By Marissa Bean
Celebrations for Bridgewater State University’s 175th anniversary have begun, and some very important people are here to celebrate.
A Presidential Fireside Chat was held on April 6 in the Horace Mann Auditorium. This discussion was held by former BSU president Adrian Tinsley, current president Dana Mohler-Faria, and president-elect Frederick Clark. Judith Block McLaughlin, faculty director of the Higher Education Program at Harvard University, moderated the discussion.
The historic event began with opening remarks from Board of Trustees chairman Eugene Durgin. Durgin’s opening remarks were followed by a special appearance from an impersonator of ‘Horace Mann’, who founded Bridgewater Normal School in 1840.
The presidential discussion began with comments from McLaughlin. Each president was given a chance to talk about their time in office.
Tinsley, who served as president from 1989 to 2002, discussed the challenges that she faced in her 13 years as president.
Of her early days as president, she said, “All of the problems that Bridgewater was facing were problems that could be solved.”
“Bridgewater had a good teaching staff, and if you don’t have that, it’s pretty hard to get it. We had a perfect location between Boston, Providence, and Cape Cod. We had a suburban campus that had the potential to be truly, truly beautiful, and we had a physical plant that wasn’t too badly run down. We had good bones where we needed good bones,” Tinsley said.
However, her time as president brought many successes as well. Schools were created within the college, money for a new athletic complex was secured, and a grant from Congressman Joseph Moakley made technology updates possible.
Eventually, Tinsley’s administration came to end after more than a decade.
Tinsley stressed that she could not take all of the credit for the success of her tenure, and she said, “You don’t lead an institution by yourself.”
Mohler-Faria worked under Tinsley in budgets and finance, and had already worked at BSU for 11 years before becoming president.
He made it clear that working under Tinsley and seeing her plans for the university helped him form his own plans. Tinsley’s vision for the school helped Mohler-Faria understand where the school had been and where it needed to go in the future.
He said, “I remember encouraging her [Tinsley] to write a vision for Bridgewater. We had to take the experiences that she had in her 13 years to really project those into the future to figure out what Bridgewater should or could look like over time.”
Like Tinsley, Mohler-Faria faced challenges in his administration, including the 2008 financial crisis. However, Mohler-Faria’s time as president has also been a period of growth, and during his presidency the school became a university.
One of the main actions of Mohler-Faria’s early administration was to alter the school’s financial structure in order to be better prepared for future economic downturns.
Another important action “was to hire faculty,” Mohler-Faria said. “I started out with a goal to hire five new faculty a year for a period of five years.” This decision was met with some opposition because of the economic state at the time.
“In that five years, we hired 38 new faculty,” Mohler-Faria said.
Mohler-Faria was offered a job in former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick’s administration, but he turned down the offer in order to remain at BSU.
Mohler-Faria’s administration will end on June 30.
“It’s been a long 13 years. It’s been a great 13 years,” Mohler-Faria said.
Clark, a 1983 BSU graduate, outlined his plans for the university. Student success is what he wants to focus on, along with affordability and adult learners.
Clark said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. In the future, my administration will most definitely rhyme with the previous administrations. I will certainly stand on the great shoulders of the two people next to me.”
Both Tinsley and Mohler-Faria stressed the importance of having a strong team, and that they had to rely on other people in order to accomplish everything they wanted.
Both also made it clear that the difficulties of the job made them wonder why they took the job in the first place, but that their successes made all the stress and crises worth it.
Continuity was an important theme of the discussion, and all three hope that the work that has already been begun will continue on into the future.
“Fred and I have had a number of conversations about where we are and what this all means,” Mohler-Faria said. “What is so incredible to me is to have three people who have a history of connection at this university will be successive presidents, and who will all share the same mission of excellence for this university.”
Marissa Bean is the Arts Editor of The Comment. Follow her on Twitter @MarLaur16.