Lewis Evitts Thayne assumes his duties as president of Lebanon County-based Lebanon Valley College in August and brings a vision for an increased public profile, alumni network development and continued academic innovation.
Thayne said he also plans to continue the college's role in economic development in the greater Annville community.
But he doesn't expect the relationship to look the same as at Lancaster's Franklin & Marshall College, where he most recently was vice president
of advancement for about seven years.
The incoming college president recently spoke with the Business Journal about his background, his view of Lebanon Valley College today and a bit about where he sees the institution heading.
Q: Please tell me a little bit about how you got into academia as a career.
A: I had really intended on a career in the classroom, and while I was doing my dissertation at Princeton (University), I wanted to find work. I needed to work while doing my dissertation, and I got a job in the alumni office at Columbia University. And I found it satisfying and realized that I could make a difference on the administrative side of higher education.
I felt very close to the mission of the place. That was nice. That was 1981. I worked entirely in alumni and development work, and it was during a period when Columbia was in their first really major (fundraising) campaign in many years. The goal was $400 million, and we achieved $600 million. This was a comprehensive campaign, fundraising across all of the schools.
What brought you to the midstate?
First of all, I grew up in Pennsylvania. So I knew parts of the state and loved the state. And when the Franklin & Marshall job came available in 2004 and I was contacted for that job, I said I'd come up for an interview. And I got very excited about what they were doing at the college and, quite frankly, what they were doing in Lancaster. I thought that was exciting and that it was cutting edge, and I wanted to be a part of that. I want to make a difference. That is meaningful to me, and to know in real time that I would be making a difference at F&M was incredibly attractive to me.
What one achievement there are you especially proud of?
If there is one piece of this that I am particularly proud of, it is that from my office in Lancaster, we built a global network of alumni who are available to the students at F&M, the faculty at F&M and the alumni at F&M. With the Internet, you can build a network from where you are. You are not isolated. So I felt that we built a global infrastructure for F&M that will sustain them and give them an edge, and I'm looking to do the same at Lebanon Valley College.
Seven years ago, we had so few people coming back, and now that whole alumni infrastructure is so valuable to the college and to the alumni, and that's the thing I'm proudest about at F&M. And I really want to see that happen at Lebanon Valley College also.
Why did you want the top job at Lebanon Valley College?
I knew about the college's reputation for academic quality. I heard a lot about Lebanon Valley College during my entire tenure at Frank and Marshall … and there are connections between Lebanon Valley College and F&M. And I knew that Lebanon Valley College made a difference, that it was really making a difference in students' lives.
At the time (former F&M President) John Fry attracted me to F&M, I was looking at college presidencies, and I gave that up at the time to come to F&M… But this was the opportunity to look again at a college presidency, and when asked if I would become part of the search, I said absolutely. And I'm so glad I did.
What is Lebanon Valley College's biggest strength, and what is the biggest weakness or growth opportunity?
I think its biggest strength is its reputation for academic quality. It combines some rigorous preprofessional programs with a core foundation in the liberal arts and, to me, that is powerful.
And I think that the percentage of students who get jobs after college is very, very important. People don't want to go to college just to get a job, but they want to get a job after they finish college. They get an education for life, and they get the preprofessional education that will serve them in their careers. I like that type of hybrid. I think it works. I really do.
The weakness is that Lebanon Valley College is very strong in our region, but it needs to be a college that is seen more broadly. We have to get that story out more broadly.
Are you looking to further the college as a development engine in the community?
Absolutely. Lebanon Valley College and Annville — past, present and future — are intimately tied together, and I'm interested in working with Annville, North Annville and South Annville (townships).
Dick Charles (Annville Township commissioner and its development authority chairman) was in the development office at F&M years ago, so I'm very, very interested in (making that connection). The fortunes of Annville and the college are tied together.
But what John Fry was able to do at F&M in Lancaster is not the model for Annville, but we will find the model for what that will look like, and I look very much forward to those conversations.
About Lewis Thayne
Lewis Evitts Thayne, 62, grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from New Jersey-based Rutgers University and a second master's degree and later a doctorate in comparative literature from Princeton University.
Thayne served as vice president of advancement at Franklin & Marshall College since 2005. From 1999 to 2005, he served as vice president for institutional advancement at Agnes Scott College in Georgia.
Prior to that, he was director of individual gifts at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts.
He previously worked for Central Pennsylvania's Bucknell University and began his career in academic administration at Columbia University in 1981, holding several positions at the New York-based university.
Thayne lives in Lancaster County with his wife, Dorothy. They have three adult children: Anne, Julia and Anthony.
Thayne said he plans to keep his home in Lancaster County and take full advantage of an on-campus apartment that is available to the college president.