Hamline News

Creating Pathways

president-hanson-big

By Julie Carroll

Every morning, as President Linda Hanson makes her way to her office in Old Main, she passes a wall stacked with gold-framed portraits of Hamline University’s past presidents. Soon Hanson’s portrait will take its place alongside 18 others—previously all men—who have led Hamline during its 161-year history.

Hanson’s legacy will include the formation of new schools and academic programs, construction of The Carol Young Anderson and Dennis L. Anderson Center, and a strong focus on high-impact and service learning. She’ll also be remembered for leading the university through one of the toughest recessions in recent history.

On an unseasonably warm January day, a few months after Hanson announced that she would be retiring this summer, she pauses for a moment in front of the presidents’ wall and other places on campus to reflect on a decade of leadership.

Originally from Savannah, Georgia, Hanson arrived at Hamline in 2005. On Old Main’s front steps, she recalls a meeting on campus that first winter. It was bitterly cold, and someone offered to drive her the approximate 200 yards from Old Main. “They were so concerned about whether I was going to deal with the winters here,” Hanson says with a chuckle. She chose to walk instead. “By the time I got over there, my cheeks were freezer-burned, and it was like, ah, this is winter!”

Although a hint of a southern accent remains, Hanson considers herself a “true Minnesotan” now with plans to stay. She and her husband, Laird, recently bought a home in Lakeville.

Hanson follows the well-worn brick path from Old Main to Giddens Learning Center. “In my time, a lot of the classrooms in this building have been renovated,” she says, entering a room with stadium seating and a projector on the ceiling. The lecture hall is used for introductory classes and student gatherings, such as A Cappella Choir practices and Saturday movie nights. Other classrooms are equipped with state-of-the-art technology or designed “fishbowl-style” to facilitate discussion.

In a sunlit hallway of GLC, Hanson stops to chat with some students who just finished a chemistry final. “One of only two subjects I ever got a B in,” she tells them, shaking her head. “But I was proud of that B.”

Those little interactions with students are one of the things Hanson will miss most in her retirement. “Some of the students I’ve been the closest to are my student workers in the Office of the President over the years. It’s been really wonderful to see them grow and mature and graduate and take pictures with their family at graduation,” she says. “It’s
just joyful.”

Crossing Hewitt Avenue to the Bush Center, Hanson recalls: “When I first came to Hamline, it really struck me how inadequate the student center was. The No. 1 facility need I thought we had was a new student union or university center. So that was part of the strategic plan.”

Hanson introduced two strategic plans during her time at Hamline. The first, launched in 2007, resulted in construction of the 75,000-square-foot Anderson Center, the opening of the Minneapolis location, and a university restructuring. A follow-up plan for 2013–2017 focuses on high-impact education, growth of academic programs, diversity, and revenue generation.

“One of the early and very significant indicators of President Hanson’s leadership style was her decision to undertake a major strategic planning effort shortly after she arrived at Hamline,” says Hamline trustee Kita McVay. “This was a comprehensive process that drew input from the entire campus community. ... The strategic planning process was thoroughly emblematic of President Hanson’s collaborative style and her strong orientation to action and achieving goals.”

One of Hanson’s primary goals was to create a more unified university through shared governance and restructuring. From the beginning, her leadership mantra was “engagement, communication, and transparency.”

An administrative cabinet, faculty council, and staff association were formed, as well as diversity, budget advisory, campus planning, and curriculum committees.

A major reorganization in 2008–2009 brought together undergraduate and graduate education in the School of Business, the School of Education, and The Creative Writing Programs. That paved the way for creation of The Hamline MBA; the MFAC, one of only three master’s of fine arts in writing for children and young adults programs in the nation; and many other new academic programs, such as digital media arts and public health science.

“The digital media arts program is growing at a good rate and the public health science program is exceeding expectations by a substantial margin,” says John Matachek, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “We launched the BFA in creative writing about this same time [2010]. It’s doing exceptionally well also. ... President Hanson provided key support in our obtaining board approval to fund and launch each of these programs.”

The success of these and other programs is reflected in Hamline’s rankings. Throughout Hanson’s tenure, Hamline has remained U.S. News & World Report’s top-ranked Minnesota university in its class and in the top 12 for the publication’s regional category. U.S. News also ranks the law school’s Dispute Resolution Institute among the top five in the nation. Washington Monthly has placed Hamline first in Minnesota in its category of top master’s universities and 18th nationwide.

Hanson continues her stroll around campus, stopping in front of the bishop statue to recount a favorite memory. Shortly after coming to Hamline, she started a winter holiday tradition, inviting the Hamline community to gather around a tree of light and sing carols. At that gathering, she gives students “magical candy canes,” which she says will help them ace final exams and finish papers on time.

“They always laugh, but they always want one,” she adds with a smile.

Inside Walker Fieldhouse, Hanson reminisces about the many hockey, basketball, and other athletic events she’s attended over the years. “I’ve really tried to support athletics because not only students excelling in academics, but well-rounded student athletes are really important to me,” she says.

In recent years, new scoreboards and flooring have been installed in Hutton Arena, an outdoor multi-sport court has been added, the weight room has been expanded and renovated, and the university has signed an agreement with the City of Saint Paul and the Saints, making the new CHS Park in Lowertown the home of Hamline baseball for the next 25 years.

On the first floor of Hutton, Hanson stops in to visit the gymnastics team, who line up to introduce themselves. Hanson pulls her phone out of her coat pocket to snap a photo, then hugs one of the young athletes before continuing on.

Approaching the Anderson Center along Alumni Way, Hanson remarks, “I had a hand in every single detail of this building,” from the recycled wood on the ceiling to the red and yellow chairs in the lounge. “The reason I was so involved in it is I love architecture. I probably would have been an architect if I’d had an opportunity to do it.”

The $36 million university center, which houses a cafeteria, a convenience store, Starbucks, offices, meeting rooms, and event spaces, was completed in 2012. Hanson led a $20 million fundraising effort for the project.

“Only time can tell how I will be remembered or thought of or what my legacy might be,” she says. “But certainly the most obvious thing is the drive and the tenacity to build the Anderson Center. We did that during the recession, and a lot of people thought it was crazy, but I was convinced and determined. We needed a living room; we needed a crossroads for Hamline’s community to come together. When you walk through here at any time of the day or evening, it’s fulfilled every single vision or hope I could have ever had for it.”

In the forum, Hanson peers up at the skylight above the spiral staircase, her favorite view. Nearby, students and colleagues chat over coffee. “I just want to sit by the fireplace and imagine the conversations that take place here, the friends that are met, the concerns that are expressed,” she says.

Although the campus tour did not pass through the School of Law, major change is on the horizon due to the combination agreement forged between Hamline School of Law and William Mitchell College of Law. Upon acquiescence of the American Bar Association, the combination will form Mitchell | Hamline School of Law—a move that had been discussed among the respective boards and administrations for more than 15 years. Through the effort of Hanson, chairman Bob Klas Jr., and several other trustees negotiating over many months, an agreement was reached in January.

After a reflective moment, Hanson glances at her watch and realizes it’s getting late. She turns to leave with a reminder that she’s still on the job and there are things to do before her Hamline journey comes to an end.