New leader of divinity school developing visionary ideas for change

Angela Sims arrived at an interesting time for Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

She started work just a few weeks before the school moved out of its Hogwarts-like campus following a decision to sell the property to a developer. On Aug. 20, Sims led a parade of faculty and staff in a walk from the old campus down Goodman Street to the new location in modern yet largely anonymous office space on the edge of the Village Gate complex.

Angela Sims
Angela Sims

“I’m really glad that I got to spend my first few weeks…at 1100 South Goodman St. It gave me a greater sense for the feel of the place,” she said. The former campus runs deep in the memory banks of the school, considering that many of its employees had worked there 15 years or more before her arrival.

Sims most recently worked as a vice president at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Kan., (the school also has a campus in Oklahoma City) before becoming the first female president at CRCDS and the first female African-American president at any Rochester-area college.

Sims said she has received a wonderful welcome from female executives in Rochester, and while she’s aware of the historical role she plays, she also points out the two-sided nature of the role.

“Whenever a woman is the first, it often signals that there are some amazing challenges, which can also be wonderful opportunities to contribute positively,” she said. “When the person also happens not only to be a woman but black or a racialized minority, often the opportunities and the challenges are significantly greater than one might imagine.

Colgate’s old hilltop location is next to a historic park designed by the storied Frederick Law Olmsted and overlooks the southern suburbs of Rochester. The new site at 320 N. Goodman St. sits at the bottom of a hill, overlooking railroad tracks dividing the Neighborhood of the Arts in southeast Rochester from one of the poorest quadrants of the city.

“While we are on a particular side of these railroad tracks in the Neighborhood of the Arts that’s an up-and-coming and positively changing community, we always have to be mindful of what’s on the other side of those tracks that might not mirror the reality of our nearer neighborhoods,” Sims said. Her vision for the divinity school is as “a seminary of and for the community.” She envisions a strategic planning process taking place this year and next that will tie students in new ways to that community, starting in the 2021-22 academic school year.

She also sees changes coming in the curriculum, noting that divinity schools affiliated with certain denominations sometimes have taught in ways that discourage inclusion, as the denominations may have rules against same-sex marriage, for example, or ordination of women or gay people. “We may miss an opportunity from an educational perspective,” Sims said. “When I think about any particular moral issue, one moral issue might be what it means to be fully welcoming, to be truly welcoming.”

Theology students today aren’t necessarily planning to be preachers or parish leaders.

“Increasingly, more and more of our students are bi-vocational. A number are looking for ways to live out their sense of vocational identify in non-traditional spaces. I think that seminaries have a responsibility to be responsive to that but also be forward thinking as we look at the changes that are occurring on the religious landscape on a number of faith traditions.

As students express increasing interest in ministry outside of traditional church settings, Sims notes the divinity school’s new location brings different kinds of student placements to mind.

“What would it mean to have a student placed at the mental health institution that’s right across our hallway? What might it mean to have a student placed at the autism agency that’s in this neighborhood? …What might it mean to have a student placed in City Hall?” she asked. Sims said ideally students would serve both in a congregational setting and in an agency during they time at the seminary. “I want it to be a more intentional placement.”

Thinking outside of hidebound traditions has won Sims respect in the theological community as she has developed scholarly study around the issues of lynching and womanism – the latter a term borrowed from author Alice Walker that describes women-centered perspectives from women who aren’t just white.

“I take seriously the experiences of black women, particularly thinking of black women as sources of moral discernment,” Sims said, noting that she doesn’t discount the other voices that have always been at the table. Denied the chance to be part of the academy for generations, the voices of black women can be brought into the curriculum now, Sims said, by adding their writing to course syllabi, adding speakers and formal and informal discussions including them. Above all, she said, womanism often means being aware of whose voices are not being heard.

Jeanne Hoeft, a fellow vice president at Saint Paul in Kansas City, said Sims’ “scholarly work on lynching and the black church has really been important to us and in a way brought …Saint Paul into the public realm. Her work was so publicly recognized.”

Both Hoeft and longtime friend Lorenzo Cooper York, a retired Navy chaplain, describe Sims as intellectually sharp, deeply spiritual, a groundbreaking scholar and possessing a keen sense of business (she was a comptroller in her previous line of work) and, as Hoeft said, “comes across as a force.”

“She’s driven to make a difference in the world,” Hoeft said. “She has high expectations both for her colleagues and students. But on the other side, she would spend hours working with a student if a student asked for help. She would do that without judgment.”

York, who has known Sims since they were both in college years ago and reconnected when they and their spouses were at Camp Pendleton in California (he’s from a Navy family; she’s from a Marine family,) said it might look like Sims got into theology to keep herself busy once her nest was empty. In reality, he said, the sum of her experiences came together at that time to make her what she is today.

“What you’re getting is an administrator with great skills and experience that isn’t restricted to any one particular area. She’s keenly savvy when it comes to business. She’s a successful mom who raised successful kids. (Her sons graduated from West Point, her daughter from the University of Virginia.) She’s also savvy because she’s a Marine Corps wife: that has to be a lot of flexibility, has to be a lot of patience and understanding of sacrifice beyond the talking, and in the doing,” York said. “The richness of experience prepared her for the gifts she has to offer the Rochester” divinity school.

