SUNY Geneseo Photograph
SUNY Geneseo President Christopher C. Dahl told an all-college meeting Thursday that he will retire in 2014.
Christopher Dahl to retire as SUNY Geneseo president
Christopher C. Dahl may be retiring next year as president of SUNY Geneseo, but he’s not yet ready to leave academia behind.
“I have some unfinished business in academics,” the some-time English professor said, noting a desire to take on several scholarly projects. “These are the things that led me to academic life in the first place. It’s a side that I’d like to get done before I got to the great lecture hall in the sky.”
Dahl, 66, the longest-serving president in the 64-campus State University of New York System announced March 14 that he would begin a nine-month sabbatical from the college in October before a formal retirement in June 2014. He has been president of the college for more than 18 years.
“There’s never a good time to go,” Dahl said in an interview following last Friday’s College-Community Council breakfast meeting. “But the college, in many ways, is in as strong a shape as it’s ever been.”
Dahl, the 12th person to serve as Geneseo’s president, has recommended that SUNY Geneseo Provost Carol Long be appoint interim president. She came to Geneseo in 2009 from Willamette (Ore.) University, where she had been dean of the college.
“With her deep understanding of 21st century liberal education, not only will Carol do a splendid job in carrying out our academic mission, she also will be able to advance the college in a number of areas during the interim period,” Dahl said.
The two-year period with Long at the helm will allow the college to maintain a sense of continuity, said Dahl, who has worked closely with Long and other senior colleagues in advancing several academic and administrative initiatives.
A national search will be conducted to find a new president.
Dahl, who is also an occasional professor of English at Geneseo (he’s a specialist in Victorian literature), was named president in early 1996 after serving eight months as interim president. He has overseen the college during a period of unprecedented growth.
“This is an appropriate time for transition to new leadership,” Dahl told an all-college meeting March 14. “Serving you as president is the greatest privilege of my professional and personal life. Almost every day since my arrival in 1994, I have been inspired by our students, our faculty and staff, and our friends in the wider community. I have been blessed with superb colleagues in the senior administration. I am deeply grateful.”
In a separate interview, Dahl said he agonized over the decision, but decided it was an “appropriate time for my wife and I to have a little less hectic lifestyle.”
“This job is 24/7,” he said. “I love the school. I love the students. I love the community.”
Dahl joined the college administration ranks when he became the Humanities Department chairman at the University of Michigan-Dearborn where he was in charge of 36 full-time faculty and 20 to 30 part-time faculty members. Prior to arriving at Geneseo, he served as dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.
“I found that I enjoyed working with my colleagues; to get them all working together and moving in the same direction,” he said. “I think it began with my desire to serve the college and one thing led to another. I became a dean, a provost and then a president. I was interested in the sheer variety of the roles. There was always something new and different so you’d never get jaded.”
Dahl ascended to the SUNY Geneseo presidency in February 1996 after serving eight months as interim president. Before that he was Geneseo’s provost for one year.
“President Dahl has made an extraordinary mark on Geneseo, and SUNY has greatly benefited from his many years of loyal service,” SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said in a statement. “His integrity, energy and resolute focus on student success created a national model for high-quality public liberal arts education. We are grateful for the tremendous legacy Chris will entrust to us, and I wish him the very best for his retirement.”
After retiring, Dahl plans to return to research and writing. He expects to return to Ann Arbor, Mich.
“My 24 years in senior administration have not allowed enough time for me to fully pursue these activities,” he said. “Several scholarly projects call for my attention — including a series of essays on the meaning of the liberal arts in the public sector.”
Dahl has a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He earned master’s and doctoral degrees in English from Yale University. He taught English at UM-Dearborn.
“I really loved my stints teaching and directly dealing with students,” he said. “Geneseo’s students really are wonderful and among the best in the state. It’s not just because of the college’s selectiveness. They are very fine, engaging human beings. They’re really bright.”
Dahl joined Geneseo students in Biloxi, Miss., in January 2010 to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“This is a really great moment for Geneseo, very far out of our usual sphere of influence. But it’s great that our students are making a very great favorable impact on the community,” Dahl said in a student-edited video of the trip.
“In this new setting they become even more impressive as human beings who really care about helping others,” Dahl said in the video.
Close to home, he serves on the boards of the Center for Governmental Research and the Arts and Cultural Council for Greater Rochester. He also is a past president of Rochester Area Colleges, a consortium of 19 area colleges and universities.
At the national level, Dahl represents Geneseo as a board member of the American Council on Education. Previously, he served on the boards of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges.
Under Dahl’s leadership, SUNY Geneseo has achieved distinction in a number of areas and has become, by many measures, one of the leading public undergraduate colleges in the nation.
Dahl said during his sabbatical he will be available to the college if necessary.
The college says Dahl is the longest-serving president in the SUNY system.
President leaves legacy of academic achievent
These are some of the major milestones reached by SUNY Geneseo under the leadership of president Christopher C. Dahl, who has announced plans to retire in 2014:
- The number of academically talented students has increased. The average combined mean SAT score of incoming freshmen rose from 1211 in 1996 to 1333 in 2012.
- The college was granted a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 2004, one of only 280 American colleges and universities with a chapter and the only one at a public undergraduate college in New York.
- The number of students attending graduate or professional school immediately after graduating has increased from about 30 percent in 1996 to more than 40 percent today.
- The college has become more diverse. Geneseo students who are African-American, Latino, Asian or Native American comprise 25 percent of the student body, more than double the percentage from 1996.
- Service and service learning programs have grown. The college has been named to the President’s National Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll every year since its inception in 2006.
- During Dahl’s presidency, Geneseo completed or is in the midst of numerous capital construction projects, including the Integrated Science Center dedicated in 2006. The previous two decades have been the most active building period on campus since the 1963-79 administration of President Robert W. MacVittie. Among projects under way are the construction of a new college stadium; renovation of Bailey Hall to house social science departments; and the transformation of Doty Hall to become the college’s new “front door” to house admissions, college advancement and administrative offices.
- The college has garnered consistently high rankings as one of the best public colleges in the nation, including those published by U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, The Princeton Review, and Washington Monthly magazine.
- The president has overseen a successful “Shaping Lives of Purpose” capital campaign, which is within $1 million of reaching its $22 million goal.