Office of the President

Dr. Nicholson: Joys and Burdens of the Office

Joys and Burdens of the Office
[Editor's Note:  Written by Robert Nicholson immediately after retirement, especially for Faith Learning & Life: Views from the President’s Office of Anderson University. Callen, Dr. Barry L.  Anderson, Indiana: Warner Press, 1991.]

President Robert NicholsonI thought I knew the presidency well, as a result of twenty-five years of close association with President Robert H. Reardon as his academic dean. We shared adjacent offices both in Old Main and in Decker Hall, and were the closest of colleagues. Yet my years in the presidency brought their own illuminations, including some special joys and some heavy burdens.

The joys of my seven years in the presidency were built on my prior thirty-eight years as music faculty member and dean. But they stand out particularly as I now reflect back on them. They include:

  • Being in a place populated primarily by young people. The inventiveness, the bounce, the high aspirations of students has been a joy beyond measure (most of the time) and gives one the perception (the illusion?) of remaining young. Invigorating!
  • Serving with some of God’s choice people. I had the privilege of serving with John Morrison and Russell Olt for thirteen years, and with Robert Reardon for twenty-five years. Then as president I experienced marvelous colleagues on the administrative staff, the faculty, and in the student body. Priceless!
  • Being able to sense and know, “This is a Cause.” How rare it is in higher education to be able to be president in a place where most people have felt this to a considerable degree. The sense of Cause was as real and overwhelming as it has been for me. Warming!
  • Establishing and nurturing partnerships. We are truly interdependent with so many other communities, groups, and associations, in the church, the local community, higher education. To see these grow and become mutually supportive has been a great joy. Heartening!
  • Seeing people rally to support Anderson University. As a young institution, the breadth and depth of our support is astounding. Parents have sent three or four children here to college, and are grateful for the opportunity. Thousands of alumni and friends have contributed annually to the campaign or annual fund.  Moving!

The joys outnumber the burdens, by far.  But there have been burdens that are unique to the presidency.  They have included:

  • “The buck stops here.” This is a classic burden; it is real, and yes, I have lost some sleep on occasion. But that was not a new burden to me; I experienced it in leading fourteen Anderson College Choir tours in the early days; I experienced it during my dean years, especially when decisions affected the lives of students or faculty.  
  • “It’s just plain hard work.” The presidency is the most demanding thing I ever have attempted.  Nicholson the do-er, the engineer, could not shake off those ways entirely as he was called to be Nicholson the president, the leader. I felt acutely the total load.  
  • “The pressure of publics.” This was a burden I did not expect in such measure; the legitimate expectation by so many publics that a piece of the president’s time was needed.  Finding the hours was difficult.  
  • “The overwhelming opportunities.” Perhaps the greatest burden was this: when you love a place and intend to give yourself to it, every opportunity for the university becomes an opportunity you want to seize.  You do not wish to bypass any opportunity for gain or growth.  

My observation about all of the above? The burdens are those you accept, because for the most part they indicate a vibrant, healthy university. And the joys are with you forever; they increase with the passage of time, and profoundly affect your life. I was blessed by both!