Meet Roger Taylor

by Norm Winick

His door is open to the hallway. His office isn't much larger than a good-sized walk-in closet. Students, staff and visitors wave and stop as we talk; some even drop in. This new era of friendly informality marks the change of administration at Knox College as Roger Taylor begins his tenure as its 18th President. While the final contract hasn't been negotiated yet, Taylor has told people at forums that he envisions a tenure of three to ten years. ''I expect to sign a contract that says I'll serve until the Board no longer wants me.''

Taylor was elected by the Board of Trustees a week ago and is no longer the ''interim'' leader. Despite two editorials in the Register-Mail encouraging them to continue their search and a group of students who wanted a democratically-elected president, Taylor has no doubt he's right for the job and the best choice for the school. ''Besides being an immensely satisfying, challenging and exciting position for me, I think it's good for the college to not have to introduce a new president. I can talk to students and faculty and alumni without having to go through an introduction minuet; 'I'm Roger Taylor, class of '63.' The Board's most important job is choosing a president. If they would have relented, they would be abdicating their responsibility.''

He has already hit the ground running, soliciting and receiving a $50,000 grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation to help implement the plan for the ''Renewed Knox.'' Despite criticisms of faculty and staff cuts from some students and staff and, most recently, in a Chicago Tribune article which called the college ''struggling,'' Taylor objects to that characterization. ''We have made some cuts, yes, but they were intended to bring our faculty numbers in line with our student numbers. When we finish the faculty cuts, we'll have a student-teacher ratio of 12:1. Many schools would die for that. We have no financial crisis. Right now, we are projecting a balanced budget for this year. Our domestic first-year applications are up 21 percent. Our admit decisions are up 80 percent from last year. Our annual fund giving is up.''

Taylor, who as a Board member hired controversial 16th president Frederick Nahm, still supports his lofty goals. ''We have made great strides since Rick's plan was implemented. We had about 850 students then; we're now around 1,100 with a goal of 1,200. His plan called for building up our deferred gift registry. In 1995 it was $8 million; now it's at $75 million. He's the one who said we could raise an unheard-of $125 million; we've raised about $120 million of that and I expect to conclude the 'Knox Now!' campaign this summer.'' That isn't showing up in our endowment because much of it is deferred and we're still spending endowment funds to educate kids; I plan to soon be able to get away from that. It keeps the endowment from compounding.''

The main goal of Roger Taylor is ''to get the word out locally, regionally and nationally that 'this is a fantastic school.' We need to do a better job of letting ourselves and the world know about Knox. Locally, we have to break down the myth that we're 'a bunch of rich kids from the suburbs.' Over 74 percent of our students receive some sort of need-based financial aid. Ten percent of our students are from within a 50-mile radius. We have over 1,000 alums in the area.''

''Despite the comments you hear, I think that the relationship between Galesburg and Knox College is pretty good. I hope to do more in the community. Anne and I will be moving here -- but that doesn't mean we won't sneak away to our farm frequently. With the Chamber of Commerce, we are going to jointly sponsor periodic lunch talks. The first one, May 7th I think, will bring Jim Kilts, CEO of Gillette and a Knox alum, to town to talk about the economy and turning around a big company. Additionally, we are going to work with the Railroad Days committee to make Knox a part of that community event. I've talked with Tom Schmidt at Carl Sandburg College about expanding the role of the Educational Technology Center. I'd really like Galesburg to look and think more like the college town it is.''

Taylor, 60, a retired Chicago attorney who lives near Ellisville in Fulton County, admits he has to learn more about the academic realm. ''I'll be sitting down with the dean and systematically reviewing the departments and acquainting myself with faculty governance. Harvard runs a week-long workshop every summer for new college presidents and I plan to attend.''

Taylor's wife, Anne (known as ''Bunny'') is also an attorney and will be helping with fundraising, joining a recently expanded development staff.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online February 25, 2002

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