By Cheryl Keffer, Kent County News Staff Writer
Kent County News, February 26, 2004 — As the snow melted on the historic brick sidewalks of Washington College, a new season began that will change not only the campus vegetation, but also the administration. Baird Tipson, president of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, was appointed Feb. 21 by the Board of Visitors and Governors to be Washington College's 26th president. Tipson, 60, was chosen from four finalists who visited the college in January and February, hold-ing open forums, speaking and meeting with various members of the college community.
A self-proclaimed “obsessive gardener,” Tipson first visited the campus on Feb. 4, while the grounds were still covered with a layer of wintry precipitation.
“It's a bit slushy right now,” Tipson said with a laugh, when asked what he thought of the college grounds at an all-campus forum that day.
He went on to speak favorably of the “attractive location” of Washington College and the suc-cessful blending of the college's buildings within the Chestertown community, which he saw both on tours with college officials and during his daily jog.
During his eight years as president and professor of religion at Wittenberg, Tipson and his wife, Sarah were involved extensively in the Springfield community, something they plan to do upon moving to Chestertown.
“We have a lot to learn about Chestertown,” he said. “With the size of the town, we can only imagine the impact Washington College has on the community.”
His presidential accomplishments at the liberal arts college of approximately 2,000 students, comparable to Washington College's current enrollment of approximately 1,400, included significant investments in information technology, the construction of a humanities complex and a major addition to the science center.
Under Tipson's direction, Wittenberg completed a $75 million campaign, which quadrupled the school's previous campaign record.
Before Wittenberg, Tipson served as provost at Gettysburg College for eight years and was associate dean at Central Michigan University for nine years.
Tipson earned his Bachelor's Degree in religion and history at Princeton University and his Ph.D. in religious studies at Yale University, “two very old, well-respected private research” colleges, he said.
“Almost 40 years later I am still drawing on what I learned there,” Tipson said.
His college experience, combined with his career in academia, made Tipson an excellent choice for the position of president at Washington College according to Tuck Maddux, trustee and chair of the presidential screening committee, which reviewed 135 nominees during the eight-month presidential search.
“In Baird Tipson we found a proven leader and true champion of the liberal arts,” said Maddux in a Feb. 21 press release.
Tipson was “overjoyed” when he got the call, he said in a candid phone interview from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Saturday.
“Before I left on Feb. 6, I had a final interview with Tuck Maddux and Jack Griswold. I explained that we couldn't let ourselves get too attached (to the college), since there were other candidates, but we had a really hard time doing that,” said Tipson.
He and his wife loved Chestertown and the small-town environment and have made the “right decision,” he said. “It feels really good to be coming to Chestertown – part of me would like to start tomorrow,” Tipson said with a laugh. “But we do have strong feelings and emotional ties at Wittenberg. It will be difficult saying goodbye, but I think it's better to leave when people are sorry to see you go, not when they're relieved.”
The Tipsons have family up and down the East Coast, including two grown children, so the move to Maryland “makes us closer to our families, which is very important to us,” said Tipson. “We're very happy. We loved our time in Ohio and even in Michigan, but we felt the same kind of pull to the east.”
Tipson said he didn't see the need to make dramatic changes from what was happening at the college, but was ready for one more challenge before he retired.
“I feel in good physical health and I hope I still have the mental capacity,” he said with a laugh. “I am willing to make a commitment to (Washington College) – I hope to give nine years at the same energy level and dedication that I gave Wittenberg.
“When I was in Chestertown, I felt a new surge of energy – I'm pumped.”
Potential goals for the college were discussed at the all-campus forum Feb. 4, including increasing diversity, the future of the school library, arts facilities upgrades, and differentiating Washington College from other schools in the Centennial Conference.
Chair of the Board of Visitors and Governors Jack S. Griswold said in a letter to the Washington College community, that Tipson “will build upon the unparalleled success the college has enjoyed during John Toll's presidency and will provide leadership for the college as we move to define and secure our future.”
Tipson will begin his job as president July 1, with inauguration in October. John S. Toll's presi-dency will end June 30, but he will be on hand as president emeritus for another year.
Toll, 80, announced his retirement last June, after nine years as president of Washington College.
“I am pleased to hand the leadership of Washington College over to such an eminently qualified individual,” Toll stated in the college press release. “I applaud the extraordinary efforts of the search committee and stand ready to ensure a smooth transition for Baird Tipson.”
Cheryl McDaniel Keffer is a 2001 graduate of Washington College.