Q&A with Interim President Thayne

Bobby Grady/Health & Environment Editor/rgrady@mail.smcvt.edu

Q:When you were first hired, what was the first thing you wanted to accomplish? 

A: The board asked me to focus on strengthening enrollment.   

The first thing I noticed about St. Michael’s was what a beautiful campus, and why is it in the shape it’s in? Because it was not in good shape. It was just not maintained at the level that it would need to be. The summer is really an important enrollment time and we just didn’t look good. It will not only be appreciated by the students and people who work here, but also by prospective students and families and other visitors. 

Q:Do you have any strategies specific to enrollment other than cleaning up campus that you have implemented or are looking to implement? 

A:One of the first things was to hire a new executive director of student finance. We had to get that right for the students who are here on financial aid, which is most of our students, and for new students.  

The second thing was to really look at the campus tour. That was the first thing I mentioned that is absolutely essential. The campus tour is really about the presentation of St. Michael’s and what are the messages. What’s the route? Where do you stop? I have a number of adjustments that have been made in that regard.  

I would say the third is really to look at our messages. What are we saying about St. Michael’s? And how are we talking about the school?  

Q: What is that message that you’ve been wanting everyone to agree on? 

A: We do liberal arts differently. That experiential aspect is so important to our courses, and the work that our students do and the learning that goes on.  

Q: Do you have any ideas or strategies that you’re implementing to establish financial stability, or that you could see being implemented in the future? 

A:Well, one of the hardest things about being an interim is that it’s a short term assignment. And in my case, it could be as you know, near the end of right now. I’m contracted through the end of December. But I think that financial strategies for St. Mike’s are longer term.  

So among the most important financial strategies is to have more students here. And we’re very pleased with the first year class and the size of the first year class, and now we want to go beyond that to over 400 in next year’s.  

I think the second thing is really to begin to look at graduate programs. This generation of students is very motivated to continue their education and start their careers at a higher level. Not every department needs a graduate program, but in some areas where there’s particularly high demand, I think that’s one of the things that we should look at. It’s a strategy that’s in place but needs to be expanded and in my view, and accelerated. 

Q: Why are non SMC students now living on campus? 

A:We had 700 empty beds. I don’t know how students feel about having 700 empty beds on campus, but I don’t feel good about that. If we had 700 more students than we have beds, I would be asking UVM to house our students or any other place. I wouldn’t be putting them in motels and so on.  In the case of the rice high school students, I see the benefit there.  There’s a lot of students who want to earn college credit when they’re in high school. So I hope  we’re at the beginning of a trend. The second group is the Lumberjacks. They are hockey players first and students second, but potentially students here. So I see great recruitment possibilities for St. Mike’s with both groups. But that’s not the primary reason we have them. It’s because we had the beds and I think financially it made sense.  

I would love to have more graduate students here from UVM. I think graduate students provide some stability. They provide some acquaintances with the next level. They do not take away from what’s available to our students,so there’s no competition.   

I think we want to be as welcoming as we are to international students. And our goal is to get to the point where we fill up all our residential halls with St. Mike’s students. So let’s not mince words about that. I mean, that is clearly the goal, but we’re not there. So I see this as a win win for now. 

Q: There is concern about the active shooter drill that took place this summer. Why did it happen in Sloane? 

A: I don’t know specifically who made that decision. But I know that it was supposed to be in an unoccupied building. The three other buildings on the north campus that are next to Sloane were in the process of being sold and actually could not be used. This is a guess. And that’s why Sloane came into it. It should not have been used. I’m meeting with the faculty Welfare Committee, I’ve asked my cabinet to write to and contact folks who were affected. 

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

A: I have been absolutely embraced by the people that are here. I can say with conviction, this is a special place. St. Mike’s is different, it has a different feel and personality. I’m looking forward to the rest of the semester.