Leadership and Change
Greener grads are government leaders and artists. They are scientists and entrepreneurs. They are people who found their passion and purpose at The Evergreen State College. The college, now 50, is dedicated to ensuring that students continue to dig deep and pursue their passions. It’s also committed to ensuring that every student feels a sense of opportunity and belonging when they come to campus.
We had a conversation with the two dynamic and thoughtful men who, upon the completion of Dr. George Bridges’ presidency, are leading the Evergreen community into its next half-century. It’s our pleasure to share a portion of that conversation below.
John Carmichael, B.A. ’87, MPA ’98, Ph.D.
MPA Evergreen; Ph.D. in education and human resource studies, Colorado State University
Dr. Carmichael, an Evergreen alumnus, has deep ties to the campus, having worked at the school for more than two decades. Most recently, he served as the vice president for finance; before that, as the chief of staff and secretary for Evergreen’s Board of Trustees.
Dexter Gordon, Ph.D., Executive Vice President
M.A. in Communication Ethics, Wheaton College; Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Culture, Indiana University
Dr. Gordon has a national reputation for leadership in curriculum reform in higher education. Most recently, Dr. Gordon was a distinguished professor at the University of Puget Sound, where he taught rhetoric and media (among other topics) and served as the head of the university’s African American Studies Program and as the founder and head of its Race and Pedagogy Initiative.
When you contemplate Evergreen’s first 50 years, what comes to mind?
Carmichael. I’m part of those first 50 years, and I can say that my education at the school was really central to my personal development. Evergreen taught me to be secure in my point of view and how to work collaboratively with other people.
Gordon. Evergreen was innovative and unafraid of difference—the college was experimental and responsive to the zeitgeist of change. It offered an education that was marked by active student engagement with communities across difference, and with justice as a central principle.
What organizational strengths and capacities are you two building upon as you move forward?
Gordon. Partnerships and collaboration are at the heart of Evergreen and its history. Such partnerships among faculty, staff, and students, and between our Tacoma and Olympia campuses—including the s'gʷi gʷi ʔ altxʷ: House of Welcome—and their broader communities have resulted in innovative and meaningful educational programs. This is a legacy we have inherited, and it has served us well.
Carmichael. The past few years—the pandemic, and this era of political and social upheaval—have reignited Evergreen’s original, innovative spirit. This 50th anniversary year has echoes of the founding. We’ve learned to adapt so that we’re engaging students in ways that are relevant to them, ways that respond to the challenges they have right now and to the future that they face. It’s the kind of inventive, evolving work that Evergreen was made for.
What role do donors and supporters play in students’ lives?
Carmichael. When students are the first in their family to go to college, enrolling in any college is a courageous act. They don’t assume that there’s a place for them. Gifts from the college’s alumni, donors and friends help us show students that there is a place for them at Evergreen, and there are people here who can help them make a good life for themselves and their families.
Gordon. Our goal is to educate a broad representation of people—our students come from an ever-expanding range of communities. Donations of every size help us support students who may not otherwise be able to go to Evergreen, and it keeps education accessible to working families. Gifts also help Evergreen students to graduate with little or no debt.
Gordon. It’s a challenging time for higher education and for leadership in higher ed. Still, through our own model of collaborative leadership, John and I intend to pass along this practice of collaboration across difference. It’s part of Evergreen’s legacy and a profound strength.