After serving New College of Florida for nearly 20 years in various positions, Gordon “Mike” Michalson, the college’s president, plans to retire in June and return to teaching.
Michalson joined New College in 1992, serving five years as dean and warden before returning to teaching the philosophy of religion full-time. He was named president in 2001.
Under his leadership, the college has seen significant improvements, including its distinction as the state university system’s honors college for liberal arts, a 300-student increase in enrollment, improved compensation for faculty and various construction projects.
After 11 successful years at the New College helm, Michalson decided the time had come for him to step down and let someone else take the reins.
“The school needs a break,” Michalson said. “Everyone can benefit from a fresh source of energy, and as a member of the community, I think it will be a good thing.”
Michalson has personal reasons for retiring, as well. A husband and father, he said his busy schedule has not allowed him as much time as he would like to spend with family.
With his son, Elliott, a freshman at Riverview High School, Michalson’s retirement will enable the two of them to enjoy more activities together.
“As an older father, time tends to pass more quickly,” said Michalson, 63. “I don’t want to blink and have him be off to college. He’s a very talented baseball player, and I’m looking forward to having more time to go to his games.”
Michalson plans to take a one-year sabbatical, during which he said he is looking forward to a renewed focus on his hobbies, including boating, fishing and traveling.
“On July 1, I’m going to Goodwill and donating all my ties,” Michalson joked. “After that, my wife and I will start making some travel plans.”
After his year off, Michalson will return to New College as a professor — a role with which he says he has never stopped identifying.
As an acclaimed scholar on the philosophy of religion and, especially, Immanuel Kant, Michalson has published several books. He has continued to teach one class on the philosophy of religion each year during his tenure as president. After a much-deserved break, he looks forward to returning to academia, which he believes is his true calling.
“I was made to be a college professor, not a president,” he said. “It was only by a series of happy accidents that I became a president.”
But with his impressive list of accomplishments, his success as president hardly could be called an accident.
After joining the New College faculty, Michalson saw many opportunities for improving the school, but he said his proudest accomplishment came with the college’s emergence as a freestanding institution, separate from the University of South Florida system. However, that presented financial issues.
“We had always relied on USF for our infrastructure, and now, we had to do all that on our own,” said Michalson. “We had to seek separate accreditation, which was very time-consuming and detailed work.”
Emphasizing the benefits of collaboration, Michalson is modest about his achievements; he gives his colleagues much of the credit for the school’s success.
“I’m most proud of the way my team of fellow administrators worked together,” he said. “It really brought out the importance of teamwork.”
Another issue high on Michalson’s list of priorities was increasing New College’s sense of community. During his tenure, the school has seen numerous improvements to its facilities. Among those projects have been the completions of the Rhoda Pritzker Marine Biology Laboratory, the Rolland V. Heiser Natural Sciences Complex, the Public Archaeology Laboratory, the Black Box Theater, five new dormitories and, most recently, the Academic Center, which is connected to the Jane Bancroft Cook Library by the new LEED-certified Robert and Beverly Koski Academic Plaza.
But Michalson sees the recently completed facilities as more than bright, shiny buildings.
“The biggest change involves developing a sense of campus,” he said. “It goes beyond a physical change; it creates more collegiality, and it’s important to have that sense of community.”
As he looks toward the future of New College, Michalson hopes to see continued growth, both in enrollment and academic status. Under his direction, the college’s enrollment has increased from fewer than 500 students to more than 800, and he’d like to see the number continue to rise.
“It’s no secret that I’d like to see our enrollment increase to 1,200,” said Michalson. “With each (burst of) growth we’ve experienced, we’ve become a stronger college. I think this would help us develop a deeper, richer curriculum, and we’d still remain a small college by all means.”
Although he feels reinvigorated by the opportunity to return to teaching, Michalson says he will miss the never-ending endeavors to burnish the reputation of a college whose transformation he has overseen for the past 11 years.
“There’s a deep sense of camaraderie and satisfaction that comes with working with a team to do some heavy lifting,” said Michalson. “I’m going to miss that.”
IF YOU GO
Dr. Gordon “Mike” Michalson will be honored during a retirement gala at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, at The Polo Grill and Bar in Lakewood Ranch. Tickets are $250. For more information, call 487-4600.
1992 — After a national search, professor Gordon “Mike” Michalson of Oberlin College joins New College as dean and warden, a position he would hold for five years.
2001 — New College becomes independent of the University of South Florida, the 11th school in the state’s university system
2001 — Michalson is named president of New College of Florida
2001 — Michalson recruits special assistant Suzanne Janney and Glenn Cuomo, professor German, to enhance New College’s Fulbright Scholarship Program, which will produce more than 50 Fulbright scholars over the next decade
2001 — Completion of the Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center, which contains seven labs and more than 100 aquariums
2004 — New College gains independent accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
2006 — USF Sarasota-Manatee relocates to the Powell Crosley Estate, and New College regains full control of its campus
2007 — Construction of five new residence halls on campus is completed
2007 — The Princeton Review names New College the best value in public higher education
2007 — Michalson is named president of the Southern University Conference
2010 — Completion of the Public Archaeology Lab
2011 — The Academic Center and Plaza, with LEED certification for its sustainable features, is completed.
2012 — Michalson retires, effective July 1