By Isabel Hicks
Provost Alan Townsend has an impressive resume. An Amherst College and Stanford University graduate, Townsend is a renowned environmental scientist who has racked up approximately $26 million in federal and foundation grant awards over the years. He spent 17 years on the faculty at University of Colorado at Boulder before serving as Dean of the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment in 2014.
Now, Townsend has yet another accomplishment to his name. He will step into the role of Interim President of Colorado College for the 2020-2021 school year, while the Board of Trustees conducts a nationwide search for a permanent candidate.
The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to elect Townsend as Interim President at their meeting on Feb. 22. In an email to the CC community, the Board said, “We believe [Townsend] will provide much needed continuity in order to pursue critical work.”
The email went on to cite specific projects Townsend will focus on during his leadership, which include “the implementation of the antiracism plan, the Colorado Pledge, and the Stroud Scholars program, construction of Ed Robson Arena and associated projects, planning for the future of the sciences and humanities, the climate change task force, and completion of the capital campaign.”
Dean of Faculty Claire Oberon Garcia will serve as Interim Provost for Townsend while also maintaining her role as dean. “This structure is one that exists in many of our peer institutions,” Townsend wrote in an email to the CC community. “Some of her current work will be assumed by the associate dean position already planned, and some of the provost’s responsibilities will remain with me or be taken on by other members of the academic leadership team.”
President Tiefenthaler shared her advice on what she believes makes an effective leader. “I think one of the most important things is to be a good listener. Especially at an organization that has a lot of talent and people doing work [on] a lot of different things like here,” she said.
Also important to Tiefenthaler is “being able to listen and understand … being able to make sometimes hard decisions, and … if it doesn’t work out or if you fail, keep working to your goal.”
The President explained how “we have quite a bit going on that’s important to continue.” She cited the antiracism implementation plan as an initiative that is ongoing and important. Additionally, “although we achieved our carbon neutrality goal recently, we have a new task force underway to think about what are … the next steps in terms of CC addressing climate change, both in our operations and in the education and our community,” she said.
Provost Townsend is head of the task force assembled to address CC’s next steps after achieving carbon neutrality. So, will sustainability be less of a priority for the administration now that the aggressive 2020 goal has been met? “I seriously doubt that,” Townsend said. “I mean, that’s certainly not true for me; I haven’t heard that from anyone. This to us is sort of just a milepost along a much longer road.”
“Our overarching goal is to assume as much direct control as we can over reducing emissions, because we need to do that as a global society no matter what,” Townsend added.
The Provost stressed how deeply grateful he is to the Board of Trustees for appointing him to the position. “It’s an honor for me … and I’m committed to helping the college go through a transitional year as smoothly as possible,” he said. “President Tiefenthaler’s departure does not lessen our campus commitment to antiracism, to greater student access regardless of background, and to other essential projects already underway.”
After naming Townsend Interim President, the Board detailed their search process for a permanent candidate. “The presidential search committee is chaired by board vice chair Jeff Keller ’91 and includes nine trustees, four faculty members, two staff members, and two students,” CC communications stated in an email.
The student members will be the CCSGA president — who will be elected later this month — and another student appointed by CCSGA.
“The search will begin with a consultative process to gather feedback from the CC community on the characteristics and skills desired in the new president, the challenges and opportunities that person will face, and what distinguishes CC today,” board members explained.
On-campus meetings and open forums will be held on Wednesday, March 25 for students, faculty, and staff to share input. Stakeholders will also be able to submit input and nominations electronically.
Using the information gathered in the consultative phase, “the search committee will create a document that describes Colorado College, the position, and the desired skills and strengths of the new president. Recruitment will then begin, and the search will enter a confidential phase,” board members said.
The Board expects the new president to be named by winter 2020-21.
Townsend urged people to reach out to him with any concerns, questions, or input regarding his interim presidency. “As the spring unfolds, I look forward to having conversations with many of you about the year to come.”