Presidential Seminar: Listen, Learn, Repeat

Doug Hicks at Faculty and staff Annual Meeting 2022

When I arrived at Davidson as a first-year student in 1986, one of the best pieces of advice I received was this: Go to your faculty members’ office hours. I did so, and my Davidson teachers changed my life. In turn, I have counseled generations of my own students and advisees to meet their professors.

Having returned to Davidson as president, I am following this advice once again: Over the course of this academic year, I will meet with every faculty member in their office, lab or studio. In my first few months, that has meant about 60 conversations with our talented teacher-scholars. 

These faculty colleagues have provided a seminar for me, and class has proven fascinating. I’ve asked about their teaching, their research, their creative work. They’ve taught me about contemporary sculpture, artificial intelligence, 14th-century Spanish texts and new battery technology. I’ve learned about their passion for teaching and commitment to mentoring every student to succeed, whatever their race, religion, or politics. 

I’ve also realized in a more profound way just how difficult the pandemic has been for these professors who invest themselves so heavily in the success of their students. They also care deeply in knowing and collaborating with faculty and staff members across campus—that collegiality is literally a part of our identity. Residential liberal-arts education is intensive, and it is interpersonal. They made Zoom, virtual office hours and faculty meetings, and masks in class work because they are dedicated professionals. But it was not easy. It has thus also been gratifying and energizing to see the return to a full in-person experience on campus. 

Our students also have been my teachers in this ongoing seminar-for-the-president. Davidson Outdoors leaders introduced me to their “crew” of incoming students, returning “fresh” from a week in the outdoors; the football team taught me their “WE” cheer (Win Everything, Win Everywhere, With Everyone); and the Honor Council shared their philosophy to educate and uphold a community of trust. They already are exhibiting the curiosity and courage that Davidson helps cultivate.

My seminar has taken me off campus as well. Alumni in Atlanta and Boston, parents in Pasadena and New York, trustees in Spartanburg and Charlotte all have shared their ideas. They all seek to build on Davidson’s strengths—for the benefit of future students who will enroll in our college. 

So far, I’ve presented one diploma—at the special graduation ceremony in August to honor Stephen Curry. Stephen taught us about resilience and gratitude, as he completed his B.A. 12 years later than originally planned. The seminar that day took place in Belk Arena, where 5,000 members of the wider college community celebrated excellence in education, leadership and service to society. 

A lesson for all of us is that in-person activity is not just some luxury or nice reality when it’s possible to gather. Davidson’s distinctive strength is its community, and the ability to see each other, again—by schedule or serendipity—is a critical ingredient to that connectivity and support. We will continue to rebuild the spirit of community, because it is essential to accomplish our educational mission.

The term “seminar” fits my first weeks, both due to all I am gaining and learning, and because the Davidson experience is about a lifelong education. Our graduates step into the world with the capacities to discover new knowledge—how to learn, more than what to know. That starts here at Davidson, where they take classes in new disciplines, launch faculty-guided projects that extend well beyond campus, secure internships and overseas ventures, or partner with faculty in research. I remain grateful for the mentors who told me to go to faculty office hours, and for the professors who taught me about curiosity, about continually seeking out wisdom from others. 

This sort of learning, whether among students or in what has become my seminar, grows out of our extraordinary sense of community, from how quickly someone on campus (including me) will offer directions to a visitor to the instant support network that forms around a student or employee in crisis. Wearing a Davidson sweatshirt on the streets of New York or San Francisco serves as a greeting and entry into an extended community of mutual learning that aids us and elevates us throughout life. 

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, seminar is back in session.

This article was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2022 print issue of the Davidson Journal Magazine; for more, please see the Davidson Journal section of our website.


  • November 29, 2022