Year Two

Today marks my second anniversary as president of Harold Washington College.

People ask how it’s going. I sometimes reply, “Well, the place hasn’t burned down yet.” We have endured two floods during my tenure, one invisible to the college community (thanks, Rich) and the other dealt with in time to open 8 am classes (thanks again, Rich and the engineering and janitorial team.) My flippant response reveals an underlying insecurity. What am I doing running a college?

Some faculty wonder the same thing. In a recent exchange during my State of the College address at Wright College, a few faculty pointed out several times that I am not from the Academy. I lack a PhD. I have not come up through the ranks. I have not endured countless evenings grading student assignments.

What am I doing running a college?

What I am attempting to do is to make sure more of our students achieve success. Success means, for me, helping students achieve what they came here to achieve, while at the same time shaking up their world view to expand what may be possible for them to achieve. It means challenging them to work harder, exposing them to careers and colleges they may not have considered before starting here, and providing them with academic and career experiences that change the trajectories of their lives. Completion is a major driver. Completion brings confidence. Completion gives the outside world assurance that one has persistence and can persevere.

What am I doing running a college?

I am building teams. I have built a management team of which I am very proud. One of the favorite parts of my week is the Executive Council meeting, where the administrative leaders of the college come together to talk about how it’s going and where we need to go. This team is committed and driven. I often sit in these meetings and marvel that these talented individuals have chosen to join this college and this team to drive us to greater success. This team has, in turn, built their own teams of faculty, advisors, and other staff who work together to help us ensure student success. Together, we are creating an environment where people understand how they contribute to helping us accomplish our mission and goals, and they are proud to be a part of this.

What am I doing running a college?

I am building a community. I have interviewed every full-time hire candidate for employment at the college. I have hired over twenty faculty members. I have hired janitors, engineers, financial aid advisors, academic advisors. The people who live and work within a community define it. The people we have brought in joined a very proud Harold Washington community. These new people have enhanced our community. I am proud of the faculty we have hired. I review their tenure portfolios. I sit in their classes. I attend the student events (concerts, fashion shows) they sponsor. We have great faculty, and the faculty we have hired in the past two years enrich this community. I am proud of the staff we have hired, as they have bought into what we are attempting to accomplish. Student satisfaction scores are up, graduation numbers are up, and enrollment is up. None of this happens without people who feel they are part of a community that is committed to driving student success.

What am I doing running a college?

I am having a blast. The past two years have been the most rewarding of my life. I love our students and admire their courage in overcoming so much to entrust us with their education. I love the faculty and staff who work so hard every day to make this place work, and work to make it better. Thanks to the Harold Washington College community for welcoming me and making my first two years so special.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with non-profit, higher education, and private-sector consulting experience.

5 thoughts on “Year Two

  1. It has been a pleasure working with President Don Laackman these last two years! The stability Don brings to the College, his leadership style, his intelligence, his innovation, his vision, his team building, and his counsel are just a immediate assets that come to mind. He does not need a doctorate degree or a formalized teaching resume “to run a College.” This has been a misconception in academia by academics for years! Don allows academics to work in a great place and do their thing! That’s leadership! Congratulations, Don! Yes, and he is teaching us “how to run a College!”

  2. Don, you are both an amazing colleague and amazing leader and I feel privileged to be on your team. You’ve done a fantastic job and I’m confident that you will do even greater things during your time here.

  3. Though your intentions are great, you really don’t have any business running any college. You should have been expected to work your way up just like everyone else. But more to the point, you’ll only have limited respect from the faculty because you have no idea what it means to be an educator.

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