While the fate of the 2020 Presidential election looms large over the nation, the determination of a President for Springfield College was seamless just days prior to the big election.
On Oct. 28, Springfield College announced that the Board of Trustees had voted to extend President Mary-Beth Cooper’s contract through 2025. Cooper, the 13th President in college history, has now been with Springfield for eight years.
The newest election will carry through Cooper’s extension, and while being the President of a small college doesn’t compare to running an entire country, Cooper did provide some insight on the 2020 election.
“Luckily, I didn’t have to be elected by an Electoral College, so I’m fortunate we don’t have that in common,” Cooper joked in regard to the 2020 election.
On a more serious note, Cooper talked about how the roles of President for a college and a nation obviously possess vast differences, but both have had to handle a tumultuous past eight months.
“He’s been dealing with the virus and so have I, his population that he is responsible for is far greater than mine — mine, however, is more intimate and I know my constituents better than he might know his,” Cooper said.
“I do think we both have experienced roller coasters in terms of making difficult decisions about the virus in particular, and he is up for re-election and in the process of that, they extended my contract. So, in some ways, there are some similarities.”
Being a President comes with numerous expectations and they receive constant attention — both positive and negative — at all times. Cooper touched on the fact that being President comes with a certain level of carefulness and responsibility.
“You have a lot of people that are watching you, so wearing a mask, making the right decision, every opportunity that I have with students, whether it’s email or face-to-face interaction — it may be the only interaction I have with them — I try to be as present as possible.
“We saw that with all of the issues around social justice this year and students wanting to be heard, I would say as a leader, listening to your constituents and responding and being a decision-maker, are things that I believe are apparent,” Cooper said.
She added that communication is vital, especially in times of uncertainty with the Coronavirus constantly changing by the day and affecting plans.
“I don’t know how often students, parents, faculty and staff think about the amount of time we put into correspondence, but sometimes it’s hours,” Cooper said.
“To get the right words and the right tone, the numerous emails that I have sent out since March 17 were carefully drafted… because people are looking for answers and they are looking for someone to respond to them. I think that’s an important thing for a leader – to understand the impact of [the] written word.”
Right now, between COVID-19, social justice and a host of other issues – the United States has a lot going on and remains quite divided. A strong and able leader is a big part of getting the country on track for a bright future.
“This (election) has been particularly concerning to me in terms of how they address each other. That makes me sad, as a citizen,” Cooper said of the race between Biden and Trump.
“I hope there is some healing that happens with whoever the President may end up being that gets people interested in running for public office so that we have plenty of options as voters. We (need) to put some civil behavior back into public discourse and debate about significant issues for citizens.”
For the most part, members of the campus community went out and did their part in this election by casting votes. The urgency regarding voting this year by the community is a source of pride for Cooper.
“I’ve been trying to track the numbers in terms of voter participation at the college level and there’s not any information currently out there, but we do know that overall the voter turnout has been a record,” she said.
“I do think watching our students…encouraging people to get out and vote, I don’t know that I’ve experienced that here or elsewhere in other elections.
“I would just say to students to continue that civic engagement moving forward and you will have more choices. The more engaged students become, the more their voice is going to be heard. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ll be able to break that down, even with all the barriers. I haven’t seen this level of student engagement in terms of voter turnout in decades.”
Photo: Evan Wheaton/The Student