November 21, 2008

The Sun Interviews Stetson U. Pres. Wendy Libby ’72

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Wendy B. Libby ’72, MBA ’77 was recently appointed president of Stetson University, making her the first woman to serve as president of the school. At Cornell, she majored in biology and later earned a masters degree in business administration from the Johnson Graduate School of Management. The Sun spoke with Libby to discuss her intentions.

The Sun: First of all, we would like to congratulate you on your election as Stetson’s 9th president. What does it feel like to know that you are the first female president of Stetson University?
Wendy Libby: Well, I would like to convey that I’m delighted to be the first female, but I’m not sure that that was relevant in the decision. I’m absolutely thrilled that I was chosen by the board of trustees of the university. It’s a really fine institution that they are transforming student lives through academic excellence. It’s my philosophy and I think it’s going to be a really great marriage.
Sun: You received your undergraduate degree from Cornell in biology with a concentration in genetics. How did you get from there to education administration?
Libby: Well, I also have an MBA from Johnson graduate school and that’s from 1977. I lived in Ithaca for quite a few years after that and got a job at Cornell. I worked at Cornell for five-and-a-half years, so that’s how I got into university administration.
Sun: How did Cornell influence you in your career and in your personal life?
Libby: Well, one of the things about being at Cornell was that the University always taught me to strive for the very best that I could, and I have found that a good rule throughout my life. This sounds almost odd or peculiar, but when I was an undergraduate I worked as a news announcer on the campus radio station, WVBR, and while that sounds like a kind of funny thing to think about as being an influence, it really taught me how to think for myself and stand on my own. And being in a very complex environment in a university and having to be successful was good training for anyone.
Sun: What would you say are your fondest or funniest Cornell memories?
Libby: How can one not think about the weather, especially when one is headed towards Florida? What an amazing contrast that is. I just loved Cornell. I loved the environment. I don’t have a lot of funny stories. I was there during particularly turbulent times — during the student takeover of Willard Straight Hall, during the Vietnam War, and so there’s so much that is ingrained in me from those political experiences in late 1960s and early 1970s. That’s probably what I think about most when I think about my time there. And one other thing though, there’s a professor, Jane Gibson, who was a microbiologist. She was my advisor, and it was a thrill for me to have a female professor as an advisor. There weren’t that many in the biology department. She just made a real difference for me.
Sun: How so?
Libby: She modeled being a good listener and being a good scientist.
Sun: And, finally, what are your goals for your new position as president of Stetson University?
Libby: Like any university, and I know you’re experiencing this at Cornell as we speak, every university is going through tough economic times, and we have to continue to make choices that enable us to stay excellent in what we do and yet enable students to have access to the institution. We’re going to have to think carefully about how Stetson University is going to make those kinds of strategic decisions over the next decade.