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photo/Kimberly Sheasley
photo/Kimberly Sheasley

Provost Scott Schneberger, previously the dean of academics, will be retiring from Principia College after six years of service in that position. Here is the Pilot’s “exit interview” with him.

Colby Bermel: For the few on campus who don’t know, or for those who would like a refresher, tell us a little about yourself.

Scott Schneberger: I was raised in the suburbs of Chicago, and graduated from the same high school as my brother and sister, my parents, and my grandfather. I attended Principia College from 1966 to 1970, then spent 20 years in the Navy as an intelligence officer, retiring as a commander. I got my Ph.D. in business administration – information systems – and taught at six universities in three countries for 14 years before becoming the dean of academics at Principia College. After six terrific years in the post, I am retiring.Bermel: How does it feel to be concluding your time here at Principia College? And what are your plans for the future?

Schneberger: Wonderfully blessed; very, very grateful for the opportunities and trust given me in my position as dean of academics then provost. I tried to make the very most of those opportunities and the trust. But I don’t really feel like I’m concluding my time with Principia or leaving, just as when I graduated 44 years ago. I will be taking Principia’s purpose, policies and values with me wherever [wife] Cosy and I go. I like to take the long view of things, and my long view always has included, and always will include, Principia. It’s been, and will be, one of our homes.

As for plans, the fun answer is “whatever we want.” The realistic one is that we will move on to different opportunities. Some are old ones we haven’t found the time or resources to get to, others will be exciting new ones that will unfold. Our living plans are to spend our summers and falls at our cabin in the Adirondack Mountains on a lake, and our winters and springs in Austin, Texas. We think they’ll complement each other very well.

Bermel: In what ways has Principia changed during your time here? What trends have come and gone, and what’s stayed the same?

Schneberger: Changes at Principia are really emblematic. The campus itself didn’t seem to change one bit from when I graduated, right down to the same pictures on the walls when we arrived after 38 years. And, of course, our Policies with a capital “P” had not changed. What did change considerably since I arrived in 1966 have been dress codes, houses, the two quads, social events and lifestyle changes because of technology. In other words, the things that really, really matter – like principles, values and character – have not changed at all. Only the more superficial or surface things have changed. And I suspect that will continue in the future.

Bermel: Do you feel Principia is properly preparing students for life after college? How have you and your colleagues in Academics adjusted to everything that’s come with the 21st century?

Schneberger: Yes. A story to illustrate. My senior year, I “won” the Selective Service draft lottery and started my naval service months after I graduated. I came from a mostly Christian Science family in a fairly small northern Illinois town amid the cornfields and went to a Christian Science college amid southern Illinois cornfields. Now imagine, if it’s possible, the culture change I immediately went through in the then all-male Navy during a war in the far western Pacific. At first I thought, “Oh, boy, I wish Prin had warned me about or prepared me to deal with all this moral mayhem!” But I quickly learned I had been prepared in the best way. I had been grounded in principle, ethics, good character and Christian Science. With that foundation, I could – and did – handle everything that came my way, and helped others do so.

As for adjusting to the 21st century: no, we haven’t adjusted enough, but we’ve made a good start. We need to seek out more opportunities to take advantage of mobile technology to overcome misaccepted limits of space and time. One group that has is Academic and Career Advising; they’re taking great advantage of technology in advising, and will increasingly for career services. And some professors have with success, but not nearly enough. I think it’s mostly a case of “good enough” thinking versus “even better.”

Bermel: Sometimes it feels like students don’t really know what administrators think of certain issues, like we’re missing the whole story. Has that been true in your experience here?

Schneberger: It is true, but maybe not for reasons you’d think. We want transparency since it makes for better policies and for better policy implementation. But sometimes administrators themselves are not in agreement or are significantly divided, and in that case, one side or the other publicizing the differences or trying to take advantage of the sentiment of one group or another would not help bridge that divide. It could widen it. A prevalent example is the homosexuality policy. Some administrators are strongly in favor of the policy, while some others are strongly against it. There has been, over the years, significant discussion, and it continues today, but you will likely not hear one administrator trying to grandstand his or her opinion over the others. What has happened, however, in the meantime, is that administrators on both sides have had the opportunity to argue their position directly to the trustees – where it counts – as I have. I really give the trustees high marks for that.

Bermel: May I ask which side of the issue you’re on?

Schneberger: You may, since I’m leaving, but I would emphasize that it’s not about me or my position; it’s about the policy. I have been arguing against the policy and continue to. There’s a difference between acceptance and agreement. I have not agreed with the current policy, but I have accepted it for the last six years because of the purity of intention of those I disagree with. Both sides have impeccable motives. I’ve seen and heard them, consistently.

Bermel: Where do you see Principia in the near future? And how about the long term?

Schneberger: Continuous improvement, since continuous progress is a feature of natural healing. In the long run, I would like to see us lower – not remove, at least for now – the Christian Science threshold to be admitted, while keeping our Christian Science expectations while here high. Imagine what the movement would be like if the only people allowed to attend church services or lectures, or to read a Sentinel or Journal, were the people already very strong in their understanding of Christian Science. We have nothing to fear about mortal thinking overpowering pure Christian Science; the power is on the side of Christian Science to overcome the limitations of mortal thinking. Let’s embrace anyone academically qualified who is willing to maintain our Christian Science standards. Let’s let our light shine on those who need it. We can help grow the movement, too.

Bermel: What advice would you give to a graduating senior, or any Principia student?

Schneberger: You mean besides “choose your yardstick wisely”? My advice would be to take Principia with you. Be Principia wherever you are. And help someone else get the opportunities you had in being part of the Principia family.

Image courtesy of Julia Suber