MCLA President Mary Grant talks about her time at MCLA and her decision to accept the chancellor's position at UNC at Asheville.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mary Grant will be here this fall to welcome the incoming class at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts — but she won't be there to bid the class of 2015 farewell.
Rather, Grant is saying her own farewells to the college community she has lead for the past dozen years. This coming January, she heads south to become chancellor of the University of North Carolina's Asheville campus. Grant replaces Anne Ponder, who is retiring after nine years as chancellor.
"I'm glad that I get to open up another semester, I'm glad that I get a chance to welcome another group of students to MCLA," the college's 11th president said on Tuesday. "I know that each one is going to be the last one ... and it's going to be all the more special."
The 1983 MCLA alum said the months ahead will give her time to properly say goodbye and thanks to students, faculty, staff and greater community who have made her stay here a rewarding one.
"It's both a kickoff and a wrap-up," she said.
"I will miss this place terribly, but it will always be part of me, and that's very comforting, very comforting."
Grant leaves a college very different from the one she arrived at in 2002, in physical terms and in educational and civic achievements.
"When you think of where we've come over the past 12 years, this is a very different institution by whatever barometer you use to measure," said Tyler Fairbank, chairman of the MCLA board of trustees. "Every metric you measure success by we've seen improvement, dramatic improvement."
Both Fairbank and Grant, meeting with local media at the president's office, pointed to the challenges and changes at what is now a state university.
Just outside the window is the college's most obvious transformation — the Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation, a project pushed by Grant that has also expanded on the college's math and science capabilities.
Grant said some of her initial challenges were on enrollment and helping people understand what the college did and articulating the benefits of a public liberal arts education. The result has been an increase and diversification of the student population, expansion of degrees and courses, and developing complementary programs to local arts programs and museums.
Arriving only a handful of years after the college's name change, which she described as a "very bold move," Grant focused on branding, reinvigorating ties with the larger community, developing alumni support and rallying for support on Beacon Hill beyond the already supportive Berkshire delegation.
"It was taking this little gem and polishing it anew," said Grant.
The college's reach has expanded beyond the partnerships developed with and within the city to embrace regional associations.
"It's really embedded in all the regional economic development activities ... that's taken place over the past decade," Fairbank said, such as creating the Berkshire Compact initiative "that has really forged a countywide discussion" on early childhood education, educational access and lifelong learning. "That conversation has been really powerful in engaging the community and that builds momentum, and that builds a regional strategy and MCLA has been right in the middle of all that."
Grant was nominated for the chancellor's post by a number of her peers. She sees it as an opportunity that came along at the right time, with MCLA in a strong position and good hands.
Trustees Chairman Tyler Fairbank said the search for Grant's successor would be inclusive and done in a deliberative manner.
"You don't look around; opportunities have to find you," she said. "To get up every day and love what you do even when those days are hard days, that's a privilege."
Grant said she knew MCLA was going to be a good fit when she came here and believes the same of Asheville after visiting the campus and speaking with its people.
"I could see myself here," she said of the much larger 3,600-student campus. "They are good people. They care about the same things I do. They care about the same things that the people at MCLA care about, which is the best public higher education, the best liberal arts education we can make available."
The North Carolina campus may be bigger, but Grant believes the same community initiatives successful in North Adams and beyond will fit there as well. It's about getting out, meeting people and doing it, she said.
Tyler said the board of trustees has not yet met to discuss the process of replacing Grant. He anticipated an inclusive process with the college community and stakeholders and a national search.
"We have tremendous, tremendous momentum right now, and so as we look to the future, we're looking to build on that momentum," Fairbank said. "The next president is going to have the skills and capabilities to build on that."
Grant thinks the key ingredient for her successor is passion for the job, the 120-year-old college and its greater possibilities.
"We build on whoever we come after ... each person touches an institution in ways that lay a foundation and those of us who come after," Grant said. "I just can't wait to see what happens."
As an alum of MCLA, and as the chancellor of a college within the liberal arts consortium, her goodbyes aren't final.
"I'm in love with this college, I'm going to keep an eye on them," Grant said.