A Half-Century of Fellowship

April 2, 2015

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Audrey Bilger on the extended network of ACE Fellows that has supported higher education leadership through the years.

Incomparable visionary leadership. Dream catcher. Learning to pilot a rocket ship.

These colorful phrases were among the taglines suggested for the ACE Fellowship during a panel of former fellows and their mentors at ACE’s 97th Annual Meeting last month.

The participants on the mentor/mentee panel spoke in glowing terms about the mutual learning that took place during their ACE year and about their ongoing connections. They described memorable conversations during car trips, observations shared after cabinet meetings, and the evolution, over time, of true friendships. Catching dreams and piloting rocket ships can seem more possible if you learn from seasoned visionary leaders.

At this year’s conference, ACE celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Fellows Program with a gathering of classmates from all the way back to the first year. As a member of the 2014-15 “Golden Class” of ACE Fellows—the 50th group to have benefited from this extraordinary experience—I felt fortunate to be in the company of so many individuals who have dedicated themselves to service in higher education.

The theme for the annual meeting was “Promises to Keep: Higher Education and the Public Trust.” In session after session, participants discussed a multitude of challenges and opportunities facing higher education today. The spirit of fellowship pervaded the conference.

HET-Holtschneider-smallOne of the highlights of the meeting was the presentation of the 2015 ACE Council of Fellow/Fidelity Investments Mentor Award to Dennis Holtschneider, president of DePaul University. Holtschneider has mentored or nominated 10 ACE Fellows, including one of my classmates, Elizabeth Ortiz, vice president for institutional diversity and equity at DePaul. (Pictured left: Dennis Holtschneider with the ACE Fellows he has mentored. Back row, left to right: Lawrence Potter Jr., Holtschneider, Dereck Rovaris. Front row, left to right: Anne Clark Barlett, Elizabeth Gill, Jacqueline Taylor, Elizabeth Oritz. Not pictured: Lawrence Hamer, Sandra Mayfield, Michele Gee and William Crowley.)

In his acceptance speech, Holtschneider spoke eloquently of his commitment to mentoring and to the ACE Fellowship. He said that even during financially challenging times, he has made room for the program in his budget in order to “create a path for diverse leadership to emerge.”

“Academic leaders,” he declared, “become academic leaders because they have been mentored by academic leaders.”

One oft-cited tagline for the Fellows program is “the pathway to the presidency.” In remarks at the conference, Earl Potter III, president of St. Cloud State University and outgoing chair of the Council of Fellows Executive Board (pictured below), HET-Earl-Potter-smallobserved that the fellowship program has evolved over the years from being focused primarily on training college and university presidents to preparing individuals to participate in leadership teams.

Noting that “never before has higher education been under such attack,” Potter emphasized the need for academic leaders in all ranks, in staff and faculty positions, to step up in defense of the shared enterprise.

This concept of teams working to protect the future of higher education meshes beautifully with the ideal of fellowship as participation in a society of like-minded individuals who support one another in good times and bad. ACE fellows move through the program year both on their own and as a group. We form alliances with our mentors and our cohort.

What the 50th anniversary festivities made abundantly clear is that we belong to an extended network of fellows, one that continues to grow. Among those in attendance were some members of the upcoming 2015-16 class. Although I find it hard to believe that I am already three-quarters of the way through my fellowship, I also am astonished by how much I have already gained. I know it will be gratifying to provide assistance and mentorship to new classes of fellows still to come.

One tagline for the ACE Fellows program suggested at the mentor/mentee panel by John Cavanaugh, president and CEO of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan area, captured the tone of the entire ACE community perfectly: “For what’s next.” We all want to be ready.

The ACE Fellows Program 50th Anniversary Dinner and Dance, March 14, 2015.

Audrey BilgerAudrey Bilger is the faculty director of the Center for Writing and Public Discourse and professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College. Her most recent book, Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage, coedited with Michele Kort, was a 2013 Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is the author of Laughing Feminism: Subversive Comedy in Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen. She is a member of the Ms. Committee of Scholars and serves on the editorial boards of Pickering and Chatto’s Gender and Genre series and the Burney Journal. Her work has appeared in Ms magazine, the Ms blog, the Paris Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. Follow her on Twitter at @AudreyBilger. Photo by Greg Allen.

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