What Dennis Hanno hopefully brings to the table as president
On Saturday, Feb. 22, Dennis Hanno was appointed the eighth president of Wheaton College, being officially welcomed by the community for the first time on Tuesday Feb 25 in Cole Memorial Chapel. This is, I’m sure, something only few of you have heard about. Not only is the Wheaton website plastered with information and news regarding the election of a new president, but social media has played a large part in welcoming Hanno as well. Being an avid tweeter himself (having more than double the amount of tweets as the number of students who attend Wheaton), Hanno has been diving head-first into the interaction and support of a grateful Wheaton community. So far, he has responded to several students and faculty members, and is making preliminary connections before his appointment to presidency in July.
Everything about Hanno has been positive and up-beat, and with good reason. I attended the presidential event in the Chapel this pastTuesday, and honestly, I was incredibly surprised by Hanno’s positive presence, goofy yet sincere personality, and determined outreach to make Wheaton an even stronger establishment than it already is. In being asked what Hanno’s overall goals of improving the college would be, he redirected us to the importance of sharing and building values as a baseline to accomplishing these goals. Yet with the promise of goals and improvements, there must be an identification of problems as well.
As with any new-coming college president, Hanno has big shoes to fill, and he has proved that he is more than qualified for the job. The question is, what issues does Wheaton have that Hanno’s outlook on liberal arts colleges should solve, and what Wheaton values will come into play?
Besides the obvious issues of Chase food and waking up to geese having temper tantrums at five in the morning, there are some more serious problems at Wheaton that, when effectively dealt with, will increase the fluidity of the college’s functions and the success of its students. I believe that the largest problems lie within the relationship between the students and the administration, and how negative this relationship becomes in times of controversy.
There is an unsettling aura about the administration, one that is desperate to support students, yet is biased toward faculty and administrative authority in times of controversy. Over the past few months, administration has felt like a regulatory system rather than a source of leadership, education, and discipline. In controversial times, this can give the image of a system that is trying to regulate or subdue the student body in order to sustain its administrative form. This can damage both sides’ reputations, leaving very little distinct between what is just and what is not. Cooperation in times like these is vital.
I believe that the ideology that there is the “students” side and “administrative” side is only too present in the Wheaton community. It’s not that students going through a “fight the power” rally is not exactly representative of a failing connection between student and administration. It is only too natural for different sides to be taken during controversies. However, I believe that Hanno has full capacity to draw links between both of these sides and allow the voices of the students to have a little more impact in the community.
As Hanno has stated during his welcoming at the Chapel that highlighting Wheaton’s core strengths and building on the values that the community has here will be the most powerful way to provide quality education and opportunity for its students. It seems to be less of what issues Hanno has to face, and is more about what positive community characteristics and opportunities need to be strengthened in order to make any flaws smaller or irrelevant. Although Wheaton has tussled with some difficult scenarios and some relationships within the community have worsened, Hanno seems to be the guy that will smooth over these relationships by instilling a more collaborative and college experience that supports leadership and empowerment for all.