As the culmination of a yearlong selection process following the retirement of President Emeritus Christopher Dahl, the State University of New York Board of Trustees appointed Denise A. Battles as Geneseo’s new college president on Jan. 13. Battles is currently the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her tenure will begin on or around July 1, 2015. Battles will be Geneseo’s third female president and this appointment is her first college presidency. She started her career in academics in 1990 as an assistant professor of geology at Georgia Southern University after earning a doctorate in geology from University of California, Los Angeles.
By the time she left Georgia Southern in 2005, Battles was a professor of geology and associate dean of the Allen E. Paulson College of Science and Technology. Before her appointment at UNCW in 2012, Battles was the founding dean of the College of Natural and Health Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado.
Battles has also been a member of Phi Beta Kappa honors society since she was an undergraduate student at Colgate University. She is published extensively and served in a number of institutional and national leadership positions. She is currently on the editorial board of the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and an active member of the American Council on Education.
Battles, who preferred to be interviewed by email, expressed her excitement to take on the presidential position.
“My husband Michael Mills and I are really looking forward to our arrival and the opportunity to interact with the campus and its many constituents: exceptional and enthusiastic students; dedicated faculty, staff, and administrators; and the College’s friends and supporters. In many ways, heading to Geneseo feels like we are coming home,” she said.
Adjunct instructor of Latin and humanities Weston Kennison, a longtime member of the Geneseo community, also discussed Geneseo as a home environment for Battles. He said of the Central Square, New York native, “She is from western New York and values the place we are, which means she can relate to the local community–a challenge Geneseo has faced.”
Interim President Carol Long explained that the presidential selection process involved the formation of a search committee composed of a faculty, staff, alumni, College Council, student and SUNY Central representatives, among others. In partnership with consulting firm Isaacson Miller, the search committee created a list of qualifications and characteristics they viewed as important in Geneseo’s next president. In doing so, Long hosted a series of World Café discussions in spring 2014 to gain input on presidential attributes from faculty, students and staff.
The list of desired qualities posted on the college’s presidential search webpage included such items as “distinguished intellectual achievements with experience in and a deep understanding of undergraduate education in the liberal arts and the ability to inspire this community of scholars” and “a personal commitment to and record of success in advancing diversity.” Battles said that both a presidential search consultant representing Geneseo and a colleague encouraged her to consider the position. Following a recruitment and application period, the Presidential Search Committee conducted off-campus interviews and met in October to select five finalists for campus visits toward the end of the fall 2014 semester. According to President of the College Council and head of the Presidential Search Committee Bob Wayland-Smith, following the visits––during which candidates conducted forums and on-campus interviews with faculty, staff and students––the search committee submitted the names of three candidates to the SUNY Board of Trustees for their final appointment of the new president.
Wayland-Smith noted in a phone interview that the selection process was challenging due to the competitiveness of the applicants.
“We were asked to submit three candidates to the Chancellor with an outline of their strengths and weakness with the expectation that any one of them could be selected,” he said. “We were very happy with the final result and are looking forward to Battles arriving in July and beginning the process of becoming college president.”
Although Battles’ appointment won’t begin for five months, she is formulating her goals and philosophy for the position. Professor of political science and international relations Kenneth Deutsch—a member of the Geneseo faculty since 1973—emphasized the importance of Battles’ administrative background in taking on the presidency.
“We need someone with the wisdom to know what to keep and what to change. She has the experience behind her to understand this,” he said.
While Battles said that her first goal as president will be truly “immersing” herself in the environment and the campus community to develop future priorities, she added that a potential area for growth is “in the need to continue to tell Geneseo’s story, perhaps in new and innovative ways, to enhance its visibility and reputation as an exemplar of the public liberal arts college model.”
Battles emphasized her commitment to liberal arts education, citing an art appreciation course she developed and taught with an art educator “that explored the connections between art and geology.”
“It is more likely that people will observe in me a tendency to bridge the disciplines and view matters from a variety of perspectives, rather than one that is identifiably ‘scientific’ in nature,” she said. “I will attribute to my science background a passion for faculty-mentored undergraduate research experiences that I discovered through my own participation as a geology student.”
Long will return to her position as provost and vice president for academic affairs upon Battles’ appointment and emphasized her respect for Battles’ leadership style.
“I think Dr. Battles will be engaging to work with,” she said. “I think she’ll respond to the internal and external environments and will lead us in some interesting directions … She will be a collaborative leader.”
Student Association President senior Harrison Dole, who served on the Presidential Search Committee, said he sees the decision to hire Battles as a positive one.
“I am very confident in the choice the Chancellor and SUNY Board of Trustees made in having Dr. Battles join Geneseo as the incoming president,” he said. “I was anxious to see how the college would respond, but so far it has been positive.”
Battles visited campus on Dec. 9, where she held a forum for students to attend, giving them the opportunity to voice changes they want to see and aspects of the college they wish to remain the same. The forum received low attendance, possibly because it was held on study day.
“We found out the day she was appointed. All I know about her is that she had a strong vision for Geneseo that other candidates lacked,” resident assistant sophomore Chloe Forsell said.
“I don’t really have an opinion of her,” sophomore Sana Ansari said. “I don’t know much about her, she’s only on the website.”
Battles’ will visit campus to further engage with students and the campus community from March 8 to March 11.
Read The Lamron staff's full interview with Battles here.
News editor Nicole Smith, associate news editor Emma Bixler and sports editor Taylor Frank contributed to this article.