Alexander: Always wanted to be president

By Ryan Fitzgerald, Tristan Davis, Taylor Ritchie, Nick Stasiak – Co-Editor-in-Chief, Features Editor, Contributing Writers

President Michael Alexander enjoys some well-deserved down time in his office. Photo by Taylor Ritchie

“I don’t know what he does. He comes in, maybe has a few meetings, and maybe does budget planning or something,” says one student. “He probably answers phones. He probably meets with faculty to discuss campus issues,” said another, “I literally have no idea.” Even some members of the faculty are stumped. “I think he has meetings of all kinds. I think he reads reports, and talks on the phone. He likes to know what’s going on, so he goes out to attend events. He probably looks at the internet and reads,” said a librarian. What, you ask, does Lasell College President Michael Alexander do all day? More than you think. 

As far as resumés go, Alexander’s is as colorful as they come. Born and raised in Columbus, OH, his father was a zookeeper-turned-stockbroker, and his mother was a psychologist. Alexander’s beloved grandfather was Dean of Faculty at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH.

After graduating high school, Alexander attended Harvard University to study history and literature of America, but always knew  higher education was a greater interest. “It may sound strange, but I always wanted to be the president of a small college,” Alexander said. It was at Ohio State University that he would earn a master’s degree in higher education before returning to Harvard. His very first weekend as a Harvard freshman, a dean approached him with an important favor. “There was a student who lived down the hall from me who had bipolar disorder, and was struggling with the disease,” he said. “The dean asked me to befriend him, and help him remain stable and stay in school.” Four years later, that student received his diploma.

Committed to working with colleges to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, Alexander has been employed by a number of schools. He worked at Smith College, Ohio State, Harvard and served as the Executive Assistant to the President at Barnard College from 1979 to 1981.

Alexander married his wife Mary Barbara at the age of 20, after the two met in high school. An aspiring actress, she and Alexander traveled west to Hollywood to make names for themselves. Alexander tried to sell some of his writing, but received very few offers enticing enough to keep going.

“We were broke,” he simply put. He was then hired by MCA Universal, an American media company known today as NBC Universal. “They hired me as an experiment, and quickly asked me to move back to New York and help them out there.” He was tasked with heading the struggling USA Network, a channel that airs now some of television’s most successful shows like “Mr. Robot” and “WWE Smackdown.” After proving himself in the entertainment and technology businesses, Alexander started an independent film distribution company a couple miles down the road from Lasell’s campus.

He would receive an offer to apply for the school’s vacant presidential position just a few years later. Alexander made it to the final round of four candidates, and after spending a day and a half on-campus, he was picked. “It’s a miracle I got the job,” he said. “When I saw who the other finalists were, I thought I had no chance. But it appears it mattered who performed the best that day got the job, and I guess I did enough.” Alexander credits his “I Believe” speech to helping him come out on top in 2007.

The Ohio native had big shoes to fill. Alexander’s predecessor, Thomas E. J. de Witt, served as president of Lasell from 1988 until 2007. When de Witt took over, Lasell was still a two-year junior college for women.

After becoming the Executive Vice President of Endicott College, de Witt was inaugurated on September 23, 1988, as the president of Lasell Junior College. Unlike Alexander, de Witt never had an ambition to become a college president, but performed exceptionally in the position. He raised over $40 million, directed the construction of 24 buildings, created Lasell Village, and transformed the school into a co-ed, four-year college, all according to a video by Dr. Brian Wardyga, Associate Professor of Communication.

Michael Alexander has a visitor, one of his dogs to his office. Photo courtesy of Michael Alexander   

In the fall 2015 semester, eight years after Alexander became president, the school broke a record for the number of students enrolled at the school with a total of 1,810 undergraduates. This number is a five percent increase over the previous year’s number. In addition to undergraduates, Lasell has seen a rise in graduate students enrolled. In 2014, Lasell was named in The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac as one of the nation’s fastest growing colleges.

Alexander can boast that 99 percent of Lasell alumni are employed or in graduate school nine months after graduation, and 100 percent of graduates complete at least one internship, according to this year’s Lasell Day informational booklet.

Throughout his tenure at the school, faculty that have had the pleasure of meeting the president have a positive impression of him. Kimberly Kaplan, the education department’s Practicum Coordinator, says, “My impression is that he cares a lot about Lasell faculty and students. I think he is orchestrating some positive changes within the college. I also like his focus on how to help students succeed like with the expansion of the academic center.”

Justin Bruce, Coordinator of Student Organizations, made it a mission to speak with Alexander his first week at Lasell and was pleasantly surprised. “I was floored at how personable he was. Having been at multiple institutions and met with presidents of the institutions, President Alexander has strengths with both a business mindset as well as in helping individuals feel welcome on campus.” Bruce also says, “Heck, last [year] he was at Franco’s singing karaoke with his wife because the senior class raised money for their class gift, [the year before that] he jumped in the Charles. If that’s not commitment, I don’t know what is!”

Wardyga, who was here prior to President Alexander’s arrival, remembers meeting with all of the candidates who were up for the presidency.

“He is doing a great job and I feel his image is a positive and accurate reflection of Lasell,” said Wardyga.

Becky Kennedy, Chair of the Humanities Department, spoke about President Alexander and his predecessor, Tom de Witt. “His predecessor, Tom de Witt, led the college from 1988 until 2007; President de Witt brought Lasell from financial straits to a place of budgetary health.  Under President de Witt, Lasell was transformed from a two-year women’s college to a four-year co-educational institution; through strategic planning, President Alexander built on that foundation to achieve unprecedented institutional growth.”

Assistant Professor of Communication Michael Laramee is pleased that President Alexander is the face of Lasell, saying, “After his speech about organizational communication, I gained more respect for his experiences in TV and other communication-related experiences and thus began to better understand how important his experience is to the expansion of the school in so many ways from more faculty to the improvement of student life to simply being a marketing figure for the college.”

Although he worked at universities such as Ohio State and Harvard, Alexander’s dream was to always become a president of a small private college. “It was a dream come true and it’s been great ever since,” he said.

Alexander has been president for nine years and knows that keeping alumni engaged in the college is important to do. That is why he spends some of his days  traveling to meet alumni and donors to keep them up to date, engaged, and attached to the school. Other days he may meet with them in regards to fundraising for the college. Then there are days he must attend meetings or on-campus events to speak to faculty or students.

There really is no normal day for Lasell’s President. He described most days as ‘atypical,’ meaning each day comes with a new challenge or new opportunity to further the college. As long as Alexander’s days continue to be busy, many believe the college will continue to succeed.

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