New chal­lenges ex­cite col­lege’s pres­i­dent-elect

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — A ca­reer dis­ap­point­ment — and not the time he didn’t get picked by a pro­fes­sional baseball team — and a cou­ple of long­time friends helped steer Kurt Land­graf onto the path of be­com­ing Wash­ing­ton Col­lege’s new pres­i­dent.

In an in­ter­view June 15, his 15th day on cam­pus, Pres­i­dent-elect Land­graf spoke about his pre­vi­ous ca­reers, first as an ex­ec­u­tive with DuPont, then as the head of Ed­u­ca­tional Test­ing Ser­vice, and what at­tracted him to the his­toric lib­eral arts col­lege in Chestertown.

Land­graf, 70, is set to of­fi­cially suc­ceed Pres­i­dent Sheila Bair on July 1. Bair, a for­mer chair­man of the Fed­eral De­posit In­sur­ance Corp., an­nounced her res­ig­na­tion at the be­gin­ning of the month, cit­ing time spent away from her fam­ily and the hard­ship that cre­ated.

The day af­ter Bair’s an­nounce­ment, the Board of Visi­tors and Gov­er­nors named Land­graf her suc­ces­sor. It was noted that Land­graf was a top con­tender for the po­si­tion when Bair was hired in 2015.

“I was part of the search two years ago. I was asked, by a per­son I’ve known for 40 years who’s on the board of gov­er­nors here, and I came up and fell in love with the stu­dent-cen­tric ap­proach,” Land­graf said, adding that he has a strong in­ter­est in lib­eral arts.

In 1968, Land­graf grad­u­ated from Wag­ner Col­lege, a lib­eral arts school on New York’s Staten Is­land. His time there was trans­for­ma­tive.

“It changed my life, lit­er­ally, not fig­u­ra­tively. I was a kid who grew up in an or­phan­age and I never thought of my­self as be­ing col­lege ma­te­rial. And I luck­ily got into a lit­tle lib­eral arts school on an ath­letic schol­ar­ship and I had a pro­fes­sor there and he changed my life,” he said.

That ath­letic schol­ar­ship was for baseball. Land­graf was a pitcher, but not des­tined for the ma­jors.

“I ac­tu­ally had a try­out with the Read­ing Phillies in 1964,” Land­graf said. “I was a fail­ure at age 17. I got sent home.”

As the news re­lease an­nounc­ing Land­graf’s hir­ing states, he has a “decades-long ré­sumé as a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive with DuPont” be­fore be­com­ing the head of ETS, which bills it­self as “the world’s largest pri­vate non­profit ed­u­ca­tional test­ing and as­sess­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion.” He also was a chair­man of the New Jer­sey Com­mis­sion on Higher Ed­u­ca­tion.

So how did he shift from DuPont to ed­u­ca­tion?

“I will tell you the 100 per­cent ac­tual truth and that is that I was one of two can­di­dates to be­come chair­man of the board of the DuPont Co. And the DuPont board elected the other can­di­date. And in the world, the com­mer­cial world, when you’re the non­electee, you leave. And I did,” he said.

Land­graf said he was tak­ing a cou­ple of months off to re­cu­per­ate from all of that, when a life­long friend who was then the ETS chair­man reached out to him.

“And he called me and told me that he would like me to con­sider tak­ing over the Ed­u­ca­tional Test­ing Ser­vice be­cause it needed to be liq­ui­dated. It was in very bad shape. And I told him, ‘As it hap­pens, I am ready for another chal­lenge.’ And I thought I was go­ing to be there six months and I ended up stay­ing 14 years. And I loved it. And I loved the ed­u­ca­tional experience and I learned a great deal be­cause I be­came vice chair­man and then chair­man of the New Jer­sey Com­mis­sion on Higher Ed­u­ca­tion,” Land­graf said.

“It’s like many things in life. It would seem to me like the worst thing that ever hap­pened to me, not be­com­ing chair­man of the DuPont Co., turned out to be one of the finest things that ever hap­pened to me,” he said.

It was another long­time friend, a mem­ber of Wash­ing­ton Col­lege’s board, who later sought to bring Land­graf out of his re­tire­ment in Lewes, Del.

