I have had an amazing thought partner over the last eight years. In July 2009, Bill Michaelcheck became the first alumnus to chair the Rhodes College Board of Trustees. He has provided exceptional leadership. “Insightful,” “reflective,” “discerning,” and “humble” are all words his fellow trustees us to describe him.
Bill’s tenure as board chair has been marked by many tangible expressions of progress for the college—increased support for faculty and staff, new professional opportunities for students beyond our campus, a student body with even more academic promise and more reflective of our society and our world, and an expanded campus better aligned to meet the needs of our students. But so many of Bill’s contributions as chair are not as immediately visible to everyone.
One of Bill’s leadership gifts has been to challenge us to think about our work in bolder and bigger ways. He has helped us see Rhodes as a truly national liberal arts college. Our admissions footprint has expanded dramatically. His vision and insight coupled with his influence and philanthropy have enabled us to broaden our reach and be not only better but better known.
Under Bill’s leadership, the board has gone beyond its fiduciary responsibilities to be actively engaged in developing institutional strategies that better serve our students and provide the best liberal arts education possible. Board meetings have become a time for trustees to provide both oversight and insight.
As board chair Bill exudes trust, openness, and confidence. He is a great source of wisdom. Most importantly, he is always interested in tapping into the wisdom of others. Colleges grow by the questions trustees ask. Bill has provided creative thinking and thoughtful guidance in helping us focus on the right questions.
His approach is especially evident in the two trustee retreats conducted during his tenure. Our January 2011 Trustee Retreat set us on a course to build shared leadership. It led to the creation of the Rhodes Common Table—a broad-based strategy group with faculty, staff, students, and trustees all working together. Around the table there are no special seats. Everyone meets as equals. The Rhodes Common Table has been cited by the Association of Governing Boards as a best practice in shared governance.
Bill also hosted a retreat in New York City that brought together a broad array of talented individuals to help us think creatively about the future—from trustees of other leading colleges to college counselors from some of New York’s most prestigious high schools.
One of Bill’s many astute observations about Rhodes is that we are “fighting above our weight class”—consistently competing well with colleges with greater resources. He has a great heart for the needs of the college, and he and his wife Pam give quietly but generously. They have supported individual students and helped extend the influence of Rhodes students. They have also made it possible for young people in his West Tennessee home county—Lake County—to receive mentoring and encouragement from Rhodes students and recent graduates.
I feel so privileged to have had Bill as our Trustee Chairman and my thought partner over the last eight years and to have served with him for 17 of his 27 years as a Rhodes Trustee. He embodies our Rhodes Vision and inspires me with his own passion for learning and his compassion for others. I am honored to call him a dear friend.
—By William E. Troutt