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Interim President David Ellis talks career path, transitions, and the road ahead in his new role

On January 17, the Provost’s Office sent out an email to the LC community, explaining that President Barry Glassner had stepped down from his role, effective immediately. The email quoted Glassner’s desire to “focus his time and attention on his writing and his role as a public intellectual,” as the reason that he was stepping down so suddenly. For perspective, at comparative institutions, presidents typically give a year to a year and a half notice before stepping down.

The email also explained that the Board of Trustees had appointed David Ellis, previously vice president, secretary to the Board, and general counsel to LC, as interim president.

Despite the “interim” at the beginning of his new title, Ellis recognizes the weight and influence that his office holds.

If you think about it, we’re all interim something. We’re all interim alive. So I have to use that in my title, it describes my role. But I’m the president for an interim period, a period between two other periods. And I’m not going to sit still,” Ellis said.

Ellis began working at the Law School in 2000, and planned on retiring this coming May, but when he got the call from the Board of Trustees, he knew that he was looking at an opportunity he could not pass up.

“The only thing that I would rather do than retire, is do this, so this is not conflicting with my golf plans or anything like that,” Ellis said. “I am so committed to you guys, the students at this college. I’m very happy to do this.”

Although Ellis was surprised to receive the call, he understood why the Board would choose him.

“I’ve been here for a long time, I’ve worked at the law school, I’ve worked in central administration, and I’ve been teaching in the graduate school, so I know the institution pretty well … So I think that my knowledge of the college and the Board’s relationship to me allowed them to feel comfortable that I could step in and help.”

Part of Ellis’s commitment and love for LC stems from his own undergraduate liberal arts education. Ellis attended Sonoma State College, then relatively new. He was enrolled in the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies, where he graduated with a degree in biology.

“It was terrific because of the small setting. There was no hiding, there was no ability to not talk and be part of the conversation. There was no ability to not do the homework, because it was very evident in the seminars.”

With his biology degree and love for botany, Ellis opened a nursery in Sonoma, California, growing ferns, orchids and bromeliads from tissue cultures. When the onset of a drought put his nursery out of business, Ellis made the choice to go to law school, bringing him to Oregon.

Following his graduation from law school, Ellis found employment at law firms, financial institutions, and even the state department of Justice before coming to LC.

Ellis credits “serendipity” for such a diverse and varied career path.

“Sometimes you think about career trajectories, and it’s not a straight line, typically. [For] some people it is. It’s more of a roller coaster thing, I think,” Ellis said.

Although Ellis never envisioned ending his professional career as a college president, he is glad that it turned out the way that it did.

“As president, I get the honor and opportunity to try to provide some of that vision about why the rest of the world should care about us. And that is what I’m really excited about,” Ellis said.

This vision extends beyond the confines of the college.

“The part that I hope to provide, is to be able to go to the Board, and go to the community and the various communities from which we draw our students, and tell the story about why students should pick here,” Ellis said. “Why parents should want to send their students here. Why we make a difference, and why other people can make a difference by supporting us. So that’s what I get to do. I am so excited about it.”

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