Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga announced in July that she would leave Scripps in October to begin a new position as president and director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA).
With the announcement, Scripps joins a surge of leadership transitions across the colleges. Interim Presidents have started this semester at Pitzer College and Claremont Graduate University, and on Oct. 4, Amy Marcus-Newhall, the former Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Student Affairs, will join their rank as the interim president at Scripps.
The announcement “was a little bit shocking because it happened at the end of the year, when all the students were gone, which is why I’m really glad I have this time now to open the academic year and have some closure with the students,” Bettison-Varga said.
Hannah Sands SC ’17, who first met Bettison-Varga at an admitted students day before matriculating to Scripps, said that she was surprised to learn of Bettison-Varga’s resignation.
“She’s just the type of person who remembers everything about you, remembers your family and all those things, and I think that made her a very successful president,” she said.
Sands added that she appreciated how Bettison-Varga was able to convince the Board of Trustees to allow for trans students to be admitted to Scripps.
Bettison-Varga said that she was initially unsure whether to apply for the opening at NHMLA, as she had expected to stay at Scripps at least through the end of its $175-million fundraising campaign that began in Nov. 2013.
“I was very torn about whether or not I should put my name in the hat for it,” she said. “But ultimately, it just felt like such a wonderful combination of my own personal interests, my disciplinary interests as a geologist, as well as the opportunity to use the skill set I have to advance this incredible institution and my love of research, education, and collection-building in this kind of public arena.”
Bettison-Varga stressed that her decision to leave had nothing to do with Scripps.
“It wasn’t anything about this place and the wonderful place it was that made me want to leave,” Bettison-Varga added.
Bettison-Varga said that she has been using her remaining time at the college not only to help prepare Marcus-Newhall to become interim president but also to prepare the college for “the incoming president down the road.”
“I would argue that the transition is ideal in that Lori is here for me to shadow her and provide her expertise, and then once she leaves I will have a phenomenal senior staff team,” Marcus-Newhall said.
Marcus-Newhall said that her 23-year career at Scripps as a faculty member, Associate Dean of Faculty, and finally Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs has helped prepare her for her new role.
Marcus-Newhall said that she wants to continue progress on several “really critical projects” at Scripps, including the fundraising campaign; a new dorm scheduled to open in fall of 2016; the LASPA Center for Leadership, which opened this fall; and the I.D.E.A. Initiative, Scripps’ diversity plan.
During the transition process, Marcus-Newhall has also been helping Interim Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs Julie Liss adjust to her new position.
“One of my main goals is to continue moving forward as planned,” Liss said. “This is a transition, but we don’t expect or want it to be a hiatus. There are plans…in terms of curricular development, in terms of expanding the college in various ways that Amy and I plan to move forward with.”
Marcus-Newhall plans to return to her position as dean of faculty and vice president for student affairs after the completion of the presidential search process. She is a member of the Presidential Search Committee, which trustees Bob Sacks and Betsy Weinberg Smith SC ’74 co-chair. The committee selected Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, a search consultant firm, to help identify and evaluate presidential candidates.
“At this point, the Committee is in the process of soliciting input from the community as part of the process of defining the characteristics and experience we would hope to find in a successful candidate,” Sacks and Smith wrote in a joint email to TSL. “We expect that the Committee will be in a position by early next month to define those characteristics in a description that will be used as part of the process of attracting candidates to be the college’s next president.”
The Presidential Search Committee will host forums for faculty, students and staff on Sept. 24 and 25.
This article has been updated on Sep. 18, 2015. It originally stated that Lori Bettison-Varga announced her resignation in May.