Michael Cooper-White

Portrait by Ellen Marello

Early in my 17-year presidency at Gettysburg Seminary, I heard this observation by Fred Reisz of Southern Seminary: “In these jobs, we’re always working for our successors.”

Many seeds we plant won’t bear fruit until after our time in office. My predecessor and I, for example, both spent time cultivating a donor whose transformative endowment gift of $33 million came six months after I had retired.

In my later years at Gettysburg, I confess to being tempted to leave the hard decisions – which resulted in a challenging merger to create United Lutheran Seminary – to a successor. But we forged ahead, hoping the result best serves the long-term mission.

Now as an interim president, I am clear that my role is that of John or Jane the Baptist – preparing the way for the next leader. It reminds me of long-ago football days when my job was to clear a path for a running back coming behind me!

Unless we are the founder or last leader of a school, we’re all “interims.” Strong leaders honor their predecessors’ good work and lean on their knowledge and experience.

Likewise, trustees do well to take the long view and work for their successors, as well as the present stewards of the school.


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