CIC Program Helps Aspiring Presidents and Their Spouses Clarify Personal Vocation and Institutional Mission

Twenty senior administrators recently participated in CIC’s longest-running program for aspiring presidents—the Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission program. The program’s premise is that presidential leadership is strengthened by the alignment of institutional mission and presidential vocation. The year-long program, of which the summer seminar is the first main component, aims to clarify each participant’s sense of personal vocation in the context of the institutions they might lead in the future. Carefully structured opportunities for reflection and dialogue help potential presidents, along with their spouses or partners, envision their prospective roles.
In late spring, participants in the 2016–2017 cohort (see below) read a selection of short essays and book excerpts in preparation for the Summer Seminar. The participants then met in Woodstock, Vermont, July 10–13 for guided discussions around the diverse set of shared readings. The readings included classic texts from Aristotle, Homer, and Hebrew scripture as well as pieces by Alexis de Tocqueville, John Milton, Immanuel Kant, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These readings spurred discussion about the understanding of vocation, barriers to vocation as a framework for life, and the connections among vocation, service, and leadership. Contemporary readings about higher education by Burton Clark, Jill Ker Conway, and Andrew Delbanco, among others, framed the consideration of institutional mission in light of vocation.
Along with plenary sessions, participants met in small discussion groups—designed for either prospective presidents, spouses and partners, or a mix of participants. They also were able to engage in private consultations with program facilitators to discuss key questions about aspiring to the presidency and to plan follow-up phone calls during the fall. This opportunity to form a close relationship with facilitators who serve as mentors is a unique aspect of the program. As one participant remarked, “I loved the variety of readings and the diversity of attendees. Each of us brought different skills, experiences, talents, and perspectives, which highlighted the variety and value of the independent college network. The mixing of groups, individuals, spouses, and candidates added a dimension of depth that was greatly appreciated.”

Joel Cunningham stands in the center of participants seated on chair in a circle.
Joel Cunningham, vice chancellor emeritus of Sewanee: The University of the South (TN), guided discussions during the July 10–13, 2016, Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission seminar.

Frederik Ohles, Nebraska Wesleyan University president and CIC senior advisor, will reconvene the group February 27–28, 2017, in Peachtree City, Georgia. Others who have thought deeply about matters of personal vocation and institutional mission as they relate to the college or university presidency—from both religious and secular perspectives—will continue to lend their expertise to the program. Facilitators include Joel and Trudy Cunningham, vice chancellor emeritus and former presidential spouse, respectively, of Sewanee: The University of the South (TN); Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University (IL); Rosemary Ohles, presidential spouse of Nebraska Wesleyan University; and Tim and Mary Ellen Summerlin, president and presidential spouse, respectively, of Schreiner University (TX).
“This program aims to help those likely to be future presidents achieve great things for their institutions and avoid being ‘the right person in the wrong place,’” remarked CIC President Richard Ekman. “Although occasionally participants determine that their calling is not to a presidency, a remarkable 32 percent of past participants already have advanced to become a college or university president.” The program was first offered in 2005.
CIC is now accepting nominations for the 2017–2018 Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission program. Senior administrators who currently serve CIC member institutions and who are contemplating a college presidency are encouraged to consider this useful professional development opportunity. Participants are selected from nominations by current CIC presidents who believe their senior administrators have the potential to become effective presidents and may benefit from the reflective nature of this program. The nomination deadline is February 8, 2017.
Spouses and partners are strongly encouraged to participate as full members of the program, which operates on the premise that each person has his or her own vocation. Coming to discern one’s own calling can contribute significantly to a sense of fulfillment, whether in the role of presidential spouse or in any other occupation.
The program is funded by a generous grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. The grant to CIC covers most participation costs, including program readings, accommodations, meals, and a travel stipend. Participants or their institutions are responsible for a modest registration fee. View more information and nomination materials online, or contact Harold V. Hartley III, CIC senior vice president, at (202) 466-7230 or

Front view of Woodstock Inn & Resort with garden and lawn chairs
The 2018 Summer Seminar of the Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission program will be held over four days at the historic Woodstock Inn & Resort, situated in picturesque Woodstock, Vermont, amidst the Green Mountains.


Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission Participants (2016–2017)

Berea College (KY)
Linda Strong-Leek
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

Biola University (CA)
Adam Morris
Vice President for Advancement

Brevard College (NC)
R. Scott Sheffield
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty

Butler University (IN)
Jay Howard
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Central Methodist University (MO)
Joshua Jacobs
Vice President for Advancement and Alumni Relations

Coker College (SC)
Tony Floyd
Executive Vice President

Emerson College (MA)
Michaele Whelan
Vice President for Academic Affairs

Grinnell College (IA)
Michael Latham
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College

Heritage University (WA)
Curt Guaglianone
Vice President for Strategic Planning and Program Development

Lane College (TN)
Moses Goldmon
Executive Vice President and Chaplain
Linfield College (OR)
Susan Agre-Kippenhan
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty

Loyola University Maryland
Susan M. Donovan
Executive Vice President

Messiah College (PA)
John A. Chopka
Vice President for Enrollment Management

Ohio Wesleyan University
Charles Lee Stinemetz

Saint Anselm College (NH)
Harry Dumay
Senior Vice President for Finance

Saint Mary’s College of California
Bethami Dobkin
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

St. Ambrose University (IA)
Timothy Phillips
Associate Vice President and Dean of Students

St. Thomas University (FL)
Irma Becerra
Provost and Chief Academic Officer

University of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN)
Matthew Hill
Vice President for Student Life and Athletics

University of the Ozarks (AR)
Travis Feezell