Taking it to the streets: How one president's commitment to out-of-office meetings helps build community on campus
- Hiram College President Lori Varlotta wrote for Inside Higher Ed about her commitment to walking around campus on a regular basis — an effort to engage students, learn the functions and challenges of each office, and reduce the number of emails she may receive on a daily basis.
- Varlotta says weekly trips around the campus help her to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, while also learning areas of the campus she might use in her pitches to donors.
- Her walks are a foundation for the school's health and personal wellness initiatives, which encourage students to live healthier lifestyles and emphasize relationship building.
Varlotta's example of campus engagement is a good blueprint for how campus leaders can build loyalty and trust among institutional stakeholders. While it is typically difficult for presidents to have a strong presence on campus when other duties like legislative lobbying, fundraising and conferences demand so much time, taking the rare time on campus to see different people and areas which could use attention is a powerful tool in the presidential engagement process.
Hiram presents a unique opportunity for this kind of outreach. With fewer than 1,000 students, Varlotta has an opportunity to see or be seen by many on the campus in just a few strategic visits over the course of a week. This endears her mostly to residential students who are in between classes, eating lunch in the cafeteria, or in common areas.
The biggest takeaway from Varlotta's example is the value of presidents being more visible on campus on a regular basis. Allowing faculty and students regular conversation time with the campus' highest executive presents the feeling of stakeholder access, and leads to greater opportunities for buy-in. Making stakeholders feel heard is half the battle of building consensus and support.
- Inside Higher Ed Getting out to learn what's going on