I spent a decade of my time as a faculty member and academic leader in a very small art college with an enrollment of less than 150. The enrollment was so small and the community so close that I used to joke that one didn’t take attendance in class; rather, you just looked around the room and let people know who had left their lights on in the parking lot and who needed to air up their tires a bit before the drive home.
The college had a unique feel, but, in many ways, it was just like universities with tens of thousands of students. It is this ability of the small college to act as a microcosm of the concerns of higher education as a whole that is the subject of Will Wootton’s Good Fortune Next Time: Life, Death, Irony, and the Administration of Very Small Colleges.
Wootton served as president of Sterling College and was an academic leader at both Marlboro College and Montserrat College of Art, giving him a depth of experience in leading the small college and extracting its lessons.
The book has the feel of a memoir, painting pictures of Wootton’s life, his marriage, and his reaction to the various towns he resided in. At the same time, it is an insightful look at the challenges that all colleges face.
One such experience was his ongoing struggle at Marlboro to win a Title III: Strengthening Institutions Grant, starting with his initial miss by a mile:
Starting at 100 . . . they grade your application moving down and nicking off half a point here, a half point there. Then some sort of administrative review follows and a staff member calls.
I picked up the phone, and just listened. I’d done miserably. Off the mark entirely with an 87. The cutoff, she said, was 98.5.
Wootton began his application for the next year the following week.
With anecdotes such as this, Wootton succeeds in making the reader feel less alone in his or her quest to become an academic leader capable of leading an institution to success. The lessons Wootton learns are applicable for all academic leaders, whether your campus is so large you can’t find a parking place or so small you know every student’s car on sight.
Wootton, Will. Good Fortune Next Time: Life, Death, Irony, and the Administration of Very Small Colleges
. Simsbury, CT: Mandel Vilar Press, 2017. $17.95
Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti, MS, is the editor of
Academic Leader and the chair of the Leadership in Higher Education Conference. She is the author of
Lecture Is Not Dead: Ten Tips for Delivering Dynamic Lectures in the College Classroom and
The Care and Motivation of the Adjunct Professor.