By Dalton Carver
After more than sixteen years, Dick Merriman, president, is set to leave Southwestern College following the conclusion of the spring semester of 2015. He plans to join the staff at the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio for the 2015 fall semester.
With his impending departure, Merriman reflected on what brought him to Winfield in the first place. Growing up in southwestern Kansas, Merriman’s father was a United Methodist minister. He was brought up to believe and connect with the mission of the institution that he grew up in. “I knew a little about the college and a lot about this part of the country,” Merriman said. “The visit was really great and we felt really comfortable here.”
At the time, Merriman was working at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, as the vice president of advancement. “It was a Catholic college and it had always had a president who was a priest,” said Merriman. “So there wasn’t really an opportunity for me to do anything further there.”
Merriman mentions that he believes that he had a significant impact on the growing of enrollment at Southwestern College. “When I got here, there were maybe 700 undergraduates and maybe four or five graduate students,” said Merriman. “The enrollment of the college has [grown] to about 1800. We now have typically 300 or 400 graduate students, so we stretched out the range of who we serve.”
The president also talked about the new facilities that now stand on campus, including Richard L. Jantz stadium, Richardson Auditorium and Cole Hall. “I’m proud of the things that we’ve been able to do with facilities. That’s kind of an endless thing at a college,” said Merriman. “The next challenge is going to be building some new student housing, I think. That’ll be ready and waiting for the next president.”
If he could do it all over again, Merriman wouldn’t do many things differently. “I made some mistakes in my first few years out greenness and not knowing quite what I was doing,” he said. “So I learned a lot of things at the expense of this school, and I’m sorry for that, but that’s just the way it is when you’re starting a new job.”
Moving to the future, Merriman spoke optimistically about the University of Mount Union. “They’ve done some pretty smart things on introducing new programs that have a stronger career focus,” he said. “They’re in strong shape financially, so they’re in a position to make decisions, make investments and wait for the investments to pay off.”
Merriman believes that Southwestern College’s next president will face challenges in dealing with Kansas’ state budget. “We access some state money in the form of these Kansas comprehensive tuition grants that follow students into Southwestern,” said Merriman. “I think that money could wind up on the chopping block as the governor tries to clean up the deficit that’s being created by these big tax cuts.”
Putting state budget issues aside, Merriman doesn’t believe many obstacles will stop Southwestern College’s next president from being successful. “Other than that, it’s just figuring out the variety of jobs that come with being a president in a small private college,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts and you just have to find the things you can be good at and try to excel at those and realize you can’t do everything.
“You have to rely on other people,” Merriman said. “We have very good senior administrators here, so there’s a good team ready and waiting for the next president.”
Dalton Carver is a senior majoring in communication. You can email him at email@example.com or tweet him @dalty_james.
For the full interview, watch above or click here.