CIC/New York Times Presidents Council Hosts Dialogue with Journalists and Presidents

The 15th annual CIC/New York Times Presidents Council meeting, held at the New York Times headquarters on October 16, adopted a new format to encourage frank dialogue. The change engendered lively conversation on a wide range of topics—making this, the only such meeting of college and university presidents hosted by the Times, especially interactive.

The Times National Editor Marc Lacey and Washington Bureau Correspondent Erica L. Green spoke with 21 CIC presidents whose institutions participate in the New York Times Partnership for Education. Presidents Council Chair John C. Knapp, president of Washington & Jefferson College (PA), moderated the exchange. He asked CIC presidents to share newsworthy ideas as well as important issues. Green, a graduate of Goucher College (MD), and Lacey, a child of a college professor, both expressed appreciation for the work of CIC institutions.

Three presidents and a New York Times correspondent stand for a photo
(From left to right) Michael Geisler, president of Manhattanville College (NY); Nicola Pitchford, acting president of Dominican University of California; Erica Green, New York Times Washington Bureau correspondent; and Roger Casey, president of McDaniel College (MD), conversing at the CIC/New York Times Presidents Council meeting.

Lacey began by asking the presidents for their opinions on the impact of the Harvard University admissions lawsuit and trial.

“It’s as much about what’s the next case after this,” responded Julie Wollman of Widener University (PA), alluding to Harvard’s unique position in the higher education landscape.

Allison R. Byerly of Lafayette College (PA) said, “Holistic admissions policies have been important to us, but they [the policies] are not easily reduced to numbers.”

Green asked whether affirmative action had outlived its usefulness. Kerry Walk of Marymount Manhattan College (NY) said, “Self-evidently, yes. Twenty-six percent of college and university presidents are women. A majority of students and grad students are women. But diversity doesn’t do any good without inclusion. One of the major outcomes of a liberal arts education is the ability to take different perspectives. You can only do that when you have different viewpoints.”

The discussion turned to U.S. Department of Education actions. “The department has no credibility in its claim to reduce the cost of college when it is working to keep for-profit colleges,” Byerly said. “We [CIC colleges] charge less, even to full-pay students, because philanthropy fills in the gap.”

Walk agreed: “One of the greatest risks we face is the deregulation of the for-profit sector. They could truly be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for all nonprofit educational institutions.”

Pareena Lawrence of Hollins University (VA) suggested that for-profit institutions may have a role. “But when you privilege the for-profits and the vocational schools, that sets us back.”

Elizabeth Davis of Furman University (SC) pointed to the independent sector’s low loan default rates, noting Furman’s was under 3 percent.

Both journalists were concerned about media literacy as well. Knapp agreed, “For us, we feel some sort of responsibility to prepare students to select informative credible sources.”

“We all have issues that keep us up at night.” Lacey said. “This is what concerns me most, both for our country’s sake and for the New York Times’s sake.” Where are people getting their news? “Does finding out the truth matter in a world where everything can have versions?”

Those news organizations that have survived are larger and have become primarily digital organizations. The Times has more digital subscribers in California than in New York, Lacey said. Young people are far less likely to pay for their news. Among the Times initiatives to connect with young people are social media teams working on Instagram, Snapchat, and other platforms. In a new program called The Edit, college students will write for the Times, contributing written and visual pieces on their experiences to reach a wider audience.

Lacey told the presidents he wants to see young people develop a healthy skepticism about everything they read. “To me,” Lacey emphasized, “it is baking news coverage into education, no matter what the organization, analyzing it, and talking about what the story got right, got wrong.”

CIC President Richard Ekman agreed, “This may be a unique opportunity for the Times to expand that effort. People all over the country are realizing that ‘facts matter.’”

Green shared a formative instance when writing for the student newspaper at Goucher. “One of my profound experiences was having [then president] Sandy Ungar banging on my dorm room door because a story I had written about poor retention rates at Goucher ran on accepted applicants day, when all the parents were on campus.” Green said, “We had a healthy argument, and I learned a lesson about impact.”

In reflecting on Times coverage of higher education, Lacey said the small number of reporters cannot cover the whole country. “We need a brain trust to go to,” asking for help from the presidents.

Geisler acknowledged, “You cannot report on everything we do.” He noted the extremes of stories about liberal arts closings or a scandal on campus, urging more balanced coverage. “Work with CIC, and that would be a significant change,” he said.

Lacey closed by pointing to the similarities between journalists’ and educators’ roles in today’s society: a strong sense of mission and purpose. “If you are not doing what you are doing, if you are not educating people, the country is worse off. You are preparing them to participate in a democracy, and we are doing the same.”

The Presidents Council elected Lawrence to be the 2019 chair. The next Presidents Council meeting will take place on October 15, 2019.

For more information about the CIC/New York Times Partnership, contact Kandace Rusnak, Times national education director, by phone (440-610-5285) or email (