Barbara Murphy can’t wait to get out. Outside, that is – and not until she’s good and retired. That won’t be until June 30, 2015.
With that date in mind, “it all just feels very precious and important,” Murphy said. “I really just want people to understand that I’m fully engaged and really here at work.”
Murphy announced her retirement this past August. She’s stepping down after 32 years in Vermont higher education, having charted a path from academic coordinator to academic dean to CCV president and on to Johnson State College.
In an interview for JSC, VSC Chancellor Tim Donovan said, “It’s with regret that I’ve acknowledged President Murphy’s plan to retire next year. I can say in all honesty that very few people have the ability to constantly connect with students and inspire them to succeed while also devoting boundless energy and vision to an institution. Barbara did all of this and more.”
Donovan noted that he and Murphy worked together for over three decades. “We grew up together professionally,” he said. “I will miss the gift of that relationship.”
Murphy said, “It feels like one of those decisions that started to make itself, when I was starting to look at 2014 and realized I’m entering my 14th year as president. I had served six years – plus an interim year – as CCV’s president, and I thought, ‘June 2015 is going to be 20 years as a college president – and that’s a great long run.’”
Murphy took over as JSC President in 2001. During her tenure, the number of degrees awarded at JSC increased, and enrollment in the college’s bachelor degree-completion program increased 70 percent.
“It just started to feel like it’s someone else’s turn to do this work,” she said. “I’ve had a really good experience, and I’ve had such a rich career… and the more I thought about it, the more I started to feel like this is a complete career in the Vermont State Colleges.”
She established the President’s Fund for Excellence, which has given almost $300,000 to students, faculty and staff. She is currently or formerly a member of Vermont CARES, an AIDS education and service program; the Vermont Alliance for Nonprofit Organizations; River Arts in Morrisville; the Lamoille Hunger Council; the Lamoille County Planning Commission; and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
Murphy was also a member of the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection, and is currently a member of the University of Vermont’s Continuing Education advisory council.
On top of all that, she was recently named by Vermont Works for Women as one of 28 “Labor of Love” honorees, and was part of the Task Force on Young Women in the Vermont Economy’s leadership group.
“One of the trustees said to me, ‘I wondered if you’d get tired of the work,’ and I said, ‘You know, I’m not really tired of it,’” Murphy said. “‘It’s still exciting, really important work that I care about… but I don’t want to wait until I’m tired of it, or wait until I get some kind of health problem or someone in my family [does].’”
Murphy is also a published poet. Cervena Barva is publishing a collection of her poems, “Almost Too Much,” this fall. She’s looking for more time to write in her retirement.
She said, “It is hard to find the creative space – that sounds a little pompous, but just that space where I really have nothing to do but look at a blank page, or a blank screen, and just see what comes and work on a piece of writing in a sustained kind of way. I really am looking forward to making something new.”
Murphy noted she has scattered poems for inclusion in a second book.
“Professor [Elizabeth] Powell said to me, ‘You know, you don’t write much about your work here.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I feel like I’m doing it so much I don’t have time to reflect on it.’ But it gave me this idea about how much goes on at a college… just being in the excitement of people who are teaching and learning, and young adults making their ways in the world, that I would like to think more about. Those ideas, that transitional time of life, and what that means for the more experienced adults in students’ lives to be part of that journey with them.
“I’m at a time in my life when I think, ‘I love being outside, I love cycling, I love climbing, I want to do this stuff as much as I can! I’m probably not going to be doing it in 15 years, so… in a way, it’s reclaiming a life. I’m really interested in finding out who I am when I’m not a college president.”
Meanwhile, the hunt for a new president is on. The Board of the Vermont State Colleges met Sept. 9. In a presidential search update posted on the JSC Moodle portal, Murphy presumed her successor would be a topic at that meeting.
VSC Chancellor Tim Donovan imagined a potential search process, based on the most recent VSC presidential search, for Lyndon State College, three years ago. This process would begin by naming a VSC trustee to chair the search committee. That individual, with the Chancellor, would then recommend committee members.
These would include five trustees, including the chair of the board, as well as five representatives of the JSC community: one faculty member (i.e. the faculty chair), one staff member (i.e. director of the advising center), one executive (i.e. the dean of student affairs), one part-time faculty member and one student (a Vermont resident and officer in the SGA).
Additionally, the committee would include one current and continuing VSC president, one community representative from the Johnson area and the Chancellor. Murphy will not be involved.
There might then be four rounds to the committee’s search. Round one: review the candidates. Round two: telephone interviews of selected candidates (there were nine in the Lyndon search). Round three: campus interviews (five were invited in the Lyndon search).
The final round of the Lyndon search narrowed the search to two candidates, who were on-campus for multi-day interviews.
Murphy said that if the search process follows the Lyndon model, the new JSC President would be announced in the spring. Murphy notes that it’s not an easy time for higher education; the new president will have to be both creative-minded and prepared to dive into adversity.
Murphy hopes the new President is “someone who truly loves the mission of the college – someone who really believes there’s nothing like higher education to help someone mature and possibly change initial circumstances, whether it’s economic or a social disadvantage, and just build a future. Someone with a really open mind about what higher ed can do.”