Dear Luther Community,
I send you warm greetings from Louisiana, where—similar to you—I am in transition. Since the announcement of a new president for you (and the departure of a provost for Centenary College) comes several months before the actual date on which I will join you in an official capacity, we all live in a somewhat liminal space. Just as I am trying to wrap up important initiatives here, my heart and mind are both turning northward toward Decorah. So, too, you have important work yet to accomplish with President Carlson, even as she begins to think of her own next chapter. For now, let me just say that I grow more excited with each passing day and each new interaction to join you. You should know how expansive the Luther universe is—at least if the number of notes, calls, emails, tweets, and LinkedIn messages from faculty, students, staff, alumni, Iowans, civic and higher education leaders, and Lutherans wide and far is any indication. They are not just congratulating me; they are expressing their love and support for this college, as well as telling me why they are optimistic for its future.
You may ask why I wanted to be considered for the presidency of Luther College. At this point in my career, I want to make a significant contribution to the kind of institution I have been shaped by and believe in. I have been involved with mission-based liberal arts colleges from my own time as a student at Hendrix College, through the first years of my teaching career at The College of Wooster and Rhodes College, and then finally my tenure at Gustavus Adolphus College. I knew that there was something powerful at play in these institutions. At Gustavus, I was introduced to the particular way that Lutheran theology and higher education could intersect at ELCA colleges: here was a set of views inclusive enough and comfortable enough with discomfort to correspond to a complicated world—both rooted and open. As I reviewed the Luther presidential search prospectus—recalling my visits to your campus years ago when Lutheran Summer Music was in residence—and read about Luther’s founding from a principled stance on slavery, its mission, its strategic priorities, and the challenges and opportunities for a new president, I knew this was a place I wanted to be.
I look forward to turning my own lens to the vision for Luther’s future that you have started to name through the documents I just listed. Our work together must be strategic, collaborative, creative, and—most importantly—must articulate what it means to be both grounded in Decorah, Iowa with a face to the world, and set goals for how we can adapt Luther’s past and present for a sustainable future.
In the meantime, I invite you to follow me on Twitter (@jenifer_ward) and Instagram (jenifer_ward) to start to get to know me a bit. In addition to the interests of my professional life, you will quickly learn that I like to write, photograph, collect art, go to plays and concerts, cook, turn over rocks (both literally and figuratively) through strolls and travel, and have an unapologetically playful sense of humor. Just ask around on Twitter. It seems I owe the Luther Bell a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce.
Jenifer K. Ward