By Victoria Gill-Gomez and Erica Quinones
Former President Kurt Landgraf departed from Washington College after serving for three years.
First announced in a June 1 press release alongside the departure of now former Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio, Landgraf’s contract officially ended on June 30, but he stayed through the summer to prepare for the Fall semester and “to make sure you are in good hands before I leave.”
“This was a difficult decision, but it is the right time for me personally and for the institution, as I have accomplished what I set out to achieve when I arrived in 2017,” Landgraf said in a June 2 email.
An Aug. 10 email from Washington College News announced Landgraf’s successor as Dr. Wayne Powell, who served as president of Lenoir-Rhyne University. Dr. Powell begins his term on Sept. 1.
Landgraf first came to WC in 2015 as an applicant for the presidential position. However, the position was given to his predecessor, Sheila Bair.
As disappointed as he was, Landgraf said he was nonetheless impressed with the Search Committee.
“I loved the campus. I got to meet some students and faculty…and I walked away from that search process really wanting the job,” Landgraf said.
For the next year and a half, Landgraf worked in the commercial world. He was on the board for both the Lousiana-Pacific Corporation and Corning Incorporated, worked with the Educational Testing Service, and was the Commissioner for Higher Education in New Jersey.
In 2016, former Chair of the Board of Visitors and Governors Larry Kulp called Landgraf regarding the College President position. The position reopened and the Board of Visitors and Governors voted for Landgraf as the ideal candidate.
Landgraf said he was thrilled.
He started the job four days later, right after Memorial Day.
Picking up where Bair left off, Landgraf saw there had been a great deal of turnover within the senior staff. At the time there were three provosts, two financial officers, three advancement directors, and three enrollment directors.
According to Landgraf, the first thing he wanted to create was stability so the College could employ a senior staff for longer terms.
He also said that he found Chestertown itself comforting, but there was a disconnect between the town and the College. The relationship between Chestertown and the College became another area of focus.
While he loved doing the job of college president, he realized that working with a variety of constituents was difficult. According to Landgraf, being the president was a much harder job than his previous positions.
“The same skills that mattered at [these companies] are the same type of skills you need to be a college president. First, you have to like people. Second, you have to be a communicator; you have to be willing to put the effort into making the job a very central part of your life,” he said.
Landgraf spent the next three years fostering a relationship between the College and Chestertown community through First-Year Experiences, fundraisers, and local events.
“That is what a college president should do,” Landgraf said.
But constituents do not only exist outside of the College. Landgraf said another important aspect of the president’s position is engaging with students.
Over his tenure, Landgraf was known to sit in classes or join students in the dining hall for a conversation. He said that he never experienced these types of interactions in the corporate world because students are made to inhabit a space together and connect.
He said his favorite part of the job was the students and their optimistic view of life. Landgraf said that during his time as president, he and the students shared moments of joy and tension, and through it all, he notes how resilient and caring they are.
“What I learned from [the students] was a reminder that life can be a very happy experience if you make it,” Landgraf said.
As he left Chestertown during the first week of classes, Landgraf reflected on the community he is leaving behind and what is ahead.
“I am not the kind of person who wants to just sit around and do nothing,” Landgraf said
Landgraf is excited that he is not leaving Chestertown behind. He accepted a consulting job for a pharmaceutical company based in the town, so he will return regularly.
In addition, he was asked to participate in former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden’s presidential campaign as an economic policy advisor. Landgraf has a long friendship with his old neighbors, the Bidens, from Delaware.
Landgraf also recently rejected an offer to serve as the interim president of another college. Despite declining the position, he says he has not ruled out working as a college president again.
“I really loved being the president of Washington College,” Landgraf said. “I do not know how much I would love being another college’s president.”
Landgraf said he is proud to be leaving the College in a better position than many other institutions that are trying to navigate the economic climate of COVID-19.
“When I first came here, during my inauguration speech, I said I loved this place. And as I leave here, I still say I love this place. It has been the very best experience in my fifty-year career, and I am appreciative of being there,” Landgraf said. “When I first came, I said to the faculty and staff, I need you more than you need me…I have never enjoyed a group of people as much as I have enjoyed the students, faculty, and staff at Washington College.”
Featured Photo caption: President of the College Kurt Landgraf began his term in 2017, two years after initially being rejected from the job. Known around campus as “Kurt,” he said that interacting with students and learning from them was his favorite part of his role as president. Elm File Photo.