Questions and Answers With Mauri Ditzler
by Jim Amidon
May 10, 2005
Wabash’s Dean of the College Mauri A. Ditzler ’75 has been named the 13
th president of Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois and will begin
his presidency on July 1. In between meetings with Division Chairs and
Department Chairs at the end of a busy school year, we sat down with
Dean Ditzler to talk about life as President Ditzler.
JA: Let’s start with your time at Wabash these last six years.
MD: "It was a special opportunity to come back to Wabash
College after having been away 25 years. I had consciously stayed away;
I didn’t come back to reunions or football games. Part of that was
simply being a faculty member and administrator at other schools, so
when Wabash had reunions, we had reunions where I was teaching. But the
other part of it is more personal. I had such a good experience at
Wabash and I didn’t want to go back to ‘test’ the experience. You see,
faculty and administrators view a college very differently than students
do, and I didn’t want to ‘test’ my student experiences; I wanted to hold
on to this mythological view of Wabash.
"What was special was that the magical picture I took away from Wabash
as a student in 1975 was real and it hadn’t changed. When I came back to
test my memories, they held up. So these last six years have been very
much like my four years as an undergraduate. Wabash is a special oasis
in higher education where teaching and learning is done the way it
JA: Why is it that you are attracted to Midwestern
liberal arts colleges?
MD: "All colleges are special to the students who
attend them. And I try hard to find something I like in every campus I
visit. But there is a special place in my heart for Midwestern liberal
arts colleges. They are counterintuitive. If you think about when and
where they were established—on the western frontier in the 1800s—and
they found it important to understand the classics, to understand
science and philosophy. That doesn’t sound like the kind of education
needed on the frontier in the 1800s, but it was a way of teaching and
learning that has endured.
"When I was a student at Wabash, one of the things we talked about was
how remarkably hard students work. Students could catch up and surpass
students from other colleges with more sophisticated backgrounds. The
high school I attended, for example (Rosedale), had only one math
teacher. There was only one English teacher. There were students who had
the same math teacher for six years; the same English teacher for five
years. So I came to Wabash having written only one essay in my life.
Wabash was a place where you could come with holes in your academic
record and still catch up. And it still is that way today.
"That’s one of the things that attracted me to Monmouth. I asked them,
‘Do you like your students?’ And they said, ‘Yes, we do.’ Like Wabash,
Monmouth is a school far more interested in who the students are when
they graduate than when they started."
JA: What do you consider your hallmark achievements at
MD: "I was talking with a senior faculty member on Friday and
told them I was leaving. And this faculty member said to me, ‘This is a
really fun place to teach.’ That’s one thing of which I’m most proud. If
the faculty are having fun teaching, they will teach remarkably well.
"Colleges ought to be places where faculty can express their creativity
as teachers. One of the things we’ve done over the last half-dozen years
is make it possible for faculty to get together and say, ‘What if we
were able to take our students studying the European Union to Belgium?’
Through the efforts of a lot of people, we’ve created an environment
where faculty can be creative as teachers; they can ask, ‘What if?’ and
we have been able to make it happen.
"And finally, as best as I can tell, Wabash students enjoy learning and
their four years on campus. I try to interview every graduating senior
and I ask them what they’d change and what they’d keep the same. And
every year the list of things they would change is remarkable short. I
think our students enjoy their experience at Wabash because of their
engagement with the faculty. Any time you can put students and faculty
closely together, good things will happen."
JA: What about moving away from your small town, Parke
MD: "When I was recruited out of Rosedale High School
by Steve Grissom, people said he was the first college recruiter they
could ever remember coming to Rosedale. And I believe I was the first
graduate of Rosedale to graduate from Wabash.
"I’ve really enjoyed reconnecting with Parke County alumni of Wabash at
the annual Parke County Scholarship Dinner. It allows me to see how
Wabash has had such a positive impact on small Indiana communities. We
tend to focus our attention on our alumni in New York, Chicago, and Los
Angeles who make a name for themselves nationally. But if you look
closely, what you really see is that Wabash men become the backbone of
small communities. Parke County’s leaders—the lawyers, judges, and
business people—came to Wabash."
JA: Other than meeting people and getting to know the
place, what’s on your agenda for Monmouth?
MD: "One of the things I’ve learned at Wabash College is for an
institution to really thrive, everyone has to understand the mission and
core values of the institution. So, we’ll spend our time as a community
discussing the mission and core values; we’ll need to be able to
articulate those things clearly. If you have a place with a shared
understanding of its mission and core values, then you can become very
creative in teaching and learning.
"Like every college in the country, we’ll work on improving graduation
rates. You do that by getting students more engaged with faculty. When
students get together and engaged with faculty, they succeed. When they
succeed, they graduate.
"And a significant part of my new job will be raising funds to allow
faculty to achieve their teaching goals. We’ll need to raise some funds
for a student center, a building for the business program, and probably
down the road a science building.
"The Monmouth campus is growing in number. We’ll have to decide where to
cap it. A dozen years ago enrollment had dipped to around 600; now it’s
between 1200 and 1300. We’ll continue to grow, but at some point we’ll
discuss how big we need to be."
JA: Care to reflect on your time at Wabash?
MD: "I love this college and the people here. I enjoy
living in a small Indiana town. I’m lucky to have the Center of Inquiry
in the Liberal Arts here, and we just got a grant to promote Indiana
culture. All these things make being Dean at Wabash the best job in the
world. And I enjoy being able to be involved in all aspects of a
college. I suppose I could have been a Dean forever, but I would have
missed the opportunity to put all of the pieces together for a whole
that benefits students, faculty, and alumni."
JA: Why Monmouth?
MD: "I think this country needs more outstanding
colleges; colleges like Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin, and Bates that don’t
have to worry about attracting faculty or running out of funds. Wabash
is a place like that. And Monmouth is at a place in its history where it
could be seen as a stalwart amongst this country’s educational
institutions. I’m intrigued by the possibility of participating in that
JA: Are you leaving Wabash in a good place?
MD: "Wabash was in a good place when I came here. I was
fortunate to be here at a time when there was a marvelous team of
faculty and administrators who had a shared sense of the mission and
core values of the college. We’ve hired a remarkable number of very
talented, young faculty members, so Wabash has a very bright future.