Ethan Bachand ‘22
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, Provost and Dean of the College Margaret Freije announced her plans to step down as Provost and take a sabbatical at the end of the 2021-2022 academic year. This message was relayed to the campus community through an email from President Vincent D. Rougeau, as the College of the Holy Cross now starts the search for a new Provost.
Provost Freije commented on her sabbatical in an interview with The Spire a few days after the announcement. When asked what contributed to the decision as well as its timing, Provost Freije cited the need for the College to conduct a national search as well as personal decisions. As she relayed, the search process resembles the process for finding a new President, which can take a matter of months.
On a personal note, the Provost mentioned her extended time in both the role as well as working at Holy Cross. As she said, “In terms of why this year, I think that I am in my 8th year as Provost and I’ve done a lot of the things I wanted to do as Provost. I want some time to think about what I want do next. I’m in the great position where I can take a sabbatical and think about what’s my next step going to be in my career.”
Despite the typical seven-year cycle that faculty consider for sabbaticals, Provost Freije pointed out that her last sabbatical was in 1995. This contributed to her desire to take one now, as she talked about the possible desire to return to the classroom. “I came to this College to be a teacher,” she said. “I haven’t taught in a long time. I miss it. I miss being with the students, I miss interacting with the students, and so it’s really a good time for me to just decide how I want to end my career.”
Speaking on what accomplishments she was the proudest of from her time in the position, Provost Freije spoke extensively about the College’s expansion of experiential learning. This included both the J.D. Power Center programs as well as the Community Based Learning office. On top that, the Provost mentioned the faculty’s consideration of expanded common area requirements. This reimagined set of requirements included broader topics such as responsible citizenship, justice and equality, and intercultural competence. As the Provost commented, “If you’re going to engage with a global world and be good citizens in that world, there are other things that you need. For the faculty to take up that charge of thinking about what should our statement about what should the core of a Holy Cross education be, I think that was critically important.”
In the interview, Provost Freije also spoke about regrets from her time in the position. She specifically mentioned spending time with students, which she felt was limited due to her administrative role as well as the pandemic. Provost Freije also countered that concern, however, by stating the joy she feels with students back and active on campus. As she said, “There’s something wonderful about this semester, even though we’re wearing masks, because I just feel like there’s some energy.”
In his email to the campus community, President Rougeau wrote about Provost Freije’s decision. In the email, he wrote, “Provost Freije shared her decision with me a few months ago, and while I am disappointed that we will not have more time to work together in her capacity as Provost, I am thrilled for her to enjoy a leave as she plans her next steps. I have been thoroughly impressed by the wisdom, skill and commitment that Provost Freije brings to her role, and I am acutely aware of what her deep devotion to our students, to our faculty and to Jesuit liberal arts education have meant to Holy Cross over her 35 years on Mount St. James.”
When looking at the future of Holy Cross, Provost Freije pointed at a variety of initiatives that deserved attention. The first of which was the College’s interaction with its surrounding community. As she put it, “I think the College does need to think about how it wants to engage with the city of Worcester. I live in Worcester, it’s a very exciting time to be in Worcester. The city is changing dramatically. COVID certainly put a bit of a stutter step into its progress, but I think there are really exciting things happening in the city and I think getting the College to think about how to better engage with what’s happening and getting our students and our faculty to engage in what’s happening in the city is really exciting.”
She also spoke about the new performing arts center. Provost Freije insisted that the space be more than just a place for the occasional performance. Instead, she said, “…I’ve said often that if that building is only crowded on the nights when theater is doing a show or music is doing a performance, then it’s a failure. That building has to be a building that has energy all the time. The building has to be a building that students want to hang out in. That building has to be a building where students want to do pop-up performances. That building has to be a building where other departments want to come in and use the media lab and think about the space in the beehive. I want that to be a real energizer for the College. I think that critically important as we move forward.”
To finish her remarks, Provost Freije also addressed the concerns of diversity that surround the College. She said, “We’ve got to think about how we make the population at Holy Cross look a little more like the population in the United States and in the World. That’s going to take some work, both on the part of the admissions office, in terms of identifying the best students from every geographic area, but it’s also going to take some work on the ground here. We have to become the school of choice.”