The dust has settled. Sarah Mangelsdorf, provost at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will be the new UR president, starting this summer.
Mangelsdorf seems to check many of the boxes we asked for last September. We wrote that while Joel Seligman had his strengths — “[he] undeniably increased the University’s academic prestige” — he displayed little empathy when it came to students.
We believe that Mangelsdorf, renowned for her research on the emotional and social development of children, has the chops to continue Seligman’s improvement of our reputation as an academic and research institution.
Whether Mangelsdorf will be a step up from Seligman’s nearly non-existent relationship with the student body has yet to be seen, but Mangelsdorf has, in Wisconsin, demonstrated real interest in student welfare. Her work overseeing “Bucky’s Tuition Promise” — which pledges to cover tuition and fees for four years for Wisconsin resident first-years from lower-income families — seems to indicate a genuine interest in students and the greater community. We would love to see her apply this interest to UR’s relationship with the greater Rochester community.
Of course, there’s work to be done within the UR community itself. The lack of association between the Eastman School and the River Campus is something Mangelsdorf mentioned in her speech after her selection was announced. If she delivers on working to unify the campuses, she will have enriched a university where many students currently do not use the resources that the further campus provides. But that’s a big “if.”
It would be naive of us to ignore that Mangelsdorf will be the first woman to hold the office. The correlation between this and Seligman’s departure in wake of the Jaeger investigation is not lost on us either. While we hope this leads to more empathetic and efficient treatment of such situations, we must also consider the implications of it taking such a scandal for this long overdue step to be made.
We must also consider that Mangelsdorf is not from UR (Feldman worked at UR before his temporary presidency). An outside perspective may be what the University needs to address its relationship with its home city, and to enhance administration’s relationship with students. But Mangelsdorf will have a lot of catching up to do — in terms of understanding the past and culture of UR and Rochester — before those improvements can be made.
While Mangelsdorf faces many challenges going in, her background and promises are impressive. So for now we are cautiously optimistic, but actions speak louder than words. We look forward to seeing how those two match up.
Correction (1/21/19): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that former University president Joel Seligman worked at UR prior to the role. He was in fact an outside hire.