“Re­tired is maybe a bit of an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. I’m on the board of Corn­ing. I’m on the board of LouisianaPa­cific. I was on the board of Course Hero. I was on the board of Rem­edy Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. I was on the board of Chris­tiana Care Health (Sys­tem). I had plenty to do. It’s not like hav­ing the fan­tas­tic chal­lenge that I now have. I’m real happy to be here,” he said. “I just want to say I’m re­ally ex­cited about this op­por­tu­nity. I wanted it for two years. And when it be­came avail­able, it took me five nanosec­onds to say ‘yes.’”

Land­graf said the board reached out to him again this year, “upon re­open­ing the search” for a pres­i­dent. He said he was viewed as the “No. 2 can­di­date” two years ago, and the board was happy to hear he was still avail­able and in­ter­ested. “Luck­ily, I got the job,” he said. And what is the role of the col­lege pres­i­dent, as Land­graf sees it?

“The role of a pres­i­dent is con­stituency man­age­ment. And so my con­stituen­cies in­clude the board, the fac­ulty, the stu­dents, Chestertown, the alumni, donors. It is a very com­plex po­si­tion,” he said. “It’s a 24/7 job that re­quires you to pri­or­i­tize, but you need to rec­og­nize where this school is and man­age all of those con­stituen­cies to come out with a pos­i­tive out­come.”

Board mem­bers have given Land­graf some idea of what they are look­ing for from him: “vi­a­bil­ity, sta­bil­ity, main­tain­ing and hon­or­ing the pro­grams that Pres­i­dent Bair put into place” to name a few.

Bair made col­lege af­ford­abil­ity the cor­ner­stone of her pres­i­dency, with four fo­cal ini­tia­tives.

Fixed4Four freezes tu­ition rates for fresh­men over the course of their four years at the col­lege. The Saver’s Schol­ar­ship of­fers match­ing funds for fam­i­lies pay­ing for col­lege with money set aside in ded­i­cated ac­counts. Dam the Debt helps stu­dents pay off loans. Ge­orge’s Bri­gade pro­vides full rides to low-in­come, high-achiev­ing stu­dents.

“I be­lieve that they are look­ing to see this col­lege grow. And they’re very in­ter­ested in see­ing us re­ceive an even higher rank­ing in the U.S. News and World Re­port,” Land­graf said.

Land­graf thinks it is great that Wash­ing­ton Col­lege made the top 100 of the magazine’s rank­ings. He said it is not nec­es­sar­ily that num­ber it­self board mem­bers care about, but the com­po­nents that com­prise it such as grad­u­a­tion rates, at­tri­tion rates and the num­ber of stu­dents who go on to grad­u­ate school.

“All those things are a marker for a school like Wash­ing­ton Col­lege. So they’ve been very ea­ger to see the school con­tinue on its mis­sion and have some­one help grow the school. That’s what I want to do, too,” Land­graf said.

As for Bair, Land­graf has met with her and of­fered noth­ing but com­pli­ments. He said she is be­ing help­ful with the tran­si­tion and that they have jointly met with col­lege staff.

”She’s very pro­fes­sional. I have a huge amount of re­spect for her. I have since my time watch­ing her at the FDIC. She’s been ex­traor­di­nar­ily pro­fes­sional. She’s been ex­traor­di­nar­ily pos­i­tive about help­ing through this tran­si­tion. There has not been a sin­gle in­ci­dence of any kind that I felt any­thing but full sup­port from her,” Land­graf said.

While Bair still oc­cu­pies the Hyn­son-Ring­gold House— the pres­i­dent’s manor — on Chestertown’s Wa­ter Street, Land­graf is liv­ing in the col­lege’s guest­house — the Brown Cottage — on Cam­pus Av­enue.

Land­graf’s wife, Rita Land­graf, is a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Delaware. She pre­vi­ously served nine years as the First State’s sec­re­tary of health and so­cial ser­vices un­der Gov. Jack Markell. The cou­ple cur­rently owns two homes, in Lewes and in Wilm­ing­ton, Del.

Kurt Land­graf plans to move to Chestertown. He said his wife in­tends “to be here as of­ten as pos­si­ble and be a part of the com­mu­nity.”

“And it’s my in­ten­tion to stay here as long as my health and my vi­tal­ity and my sta­bil­ity al­low,” Kurt Land­graf said.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

While he will not of­fi­cially take over as Wash­ing­ton Col­lege’s pres­i­dent un­til July 1, Kurt Land­graf as been work­ing on cam­pus since the be­gin­ning of the month.

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