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Pfeiffer announces retirement, discusses endowment and college’s reputation

Gabriel Sistare, Multimedia Editor

College President Sandy Pfeiffer announced through an e-mail on Feb. 11 that he will retire in June 2012.

While Pfeiffer indicated that the two events were not related, his announcement comes after the former Board of Trustees Chair Ron Hunt stepped down.

Pfeiffer said that he tried to retire once in 2003 but continued to work, eventually being hired as President of Warren Wilson in 2006.

In an interview, Pfeiffer said that his announcement was made one year before his retirement date because he wanted to give the college a chance to perform a comprehensive search for a new president.

In 2012, Pfeiffer will conclude his six years at the college and possibly pursue part-time teaching, continue to publish in Asian Studies, a field of interest for him, and revise books he published on technical writing.

Pfeiffer will retire in '12 and seek traveling opportunities, part-time teaching

While Pfeiffer was president, the college experienced an extended discussion about substance use, a conversation which still continues and one which Pfeiffer wants to focus on.

“I want us to keep thinking hard about the substance abuse issue,” said Pfeiffer.

The debate surrounding substance abuse swelled within the past year. The alcohol policy was revised and is now being reviewed by the board of trustees. Also, in a community meeting last semester, students had the opportunity to ask a panel including Public Safety officers, area coordinators and the dean of students about issues of enforcement, most of which were related to substance use.

Pfeiffer proposed that more community space is needed for students. With that new space he believes there would be a correlating drop in substance abuse.

In effect, Pfeiffer believed that a few of the main causes of the increase in substance abuse on campus include a lack of activities and venues for students to use between classes and on the weekends.

Pfeiffer was conscious of how substance use on campuses can affect the perception of that college if it has national attention.

“It’s a dominant issue everywhere,” he said. “The best way to [deal with the situation] is through community. It’s best to focus on activity and education.”

Particularly upsetting for Pfeiffer was the fact that some students indicated to him that they left the school because they were unable to concentrate on their academics because of a surrounding culture of substance use.

The issue of substance use being tied to factors like retention concerned Pfeiffer. He said that the college needs to pay attention to keeping enrollment at a stable level and nurturing good students.

Pfeiffer was aware that the actions of the campus community might damage its reputation on a national level. And, if Warren Wilson wants to be a nationally recognized college, Pfeiffer said, it needs to effectively deal with substance use.

“The substance issue shouldn’t distort how other people view us,” Pfeiffer said.

Along with the substance use discussion, Pfeiffer pointed out that the college needs to focus on improving its academic program.

“You’ve got to deliver an excellent academic program,” Pfeiffer said, adding that the college needs to become even better and keep its academic rigor consistent across all fields.

Pfeiffer pointed out that improving the academic departments will give the college the national visibility he thinks it needs.

“We need more investment in academics,” he said, indicating that it would be good for the college to identify particular programs of excellence, noting the Creative Writing Program.

Reflecting on his career at Warren Wilson, one factor which Pfeiffer addressed was the college’s endowment.

He pointed out that during his time as president, the endowment rose from $34 million to $54 million and the college received its most substantial gift ever.

“I don’t know of many colleges which have had that percentage increase,” Pfeiffer said.

While the endowment may not have grown as much as other colleges, Pfeiffer believed that the board of trustees had a wise investment strategy which allowed the college to hedge against downturns in the national economy.

Regarding this more conservative strategy, Pfeiffer did not believe it slowed the college’s progress in terms of paying for new spaces which are needed, including a new academic building.

He explained that there are restrictions as to what the endowment can be used for. The college takes five percent of the endowment each year for operating costs, which usually go to student scholarships.

According to Jonathan Ehrlich, vice president for administration and finance, the board of trustees approved this annual five percent withdrawal from the endowment for the next 12 quarters, or three years. This means that the college withdrew around $2.2 million this year. The money withdrawn from the endowment goes to services which Pfeiffer indicated and other areas of restricted funds such as designated scholarships and academic programs.

Along with the $20 million increase in the endowment, Pfeiffer also pointed to the expansion of the advancement office as an accomplishment.

He is interested in moving the college toward a comprehensive capital campaign to try and raise money for a new academic building and more community space for students.

Pfeiffer will continue to raise funds for the college next year.

Overall, Pfeiffer believed that the college needs to continue moving up and become a national model for liberal arts college, particularly in the areas of sustainability.

He said that because of the chief sustainability officer and having the climate action plan, the college is able to infuse environmentalism into everything it does – something which Pfeiffer is very fond of.

As for his retirement, Pfeiffer plans on traveling extensively and pursuing his academic and writing interests, including poetry, which he is unable to dedicate time to while working at Warren Wilson.

Pfeiffer remains fond of the college and said that he would like to help in any way in the future, if asked.

“I love this job and I loved this school,” Pfeiffer reflected. “This place is fabulous. It needs to stay a college forever.”


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