By Sophie Hills

The first of three days of open forums with the finalist candidates for president of the college took place on May 21 with Carol Burbee, an assistant professor of educational studies at Principia. 

The next two forums are today 12-1 p.m. CDT and 4-5 p.m. – with David Gutelius, CEO at Motiva AI and a founding partner at venture studio The Data Guild. Gutelius graduated from Principia before going on to earn a masters and PhD in economic history from The Johns Hopkins University, according to his LinkedIn profile. Attendees must register for the forums ahead of time through the link in today’s Watercooler announcement.

Burbee, according to her online faculty profile, holds a master’s degree in education and is working on her doctor of education in educational leadership. While she has taught since 2009 at the college level, her online CV states that she has had a part-time Christian Science practice since September 2005, and considers it “the centre and circumference of my professional life.”

It was surprising to see a candidate who was ABD, “all but dissertation,” said a faculty member who asked not to be named because they don’t want to be seen as criticizing a colleague.

Burbee got a lot of questions about enrollment during the first open forums.

Enrollment, declining at four year institutions across the nation, is a crucial issue for Principia. The educational marketing company SimpsonScarborough projects that some institutions could face an enrollment decline of up to 20 percent because of the pandemic.

Burbee was vague in comments about relating to the pilot admissions program. Part of her enrollment plan was to offer a “portfolio approach” to students who don’t meet standard academic requirements, instead inviting them to engage in conversations with admissions staff. She addressed the hypothetical case of a student who might have a meaningful connection to Christian Science, but hasn’t attended a Sunday school, saying that she is interested in having conversations with students from various backgrounds to figure out how they may fit at Principia.

“Enrollment is an immediate need that we need to see candidates clearly addressing,” said the faculty member.

Glynnis Harley’s takeaway from the forum was that “[Burbee], herself, is not super concerned … she doesn’t really see [enrollment] as an issue – she sees it more as an opportunity,”

Harley said Burbee’s “way of approaching everything with such an optimistic light is really nice to hear.” And that optimism, Harley said, was reflected in Burbee crediting “students with being really good metaphysicians and just giving us more credit than we’re often given, I guess.”  

Burbee spoke about making higher education more of a student space than it is currently. “I liked … how she really wanted to make it more … student-centered and just include us more in decisions,” said Harley.

Harley also pointed to Burbee’s repeated metaphor of “The Clearing.” Harley said Burbee “described higher education as this dense forest with little clearings in it, and how we need to find those clearings and open up a bunch of opportunities and stuff for students.”

Harley liked Burbee’s open approach of inviting dialogue. “A lot of people were asking her questions, and she always responded with, well, this is my vision but I’m really open to hearing other people’s opinions and I really want to converse about it and include everyone in all the decisions that I make.”