Franklin & Marshall President Barbara Altmann engaged in a conversation with the community Aug. 30, telling students, faculty and professional staff to stop worrying about the misguided “crisis” in the humanities and embrace the humanities as a great standard of education.
“The kind of education that we provide is the key not only to a successful life, but also to a happy life,” Altmann said. “We need to remind our potential students and their families that quality of life comes from a great education, something we can do better than just about anyone else.”
Altmann, a French professor and medievalist who just began her tenure as F&M’s 16th president, chose a conversational format for the semester’s first Common Hour, a community discussion conducted every Thursday during the academic year.
Seated on stage in the Alumni Sports and Fitness Center (the event returns to Mayser Gym next week), Altmann took questions for the first half hour from Gretchen Meyers, associate professor and department chair of classics, Renee Yoder, assistant to the vice president of admission, and senior public health major Tyler Schubert, from Mechanicsburg, Pa., before taking questions from the large audience.
After an introduction by Meyers, Altmann, F&M’s first woman president, remarked about having so far spent a considerable amount of her time on campus in the ASFC, including Convocation two days earlier.
“I’m feeling very at home here,” she said. “It’s wonderful that every day when I look out at a group of people on campus, I know more of you.”
Altmann praised Common Hour as one of the “great ideas” that attracted her to the College and promised to attend regularly during the times she’s on campus. She recognized “another president” in the room, Brandon Schneider, president of the Diplomatic Congress, and her husband, John Stacey, a psychologist who was seated in the first row.
“John has been an incredibly good sport about moving with me to Lancaster for me to take this job, and he’s working very hard at being the College’s first, first ‘laddy,’ as we’ve learned to call it,” Altmann said. “John is figuring out what that means.”
In response to a question about her first impressions of F&M, Altmann said she made two “stealth visits” to the campus, one during a raging winter snow storm, and another on a spring day when the cherry trees were in bloom.
“What I saw, though, was a campus that feels like a home, a campus that feels like it holds infinite possibility, a campus that provides an elite education with no pretension,” she said. “I felt at home as soon as I got here, and with this wonderful group of people, I knew that if given the opportunity, I would join you in a heartbeat.”
Asked what it means to be a member of the F&M family, Altmann described the College with its unique residential learning experience as holistic and nurturing in its approach to students.
“It is a place where you live every aspect of your lives,” she said. “That is a unique opportunity because we can educate and we can facilitate learning every moment of every day.”