PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS GIBSON. Gibson (right) at Siena after accepting the position of president.
Professor of Leadership Studies Chris Gibson will become the 12th president of Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., beginning his five-year term on July 1, 2020. Gibson, a veteran and former congressman, was appointed unanimously by the Siena board of trustees, Siena College announced on Feb. 14.
Gibson graduated from Siena in 1986 with a B.A., and went on to earn a M.A., M.P.A. and Ph.D. in government from Cornell. He represented New York’s 19th congressional district for six years before arriving at the College. A member of the Republican Party, Gibson was often recognized for his bipartisan efforts while in Congress. He is also a decorated veteran, and previously served as colonel in the U.S. army.
Siena, a private Franciscan liberal arts college, conducted a national search for a new president following the July 2019 death of the college’s 11th president, Edward Coughlin. They contacted Gibson in October 2019 to ask if he was interested in applying.
“What really calls to me about this job is that Siena’s mission and its approach — with the Franciscan tradition — focuses on whole person development,” Gibson said. “We’re talking about intellectual, physical, moral, ethical, religious, and spiritual [development]. And in my view as I look across America today and I see the challenges we’re having as a nation, … I think this is the best way for me to make a positive difference for our country in such a challenging time.”
Siena’s strong core curriculum is important to Gibson, and he credited it for helping him narrow his focus and interests as an undergraduate. He also noted his appreciation for the Franciscan element of the college. “A fair number of my professors were actually friars — Franciscan friars,’’ he said. “And they really had a huge impact on shaping my character and my soul. And in some of the most trying circumstances that I experienced, that foundation helped me. It helped me not only to survive but to flourish.”
Gibson has plans for how he will lead at Siena College. “My experience in the military and in Congress is [that] the first thing to do is to listen and learn,” he said. “So I’m going to spend a fair amount of time listening: listening to faculty, listening to staff, listening especially to students. And this will help solidify this overarching vision that I hope to unite people behind, that Siena would be known as a leadership school.”
Gibson added that he hopes to advance the Franciscan ideal of service-oriented leadership and unity. “I think that, like a lot of Americans, I’m very concerned and disappointed with the current state of American politics,” Gibson said. “Our graduates, as they move forward, will help bring the country together.” Gibson intends to lead by example and plans to teach in addition to his administrative role. He is considering offering two classes: “Leadership and Political Change” and “Politics of American National Security.”
“I went from being a soldier to a member of Congress, and then I got here the first week of January of 2017 and I have learned an enormous amount here at Williams College,” Gibson said. “It’s going to help make me a better college president.”
In particular, Gibson highlighted the seminar classes he has taught as extremely valuable. “I really enjoy the conversation, the dialogue in class,” he said. “I had some enormously gratifying experiences through this process here at Williams College. The students here are truly amazing, and I will miss that.”