This is not how President Teresa Amott expected her last fifteen months at Knox to look like.
When she announced on Monday, March 2, that she planned to retire, the school was still planning on coming back after the scheduled Spring Break. Now all of Spring Term is being done remotely.
Amott plans to stay as president through the 2020-2021 school year and the Class of 2021 commencement, with her successor stepping into the role in July 2021. This follows a similar timeline to when she started at Knox in July 2011.
The members of the search committee should be announced by early June and will work with a search consultant over the summer into early fall when initial interviews will be held, Amott said in a video call with TKS. Finalists will hopefully visit campus in February, with the announcement by the end of that month.
Amott is the first woman president of Knox, something she said she had thought about coming into the position and since. She went to an all-women’s college and remembered when they first had a woman president.
“I remember as an alum how excited I was and how proud I was that my institution had done this thing,” Amott said. “So I think there was, when I came, a lot of excitement about breaking a mold, and I felt that excitement and it was definitely a positive thing for me.”
She noted that her retirement opens the way for the first African American or LGTBQ+ president of the college, although she emphasized that the right fit is more important than demographics. She originally had not been looking for a new job when the search consultant reached out, but said she ended up applying after looking at Knox and learning more about its culture and history.
Time at Knox
When TKS reported on Amott and the other finalists visiting campus in February 2011, they used pseudonyms for all the candidates. Amott’s was Mary.
Then Student Senate President Sam Claypool said in a TKS story from Feb. 2, 2011, she supported hiring Mary/Amott because she was more calm and transparent with the students, as well as having fundraising experience as provost at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Amott’s hiring was announced on Feb. 14, 2011.
At fall convocation in 2011, Amott announced four main priorities for her time at Knox: repairing Alumni Hall, promoting sustainability on campus, strengthening ties with Galesburg and creating a strategic plan for the college.
In her time at Knox, Amott oversaw the reopening of Alumni Hall, opening of WAC and the start of the SMC renovations. There has also been significant growth in the endowment. Earlier this year, Amott and the senior staff decided to continue working on the goal from the Knox 2020 strategic plan.
There have also been controversies, such as those around sexual assaults and the Title IX process on campus and Ariyana Smith’s protest during the national anthem at a women’s basketball game. Knox has also faced declining enrollment and financial difficulties in recent years.
Challenges of the job
In her ten years at Knox, Amott said the biggest challenges have always been the finances and the location. And going forward, she expects finances to be one of the biggest problems her successors face.
“I think Knox has always been an institution whose ambition and whose performance exceeded our means, our financial base,” Amott said. “We’ve always done dazzlingly transformational education with underpaid faculty and smaller staff and older buildings than a lot of places.”
She also referred to someone, she thought it was former Knox president Roger Taylor, saying that the problems Knox has could be fixed with money.
“There’s some things that money can’t fix for sure, but in a lot of ways there’s truth to that,” she said. “Your buildings are old? Money can fix that. If your classrooms aren’t up to date, money can fix that. If your faculty are leaving for other jobs because their salaries are too low, money can fix that.”
The financial challenge has gotten worse over the past few years, and now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Amott pointed to Knox’s scrappiness, gratefulness and humility as keys to how Knox has survived in the past and will in the future.
“The virus sets the time table so we just don’t have any idea when,” she said. “There will be reopening, the virus will be defeated, we just don’t know when that will happen. But it will.”
The stock market drop has not helped Knox’s financials but Amott said she was optimistic about Knox through the pandemic and the stock market crash. She noted it was sad, though, that there were playbooks on how to handle this sort of emergency that were ignored, playbooks probably influenced by graduates of Knox or schools like Knox.
Reflecting on Knox
When asked her top three things she will miss about Knox, Amott listed three groups of people: the students, the faculty and staff, and Galesburg as a whole. She loves to see the diversity of people at Pumphandle.
“The diversity of people, in every possible way,” she said about seeing people at Pumphandle. “Certainly culturally, racially, ethnically. (And) the personalities, the ones who are shy you can tell it’s sort of torture but they’re putting themselves through it because they think it’s a Knox thing and you should do it, and you know the big bold boisterous personalities. and you can get one right after another, and you can see the whole of humanity in front of you.”
Amott grew up overseas until high school and her mother was Brazilian, which influenced how she sees global participation by Knox students.
In regards to the approximately 55 staff members the college laid off last week, Amott noted that they had held onto the staff as long as possible, and that they wanted to let the staff go while there were additional benefits through the stimulus package.
She will miss the setting of Knox too.
“It’s a very real place, there’s nothing about Galesburg that feels inauthentic or contrived or phoney. So I’ll miss Galesburg,” she said.
After June 2021, Amott and her husband Ray plan to move back to a cabin they have expanded in the Pennsylvania woods and use that as a base for traveling to see family on the East Coast. One possibility retirement brings is a chance to become more politically active again, Amott said.
“I went from college, I worked for two years at the Federal Reserve bank of Boston, got up every day 9 to 5, had a job, then I went to grad school, then I became a faculty member,” she said. “And so I’ve been on a track for a long time. Looking forward to getting off the track, for a little while at least. And then we’ll see.”