An Interview with Incomming Saybrook President Nathan Long
Saybrook’s incoming president Nathan Long has worn a number of academic hats in his career: as both President and Chief Academic Officer of The Christ College of Nursing and Health Sciences (where he emphasized a humanities based curriculum); as a professor of liberal arts; and an adjunct faculty member. While in graduate school he was a residence coordinator, and the president of the Graduate Student Governance Association at the University of Cincinnati.
His academic work has focused on the history and sociology of education, with a particular emphasis on peace and urban education. Prior to those studies, he was a music major and trained trombonist.
Dr. Long officially begins his tenure on Sept. 1. He sat down with The Saybrook Forum to discuss his passion for Saybrook, humanistic education, and his vision for our future. Follow him on Twitter @PresidentLong
SAYBROOK FORUM (SF): What were your first impressions of the Saybrook Community?
NATHAN LONG (NL): "My immediate impression of the community was that there's a very strong connection to the mission of the University, which thoroughly excites me. Whether I've been talking to faculty, staff, students or talking to prospective students coming in, almost down to the person I've been seeing that to them it's not about a degree. It's about attaining a degree that has a meaning for the mission, to creating a more humane and sustainable world. That couldn't be more exhilirating to me. Also, because of Saybrook’s people, there is a tremendous amount of potential to build on what's already there. The university has been through a great deal of difficult change and transformation; nevertheless, we have limitless potential."
SF: Is that what you'd expected to find?
NL: "Not necessarily, no, and that was a key point for me when I decided to continue my candidacy. The institution I'm coming from has a very strong commitment to its mission, and you don't see that everywhere. Often you find factions, things that specific groups want, and I'm sure that exists here. But what I wanted … what I'm looking for ... I’m a very mission driven person myself, so I was very pleased to see that Saybrook is a place that welcomes people like that, people like me and that faculty and staff seemed truly dedicated to the core values - what makes us all Saybrook. I think in a lot of the landscape of higher ed you see a lot of people talk about 'mission' who don't really know what that is. At Saybrook I think people live it, and that's very exciting and reassuring."
SF: “How do you see your presidency beginning? What are your top priorities?”
NL: "I think my first order of business is to reach out to the entire community: student, staff, faculty, and alumni. And instead of doing things, listening. Gathering information about what faculty, staff, students, alums, feel are the strengths of Saybrook, the challenges it faces, and where the opportunities we have yet to uncover are. Also the threats that are out there to Saybrook - there are a number out there to smaller non-profits. But this is my immersion phase, my data collection phase, to get a sense of who we are and where we’ve been and where we want to go.
I think the second order of business is to start thinking strategically about the future of the university and where we can use that to our collective advantage. So communicating and strategizing and collaborating with people about the future of the university. Also, I'll be bringing donuts Monday morning.”
SF: Saybrook has recently affiliated with TCS Education System. You had a chance to talk with them before accepting the presidency – what are your thoughts about that partnership?
NL: "From everything that I have seen the TCS ES affiliation has all the trappings of being a very positive partnership and allows us a great deal of leverage so that Saybrook's future can be focused on the development of really innovative core programming in academics. It frees us to really home in and focus on those core things. The people at TCS that I’ve interacted with have a very strong interest in Saybrook's mission, which I was very pleased to see, and a desire to see Saybrook do amazing things. So we've been having discussions about ideas that are driven by Saybrook’s mission, almost as a kind of an incubator. I see the affiliates almost as a think tank full of people who have been active and engaged in higher education for a long time, and who we talk with about ideas and initiatives - even forge powerful partnerships - going into the future.”
SF: Saybrook, of course, is defined by its lineage of humanistic thought. What’s been your prior exposure and experience of humanistic thought?
NL: "The first exposure, and it was very cursory, was in graduate school. I had some surface level encounter with it in my studies at the University of Cincinnati. In my teaching we would talk about it as an element, as a force, if you will, but not in great depth. I studied it even more closely when Saybrook appeared as a potential opportunity: the first thing I did was dig more deeply into the roots of it: Husserl, Dilthey, Maslow, Rogers. For me as a scholar the most interesting aspect of it is the elements that went into the human sciences, before humanistic psychology even. This is exciting to me reaching back right into my own doctoral work, and is right up my alley as someone who pursued an interdisciplinary doctoral degree.”
SF: I understand you’ve already been talking with a number of students. What’s that experience been like?
NL: Yes, I’ve been calling newly enrolled students to welcome them, and thank them for choosing Saybrook. It’s been awesome, I have to tell you. I have had some really uplifting conversations. Their excitement, their absolute passion for counseling or organizational change, or psychology – their passion is inspiring. And I think it's a tribute to Saybrook: these students are so connected to the core mission, and their faculty, and are having a ball. I haven't gotten to all of them yet, not quite a majority, but I've been making calls and asking them if they have any questions or concerns or issues and trying to route them to the appropriate people. So that's been helpful as well."
SF: What’s your experience with our faculty been like?
NL: "It's been minimal thus far, faculty are on break right now. Obviously through the interview process I had exposure to Eric Wilmarth and Kathia Laszlo. I've had a number of faculty email me, they've been very warm, caring, emails, talking about the future and what we can do together. It's been very, very good. I've been pleased to have people reach out. In fact, one faculty member sent me links to his books and I'm digging into those next week and starting to really get a sense of where he's at, and very thrilled about that. As you know my background is in peace and urban education, and you really have some renowned peace scholars on the faculty here."
SF: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
NL: "The biggest thing that we have to think about right now, going forward, is furthering Saybrook’s mission and getting the word out there, expanding our footprint. The mission is very much based on individual and social transformation, and that has a very powerful calling, an important element that really speaks to a lot of people. And if it's done well, and done right, and the programs can keep up and take innovative next steps, Saybrook has limitless potential. I am very optimistic about Saybrook's future, and it's rooted in the fact that there are so many amazingly committed individuals and professionals who are really passionate about the students they're serving, the issues they're advancing, and the communities they're living in. And that is something we need to rally behind.”