Dahl set to retire after 18 years

On March 14, President Christopher Dahl announced retirement from his position to a group of faculty and students during the All-College Meeting, as well as in a later statement to the college community. Dahl will begin a nine-month sabbatical on Oct. 1 and will officially retire on June 30, 2014.

Dahl has recommended to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher that Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Carol Long take the position of interim president.

Dahl has served as president of the college and an occasional professor of English for more than 18 years, the longest of any president of a four-year SUNY institution. He arrived at Geneseo in 1994, serving as interim president for eight months before taking on the role of provost in July 1995 and the position of president in February 1996. 

Preceding his tenure at Geneseo, Dahl served as dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, and before that as chair of the humanities department and professor of English at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Dahl said he had known of Geneseo’s prestigious reputation before taking on his first position with the school.

“I was very interested in being at a selective public liberal arts college and Geneseo was, in 1994, at the beginning of its rise to its current state as certainly one of the best five or six public liberal arts colleges in the country,” he said.

He added that after starting his career at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, which he said is an urban commuter campus, he liked the idea of students living on campus and “creating living and learning communities.”

During Dahl’s tenure as president, Geneseo has seen has seen an increase in selectivity and diversity, evidenced by an increase of mean SAT scores of incoming freshman as well as a doubling in the percentage of students who are African-American, Asian, Latino or Native American, according to a Geneseo press release.

But Dahl said his most important accomplishment has been his ability to keep the college focused on its public liberal arts mission.

“This is a distinctive place and it is not just because we are the place with the best undergraduate students in all of SUNY ... but really because we are focused on the kind of liberal and liberating education that really prepares you for leadership and prepares you for life,” he said. Dahl cited the positive results of the Middle States Self-Study conducted in the spring 2012 semester as an external confirmation of his success in keeping the college focused on its liberal arts mission.

In addition to these accomplishments, Dahl said he is proud that Geneseo is the only public undergraduate institution in New York to have a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, citing it as another external indication of Geneseo’s prestige. He said he is also pleased with the improvement of the campus’ appearance, estimating that more than $300 million worth of construction projects have been completed in his 18 years with Geneseo. Finally, Dahl listed the expansion of service learning as one of his greatest achievements, pointing to Relay for Life and Livingston CARES, with which he traveled to Biloxi, Miss. in 2010 for the group’s 16th service trip.

In looking back on his time at Geneseo, Dahl said he will miss interacting with students and faculty.

“One of my greatest pleasures has been, on 10 different occasions, to teach ENGL 314: British Romanticism. I’ve loved that … I’ve loved working with students, and I’m going to miss that because I think Geneseo students are the best students I’ve ever worked with,” he said.

He said he will also miss the landscape of western New York and more specifically the Village of Geneseo and its historic feel. Following his official retirement in June 2014, Dahl said he and his wife Ruth will likely relocate to Ann Arbor, Mich. where he will have access to the University of Michigan’s expansive library. There he will complete three scholarly projects, including a series of what he called “reflective essays” on the meaning of liberal arts in the public setting.

In addition to a desire to return to his research endeavors, Dahl said he has chosen to retire now that Geneseo is “on a reasonably good financial footing,” adding that the college is $1 million from its Shaping Lives of Purpose fundraising goal of $20 million. He said he is also confident in the college’s leadership, and believes it is in a strong position to consider its future and to conduct a national search for Dahl’s successor.