By Christa Rodriguez || Campus Life Editor
Franklin & Marshall’s first female president, Dr. Barbara Altmann, was the center of the first Common Hour of the Fall 2018 semester, taking place in Alumni Sports and Fitness Center rather than its usual location in Mayser Gymnasium due to the heat.
The format of this particular Common Hour was a conversation with Atlmann in a question-and-answer format with a representative from the faculty, professional staff, and students. Specifically, Gretchen Meyers, Associate Professor and Department Chair of Classics; Renee Yoder, Assistant to the Vice President of Admissions; and Tyler Schubert, Class of 2019, took turns interviewing Altmann before the discussion turned to the audience for additional questions.
A former provost of Bucknell University and scholar of French medieval literature, Altman said Common Hour was one of the items that attracted her to F&M. She noted that while convocation was a positive event for her, she liked that now we could have a “community event” where all the different constituencies of which she was president were represented.
Schubert asked the first question about her first impressions of F&M. While the impressive search committee was her first real impression of the college during offsite interviews, she did get a chance to see campus on a few “stealth visits” last academic year. She commented that the search committee, comprising of faculty and students, gave her a wonderful sense of F&M, with everyone active and engaged despite the long hours they committed to the interviewing process. When visiting campus, she could sense this was “a campus that feels like a home” that provides “elite education without pretention.” She said, “I knew if I had the opportunity, I would join you in a heartbeat.”
Altmann also articulated her attraction to our “holistic approach,” as a residential liberal arts college where “every facet of your life happens here,” and where “we can facilitate learning in every aspect of every day.” She expressed her excitement in watching the class of 2022 progress as they go through their four-year journey here and she looks forward to seeing how they will be transformed by F&M by their senior year.
Turning to her professional and educational background, Altmann described her love for her field, French medieval literature. She emphasized how critical it is for everyone to follow their passion professionally by pursuing something that “makes your gut happy.”
In her personal journey, she discovered her passion during her last year as an undergrad, which made sense of the relevance of medieval literature today. She told the audience, “give me six minutes and I’ll convince you that we’re still in the Middle Ages.” The interdisciplinary nature of the field also inspired her confidence and interest in many different disciplines, which gave her a good feeling about the liberal arts.
When asked about what students can do during their time here, she advised to “stretch in every possible way”: intellectually, socially, spiritually, and more. Take advantage of the opportunities you’re given here and value exploration over being good at something. She also stressed the need to be an ambassador for F&M by doing right by Lancaster city, and “represent[ing] the richness, fullness and excellence of F&M.”
As for the future of F&M, Altmann said we are well situated to thrive, and that it is her job to sustain and continue successful initiatives and figure out next steps moving forward. She acknowledged the work her predecessors have done, and her job as to keep the stable structures in place and continue to make them better.
She also wants to hear from all of us about the strengths and challenges F&M is facing to further understand the immediate and long-term work F&M needs to do. Her ultimate goal is to have everyone be able to see themselves thriving at F&M.
The conversation turned to the value of the liberal arts education in crisis. She commented on the fact that F&M is already a leader in the liberal arts, thanks to former president Dan Porterfield and that by every measure, liberal arts graduates do very well.
Instead of worry about the crisis, she trusts that what F&M provides is key to a successful and happy life. “F&M fights way above its weight,” she said, which is why we are starting a capital campaign to raise money to continue doing what we already do well. It’s important to her that everyone can experience the great luxury of an outstanding school.
Out of all the questions asked by students following the interview-style conversation, perhaps the most important one addressed the beloved ice cream freezer formerly in the president’s office. Altmann’s answer? The ice cream freezer, while it was former president Porterfield’s signature, may just come out of retirement with pop up appearances sprinkled throughout the year. We’ll just have to keep an eye out!
Senior Christa Rodriguez is the Campus Life Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.