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A Leader in Service of Students: Education-Portal.com Speaks with Dr. Maravene Loeschke
Mar 17, 2011
Dr. Maravene Loeschke is president of Mansfield University, and she has an unusual policy: Open doors (and candy jars) for her students in her home. Her unique interactions with students have helped her and Mansfield's administration develop a closer relationship with their student body. Education-Portal.com caught up with her to find out more about her philosophy and what she's doing for Mansfield.
By Megan Driscoll
Education-Portal.com: Can you tell us about your educational and professional background, and how you came to be president of Mansfield University?
Dr. Maravene Loeschke: My background is in theatre. I was a faculty member and chairperson of the theatre department at Towson University and then dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication there. During these years I was able to continue professional acting each summer. From there I went to Wilkes University where I was provost for four years and then to president at Mansfield. As a theatre and English major in college I never once thought of teaching college, much less becoming a president. These were doors that opened unexpectedly.
E-P: You're well-known for having an open door (and candy dish!) in your home for Mansfield students. Can you tell us what inspired this habit, and what your philosophy is behind it?
ML: I want the students to feel at home at the president's house. I leave the porch light on when the house is open for visitors (once a week or so) and we have ice cream, hot cider, pizza, etc. I also have a lot of open houses for students. I want to stay close to the students and their perceptions and needs because they are the only reason any of us at the university are here.
The President's Sweet Shop is a side board in the kitchen with many jars of different candies such as you might see in an old time country store. The students are free to help themselves. Occasionally, a student will knock on the door and ask if they can visit the sweet shop. We talk a few minutes and they move on.
I like it when a student knocks on the door and says, 'I am sorry to bother you, but may I get a sour ball?'
E-P: Do many students visit you in your home? Without violating anyone's confidence, can you share any of the common questions or concerns that students bring to you?
ML: They visit frequently and I often hold meetings there with students. Recently cyberbullying has been much discussed. It is a major concern for us on campus. They will also talk about parking, fees, drugs, binge drinking, faculty and staff job loss, ideas for fundraising and sometimes personal issues relating to their own lives.
E-P: How has your open door policy helped you develop closer relationships with your students?
ML: It keeps me close to the pulse of student life and it helps me be informed about issues we might be able to address. It also provides me opportunities to mentor and to help students learn how to solve problems and develop their leadership skills. I miss teaching and this helps me to stay connected to teaching in a different way.
E-P: What, if any, effect has your policy had on the overall administration's relationship with the student body at Mansfield?
ML: I think the students at Mansfield tend to interact with the administration more than they might on other campuses. Sometimes members of the administration come to the open houses. The Mansfield administration enjoys being directly involved with students and so many of them are mentoring or involved with students because they enjoy it. It helps with recruitment and retention when the administration is accessible and responsive.
E-P: What advice would you give to educators and administrators who are trying to make themselves more accessible to students?
ML: Find whatever method fits your leadership style, but also find ways to let the students know that you will listen and that you care. It helps when you have to say no or when you are involved with conflicts with student groups.
Be careful not to allow your interaction with students to provide opportunity for students to end-run the process they need to follow to solve campus-related problems. They need to understand that your interest in them does not eliminate the need for them to follow chain of command. Help students know that you are not the one to talk to about a grade change or parking ticket or problem with individual faculty. Help them know where to start.
E-P: Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about your experience and philosophy as a university president.
ML: My philosophy is that my role as university president is to keep the university moving toward its vision, empower people to do their best work and get out of their way. In challenging economic times such as these, it is difficult to have the resources needed to empower people to do their best work or to achieve a vision. This can easily translate into tremendous frustration and feelings that you, as president, are being inauthentic to your personal vision of yourself as a leader.
To me leadership is service. In difficult times such as these, it helps to remind ourselves that we are in these positions to serve with whatever resources we have.