The Rollins Presidency: An Interview with Acting President Craig McAllaster

By Deanna Loew

Rollins College Acting President Craig McAllaster
Rollins College Acting President Craig McAllaster

 After President Lewis Duncan resigned in 2014, Craig McAllister was named Acting President of  Rollins College. Nearly a year later, President McAllister reflects on his time as interim president, the  process of the presidential search committee, and the future of the Rollins presidency.

 Deanna Loew: What was your role in the presidential search process?

 Craig McAllaster: My role was to basically serve as a resource for the four finalists so that they could  understand before the final interview the issues that are confronting Rollins. I enjoyed the process. It  was a pleasant surprise that the search committee, to me, has been extremely open with the candidates.  I’ve been involved with situations like this before where the committee is very anxious to get people in  and try to make the posi- tion look very attractive. I thought the search committee did a great job in really conveying the pros and cons, the opportunities and the challenges.

DL: Do you think that you have chosen the best candidate possible to be the next president of Rollins?

CM: Oh yeah. I can tell you that I think that Dr. Grant H. Cornwell will be a great president; I say that because he is a combination of all of the skills you want in a president. Sometimes a college will hire a president because he or she is a great academic. Sometimes colleges will hire a president because they think that he is very well connected. Sometimes colleges will hire someone because they have great fundraising skills. What you get with Dr. Cornwell is the whole package: someone who is a great academic, someone who understands strategic planning, and someone who understands fundraising. Dr. Cornwell is truly the right person for the right time for Rollins.

DL: Were you ever considered as a candidate for the search process?

CM: No, I did not want to be, and the reason is that the president of a college should plan on being someplace for 10 to 15 years. I love this place and I love the opportunity to have done what I have done, but 10 years is not in my window of possibility. If this had come up five or six years ago, I would have put my hand in, but I want to write a few books and go back and teach for a few years.

DL: What was the most challenging part of being interim president?

CM: That’s a very good question. Part of this job is that the emotional highs and lows are remarkable. The example that I like to use is that, on one Thursday, I was meeting Paul McCartney, and the next Monday, one of our students died in a drug-related incident. What is great is watching student succeed, watching our teams do great jobs, watching our debate team—that is all very exciting, but sometimes you have to deal with saying, “Why on earth did you do that?” Even so, I have found that the exceptional experiences far outweigh the bad ones.

DL: If you had to give Dr. Cornwell advice for his time here at Rollins, what would it be?

CM: Enjoy it. This job has so much here to enjoy and embrace. Dr. Cornwell will become amazingly integrated in this community, and I know he will embrace it and love it as much as I have. Rollins is a truly remarkable institution that deserves a remarkable leader.

DL: What is your favorite part of Rollins?

CM: Oh, the students, absolutely. It is so great to see students succeed. More than that, I love watching all of the invisible people at Rollins—the people behind the scenes that make this place run.

DL: If you could change one thing about Rollins, regardless of funding or plausibility, what would it be?

CM: I would love a campus where 98 percent of the students live on campus simply because they want to live on campus. I would want a campus that is more engaging, because I covet institutions that are almost completely residential. A more cohesive campus would experience so much more, and I believe retention would be a lot better.

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