By Maria Saporta
Agnes Scott College President Elizabeth Kiss sent an email to the institution’s alumnae announcing her intention to resign on June 30, 2018 – completing a dozen years at the helm of the liberal arts women’s college.
“Agnes Scott is a magical place, and I feel so blessed to have had the privilege of serving as your president for the past 11 years,” Kiss wrote in her email. “From the moment I first read Agnes Scott’s powerful mission statement, I felt a deep sense of connection to this college. It’s been an honor and a joy to help educate women to ‘think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their time.’”
Kiss explained that it was not easy to decide to leave a place she loves, and she said she has extended her second contract twice.
“But I know there is an arc to a college president’s tenure and that great institutions thrive by drawing on the gifts of different leaders over time,” Kiss wrote. “Just as I was fortunate to follow a very successful president, Mary Brown Bullock ’66, I am excited to pass the baton to my successor.
When she first heard the news, Agnes Scott Alumna Christie Theriot Woodfin said she was “devastated.” But she accepted Kiss’ sentiments.
“Elizabeth Kiss has been an amazing leader for Agnes Scott,” Woodfin said. “She followed Mary Brown Bullock, ASC ’66, who had guided the College brilliantly. We could hardly imagine that someone with equal strengths would succeed her.
“But Elizabeth brought her Rhodes-Scholar-brilliance, the global perspective borne of being the daughter of Hungarian activists and refugees, a personal warmth that impelled her to know every student, and a vision of what more the College could become. She’s been everyone’s dream of an ideal college president,” Woodfin said. “She’ll be a hard to replace!”
Kiss did share several of the advancements at Agnes Scott that have occurred during her tenure at the helm. She also shared the credit with her colleages.
- Enrolled the three largest classes in college history (the classes of 2014, 2019 and 2020), hit new college records for retention and for the number of enrolled degree-seeking students and increased net revenue ten of the past 11 years;
- Launched SUMMIT, providing every student with a distinctive focus on global learning and leadership development in what today’s Chronicle of Higher Education called “perhaps the best known signature-experience program” in the country;
- Garnered national recognition as a higher education leader, including #4 Most Innovative School (U.S. News & World Report) and the 2017 ACE Award for Institutional Transformation;
- Completed the largest fundraising campaign in college history, The Greatness Before Us, raising $115.9 million for scholarships, professorships, innovative programs, facilities improvements and The Fund for Agnes Scott;
- Established new majors and minors in business management, education, environmental and sustainability studies, film and media studies, human rights, neuroscience and public health, along with new joint-enrollment and dual-degree programs in public health and computer science with Emory and the Bridge to Business program with Georgia Tech;
- Celebrated the selection of the college’s first two Marshall Scholars as well as three Goldwater Scholars, a Truman Scholar and 30 Fulbright Scholars;
- Initiated new partnerships and enrolled United World College Davis Scholars, Posse Scholars, MasterCard Foundation Scholars, Golden Doors Scholars and Vedica Scholars;
- Earned recognition from the U.S. Department of Education as the top performer nationally among private not-for-profit institutions for our success in graduating low-income students;
- Became a nationally recognized leader in environmental sustainability, installing solar and geothermal on campus, establishing a $1 million Green Revolving Fund, making substantial progress toward our goal of climate neutrality by 2037 and earning the 2015 Southface Award of Excellence;
- Made commitment to diversity and inclusion a strategic priority, establishing the Gay Johnson McDougall Center for Global Diversity and Inclusion and being named the #2 Most Diversified College in America by Time Magazine;
- Sustained the college’s excellent record of preparing students for graduate school, with 96 percent of this year’s seniors who applied to graduate school gaining acceptance;
- Dramatically enhanced our support for students’ career and internship development, with 78 percent of this year’s graduates completing an internship and 56 percent of job-seeking seniors securing an offer by the time they graduated;
- Implemented a board-approved Living Wage policy and raised 71 percent of staff who were previously earning below the target to at or above it;
- Completed vital capital projects, including construction of the Julia Thompson Smith Chapel and the renovation of Campbell Hall and the Anna Young Alumnae House, with the renovation of Rebekah Scott Hall getting underway this month;
- Strengthened our NCAA Division III athletic program, winning 11 championships in the Great South Athletic Conference and making a strong debut this year in the nation’s largest Division III conference, the USA South;
- Developed two strategic plans, Engaging a Wider World (2007) and Leading in a Global Society (2015), with the 2015 plan incorporating the college’s strategic financial plan, The Roadmap to 2020;
- Reduced the college’s debt by $20 million and successfully secured funding for approximately $30 million in capital projects while honoring a policy of taking on no additional debt.
Kiss, however, said the most important accomplishment was to provide an education that could change people’s lives. She described a college presidency as “one stage in a great relay race,” and she said she was looking forward to supporting Agnes Scott’s next president through a successful leadership transition.
Meanwhile, Kiss said she’ll be focused on the class of 2022.
“There is still a lot to accomplish over the next 12 months,” Kiss added. And of course, while we may not be able to top this year’s Commencement (Oprah Winfrey), I’ll be working hard to send off the class of 2018 in style!”