Ames not shy on opinions, but some are unsure of qualifications

Ames praised the library and Bonner Center during his speech. (Tim Lee / Staff Photographer)

By Kenneth Shindle

Students, faculty and staff gathered last Tuesday afternoon at the Mildred & Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall to get better acquainted with Christopher Ames, one of the candidates for the College’s vacant Provost and vice president for Academic Affairs position.

The forum was the culmination of Ames’s three-day visit at the College. During the 90-minute question and answer session, members of the community grilled Ames on everything from the role of research at a predominantly undergraduate institution to his vision for the future of the school.

Ames is a finalist in a search for a highly-qualified individual to fulfill an extensive list of criteria detailed on the College’s provost search prospectus. Among some of his most distinguished attributes, the document details a person “of financial acumen who will aid the College in matching aspirations with finite resources while thinking creatively about alternative revenue streams” and “of global perspective who is committed to fostering diversity in its many forms.”

Born in N.J. and raised by a high school teacher in the Bronx, Ames is familiar with the tri-state area. He graduated with a Ph.D. in English literature from Stanford University in 1984 and worked as Provost and dean at Washington College from 2006-2011.

Asked to describe his responsibilities should he be given the position, Ames said, “The role of the Provost is subtle and behind the scenes.  It involves facilitating and making real the faculty’s vision for the College.”

Ames touted the uniqueness of the College and said he was “fascinated by TCNJ,” praising the success of the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement as well as the campus library.

“A library should be a comfortable, inviting place where students like to be,” he said. “And you’ve got a great one here.”

Ames also addressed student concerns about the College’s academic advising program, a constant source of criticism from the student body. Though he hesitated to suggest any tangible fix before researching the problem further, Ames said, “Academic advising is widely recognized as a problem, and we need to think of creative ways to reinvent it.”

English professor Diane Steinberg praised Ames for the honesty with which he answered each question.

“What impressed me most about Dr. Ames,” Steinberg said, “was his willingness to tell the truth even when folks would have liked a happier answer.  He did not tell students that he had any easy fixes to their concerns about rising tuition, student advising, or staffing decisions.”

Sophomore English major and Student Government member Tyler Liberty met with Ames the night before with a few other students and had only tepid praise for the candidate.

“I think his background in private education and with fundraising money is a positive for the College,” Liberty said. “But if you look at the guidelines posted by the Provost Search Committee, he doesn’t manage to fulfill all the requirements. You want an individual who hits them all right on the head.”