The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Rosenberg on self-confidence, defining Macalester

By Matt Day

Brian Rosenberg is a private person. More of a natural in the classroom than the boardroom, he says it took him a while to get adjusted to being the chief administrator and public face of an institution like Macalester.”You’d like to think that after seven years at a job you’ve improved at it, grown into it,” he said in an interview. “I think I’ve become better at not personalizing things, at separating myself. One of the hardest adjustments you have to make when you start a job like this is realizing how relentlessly public you are.”

“It takes some time to adjust to that,” he said. “I’m much better now at internalizing the message that there’s me as a person and there’s my job. And in some ways they’re separate. If people are angry at the president, or happy about the president, that’s fine, but there’s a part of me that is separate from that.”

He said that there hasn’t been a dramatic shift in the direction of the college over the course of his administration and was quick to emphasize the limits on the power of any one individual to change institutions. But Rosenberg said he was successful at one of his primary goals in coming to Macalester: improving the college’s self image.

“There is a lot more appreciation of the good things we do,” Rosenberg said. “There was an absence of that before, but it’s improving.”

Rosenberg has said since his arrival in August 2003 that he would be the college’s biggest cheerleader, a goal faculty and staff agree he has consistently met.

“You have to relentlessly deliver the message,” Rosenberg said. “You can’t overlook the good things. This is a terrific institution.”

The promotion is integral to Rosenberg’s goal of raising Macalester’s profile nationally. And by most academic measures, it seems to have succeeded. Data available on the Macalester Institutional Research Web site show the college is recruiting more impressive classes of students now than when Rosenberg arrived.

He said he has worked to find a balance between micromanagement and neglecting his responsibility to provide oversight of the disparate wings of the college. He says that balance has helped him navigate the moments of controversy in his seven years at Macalester with consistency and an even hand.

On difficulties early in his tenure in hiring and retaining faculty of color, Rosenberg said his senior staff has made it a priority to improve Macalester’s performance in this critical area of multiculturalism. Retention rates for faculty of color have increased since the release of the Multicultural Advisory Board Report in 2005, he said, and the college this year has more students of color than at any other point in its history.

“I’ve learned that it’s very important to put the right people in the right positions and trust them to do their jobs, and not try to do their jobs for them,” Rosenberg said.

“The best thing we’ve been able to do for diversity in hiring is to get the right processes and people in place,” Rosenberg said.

He said the tensions felt on campus between two of the college’s pillars – internationalism and multiculturalism – represents a national trend in higher education, and a conflict felt particularly strongly at Macalester. Few schools mention both concepts in their mission statements, setting a high bar for Macalester to prove it is supporting each effectively.

“I’ve not been immune from [the tension], but it also didn’t begin with me,” he said. “I think it’s a legitimate source of debate. It’s a tough balance to strike.”

“Internationalism is so central to our identity and so important to Macalester that the last thing we want to do is weaken it. On the other hand, it’s fair for people who work on multicultural issues to feel that so much of our attention is focused on internationalism that sometimes they get short shrift.”

He is firm in supporting his policy of highlighting the international side of Macalester in college publications and fundraising, and said that the promotional choice didn’t mean the college was inadequately funding multicultural programs on campus.

“In terms of institutional identity, you always want to be true,” Rosenberg said. “You don’t want to ever lie. We can’t claim truthfully that in the world of liberal arts colleges, we’re distinctive for our domestic diversity, because other schools – especially on the East and West Coast – there are schools that do a better job than we do.”

“When it comes to publicizing the college, we probably spend more time talking about the global nature [of Macalester], because it’s a true distinction,” he said.

Both supporters and critics of college policies during Rosenberg’s tenure agree on one thing: he will have a conversation with anyone.

Rosenberg said that other than meetings and the trips that take him away from campus, his door is always open.

Except, he said, for the occasional lunch when he will shut his office door and eat alone with a copy of The New York Times, a rare truly private moment for Macalester’s most public figure.

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