Meet Tuajuanda Jordan: An Exclusive Interview with the New President of St. Mary's

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All of the open forums, search committee meetings, and interviews have come to an end. At long last, St. Mary’s College of Maryland has a new president. On Mar. 15, the Board of Trustees named Dr. Tuajuanda Jordan as the College’s president-elect by a unanimous vote. Dr. Jordan, who is currently the Dean of the College of the Arts and Sciences and a professor of chemistry at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, will assume her position at St. Mary’s this coming fall. Jordan has had an impressive academic and administrative career at Xavier University of Louisiana, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the National Genomics Research Initiative.

In the week leading up to Jordan’s appointment as president, the three finalists for the presidency visited campus and fielded questions from students, faculty, and staff at various meetings and forums.  Members of the College community were able to provide feedback about each finalist to the Board’s Presidential Search Committee through an online survey, and the results of this survey aided the Committee in making their final selection. This method marked a distinct change in how St. Mary’s presidents have been chosen previously. When Joe Urgo was appointed as the College’s president in 2010, the Board faced criticism that their selection process lacked transparency. Jordan’s appointment, however, was the result of a lengthy four-month process in which the opinions of the campus community were fully integrated.

Taylor Schafer, a junior and the Student Trustee-in-Training who was a member of the Presidential Search Committee, said in a public statement that she has “absolutely no doubts that she will come to know and love St. Mary’s quickly, that she will be welcomed with open arms, and that she can lead our community strongly into the future.” To take Schafer’s advice and welcome Dr. Jordan to the St. Mary’s community, The Point News sat down with the College’s new leader during her busy second day at St. Mary’s following her appointment to the presidency. We had a relaxed chat about the important issues facing the College, as well as some essential elements of St. Mary’s campus culture; the results, as you will see for yourself, were unexpectedly amusing. TPN would like to thank Dr. Jordan for taking the time to squeeze us into her hectic schedule, and for being incredibly gracious, open, and honest with her answers to tough questions, a quality which bodes well for her professional relationships with members of the community.

TPN: I have some straight questions, just about the campus community in general, but I’m going to end with some real good ones. Probably the most important ones.

TJ: Oh my…

TPN: So, my first question! You may have heard about an ongoing campaign organized by students, faculty, and staff about instituting a benchmark system for salaries so that every employee of the College is guaranteed a living wage, which would be in line with the St. Mary’s Way. How would you approach this issue, and have you heard about it at all?

TJ: I have heard about it, but I’ve not been able to study it; it takes a bit of time to figure out what people are saying and what the majority of the community wants. From what I understand, it’s been discussed in the faculty senate and with the staff, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of support for it so I don’t know what’s going on. But until then, I don’t think it’s wise to weigh in on something I don’t understand.

TPN: That’s a legitimate answer.  It’s just an issue that comes up every other year or so, and it’s something that will probably be dealt with at some point in the future. Anyways, the students here are very concerned about our community’s affect on the environment. How would you strengthen sustainability efforts at the College, and in your own words, what is sustainability?

TJ: Well you know, those questions about “how  I would do such and such”–and it’s not a cop-out, it’s just being who I am–I can’t say how I’m going to do something if I don’t understand what’s being done, to what extent it’s been done, and to what extent people want what’s being done. So that’s something that I’ll take the time to understand. But sustainability, in my view, is trying to make as little a negative impact on the environment as possible, and when you take something out you try to make sure it replenishes itself in some way and doing no harm, essentially. That’s the way I think about sustainability.

TPN: We have an Sustainability Fellow who’s in charge of setting up green initiatives, there’s the Campus Farm…and I know that sometimes students are concerned that sometimes the College isn’t doing enough to be a green school, but there’s definitely been a lot of progress on that front in recent years.

TJ: Right now, I live in one of the greenest cities in the country [Portland, OR]. They pick up recycling much more frequently than they pick up trash. And everyone even has a compost bin, it is expected that you are going to compost. So that’s not going to be anything new to me, and even in Portland, I live as close to the campus as I can without living on-campus. It’s something we’re always very much aware of, and it’s not going to be something out of the ordinary when I come to St. Mary’s.

TPN: In recent years, certain administrative offices and positions on campus have had a particularly high turnover rate. How would you try to alleviate this issue and try to boost employee morale?

