Tea Time with President Luxton
It is often the case on university campuses that students feel disengaged from the university administration, an awkward distance that seems to linger between the average student and a prominent university leader such as Andrews University’s President Luxton; thus, we thought it would be best if we could sit down with Luxton and get a more personal look into who Luxton is and what her vision is for Andrews University. Thankfully, even within the bustle of the beginning of a new term, Luxton was able to carve a sliver of time from her busy schedule to discuss what students want to know about their university’s president.
We know that you’ve lived and traveled pretty much all over the world, so we just wanted to ask, when you think of the word “home,” what comes to mind?
That’s a hard one. I think it’s wherever I am. I’ve been so long gone from England that I don’t really call it home now. Canada, I was there for a while, so yeah, I really feel like I’m home in the world so to speak.
You’ve been a resident of the Southwest Michigan area and the Andrews University community for a while. What has been your favorite memory or experience living here?
I love the lake; I love the four seasons; I like having a good winter as well as a good summer—the summers don’t get too hot here and it’s beautiful in the fall.
So, really quickly, we were very interested in finding out if you have any special hobbies, interests, or any hidden talents that no one really knows about.
My hobbies, well, I love traveling, preferably to remote places. I read a lot, particularly World Literature. I collect glass art, because I just love the way it changes with the reflection of the light. As for talents, probably not a lot now. I used to be a tennis player—I played that competitively. I used to play the clarinet, not brilliantly, and now I’m probably really bad. Oh yes, I can do tongue twisters very fast. That’s about it.
You said you played tennis, do you watch tennis too?
I do watch tennis now, Wimbledon, but it’s definitely more fun to play than watch.
If you could choose one person, dead or alive, to play a doubles match with, who would it be?
I would have to say Venus Williams.
Now, you’ve probably been asked this a lot, but switching from provost to president, how is your focus changing or is it changing at all?
I think the provost really is responsible for the campus and what is happening on a day to day environment, whether it’s academic or student life. You’re juggling multiple things and making 50 major decisions a day and when you make that many heavy decisions daily, some of them, unfortunately, may not always be the best ones because it all has to happen so fast. As president, you’re considering more of the entire trajectory of the university; you’re thinking of the university within a more public atmosphere, how to move the culture forward and creating a space where everyone and what they do will be successful. It’s more of a philosophical kind of shift; I work the same amount of hours, but I end up juggling less things, albeit bigger things.
Is there something that people or even you didn’t realize about the presidency—whether it’s responsibilities or what life in this office is like?
I’ve been president in England, Canada and now here. While this is a bigger campus, I think the perception of the presidential position in America is much more authoritative when in fact, it is the deans, the vice-president, and everyone else that is really doing so much work and so much of the focus. You end up getting all or more credit, or even blame, maybe, than you are actually doing. The perception of the presidential role is very presidential—which is a very American way of seeing that. Outside of America, it is a flatter structure; you’re just part of the team. Here, while I am part of the team, the position is seen as more important in some way.
With the extra pressures and responsibilities of being president, how do you feel about being Andrews University’s first female president? Do you think there is any significance in that?
I think from the Seventh-day Adventist position, people perceive it as significant. Especially with the older generations, I have had some amazing responses that something they thought was being devalued before is something that now has value. So I think it has become important, from that perspective, becoming a representation of that shift. I do think women tend to lead in different ways than men and I believe the ideal is to have a mix of styles and people so you can play on each other’s strengths.
It’s rather early in your presidency now, but do you have any idea of what you want your legacy to be and the legacy of Andrews University to be during and after your tenure?
I suppose I really want the students who come here to say, “Wow, that was an amazing experience. I grew so much; I learned so much.” I just want this school to be a place of growth, where everyone feels like a part of the larger community. Which is why I talk a lot about community and stories. If anyone wants to get the best of their experience, they put more intentionality into it—from them and the campus as well.
Is there any quote, code, or motto you live by that inspires you?
It’s not really a code as much as it is an image. For me, there’s a light house that keeps flashing and as long as I can continue to see it, I know I’ll be okay. I guess the lighthouse represents everything I find important to me: my faith, my family, my values, my community, possibilities and so on. It keeps me grounded and firm whenever things get shaky.
Okay, so before we go, can we hit you with a Lightning Round of questions?
Sure. I’ll try.
Apple or Android?
Coffee or tea?
Coffee...which is really bad for someone who talks about tea as part of her platform.
Email or letter?
Kindle or book?
Your favorite season?
The last book you read?
It’s a little boring, I can’t remember the title, but it was about higher education management.
Your favorite musical artist?
Your best holiday?
What? Oh, right, because the English “holiday” carries a different meaning from an American holiday!
Oh, then it would have to be Christmas!
After our time with President Luxton, it was evident that her emphasis on community and intentionality stems from her values and experiences. This brief conversation with Luxton offered us some insight into the name beyond her title. A seasoned administrator with many stories to share and with her continued focus on our Andrews University story, it was refreshing to hear some of hers.