Read Suzanne Haley Woolsey’s resume and be impressed: Stanford and Harvard degrees in psychology and social relations and high-powered positions in the public, private, and government sectors.
But meet Sue Woolsey P’97, P’98, P’00, who jokes that she can’t keep a job, and be impressed by her down-to-earth personality, intent gaze, and warm smile. She wants the best for her family – and that now includes everyone at Colorado College.
Woolsey became the chair of the CC Board of Trustees in May 2009; she was recruited to join the board at a parents’ event in the mid-1990s. Woolsey and her husband, Jim, former CIA director under President Clinton, have three sons, all CC graduates.
“My entire gene pool is invested in CC,” Woolsey likes to say.
Robert, an English major, graduated in 1997 and does technical support for video and film in New York. Daniel, an anthropology major, graduated in 1998 and works in film and the Internet, also in New York. Benjamin, an Asian studies major, graduated in 2000 and works for a Washington, D.C., company that handles cyber security and regional threat analysis.
But Woolsey admired CC even before her sons enrolled. In the 1980s, while at an accounting firm, she ran a consulting practice for colleges and universities and frequently heard praise for the school.
“Everybody would always say to me, ‘Well, if you want to know how to really teach, you should go to CC. They really know how to teach kids.’”
She’s a little envious of her sons’ CC experience, especially when compared with her own academic journey.
“I think that the more egalitarian interaction with the faculty would have been great. I think the identification of the kids with one another is stronger,” Woolsey said. “When our youngest got married five years ago, there were 35 CC people there. They stick together. They go all over the country for each other.”
She applies that same spirit of fellowship to her leadership style. For instance, rather than faculty lining up outside the boardroom, awaiting their turns to speak, the board now goes to the departmental offices.
“I think it’s common courtesy. People are working. They have to be able to use their time efficiently. The idea of them waiting in line is just ridiculous,” Woolsey said. “If you see somebody in their own environment, you get a feel for where they work and how they work.”
Although financial stewardship is a major part of the board’s mission, she also firmly believes that the trustees must balance their duty to convey off-campus perspectives and wisdom with a respectful approach to CC’s people, so that the trustees aren’t perceived as “this odd group of tough-minded, thick-skinned financial types.”
But that “odd group,” which has a broad range of professional backgrounds, has high aspirations for CC.
“I think CC’s an absolute gem, and I think it can get even better. I think we want the best for it; all the trustees do this pro bono because we care. And I think it’s very important to us that we not push the college in one direction or another but all of us together think it through.”
Woolsey wants to ensure that every trustee is actively engaged in the college’s well-being and plans that, over the next few meetings, the trustees will examine ways to improve how the board itself functions. Options include more video conference meetings.
She is determined to free people to do their best work without being “wrapped around the axle” of the organization – too much involvement in internal disputes or traditions, which can hamper everyone’s ability to channel their energy toward accomplishing goals.
“My goals and hopes for CC include continuous improvement of what we do best, and the energy to support the great parts of our work by raising new funds and by changing or eliminating practices that are not up to our standards.”
It’s a long “schlep” to Colorado from her home on Chesapeake Bay, but for Woolsey, it’s worth it to help nurture the institution she loves.