TJ: I think that if you look at the upper-level administrators, you have to make sure that you have the right people in these positions. There has to be some cohesiveness in the group, so you have to pay attention to group dynamic. And you also have to be willing to get at the issues–why are people leaving? There’s some offices that seem to have a huge turnover rate, and there’s something going on there.  So I’m beginning to ask questions to try to figure it out, and if the College is going to continue to do well, it needs to have stability.

When I was a faculty member a hundred years ago [at Xavier University], when you came up for your developmental review and your tenure review, the first question they asked you was “What is the mission of the College, and how does what you do fit in with our mission?” And when I was interviewed [for the SMCM presidency] I started talking about the St. Mary’s Way and how it really spoke to me, and I think that you can identify people to whom that [Way] is important–people who aren’t just here for a job. [The St. Mary’s Way] is going to be important, because that’s our ethos. We don’t want people who don’t believe in it. People can give really good lip-service, so you have to be able to read them.

TPN: So here comes…

TJ: Wait, those were the easy questions?

TPN: Oh yeah! Of the seven wonders of St. Mary’s, which is your favorite? Do you know the seven wonders of St. Mary’s?’

TJ: I don’t think, I know…

TPN: The seven wonders are the Bell Tower, the Pond, the Hidden Grave, the Point, the Naked Man, the Garden of Remembrance, and the Shoe Tree. I don’t know if you’ve ever been introduced to them.

TJ: I have never gotten a campus tour!

TPN: Really?!

TJ: No! When I interviewed, all they did was take me from office to office and building to building. I have never walked this campus, so I don’t know…I know the Pond, I’ve seen the Pond…

TPN: You know about ponding?

TJ: Yeah, I heard about that.

TPN: So do you want to give us your birthday?

TJ: No, I am not giving you my birthday. That’s exactly what I thought when I heard about it.

TPN: Once you get a chance to actually see the sights, there’s a lot of quirky little monuments to St. Mary’s culture.

TJ: Are they on the website, the “seven wonders of St. Mary’s?”

TPN: They might be on there somewhere, but it’s a very informal institution I guess. But there’s a painting of all seven wonders in The Pub. 

TJ: I haven’t been in The Pub! But I’m going to come back in May for commencement weekend, so maybe then I’ll get to see all that stuff.

TPN: Yeah. There’s some fun backstories to some of those monuments, I’m sure whoever gives you a tour will be very willing to tell you about them. So what made you interested in St. Mary’s, and what aspect of the College community are you most looking forward to?

TJ: Well what interested me in St. Mary’s was actually the St. Mary’s Way. A colleague who was looking for a job came across the St. Mary’s presidency, and he sent it to me and said “Tuajuanda, you need to look at this. This is for you.” When I was reading about it I was really intrigued by the public liberal arts college.

TPN: It’s a weird genre!

TJ: I know! And it’s a really cool concept that requires some balancing. I’m intrigued by those kinds of challenges. And then when I was first interviewed in the airport interviews, everyone just seemed so comfortable and committed to the College. It didn’t feel like an interview, it just felt like people talking. And when I came to campus, the students at breakfast during my first morning there asked great questions, very thoughtful questions. And you could tell that they cared about the school, and that’s when I really started to get it. It felt like home. And even though I’m from Maryland, I’ve never been to Southern Maryland…

TPN: It’s like another state!

TJ: That’s exactly right! But being in a community where people really care about a place, and really care about intellectual enterprise–I could feel it on this campus. And then there’s all this water…

TPN: It’s something in the water?

TJ: It might be! Listening to the students, they seemed so passionate about stuff, which is always very good, and can be a little bit…not worrisome, but you never know where their passions are going to take them, and I’m intrigued by that. When I worked at Howard Hughes, I realized that I was an intellectual and academic at heart, so I needed to be on a college campus, and I needed to be around all of those smart people. There were no students [at Howard Hughes], and the grown-ups there were much more jaded, but students have all this energy and curiosity, and I missed that part. So St. Mary’s just feels great to me.

TPN: Okay, so this brings me to my final question: have you had one of Big T’s crepes in the Great Room yet, and if not you should make it one of your priorities when you come back.

TJ: Big T? Oh, he’s that big guy? I already met him! …On Wednesday I went there for lunch and I came in and he shook my hand and said “You’re the president! I’m Big T, I’m really happy for you!”

TPN: Wow, so you’ve already met one of the St. Mary’s characters! That’s just wonderful.

TJ: I don’t know any of the seven wonders except the Pond, but I’ve met Big T.

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