The aide de camp: a Q&A with the next President of The King's College

Photo by Jessica Mathews

Photo by Jessica Mathews

At the end of the Fall Semester, General Gibson stepped into the role of President of The King's College after being at the school for 15 months as Vice President. His new role marks a time of leadership reorganization. President Gibson sat down with the EST to answer some questions about himself and what the future of the college will hold.

What do you think needs the most attention in 2018?

Honestly, the thing that keeps coming up in conversations recently is really honing our message. Who are we? Why are we here? How are we doing what we do? I think in 2018, honing that message to a fine point will have more benefit than any other single issue that we'll deal with.

What concerns do you have about the position?

Because I don’t have the deep history and experience in higher education, it’s the unknown unknowns. It’s the things I can’t anticipate are going to be problems that might creep up behind me. That’s why this is a team sport, and I feel really good about the team I have around me. But one of the things I’ve never had to worry about was accreditation. All the courses that I taught [at the Air Force] were tactical, they were meant to prepare someone to go down range, or to fly an aircraft. Here at [The King’s] College, we have to make sure we are staying within the constraints of our charter. We’ve got to stay consistent with all the requirements for New York state and New York City. And working through all of that, where are all the hiccups? I don’t know enough about that, yet, to anticipate that.

Do you have any tips from the Air Force on how the school can recruit more men?

Frankly, in the air force we have quite the opposite problem. We weren’t really concerned about recruiting more men. We were concerned with recruiting more women. Here’s what I would really prefer we do, and that’s focus on recruiting the right students for King’s. What we see pretty consistently is if a student is interested in the mission of King’s, then they are very likely to succeed in New York City, but if a student takes their eye off the ball and is more interested in the city, and comes to King’s as a means through which to live in the city, they struggle more so than the right mission fit.

What is the best book you've read in the past year?

I don't tend to read a lot of fiction. It's almost all non-fiction. One of the books I'm really excited by is "How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge." I love the way he talks about his journey of assistant in charge of nothing all the way to being the senior-most pastor at this huge campus and church in Georgia. He literally started out as being the assistant to the janitor at that church. The idea is you don't have to be in a position of leadership in order to have influence, so how do you positively influence those around you? It doesn't matter what field you're in, it doesn’t matter if it's in your home. If you yield influence, you are leading.

Who was your favorite boss?

It was a three star general named Tad Oelstrom. He hired me to be his aide de camp. He had a secretary who kept the calendar and had an executive officer who worked all the issues, the packages and papers that needed his decisions. I was the guy responsible for the rest of his world, his life. So it was booking travel. I would drive him from point A to point B so he could work while we were in the car. I helped him host a bunch of events at his house. What impressed me so much about him: he was so selfless and so focused on using his authority as the senior-most Air Force commander at that installation for the benefit of everybody else except himself. He was far and away the best boss because he had such high integrity personally and professionally that I never saw him do something I would consider self-serving or selfish in nearly two years of working for him. And that is every day, weekends, travelling around the world, you name it.

Which actor would you want to play you in a movie?

This is going to be an easy one. It would have to be Tom Cruise, because I know my wife loves Tom Cruise. Unless it was going to be something that my daughters were going to watch, and then it would have to be Chris Evans.

"The functions at the college are still all going to exist, but who is responsible for those functions is being reworked. The idea is to reorganize around people’s strengths and areas of giftedness."

The King's College has to fundraise millions of dollars a year to make up a budget shortfall. How long is that business model sustainable?

As long as the mission is inspirational, as long as you get the results to show for the effort and time and commitment that you're putting into something, people will give to it. People are motivated by something that makes sense to them intellectually but moves them in their heart, and so I think on that front, King's wins hands down all the time.

What is a new financial strategy that The King’s College has yet to try?

We’ve been renting space ever since we moved to Manhattan. Prior to being in the city, we owned real estate. So that's something for us to explore. It's kind of fun to think about maybe being the landlord instead of a tenant.

The press release announced that this is a leadership reorganization. How are the roles and responsibilities changing from where they stand now?

The functions at the college are still all going to exist, but who is responsible for those functions is being reworked. The idea is to reorganize around people’s strengths and areas of giftedness.

Dr. Gregory Thornbury is a scholar, theologian, philosopher, and author. Those are pretty full-time gigs when you add them all up. There are other areas that, as the president of the college, probably didn’t excite him as much when it comes to the day-to-day running of the institution.

My background in the Air Force was being responsible for keeping the trains running on time in a lot of ways. The idea would be to allow me to do to some of the day-to-day tedium, to free him up to do these things he’s really good at. But that requires a little reorganization, because our talent sets are different. For example, because he’s a gifted academic and has been a faculty member and a founding dean at another institution, the president and the Vice President for academic affairs, Mark Hijleh, worked together on faculty hiring decision. I didn’t grow up as an academic. The idea was to elevate the Vice President of academic affairs to provost. Along with that, give him all the authority he needs to make those decisions and nominations to the board.

The last shift was, because Dr. Thornbury is going to be doing some other things on top of just being a Chancellor, who else can help with the brand ambassador piece? Few faculty members have the daily level of exposure that Professor Brenberg enjoys. So we made him Executive Vice President. The intent there is to eventually free him up a little more so he can do a little more of that moving forward. So it’s not going to change his teaching schedule in the spring. but in future years, then we’re going to look at maybe if he needs to teach less so he has more time.

Gregory Thornbury accepted a Vice President position outside the college along with his new role as Chancellor. What sort of time commitment will he be giving TKC in his new role at the college?

Think of it as trying to put the best person on the field at the best time. There's going to be conversations in which Kevin Brown might actually be the best player on the field. There's going to be some things that Gregory Thornbury is absolutely the right guy, and he'll show up and do those things.

There's still things where he's got the skill-set, he's the guy. We're going to put him in to do that task. But there's other things where he doesn’t necessarily have to be the guy.

I don't know what his time commitment will be as Chancellor, because it’s less about the time commitment as the value he brings as a brand ambassador at the college.

Will he have an office here?

We're still talking about that. He's just getting started over there [at the New York Academy of Art]. I don't know that he has perfect clarity of what his requirements are over there or what his office over there will look like. He's talked about being on campus pretty regularly, but we're not sure yet if that's going to require a dedicated office for that purpose.

What is it that students should be doing to help the college achieve the next level of success?

Taking advantage of every opportunity and every educational opportunity here and in the classroom. The value proposition of King's is opportunity, access, and relevance. You put those three things together. You want to grab all that you can while you're here at King’s as a student.

But it goes beyond that. Part of what I would want students to do is call each other up to their best, to be graceful when we fail with each other, but don't let somebody wallow in their failure, and have them, through each of us, feel like they are capable of better and capable of choosing more wisely. That's who we are as Kingsians. We're not just satisfied with mediocrity, and we're certainly not satisfied with choosing something that isn't respectful and doesn't communicate dignity in others who we care about each other. So it's holding each other accountable, but in a way that's not calling you out, but calling you up, as Professor Fotopulos would say. Because we aren’t always at our best.