As freshmen and their parents arrived at Franklin College to move in Thursday, the school’s new president was standing out front to greet them.
Thomas J. Minar was one of many volunteers helping unload belongings and wheel them into dorm rooms. The school’s 16th president toted boxes, carried bags and bantered with students and parents alike.
Minar said he understands that his responsibility is to continue the trajectory of success that his predecessors at Franklin College have started. He also realized he can’t do that if he doesn’t connect with the students, faculty and staff looking to him for leadership.
“The bulk of this job is not in the office. It’s out on campus. It’s in the community,” he said.
Minar has worked to introduce himself to the campus since taking office in July, teaming up with trustees, alumni and donors to gain his bearings about what Franklin College is. He has sought out faculty members to discuss the academic environment on campus and met with students while riding his bicycle or walking to meetings.
The first two months of his tenure have been about familiarity. That work will serve as the foundation he needs to build on the success the school is experiencing.
“Franklin College is the best-kept secret of higher education in the Midwest. We need to raise the profile and awareness of the college in this area and the broader region, as well,” he said.
With his senior leadership team on campus, Minar has mapped out the initiatives that he hopes to start working on. One of his first priorities is creating a strategic plan, a common vision of how the college wants to best prepare its students.
The plan will influence the moves made throughout campus moving forward in his presidency, he said.
“It’s a first-year presidency cliché, but it’s really important to do and important for institutions to revisit periodically. It’s time for this institution to revisit that,” he said.
Minar also is focused on the Campaign for the Sciences, a $25 million effort to renovate and expand Barnes Hall into a state-of-the-art science center. When completed, the project will allow the school to offer more opportunities for students interested in engineering, mathematics, science and technology careers.
About 40 percent of the students entering Franklin College declare a major in the sciences.
Enrollment ‘real fuel’
The college also is initiating its first master’s degree program. Students will be able to earn a master’s degree in athletics training starting in the fall 2016. Minar will oversee the finalizing of that department.All of the moves circle back to ensuring the continued health of the college through its enrollment.“We’re driven by student enrollment. That’s the real engine here and the real fuel,” he said. “So I’ve been actively talking with staff and faculty about strategies for enrollment, making sure we’re getting enough students and the right students.”
One of the college’s advantages is its location in the Indianapolis metropolitan area.
“I look at us as Indianapolis’ liberal arts college,” Minar said. “I see it as an opportunity on a national basis, that we’re a critical educational cog in this incredible city.”
Employment opportunities are more readily available for graduates, partnerships can be fostered with faculty, and engaged learning can be shared with businesses moving into the area, Minar said.
These partnerships have allowed the college to form the Statehouse File, a journalism project providing in-depth coverage of Indiana state government, specifically during legislative sessions. Students provide the content for the service, while faculty members staff it.
Students will have the chance to learn biochemistry through a program with B2S Labs, a biotechnology firm locating in Franklin.
“We’re not close to Indianapolis, we’re in it. It’s really important for us to own that,” he said. “We can either sit here and watch as development happens around us, or we can take a leadership role in how it happens and what it looks like.”
Minar took office July 1, although the official inauguration won’t be until April 9. He replaced James G. “Jay” Moseley, who retired.
Minar might be on the job, but his transition is ongoing. Unpacked boxes are still stacked in his new office, which remains mostly undecorated.
‘Living out of suitcases’
He has been living since July in the college’s Alumni House while the president’s residence is being redecorated. He and his husband, Dr. Frank Becker, are in the final stages of moving Minar’s possessions from Washington, D.C.“I’ve been living out of suitcases for the past month-and-a-half,” he said. “The move is technically complete, but anyone who has moved knows what that says about my personal life right now, which is disheveled.”Becker, an academic physician at Northwestern University and director of pulmonary and critical care at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, also is looking forward to his time on campus. He has had limited exposure to Franklin and the college but has been impressed with the reception both he and Minar have had.
“It’s a wonderful community. People are very welcoming. There’s a level of excitement about having Tom there,” Becker said. “I’ve been enchanted by the whole process. We’re looking forward to a good, long time there.”
