There’s no doubt you’ve seen her somewhere on campus. College President R. Barbara Gitenstein is everywhere. You can find her giving speeches at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, guest lecturing in your class or even sitting right next to you at one of the College’s cultural events. But have you ever wondered what else Gitenstein’s presidency entails?
Reviewing her schedule for a week earlier this semester, Gitenstein revealed that she spends a lot of her time in meetings, supporting groups by attending College events and catching up with students via e-mail.
Although her schedule typically pulls her off campus for the equivalent of one day a week, Gitenstein loves spending time here.
“Some presidents create a presidency that is external,” Gitenstein said, before explaining that she spends a lot more time on campus than a lot of other college presidents. “I was an academic for the longest period of my career. I spent 17 years as full-time faculty. I’m not here to be a president; I’m here to be a leader of an academic facility.”
As you might expect, a lot of Gitenstein’s time is spent in meetings with the College’s leaders. For example, Gitenstein recently met with Provost Stephen Briggs, who updates her on faculty and staff searches, and Catherine Sokoloski, director of Legal Affairs, who updates the president on litigation issues with the student apartments. These meetings are all in addition to conferences she has with Board of Trustees members and staff in charge of special programs.
Gitenstein also takes time to meet with the College’s student leaders, including Annelise Catanzaro, Student Government Association (SGA) executive president.
“That allows me to keep up with what’s going on in SGA and the student body,” Gitenstein said, explaining that she meets with Catanzaro about every other week.
Gitenstein also makes a point to meet with the leaders of unions, including student groups, the staff senate and the faculty senate at least once a semester, something she sometimes does through hosting dinners at her house.
As for some of the more fun parts of her job, Gitenstein likes attending the intellectual and cultural events on campus, whether they involve students or outside guests, including musical productions and lectures.
Last month she flew out to Greensboro, N.C. to watch the College’s women’s soccer team play for a national championship.
“They played so well, but unfortunately, so did Messiah (College),” Gitenstein said. “I was so proud of those women; they did so well.”
One of Gitenstein’s favorite events this semester was the concert by jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, which she described as “just wonderful.” Attending concerts like that one, however, also requires Gitenstein to do some work.
“Those kinds of events for me are more often an opportunity to meet with a donor or a trustee and talk about the College,” she said. “It’s work as well as pleasure.”
Gitenstein’s position also sees her putting a lot of hours into outside educational and business associations. She’s a member of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, which allows her to work with the state’s other academic institutions toward goals that will help both schools and students. In addition to other educational associations in New Jersey, Gitenstein also represents the College in the Mercer County and New Jersey Chambers of Commerce, as well as the Association of Governing Boards Council of Presidents, a Washington D.C.-based group that “endorses and supports higher education.”
Gitenstein said she uses all trips to meet with everyone from potential donors to state legislators.
“I meet with a lot of legislators because it’s important,” Gitenstein said. “No one gives us as much money as the state. (We) need to let them know what’s going on (at the College).”
While meeting with legislators is usually a positive experience, Gitenstein said that this is not necessarily the case during budget time.
“Not everything is pleasant,” Gitenstein said. “But when I ask myself ‘Why am I doing this?’ I know exactly why.”
In between all the meetings, conferences and events, Gitenstein said she likes to read up on industry magazines and get back to student e-mails.
“I love e-mail and the immediacy of it,” Gitenstein said, explaining how she uses any breaks in time to reply to e-mails with her Blackberry.
This interaction with students and faculty, whether it is in person or through personal e-mails, Gitenstein said is her favorite part of her job. She also enjoys spreading the word about the College.
“The public speaking part of it – the telling of the story, whether it’s with donors or sympathetic legislators – is always a pleasure,” Gitenstein said.
Along with the good, however, there is always some bad.
“What’s most heartbreaking – dealing with student and faculty deaths,” Gitenstein said. “They drain me because I care about the institution and the individuals here.”
The fact that she cares about the College is something that has never been questioned. The first female president in the College’s history, Gitenstein, who took office in January of 1999, has overseen the construction of new buildings and a major curriculum transformation. In her six years in office, she has already ensured that she will be remembered for years to come.
And just in case you were wondering, the “R” in her name stands for Rose.