Q & A With President Linda Oubré

Linda OubreHow did you first become familiar with Whittier?

Of course, I knew of Whittier growing up in Los Angeles. In retrospect, I would like to have known more. I wish I had looked at Whittier in my own college search.

More recently, as I was completing my doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, I read about Whittier in a class I took. The College was featured in a book called Check List for Change, by Robert Zemsky '62, about institutions doing innovative and wonderful things in higher education. 

What drew you to the College and your new role?

It starts with the students. The students Whittier attracts are an extremely diverse group, including many who are first-generation. The impact the College has on these young people is extraordinary. Our faculty and staff truly care about their success and they know how to put students first. 

Whittier is changing lives, and you can see it. And, in an environment like this, you touch a whole family, sometimes a whole community. I know firsthand. I was a first-generation college student myself.

Tells us about your style of leadership.

I often say I lead with my ears and my feet. That means I like to listen and I like to get out of my office and be where students, faculty, and staff are. I want to meet with as many people as possible and understand their stories. 

I've been doing one-on-one meetings with faculty. Whenever possible, I visit their offices. I find I learn more about people that way.

What might we learn from visiting your office?

Well, I'm embracing purple and gold in a major way, as you can see with the decorations in my office. You can also tell that I'm very much a family person. I am a descendant of a civil rights and union rights leader - my grandfather, Ernest Dillard, Sr. He was the first African American official in the United Auto Workers. I have a picture of him here at a rally. In it, he's almost 100 years old and he has a sign on his walker that says "I am the 99 percent." My grandmother and grandfather had no education but were the smartest people I ever knew.

Looking ahead, what do you see as Whittier's biggest challenges and opportunities?

As a college of the liberal arts and sciences, we have a tremendous strength. We provide our students with a set of skills that employers need and want. I can confirm that from my own experience. 

Our diversity is a strength as well. We are training leaders who look like the world, and that's very important.

Whittier is a model for the nation, and we provide our students an education for the 21st-century world they will soon lead.

The challenge is to think in new, open-minded ways about growing resources for our students without raising tuition. My background is in start-ups, and I hope to bring some of that entrepreneurial thinking to the conversation here.

When you meet with members of the Whittier community, what do you ask them?

I ask if I had a magic wand and could do anything, what they would like to see. This is also something I'm asking our alumni, friends, and trustees wherever I travel. The point is to forget practical constraints for just a minute and be aspirational. I would love for everyone at Whittier to think in aspirational ways. Then we can take on the challenge together of putting those aspirations within reach.