By Sophie Hills
David Gutelius, the second Principia College presidential finalist to address open forums, yesterday came down unequivocally in favor of immediately opening up enrollment of the college.
In two online Zoom meetings attended by what the search committee estimated were 270 community members, Gutelius said his goal as president would be to bring enrollment to 625 students by 2025.
“We have an opportunity here to widen the embrace, to really think how we can bless the wider world,” Gutelius said, suggesting urgency because of shrinking demographics of the student pool nationally and within the Christian Science movement. “I think that choice is obvious and we have to make it right now. There is no time left.”
“We simply have a shallower pool out there to draw from… The only way, I believe, out of that situation is to think creatively, expansively about serving a broader community, about really taking seriously the idea of widening the embrace.”
Gutelius is a successful member of Silicon Valley who co-founded and is CEO of Motiva AI, and he is also partner and co-founder of The Data Guild, which backs AI, machine learning, and data analytics startups. He graduated from Principia College and earned a masters and PhD in economic history from The Johns Hopkins University. Professionally, he has diverse experiences: He spent two and a half years in the Saharan Desert while writing his dissertation, and has taught at Principia, Stanford University, and Northwestern University as visiting faculty and a visiting fellow. After 9/11 he spent about a decade working in national security conducting research and running large scale projects with the Department of Defense.
“I’m not a higher ed administrator by career,” said Gutelius, “but I think a lot of these other experiences give me some insight into what I think of as [a] kind of promise behind Prin.”
Gutelius said he’d aim for a “net zero” draw on the institution’s endowment, but not by cutting budgets so much as focusing on growth. “The time for cutting is done, in my perspective. We now need a time of growth, and that’s net new revenue from a variety of different sources.”
New revenue streams might include such things, he said, as forming a team of grant professionals to apply for grant money, and creating a solar farm to power the campus and possibly even sell energy.
A number of questions from attendees brought up the difficulties of the Principia administrative structure in which the president reports to the chief executive who, in turn, reports to the board of trustees.
“At Prin I’m not convinced that that structure is the most useful, to be honest,” Gutelius said, suggesting he’d like a discussion about possible changes in the spirit of creating a more transparent institution “where the lines of accountability and decision-making are clearly understood.”
The significant changes suggested by Gutelius may be what Principia needs, said Carly Hendrickson, admissions and financial aid administrative assistant who attended the forum. “I think what we need now is somebody who is not afraid to take big steps to change for the good.”
Junior Delaney Gatine, who also attended the forum, liked statements by Gutelius that suggested the board of trustees could be more attuned to and accessible to students. “The students, I think, know that there is a difference between what the general student body is asking for and what’s happening,” she said.
“If the board was more accessible, and we were allowed to talk to them and understand – if you’re advocating for this, why are you advocating for it? – I think that would definitely be very helpful and help with the divide that currently exists between students and the board of trustees, because I do think there is a little bit of tension there,” said Gatine.
So far, there are three finalists for president: Principia professor Carol Burbee, whose two public forums were May 21; Gutelius, and a third candidate to be announced tomorrow before they appear in two online public forums that community members can register to attend using the link in today’s Watercooler announcement. Those who attended yesterday’s forum can fill out a feedback survey until midnight tonight.
Featured photo is a screenshot of the second open forum. Clockwise from top left: Roz Hibbs, Lee Ellis, David Gutelius, and Colleen Vucinovich.