Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Month in the Life . . .

From the Gettysburg Seminary President's Office
by President Michael Cooper-White (

On a leisurely stroll a few days ago, a friend who is considering the possibility of a college presidency asked me, “So what does a president really do?” In responding, I first had to acknowledge I’ve never been a college president, and imagine his/her world to be quite different from mine in certain respects. Especially for major university presidents, relating to legislators who vote on funding, negotiating with labor unions (that in some cases include the faculty), and diplomatically coping with alumni donors whose primary concern is funding high profile athletic teams are part and parcel of the job. In a recent gathering with outdoor ministry executive leaders, I shared that while there are undoubtedly similarities between their callings and mine, I’m thankful not to have to manage an outdoor swimming pool!

The conversation prompted me to wonder if at least a few folks—perhaps including seminarians—wonder about the work of the one who inhabits the president’s office. While there is no typical day, week or month, a review of some October highlights may grant a glimpse into my world for any who may be interested in taking a peek.

Early in the month a visit to a huge local dairy operation provided opportunity both to observe the wonders of robotic milking equipment (quite a sight to this dairy farm boy!) and to engage in dialogue with the chief managing owner-partner. Such visits generally combine expressing thanks to Seminary supporters and presenting them with new opportunities as they consider future stewardship of the gifts entrusted to them. A few days later, a similar visit (this one to a beautiful new home, not a farm) in company with a colleague yielded a pledge of a six-figure gift to the rehabilitation of “Old Dorm.” While sometimes we specifically ask for a generous contribution (and even go so far as to suggest an amount we deem commensurate with the donor’s giving capacity), on this particular call we simply told the exciting story of the Seminary’s vision shared with our local Historical Society to convert the Old Dorm into a world class museum. Before we could return to ask, the generous alumna responded—what a gift!

October was a month with multiple celebrations and major events both on campus and in broader circles. My role is generally minimal in greeting those who attend our Luther Colloquy; however, this year’s Colloquy was preceded by a wonderful evening in which we conferred the Bertha Paulssen award for distinguished Christian service and two presidential leadership awards. Emceeing such events on campus often falls to an institution’s presiding officer, as does the delight of hosting receptions in the presidential residence for many groups who visit. Together with others, I regularly represent LTSG in the celebrations of other parts of the Church or in community events. The past four weeks included two bishops’ installations (one ELCA and the other the new Episcopal bishop of our local diocese); preaching at morning worship for the outdoor ministry folks from around the country; greeting the local district convention of the African Methodist Episcopal church held on our campus; representing LTSG as one of my predecessors, Dr. Herman Stuempfle, was awarded the prestigious Eisenhower Award for humanitarian service; and inaugurating the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship book in Chicago at a joint worship of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, Cabinet of Executives, and Seminary Presidents.

Never-ending on the schedule are meetings at which so much of the work of Seminary, church and public groups are (hopefully) advanced. In October, I met for three days with my colleague seminary presidents; spent two days with our Board of Directors and its several committees; joined in a one-day faculty retreat and planning session held off campus; engaged in staff planning sessions where we prepared for our upcoming financial campaign and began the process of developing the 2007-08 budget; reviewed student life in a lunch meeting with our student association president; and represented LTSG as a board member of the Washington Theological Consortium.

Around the edges of the daily and weekly scheduled events and meetings are the countless small tasks—correspondence, including 40-50 daily emails; phone calls and scheduled or impromptu meetings with students, staff and faculty colleagues; and informal conversations that range from cheerleading to engaging in the mutual consolation of the saints. The past month required final editing of a book manuscript in partnership with my coauthor. And I try to keep a book or two going at all times—either on the nightstand or car CD player as I roam about on my travels.

So, that’s an abbreviated succinct summary of one month in the life of this seminary president. After six plus years in this calling, I’ve concluded it’s seldom a boring job for long! As I conclude this P.O. piece for posting on All Saints Day, I am so grateful for the privilege of this calling, and for all the saints in whose company I travel.

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