Jeff Neukom, Managing Editor

 

After 11 years of service, Illinois Wesleyan University’s president, Richard Wilson, is set to step down from his position. Friday, Oct. 23 was his last full day in the office, and the next president, Eric Jensen, will take over at the start of November.

Wilson said he spent his last day doing business as usual. He said he woke up early to send emails and write letters, and he will likely spend the afternoon preparing for his final meetings next week.

Even after years of service to the Illinois Wesleyan community, Wilson still feels he has work to do and contributions to make. “Shutting down from 100 percent to 10 percent is not in my blood,” he said.

Wilson said he will continue to “have a hand” in higher education, and he alluded to the possibility that he might offer his wisdom and experience to younger, less experienced university presidents.

At the same time, Wilson recognized that there are a number of things outside of his profession that deserve his undivided attention, such as his two children and six grandchildren. “I have had to make decisions about not being part in the activities in their lives over that period of time because of my commitments here. I want to be more available.”

Across campus, there is a consensus that the time and effort he has given to IWU is enormously appreciated. IWU’s Associate Dean of Students Darcy Greder said she will first remember everything he’s accomplished, but also the person Wilson is. “Everything he’s done while president, in office and out of office, has been centered to his professional integrity,” she said. “His word is his deed. He truly works from his head and his heart.”

President Wilson helped guide the university through a challenging financial period, relying on fiscal savvy and a commitment to new and inventive ideas. Under Wilson, the community saw the construction of State Farm Hall, a state of the art classroom building along with significant renovations to the Dugout, one of the university’s dining locations. He also arranged for the campus to host vibrant and well-known sculptures during the 2014-2015 school year.

Despite his crucial role in the university’s prosperity, Wilson said he wants to be remembered for more than just his accomplishments. “I want to be remembered as open, honest and forthcoming. While there is a tendency to focus on the visible things, I hope that some of the programmatic and people-related aspects of my tenure will get equal attention,” he said. “I’m not a historian. Someone will have to look back some day and judge how successful my presidency was.”

What’s next for IWU’s president? Cleaning his house is at the top of his list. “The house is currently a warzone, with the movers coming on Tuesday,” he said.

After that, he said that he and his wife, Pat, don’t have a firm plan except to see the world. “We love to travel. We love Italy, and would love to go back. I want to revisit Austria and Switzerland. We want to go to China as well,” he said.

Wilson said that he’ll most miss his interactions with students, which include playing with the Titan Band and chatting with students as they walk across campus or grab food at the Dugout.

“When I speak to President Wilson, I expect him to get right to the point and bring up Senate stuff since I know he’s a busy man,” Thaker said. “But the first thing he asks me is how I’m doing in school, with friends and with life. That speaks volumes about the kind of person that he is. He is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.”

Wilson also alluded to another aspect of the presidency that he appreciates: the opportunity for reflection and growth. He referred to a speech by a recent IWU grad who said, “The person I was would be proud of the person I’ve become.”

Wilson said that his journey from a larger, public university to IWU’s close-knit liberal arts setting taught him a new appreciation of community as well as a new compassion for the lives of others.

“If you’d asked to name the ground’s crew on a large campus, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he said. “On this campus, you know the ground’s crew and you know all of the faculty and staff. You know what goes on their lives.”