After 13 years as University of Puget Sound president, Ronald R. Thomas, known fondly by students as “Ron Thom,” will retire. On July 1, Dr. Isiaah Crawford will take over the reins as the university’s leader. Crawford, a former psychology professor, most recently served as provost of Seattle University, and his career in higher education goes back decades. Assistant Editor Lauren Foster chatted with Crawford about his plans as president and what he likes to do in his spare time. Turns out, one of his finest Tacoma memories involves Britney Spears.
LF: What makes you care so much about higher education?
IC: I just think it has the power to be transformative. You know, I think I’m sort of an example of that in my own life, what I feel like I’ve experienced. My undergrad experience at St. Louis University just set me on a whole different course in life than I would have ever imagined.
LF: When the campus welcomed you in February, you said that it was the best day of your life. Is that really true?
IC: Oh, yeah. It’s hard for me to imagine a day that was more emotionally powerful. Maybe the day I defended my dissertation and I became Dr. Crawford; that was a good day, too. But what was so powerful about it was just the warmth and the energy of the Puget Sound community that day. I just felt so embraced.
LF: How do you feel about moving to Tacoma?
IC: Well, looking forward to it! I learned that the moniker is the City of Destiny, which I thought was just really great. Since the announcement, dozens of people who just live in Tacoma write to me. You know, they’ll say, like, “You need to think about this restaurant, or here’s a place you can get your hair cut.” It was really cool.
LF: There is this thing called the “UPS bubble” that people refer to. Any thoughts on student and community engagement?
IC: If there is a perception that some have about Puget Sound students maybe not getting out to explore, then I’m looking to demonstrate how we really do want to get out and be part of the community.
LF: There have been a number of protests on campus in the past year in regards to diversity. How do you plan to work with students and their concerns?
IC: This is going to be a year of listening and understanding. The conversations that Puget Sound has had about that are conversations that are happening all across campuses in America. So that’s good to know. And we certainly expect our students to give voice, and have voice, and expect to offer their voice. So I look forward to engaging in those conversations.
LF: If you could go back in time and tell your college self one thing, what would it be?
IC: Don’t be as anxious and afraid. Have a little bit more faith in yourself.
LF: What do you like to do in your free time?
IC: I love movies. I see all the movies nominated for Academy Awards, all of the acting categories. I’m an aging weekend athlete person. I still try to play tennis. I play softball. That’s how I try to make friends — through sports. I like to travel. I like to try and practice my super bad Spanish. I like what most people define as “crappy pop music.”
LF: So, what’s on your playlist?
IC: Well, you know. I’m a man of a certain age, right? So I get teased by some of my friends when they say I have the music interest of teenage girls.
LF: Like, Justin Bieber, or … ?
IC: Well, maybe, sort of, like Taylor Swift.
LF: Who doesn’t like Taylor Swift?
IC: One of my greatest nights here was going to the Britney Spears concert at the Tacoma Dome. So does that give you some clue?
LF: (Laughs) Yes.