Meet Your Interim President

By Lucy Altman-Newell '17

Photo courtesy of Office of Marketing and Communication

Photo courtesy of Office of Marketing and Communication

Dr. Amy Marcus-Newhall, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, became Interim President-Elect and special advisor to President Lori Bettison-Varga in early July; she will begin her role as Interim President when Bettison-Varga departs Scripps College on Oct. 5. Marcus-Newhall has also been appointed to the Presidential Search Committee. Although Marcus-Newhall is serving in both the interim presidency and the presidential search committee, the role of Interim President is not itself linked to the search for Scripps College’s ninth president; those are two completely separate roles.

 While Marcus-Newhall is serving as Interim President, Professor Julia (Julie) Liss will serve as Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, effective Aug. 21, 2015, until Marcus-Newhall returns to her post. Liss was selected following an internal search process; her appointment was approved by the Board of Trustees on Aug. 20. According to an email sent to the Scripps community by Board of Trustees Chair Mark Herron on that same date, “as interim vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty, Julie will lead the Scripps faculty and provide oversight for the development and implementation of all academic policies and programs from the date of her appointment through June 30, 2016.”

 The Scripps Voice met with Marcus-Newhall to discuss her vision and objectives for her role as Interim President of Scripps College during the 2015-2016 academic year:

The Scripps Voice: What will your role as Interim President of Scripps College look like? What will be your primary duties and goals, and who will be supporting you?

Amy Marcus-Newhall: The most important goal is to ensure the stability and momentum of the College moving forward. Lori’s done a fabulous job of building on the College’s successes, and six years later, we’re in just a great place. I see my role as continuing that momentum while we do a search for the new president of Scripps College. That’s the overarching goal. Specifics are to maintain academic excellence and the student experience throughout the academic year and to maintain the College’s financial health, continue to make progress toward the goals of the More campaign (we still have a couple years of that), sustain momentum on high-priority initiatives such as LASPA, NEW Hall, the I.D.E.A. Initiative—and those are not the only ones, but those are three of the real prominent initiatives that we’re working on—and to work with the staff, the parents, the alumnae, and the community beyond Scripps as well.

TSV: President Bettison-Varga was a staple on campus. Will you be making efforts to be present and visible on campus, for solidarity purposes? If so, what will these efforts look like?

AMN: The answer is absolutely yes! But I think it’s important to say that I won’t be living at Revelle House. The new president has the option of living at Revelle House, but I won’t be living there. But I will be doing community and public events at Revelle House. I’ve had students talk to me about special events that they enjoy such as Halloween and I look forward to hosting these types of student events at Revelle House. I’ll be around campus and look forward attending student events, classes, public events, and many of the activities on campus. I look forward, actually, to being involved and engaged with the community.

TSV: And will you be having office hours or be open to any particular student who wants to meet with you?

AMN: Oh, absolutely! I don’t know about office hours right now just because I don’t have control of my schedule during this interim period. So until I actually take over the role of Interim President, I don’t want to commit to something that I have no idea about because I will be travelling and in meetings. But if students want to meet with me, I’d be more than happy to meet with them. I do want to convey that if they come to meet with me, for example, about something academic, then I would encourage them to talk to Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Julie Liss, if they come to talk to me about Communications and Marketing, then I would have them come talk to Binti [Harvey, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer], etc. There is a superb senior staff team—the senior staff are the vice presidents. Going back to the first question as to who will support me, the whole community will support me, but there is just a fantastic senior staff team of vice presidents who, together, helps to run the college. Nobody does it in isolation.

TSV: The news of President Bettison-Varga's departure was quite sudden to the entire Scripps community—is the administration planning on taking any measures to make the transition more seamless? If so, what are they?

AMN: I think I disagree that it was sudden in the sense that she [Bettison-Varga] intended to remain as President but an opportunity arose for her that was very exciting. She didn’t move to another college—this new position with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles was just something that really fit her expertise. And because the College is in such a great place— transitions happen. I understand for students, you think you’re coming back to one president and you’re coming back to someone else, but in fact this happens often. People change jobs. I also think what’s really important is that the transition was really made and designed to have as much positive influence as possible. I’ve been at the College now for 23 years. I was in the Psychology Department for 18 years before becoming the Dean of Faculty five years ago, and so when the question was, “who will become the Interim President?” having been in the Dean of Faculty’s Office and having been at the College, my association, my understanding, my connection with Scripps makes what we hope is a seamless transition. And the senior staff team, continuing on as one team, with me, again is a seamless transition. Also, what we did in the Interim Dean of Faculty position was to hire Julie Liss, who’s been teaching at the College since 1989, so even three years longer than I have, who has been involved in almost every level of faculty leadership. Although each of us is clearly new to our position, our experience and our expertise with the College means we’re not starting at ground zero. What we’re doing is starting new positions with significant Scripps experience.

TSV: How will you make sure that students don’t fall through the gap during the presidential transition, especially since other offices have seen recent transitions and are still adjusting to those? In other words, how will you ensure that all students, with all of their different needs—physical, mental, academic, etc.—are being taken care of?

AMN:  I completely agree that there have been transitions, but that doesn’t have to do with the presidency. It may be helpful to explain to students that our Vice President for Student Affairs and their office—if in fact we’re talking about mental health or accommodations—that is all handled through our Student Affairs Office. They are superb at what they do. The presidential transition will not impact that. A broader answer to your question if I’m taking it at a different level is that I will be around. I hope to visit with students, I hope to hear if there are things that are going on. But again, I’d go back to the senior staff—which is what impacts the students directly—and say that the student staff is superb, excellent, and all-continuing.

TSV: How do you envision your role as Interim President? You’ve spoken broadly about what the role is in and of itself, but how do you plan to step into or shape that role personally?

AMN: Well part of that will be discovery since I haven’t done it before, but the [interim] presidential role in my view is pretty clear in the things that I said earlier—that is, the initiatives and the momentum of what needs to be done. So, what we talked about earlier in terms of academic excellence and students and the campaign are all top priorities. These are the kinds of initiatives that I will immediately—as soon as Lori leaves—take over. Again, we’re on a great path. Everything is going positively, and my job is to continue this momentum—work with the Board of Trustees, work with the faculty, the staff, the students—and to continue a year where we will not be stagnant. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re going to move forward.

TSV: Although this may not be directly applicable in your role as Interim President, if you could make an executive decision beyond keeping the momentum of the College moving forward, what would it be?

AMN: I shouldn’t be making executive decisions beyond the strategic goals; I am an Interim President. So my charge as I see it for the year is to carry out the strategic plan and initiatives and move them forward. It is to set foundation for the new president, set the context to be in a really good place for when that person starts next summer. My charge is that when that president begins, that president says, “Wow, things are in great shape, I’m ready to roll, and here we go!”

TSV: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

AMN: I should reiterate that I’m really excited! I’m really excited to be in this role. My passion for Scripps is why I’ve been here for 23 years. I don’t plan on going anywhere else. I love this place—which is why I accepted the role of Interim President—and I very much look forward to working with students in this role!