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The Pilot

The Student News Site of Principia College

The Pilot

Three candidates for chief executive position meet with students in virtual forums


By Dana Cadey

Blackwell seeks to celebrate Christian Science while embracing all students

On Thursday, July 8, Principia College held the first of three virtual forums to introduce the student body to the candidates for the position of chief executive.

Barbara Blackwell, the first candidate to be featured, is Principia’s chief advancement officer. Five students joined the call to ask her questions and get her opinions on a variety of relevant issues.

Barbara Blackwell. Photo courtesy of Principia.

Blackwell said that her primary goal as CE would be to support the progress of Principia. When asked about her vision for Principia, she shared that she wants to find a path that enables the college to keep celebrating Christian Science, but do so in a way that embraces all students.

“We’re figuring out how to serve the cause of Christian Science in a relevant way for the 21st century,” Blackwell said. “I’m feeling much better about the college now than if you asked me a year ago.”

Blackwell stated that Principia seems on the verge of a new chapter, and she feels optimistic about the college’s future. She pointed to the ways that other religious institutions successfully promote their faiths while still adhering to their core values.

“If the majority of students graduate from the college appreciating Christian Science, [despite only] some of them practicing Christian Science, that’s huge,” said Blackwell. “In my mind, that’s serving the cause of Christian Science.”

Senior Delaney Gatine voiced her frustration over a lack of engagement among the student body, expressing that she feels like the Principia community has become less vibrant over the years. Senior Spencer Cobb agreed with Gatine and spoke on the impact that COVID-19 had on Principians during the 2020-2021 academic year. Blackwell acknowledged the challenges that both students brought up.

“I do think it’s important for every level of the administration to figure out a way for students to be heard,” she said.

Senior Elliott Matthiesen asked Blackwell about her opinions on the evolving Code of Conduct, to which Blackwell stressed the importance of being able to have honest conversations on campus.

“There are things that you guys need to talk about as you’re sorting them through, and to have them be off-limits doesn’t always serve us well,” she said.

Marunde: Principia has ‘many strengths’ on which to base change

The student-only forum for Dennis Marunde, the second candidate who’s also serving as interim chief executive, was held over Zoom at 5:45 p.m. CDT on July 8.

At the highest level, Marunde told the Pilot, his goal is to see “Principia succeed and prosper.”

During his year as interim chief executive, Marunde has seen that “we have so many strengths to build on” – and he’d like to build on those strengths even more, and base future changes on them. 

One such strength is the timeless insight in ‘Education at Principia.’ To move forward while “not forgetting who we are and what got us here” is a delicate task; but ‘Education at the Principia’ serves as a foundational document, Marunde said. The history and experiences within the articles composing the book are a guide to “what makes us uniquely Principia” as the institution builds and moves forward. 

“We have an awful lot to offer to the world, and we can do that without turning our back on what got us here.”

One opportunity for change is the pilot admissions program. Ideally, prospective families will feel some sort of identification with Prin, said Marunde, and “be willing to have a deeper engagement with Christian Science and with Christian Scientists so that they’re not surprised when they get here.”

Marunde doesn’t anticipate that all students graduating Principia – whether traditional or new market – will stay in Christian Science, but “we don’t have to…avoid…turning each other to [Christian Science],” he said. “But if we do it right, we can graduate people who have a great education….and can be advocates for Christian Science.”

Dennis Marunde. Photo courtesy of Principia.

Another of Principia’s existing strengths is the global perspective: despite the campus’s small size and remote location, “we bring the world to us,” said Marunde. 

That’s a strength on which Principia can build, said Marunde, and broaden the existing global perspective. The institution needs to be thinking about having top-knotch educational programs, facilities, and more. “Whatever we’re doing, I think we need to be doing it in a world-class way.”

And one thing Marunde would love? Any and all opportunities to engage with and hear from students, he said.

Ellis seeks direct involvement with students as chief executive

In the July 9 virtual forum, Lyman Lee Ellis, the third and final candidate for Principia’s chief executive position, answered questions from students and spoke about what he would bring to the job.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be in the position, I can assure you that I will want to know what’s going on,” Ellis said. “And the only way that I can do that is by talking to people, asking questions, and showing up.”

Ellis discussed serving as Athletics Director for Principia College in the past, and how he made an effort to stay directly involved with student athletes during that time. Ellis currently serves as a professor of sports studies at Principia. 

“I continued to teach, and there were times when I was…an assistant coach for different sports,” said Ellis. “It wasn’t useful for me to just be an administrator in a situation where we’re not having any contact with students.” 

Ellis stressed his familiarity and comfort with leadership roles. He has taught classes on leadership at Principia for many years, and his dissertation focused specifically on servant leadership in sports. He also spent 15 years managing a small electrical construction supply business. Successfully influencing others, Ellis believes, is the most important aspect of good leadership.

“The people who are following you have to believe that you believe in them,” Ellis said.

“Open and enduring” is how Ellis describes his vision for Principia. He was asked about reconciling his ambitious goals for the future of the college with the current reality of student enrollment and engagement.

“Our enrollment is dangerously low,” Ellis said. “The students who have joined us on this adventure are wonderful, we just need more of them.”

Lyman “Lee” Ellis. Photo courtesy of Principia.

Ellis shared his opinion that a greater variety of students on campus will provide more opportunities to hold open and honest conversations about Christian Science. He also said that the college shouldn’t be afraid to make demands on all students – practicing and non-practicing Christian Scientists alike – when it comes to engaging in spiritual activities.

“There needs to be some requirement, much [like how] we have graduation requirements for…other activities that we say are important,” Ellis said. “And yet there’s nothing more important than Christian Science.”

Sophie Hills contributed to this report.

Correction: The original article had the incorrect date for the candidate forum for Lee Ellis.

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