, the number of cooperative programs and graduate business school recruitment programs has been increased significantly. There are fifteen such programs in areas including medicine, engineering, international relations, and accounting as well as business. The five graduate business school agreements include institutions such as Duke, Virginia, and Wake Forest. Pre-health students now can participate in a formal "shadowing" program with Centra Health. Under President Howard's stewardship, the College has solidified an exciting recruitment initiative with Oracle, a Fortune-100 technology leader headquartered in Silicon Valley. Oracle aims to hire 30-plus exceptional recent graduates from Hampden-Sydney and surrounding Virginia institutions. Finally, Hampden-Sydney students, along with students from other top-tier liberal arts colleges including Amherst, Hamilton, and Grinnell, have preferred admissions for HBX online, an MBA readiness program housed at the Harvard Business School.
National fellowship advising was formalized and enhanced as an official program for undergraduate summer research. In the last six years, the College has produced a Truman Scholar, a Goldwater Scholar, a Gilman Scholar, a Freeman-Asia Scholar, an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholar, and an Ambassadorial Rotary Club Scholar; four students who have received Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships, two have attended Fulbright Summer Institutes, and five have been accepted in Teach for America. Since 2013, two Hampden-Sydney College students have been invited to participate in the McDonald Cadet Leadership Conference at West Point each year. President Howard serves as a senior advisor there, while three students have been named Center for the Presidency and Congress Fellows; Howard serves on its advisory board. During the past six years, numerous students have gone on to earn professional and graduate degrees from some of the world's most distinguished universities, including Dartmouth, Columbia, Oxford, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Although Hampden-Sydney already graduates men at a rate 9% higher than the national average, the Strategic Plan still calls for increasing our graduation rate. Students must be engaged and nurtured, especially in the first and second years, if they are to graduate. President Howard, with his easy and enthusiastic involvement with students and his particular interest in the education of young men, has stressed meeting student needs. To nurture our students, the wellness and academic success programs have been expanded and relocated into more spacious and convenient facilities, and professional resident-life staff members are now housed in residence halls. To enhance student intellectual engagement outside the classroom, living and learning communities were created; the former Hampden-Sydney Summer Music Festival was transferred into the academic year to ensure students can attend, and debate programs were enhanced, resulting in two championships in the Virginia Foundation for Independent College competition. Efforts have been undertaken to strengthen social fraternities and to expand the outlook of these organizations, some of which have been at Hampden-Sydney for over a century, so they fully embrace the College's mission and recognize their responsibility to the larger community. Fraternity men are enthusiastic participants in The Big Event, a unique day of community service. Fraternity membership has grown from 28% to just under 40% of the student body since 2009.
First-, second-, and third-year retention is higher than the twenty-, ten-, and five-year averages, while this year's freshmen class had the highest average high school GPA since the College has been keeping records.
Two initiatives closely identified with President Howard are the Good Men Plan and What Works. The Good Men Plan involves a series of programs for freshmen that explore what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. The What Works initiative, based on President Howard's appearance at the Aspen Institute's Ideas Festival in 2013, explores the various means of "raising boys, engaging guys, and educating men." The initiative has produced a book of essays with almost 7,000 copies distributed to date, a summer conference on campus, and panel discussions in Charlotte, Baltimore, and, soon, Atlanta. Most importantly, this initiative has established Hampden-Sydney as a participant and facilitator in the national conversation about the education of boys and young men.
From the beginning, President Howard noticed "a sense of pride on campus," he said. "It was respect for the mission. It was a deep loyalty to this place. It's almost spiritual how connected people are to Hampden-Sydney, to these grounds and these halls. That's not true of every institution out there."
Some of his fondest memories, "almost to a person," he said, "were to see someone who thought they could never achieve A, B, or C-but did it anyway, whether it be a student who came in on shaky academic ground and made Dean's List, or a faculty member who was able to complete some research with a student, to initiatives in Parent's Council, to fundraising, to building or renovating something we never thought we could do-all of it."
Howard learned much while he was here, he said, and something he'll take with him is the memory of the students and other members of the Hampden-Sydney community who passed away during his tenure.
"The saddest thing about this job is when students perish," he said, "when they're here one day and gone the next. But I've seen us put our arms around each other and lift each other up in so many ways. I've learned to treasure that more than anything else."
Now at the end of his time here at Hampden-Sydney, President Howard wanted to make sure the students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends know how grateful he is for their having him and his family here.
"Thank you for giving me the privilege to serve as the 24th president," he said. "Sam Wilson called it ‘the big red chair.' I call it ‘the big red hot seat,' and it's been an honor to sit in it. I've tried to serve as best as I possibly could.
"And I've said this before, but I'll say it again: Hampden-Sydney was not lucky to have me serve as president. I was lucky to have served. So thank you. I'm honored, I'm humbled, and I'm excited for where the College is going in the future.