Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hollins Pres. Nancy Gray To Retire: It's Time To Put Family First

I shot this of Nancy last fall at the Hollins Horizon program's 40th anniversary.

Nancy Gray announced her retirement as president of Hollins University at mid-day today and it is with a tinge of sadness that I absorb the news. The retirement is effective at the end of the 2016-2017 year. She wants to spend more time with her family.
Nancy, who has been a dear friend for nearly 10 years, has led one of the country’s top all-female universities since 2005, a brief 11 years, but has accomplished so very much in that short span. I got a note from her late last night about the pending retirement, asking that I hold the information until mid-day today. And, of course, I would.

She mentioned that "we are staying in Roanoke, so I'll be around ... It's time to put family first."
One of her accomplishments affects me and the region’s writers in a significant way. When the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference finished its first year at the Jefferson Center, Nancy and I met and she asked what she could do to get the conference headquartered at Hollins. “Ask,” I said, beyond enthusiastic. The RRWC has been a late January fixture there since and I have always felt the conference was born there and reared by Nancy’s loving hand.
Judy Lambeth, who chairs Hollins’ board of trustees, said, “She leaves our institution stronger in every dimension and she will be missed. Her leadership is unparalleled.”
In addition, her accomplishments include some significant moments:
·       A university endowment of $171 million, as of June 30, 2015.
·       No debt and a balanced operating budget for the past nine years. For the third consecutive year, Forbes gave Hollins an “A” financial grade in 2015.
·       The Hollins Fund achieved $3.5 million in 2014-15 – for the second year in a row.
·       The largest comprehensive fundraising campaign in school history and the largest ever undertaken by a women’s college in the South. The Campaign for Women Who Are Going Places successfully concluded in 2010 with more than $161 million raised, far exceeding the goal of $125 million.
·       The creation of a number of new academic programs: majors in environmental studies and environmental science; a certificate program in leadership studies; an extensive seminar program especially designed for first-year students; a Master of Fine Arts degree in children’s book writing and illustrating; and a faculty-designed honors program that complements the university’s academic curriculum and provides students a multidisciplinary and research-based experience.
·       Renovation of historic buildings and gardens on the Hollins campus.
You will also note that during the Bush Administration’s near rupture of the American economy, during which Harvard lost $25 billion of its endowment, Hollins was the leader among Virginia colleges and universities in preserving its. A good board and a strong president gets the credit.
She led Hollins during the largest comprehensive fundraising campaign in school history and the largest ever undertaken by a women’s college in the South, the Campaign for Women Who Are Going Places. The campaign successfully concluded in 2010 with over $161 million raised, far exceeding the goal of $125 million. In 2013, Forbes magazine ranked Hollins among “America’s 100 Most Financially Fit Colleges.
Nancy has weathered a few storms, generally caused by passionate students thinking with their mouths instead of their heads. In March of this year, I wrote that Nancy was “getting some heat from a group of students because she called the founder of the university a ‘progressive thinker’ during a Founder's Day speech.
“Charles Cocke, the university's founder in the mid-19th Century, was a slave owner who used slaves to work the university. The students, part of a minority group, believe that nobody who was a progressive thinker could possibly have owned slaves, even in 1850, even in the South. They forget that Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and a whole group of people who founded the United States owned slaves.”
My conclusion: “Nancy Gray is not a racist. She is not ignorant of early-American fact. She is not insensitive. She would have done well to have said something about Hollins' slave heritage on Founder's Day and my guess is that she will in the future. But this incident needs to be used for its educational value and then everybody should move on with the new lesson.”
She has been the right president for the time and I will remember her as my favorite. And as my friend.

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