Q&A With Interim President, David Finney

Hiring a new president, plans for the year, and communication issues addressed.


David Finney is currently serving as the interim president at Champlain College. From 2005 to 2014, he took office as the seventh Champlain president. His biggest accomplishments during his presidency were: establishing abroad campuses in Montreal, Dublin and Shanghai; increasing branding efforts, leading to tripling the amount of prospective students; and nearly doubling the size of faculty. In 2020, Finney returned to Champlain to be the consultant to the president, Benjamin Ola Akande.


Q: Why did you decide to return from your retirement to serve as the consultant to the president last year?

A: “So when Benjamin [Ola Akande] began last summer, he came out to see me; we spend summers in Vermont. We started talking and he laid out a whole bunch of issues and he said ‘Dave, I’d like you to help me’ and I said ‘Tell me, I’ll do anything I can to help you.’ So he and I would talk about once a week or so through the fall, so I sort of got a sense of what issues he was starting to work on. 

“My own professional background before Champlain, I had spent many years in admission and enrollment, and so I was trying to advise him specifically on that and getting that moving in a positive direction. As the winter came and went on and as the pandemic extended, the college’s last strategic plan expired at the end of December. So the trustees were saying ‘we need a new plan.’ For Benjamin, giving everything he was trying to manage with Covid and everything else, he said ‘Dave, could you step in, in a more formal way, and help?’ And starting in early February I did that. As things turned out, he ended up getting a job offer from a friend of his that he just couldn’t turn down. Since I was already involved, the board asked me to step in until a new president is identified. So, I was happy to do it. I love the place, and I like to see it thriving and so here I am, you’ve got me.”


Q: What plans do you have for the college over the next year? 

A: “It ranges from all over the place. Top of mine is staying safe. We’re living in an unprecedented, sort of crazy time here with Covid. We spend a fair amount of time every week making sure we’ve got policies in place that we think will maximize chances of students, faculty, and staff remaining safe. Knock on wood, okay so far; we’re doing well. State Covid folks believe that this Delta variant is peaking just about now. They’re expecting cases to begin to drop off soon. Man, I hope they’re right because that would be a real relief. That continues to be a major item. 

“One step that we hope to take this fall is, we want to survey students and faculty to find out, as bad and as messed-up as last year was, what did we learn that might really be able to augment and help our traditional, in-person education? In other words, did we figure out things with technology or ways of interacting that we think would really have a positive improvement on what we normally do in terms of in-person education? I’ve asked Monique Taylor, our new provost, to work on that and she’s in the process of working with a lot of folks to prepare a survey instrument. We’ll get that out, we’ll get it tabulated and we’ll see if there are things that we learn from this past year that we really want to institutionalize and make part of the Champlain experience. That’s another big thing. 

“I’m encouraging Monique and the deans to think about new programs that we might try and get into. They’ve got some ideas floating around, so hopefully those ideas will bear fruit. I’m working with the board to identify the next president and try to get that moving so that next summer at the latest, someone new comes in and hopefully is a spectacular success and stays here for the next 25 years. 

“We’ve got the strategic plan going. We had a major on-campus retreat this summer, we had between 300 and 400 people there. The board of trustees, at the June meeting, approved what I call the ‘superstructure’ of a plan, submission, mission, values, and goals. But the real meat of the plan, which are the objectives, really tell you how you’re going to define success for each goal. We’ve canvassed the campus multiple times, we’re collecting information about what those objectives need to look like. We’ll get that finalized this month, and then anticipate that the trustees will approve the Champlain 2030 plan at the October meeting. So we’re really focused hard on that because it asks people to imagine what the college ought to be by 2030. The goals should be very ambitious, and they should require a major effort, and I think they do. At the end of the day, we’ll result in an institution that’s a lot stronger. At the end of the day, this is fairly simple. You graduate and go on and make your way in the world. We always want to make your degree worth more, just by strengthening the institution and continuously improving the image of Champlain in the region and nationally. That is the main driver here in terms of those sorts of activities.”


Q: About the new president, last time they did the search they let students go in and ask questions and such, is that the same plan for this search? 

A: “Yup, that will happen. I mean, the board is going to do a round of preliminary interviews with a larger group and then try to identify some finalists. And then those finalists will be on campus for the better part of two days, each of them, however many there are. There is a session slated for students to ask whatever’s on your mind, and in addition to that there’s one for faculty and staff. Then, there’s another session for anybody who wants to come. So you get no fewer than two chances to really meet these people and then provide feedback. We want everybody who meets them to fill out surveys so we can tabulate and figure out what people are thinking.”


Q: What sorts of qualities would you personally look for in a new president? 

A: “Somebody who has a lot of integrity and who has a track record of being successful, and with evidence of good ability to both manage and lead, two distinctly different activities. I would love it if we could identify a president who is a person of color or possibly a woman, because Champlain has never had a woman as president. 

“In addition to that, given the nature of the institution, it’s a fairly, by higher-ed standards, it’s a fairly entrepreneurial place. It’s not common for most institutions to have a process where programs are more or less continuously invented or other ones that have grown dated go away. That has to do with the professionally focused nature of the institution and making sure that students are enrolled in programs that are going to get them good jobs when they graduate. Having a president who has that kind of activity in their background, where they’ve begun new programs and really figured out how to make that process work and balance the business of higher education, making sure that the programs enroll enough students and that they really work in terms of career outcomes, making that balance with driving excellence throughout all the programs, making sure that the student experience is second to none. So, that’s a tall order. It’s fairly, it’s not unique, but it’s a different profile for a president than most institutions have. An ability to raise money is also good, but at Champlain that’s one of six or eight characteristics, whereas at other institutions the ability to raise money would be at the top characteristic.”


Q: What are your plans to improve communication issues brought up from students? 

A: “I’ve got a meeting coming up with SGA leadership and I want to talk to them about how they would like that to work. I’ll be working with them. I would expect to have chats with you whenever you want. I’m going to get an email out to students; I’ve got some open office hours I’m planning for students to come in and see me. We’re going to begin that at once a month, we’ll see how it goes, and if it fills up, I’ll add slots. That’s what I did before, and it didn’t really fill up, so we’ll see. Hopefully more students will want to come in and see me this time. Other than that, just be available. The office is actually a cubicle, anybody who wants to come see me, come see me. If I’m available, I’m happy to chat.

“If I don’t know the answer, I definitely know somebody who does.”