Becker plans to be a visible on campus. He wants to spend time becoming more familiar with the campus and community to determine how to do that.
“I want to better understand where I’m needed and how best to do it,” he said. “Obviously, Tom is the president, and he’s the one running the college. But I know that there is a role for the spouse in terms of representing the college and participating in some of the social aspects and, to some extent, being available for things I can help out in my own areas of expertise.”
Before coming to Franklin College, Minar was the vice president of development and alumni relations at American University. His mission was to strategically plan for the future of the school while maintaining the alumni base and keeping them engaged in the upcoming projects.
He helped American University complete a $214 million fundraising program, the ANewAU campaign. The project was intended to strengthen academic programs, develop first-rate facilities and establish resources for learning.
During the first five years of his seven-year stint at American, donations nearly doubled.
‘Leverage our strengths’
Prior to American, Minar held similar positions at Roosevelt University in Chicago, the Chicago Theological Seminary and the University of Illinois College of Commerce and Business Administration.That experience will be vital to Franklin College, said Christi Fields, chairwoman of the board of trustees.“He will be able to bring that together in a way to leverage our strengths, both in terms of our location and our career-based liberal arts education,” she said. “Franklin College needs to become more visible. People need to know what an outstanding product we have.”
But Minar said his time in various positions throughout the academic world has prepared him for the challenges that he’ll face.
Like all colleges and universities, Franklin College must address the issues of cost and helping families afford college, he said. The issue is one that is endemic among institutions of higher education throughout the country and can’t be solved easily.
But maintaining the strong financial aid programs the school has and continuing work with lawmakers about the support given to higher education are ways to do so, he said.
“A lot of what we do is work with every single family to ensure the affordability of our product,” he said. “That’s more relevant to us and our mission.”
Minar also is homed in on diversity issues on campus. He envisions bringing together students of all races, religions, mindsets and personal experiences to a greater degree than it already is. Doing so will make for a richer environment, both intellectually, academically and socially, he said.
“We have to make sure that we’re working hard to attract students, faculty and staff who represent many different kinds of diversity while having the services and capacity to care for those people on campus,” he said. “But this isn’t just about having a diverse population. It’s about teaching our students — and the people who work here — about the importance of diversity in their lives.”
Once those students arrive on campus, Minar is confident that the Franklin College community will come together to enhance their success.
Emphasis on service
Making sure they are ready for their careers and postgraduation lives starts the first day they step on campus, Minar said.“We’re preparing them intellectually to be adults and be producing members of society by training them in leadership and service and preparing them for their careers,” he said.Minar has been pleased to learn that one of the first programs of the year is Franklin Offering the Community Unselfish Service, or FOCUS. Every member of the incoming class will participate in some kind of volunteer project.
“We’re emphasizing to our students that service is who we are and needs to be an important part of your life,” he said. “And we say it on Day One.”
Both Minar and Becker will help with FOCUS, being conducted today throughout Johnson County. They made the decision to work on different projects, allowing them each to interact with the students in different ways.
“I have not had a chance to rub elbows with the students,” Becker said. “We wanted to be separate so there was time for the students to get to know us as individuals. The only exposure they have of me is reading my name in a press release, so I’m looking forward to it.”
For Minar, the event will offer even greater insight into the community that he now leads.
“I’m looking forward to witnessing how our students engage in this sort of activity. It continues to be part of my orientation to the college,” he said, “and I want to see what about this service makes students smile.”
Who: Thomas J. Minar
Position: President of Franklin College
Education: Bachelor’s degree in government from Pomona College; master’s degree in management from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management; doctorate in political science from Northwestern University.
Family: Married to Dr. Frank Becker, an academic physician at Northwestern University and director of pulmonary and critical care at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital
- American University — vice president of development and alumni relations
- Roosevelt University — vice president for institutional advancement and special assistant to the president
- Chicago Theological Seminary — vice president for development and external affairs; professor of religion and political science
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — associate dean for external affairs and chief development officer for the College of Business Administration
- Chicago Council on Foreign Relations — director of development
- Northwestern University — assistant dean and director of alumni relations for the Kellogg School of Management; professor of management and strategy and political science