A. Lee Fritschler was the first person in his family to attend college. Now he is waiting to hear if the U.S. Senate will confirm him for a presidential appointment. "I never really sat down to plot a career plan," says Fritschler, former president of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. "I'm not sure it is possible to plan these things too far in advance."
While working on graduate degrees in public administration at the Maxwell School, Fritschler became affiliated with an overseas project that took him to Pakistan and India and changed his perspective on education. "My time at the Maxwell School was a big part of my life," Fritschler says. "Before that, I really had no idea how the academic world worked."
Last spring President Bill Clinton nominated Fritschler to serve as assistant secretary for post-secondary education. It's a job Fritschler welcomes, since he's hardly a stranger to the nation's capital. After completing a doctoral degree at SU, he joined the faculty at American University and later became an academic dean. In 1977, he signed on as an educational advisor to the Carter administration, and then joined The Brookings Institution, which kept him in Washington for another seven years. In 1987, Fritschler was named president of Dickinson College.
Dickinson's small size enabled Fritschler to keep one foot in the classroom throughout his presidency. "I taught 15 students a year, all seniors," he says. "Of course, if I were in Chancellor Shaw's shoesrunning a large universityI don't think I could do that. Ideally I think all college presidents should teach, but in many cases it is impractical."
Fritschler says his 12-year tenure at Dickinson was lengthy by today's standards. "There are schools where the president has stayed 30 years, but I don't think we'll see much of that anymore. You need more diversity at an institution these days," Fritschler says. "You also have to balance the needs of an institution with your own. Being a college president is a demanding, seven-days-a-week job. You get deeply immersed in campus life."
A key to a successful presidency, Fritschler suggests, is establishing a good working relationship with the institution's board of trustees. "These people tend to be from the private sector and understand the ideal relationship between a board member and a CEO," he says. "These are people who, for various reasons, have maintained a strong interest in the school. Their dedication is pretty well founded."
Fritschler is now prepared to turn his attention to the nation's educational system and explore such issues as the rapid growth of distance learning and the need to improve continuing education programs for faculty. "I hope to get a better understanding of the federal government's role in higher education," he says. "It's a challenging time to do this kind of work."
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