Campus / News / May 18, 2011

Remembering the 18th: Enjoying the presidency

As the years went by for President Roger Taylor’s tenure, he met with hard times and successes.

“It was fun to see the progress,” Taylor said, explaining why he stayed president for 10 years.

The school has had its fair share of academic feats, but Taylor is quick to note the true causes behind them.

“The academic accomplishments have been by faculty and the dean,” he said, “I have been only encouraging them.”

Strengthening institutional self-confidence, Taylor’s second of three goals, grew over the years. This self-confidence came in part from the important list of commencement speakers during his tenure. Taylor had a role in bringing many to campus, including Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., then Senator Barack Obama, pundit Stephen Colbert, former attorney general Patrick J. Fitzgerald and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Tina Tchen.

His third goal, charting a course towards financial impregnability, has seen important gains.

“I spent 60 percent of my time with fundraising and alumni relations,” Taylor said.

This effort, along with the help of Vice President for Advancement Beverly Holmes, has helped the school’s yearly donation amount grow. This growth has increased about five million dollars on average from when Taylor started, to around 10 million dollars a year.

While Taylor was able to have success towards his three goals, he still had his fair share of struggles and difficult times.

“I am disappointed that I was unable to excite anyone to make a multi-million dollar gift,” Taylor said. Without that gift, repairs on Alumni Hall were stalled.

Another struggle Taylor and the school faced during his tenure was the suit against Knox filed by the parents of Andrea Racibozynski. The suit, which claimed the school was at fault for improper security standards during the murder of Racibozynski in 1998 by fellow student Clyde Best, put a major strain on the school.

Knox was ordered to give $1.05 million after the jury sided with the family in 2006 and the school’s appeal was turned down. This put financial strain on Knox but also hurt admissions because other colleges used it as fodder to move prospective students away from Knox, Taylor said.

Taylor put forth effort to help defend the college during the trial, sitting as the college representative and reviewing the filing of the suit.

While Taylor is sorry for the loss of life, he fought for the school because, “I thought that the college did nothing wrong.” Taylor also believed that the school put forth reasonable effort to stop these incidents, but random acts like that involving Best are hard to prevent.

Since then he has been “trying to do the most we can do for student safety,” Taylor said. This included hiring Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf, starting the Connect-Ed Campus Alert notification system and adding security cameras.

When Taylor became president, he moved his office to the smaller room next to the hallway, instead of the larger room currently used as a conference room.

“I didn’t feel comfortable using the room, in part because at the time, the previous president was still moving out,” Taylor said.

Taylor also wanted to be more open with students, faculty and prospective students who might pass his office.

“At Kirkland and Ellis we had the door open so they could just poke their head[s] in,” Taylor said. Taylor hoped this would set an example with other faculty and staff members to be more accessible and open.

A key moment that made Taylor proud of the work he was doing was when the class of 2010 came to Knox in 2006 in record numbers. When 438 students arrived at Knox, 72 more than the year before, Taylor felt the school “got the word out.”

Some surprises during his tenure have helped improve his legacy. Surprises include the 10 million dollar gift from Walter Blair Hobbs, ’25, that has helped grow the endowment and was used as collateral for loans to renovate Hamblin Hall.

This, along with some more light hearted surprises like his 2006 selection as one of the nation’s ten “Most Attractive College Presidents,” by “The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges,” has helped Taylor leave his mark on the school.

While this award may not have had the importance of other awards the school has won, it still put a spotlight on the school.

“It’s so goofy that people remember it,” Taylor said.

Another achievement to note was Taylor’s election as president of the Associated Colleges of Illinois. While this achievement has given only a small benefit for the school, “Every little bit helps,” Taylor said.

Taylor has seen many classes grace the school, and one student’s trip through the school stuck out to him.

Taylor met Emily Jensen, ’08, when she was a junior in high school and was able to see her “grow and blossom” through the years. “She was quiet and shy when I first met her,” Taylor said.

Jensen was one of many students Taylor saw from a prospective student all the way to graduation. This was an important factor for staying the ten years.

Editors’ note: This is a second in a three-part series looking back at President Taylor’s time at Knox.

John Williams

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