The search for Scripps' seventh president is well underway and nearing its hopefully successful conclusion. All three of the candidates have been impressive—both on paper and in person—but are distinctive and would clearly approach the leadership position in unique ways. As the candidates get to know Scripps and Scripps gets to know the candidates, we are one step closer to finding someone to serve as Scripps' dynamic leader and public persona. Lori Bettison-Varga, the third presidential candidate, visited Scripps the weekend of February 8. In keeping with the hectic schedule of the first two candidates, she met with trustees, faculty, students and administration throughout the brief visit.
Bettison-Varga is lively and personable, approachable and energetic. She emphasizes that she is first and foremost a teacher and deeply values the oppurtunity to teach and interact with students. In this vein, she was adamant about her desire to connect with students and involve them in the workings of the college to the best of her ability. She was realistic, however, in saying that the primary role of a president is to fundraise for and represent the college so that the ideas and goals of its community can be realized.
A professor and administrator, with a background in fundraising, Bettison-Varga approaches the position with a strong knowledge of and respect for liberal arts institutions. In particular, she is quite familiar with Scripps and the Claremont consortium. She began the meeting with students on Sunday by mentioning proudly that her mother is a Scripps graduate. In fact, she joked that she grew up thinking of Scripps as synonymous with college, because her mother regaled her with tales of undergraduate life. All that deterred Bettison-Varga from applying to Scripps was an early desire to study geology—a discipline not offered at Scripps.
Bettison-Varga received her bachelor's in geology at the University of California at Santa Barbara and her Ph. D and Master's from the University of California at Davis. In 1992, she accepted her first teaching position as an assistant professor of Geology at Pomona College, where she taught for two years and gained a deeper understanding of and respect for the Claremont Consortium.
In 1994, she moved to Ohio to accept a teaching position at the College of Wooster, where she was on a variety of academic and administrative committees, culminating in her position as Associate Dean for Research and Grants in 2005. At the College of Wooster, she served on a variety of faculty and student committees, including a diversity task force and a committee on undergraduate research in the sciences. In the summer of 2007, she moved to Washington to serve as Provost and Dean of Faculty at Whitman College. Though Bettinson- Varga was initially reluctant about seeking out another position so soon after uprooting her family from Ohio to Washington, she felt that she could not pass up the opportunity to continue her career at Scripps.
In her presentation with students, Bettison-Varga maintained a professional air while simultaneously interacting with students in an informal, engaged manner. She stressed the uniqueness of Scripps' curriculum—citing the Core program and the requisite senior thesis—and her goal, if selected, to promote Scripps and tell its story across the country. Bettison-Varga said she feels the college does not get as much national recognition as it deserves.
She easily fielded a variety of complex questions, ranging from transgender bathrooms to the role of women's colleges to California earthquakes to campus sustainability.
Laurel Benz ('09), a member of the student leadership committee that meets with each candidate, was impressed with Bettison-Varga. She commented, "She understands the importance of a women's college, and she has great ideas on how to get Scripps out there and heard about. Even though she isn't as experienced as other candidates we have seen, she has a background in fundraising and I believe that she would prove a very valuable asset to Scripps in the future."
On the whole, the Scripps community was excited by Bettison-Varga's warmth, passion and accessibility.
The fourth candidate, Jane Wales, will be visiting this weekend to conclude the search. Following her visit, the Scripps community will face the difficult process of selecting the candidate whom it best feels would serve and represent the community.
Students can contact the presidential search committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.