Added Hoeft: “She has such a unique confluence of skills and gifts and experiences. Colgate is very lucky to have her.”

Sims was born in Louisiana and reared in San Antonio, Texas, and Hayward, Calif. As the wife of a Marine, she moved around as a young adult, too, but after a time settled the children in Prince William County, Va., to be close to both good schools and the Marine Corps operations at Quantico. While raising her children, Sims also worked in finance, and it was while working in that realm that she found her calling to the ministry – not in the four walls of a Baptist church where she formed and continued to practice her faith.

The founder of an organization for which she worked was a faithful Catholic, she said, and demonstrated faith in action with his work policies. “To date, it is the only organization where I’ve worked where profit-sharing was calculated and instead of going into a designated account, checks were actually cut to employees,” she said. The boss also invested in workers, allowing her the flexibility with her schedule so she could take on an associate pastor’s position at a local church. In that unpaid position, she found herself and the pastor each attending on the same day to separate families as they received DNA confirmation of their loved ones’ deaths on Sept. 11, 2001.

It was the hardest pastoral duty she’s done, Sims said, next to being with families in the ICU as they decided to stop life support for their infants.

This apparently is the softer side of Sims that Hoeft alluded to, and the flip side of the woman who says she was attracted to the job in Rochester after two downsizings at Saint Paul because of the challenge it offers.

“It really provides opportunities to think about the ways we can work efficiently and still provide a quality educational experience,” Sims said. She talks about the possibility of expanding enrollment through use of technology once the staff has been trained in software that allows them to reach a broader audience.  “I saw it as not only an opportunity to re-imagine theological education but to also really think about great workplace efficiencies.”

In the few months since she arrived, Sims has begun restructuring the staff. She added a librarian and office manager. She also hired a vice president of institutional advancement, who handles recruitment as well as public relations and giving.  Additionally she hired a director of institutional effectiveness, seemingly a catch-all job tasked with responsibilities ranging from legal affairs to faculty use of technology and training.

Other than change in location, students have not yet felt these administrative changes, Sims said, but she expects they will become more involved as they share in the discussion of “what it means for students to really own some of the space and for them to see themselves as really vital members of the community.”

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Angela D. Sims

Position: President, Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School

Age: 63

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration, Trinity College, Washington D.C.; master’s degree in divinity, Howard University; doctorate degree in Christian social ethics, Union Presbyterian Seminary

Residence: Perinton

Family: Husband, Terron; sons Terron II of Arlington, Va., and Douglas of El Paso, Texas, and daughter Helene in Hayward, Calif.; three grandchildren

Activities: Training for a walking half-marathon, gardening, reading and travel

Quote: “Increasingly, more and more of our students are bi-vocational. A number are looking for ways to live out their sense of vocational identify in non-traditional spaces. I think that seminaries have a responsibility to be responsive to that but also be forward thinking as we look at the changes that are occurring on the religious landscape on a number of faith traditions.”

Three women poised to take first-ever higher-ed leadership roles

On Monday, three women will create history in the Rochester area as each one officially becomes the first woman to preside over her respective college or university.

Angela Sims
Angela D. Sims

As University of Rochester, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School all welcome their new presidents, seven out of 12 colleges in Monroe County and its bordering counties will be led by women and six will be first-female presidents.

The percentage of female presidents locally will be nearly double the national average of 30.1 percent.

“My first thought is Susan B. Anthony must be smiling down on Rochester right now!” wrote Anne M. Kress, president of MCC.

RBJ interviewed by email the Rochester area’s four current female presidents about advice they might have for the new presidents and their thoughts on the wave of women in higher education. They are:

  • Kress, president of MCC since 2009;
  • Deana L. Porterfield, president of Roberts Wesleyan College since 2014;
  • Heidi Macpherson, president of SUNY Brockport since 2015;
  • and Denise Battles, president of SUNY Geneseo since 2015.

The first three were breakers of glass ceilings at their institutions. Battles is the second permanent female president at Geneseo. (A female interim president immediately preceded her.)

The three new presidents reporting to duty Monday are:

  • Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, who is coming to UR from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she has been provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
  • Joyce P. Jacobsen, who has already introduced herself at Hobart and William Smith Colleges through podcast interviews, comes from Wesleyan University, where she served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
  • Angela D. Sims will lead Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School in its new location on North Goodman Street. She was dean and vice president of institutional advancement at Saint Paul School of Theology in Leawood, Kan., and Oklahoma City, Okla. Sims has the distinction of being the first African-American woman to head a local college, as noted by Rochester City Mayor Lovely Warren when Sims’ appointment was announced.
Incoming University of Rochester president Sarah C. Mangelsdorf is pictured during a visit to the River Campus December 17th, 2018. Mangelsdorf will assume duties at the University in July 2019. // photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester
Sarah C. Mangelsdorf

“The fact that these three campuses represent vastly different institutional types – a research university, theological institution and liberal arts college – is particularly noteworthy,” Battles said. “For example, national data show that women are far less likely to lead research universities than, say community colleges.”

Being on the leading edge of a national trend may not be the first thing Mangelsdorf, Jacobsen and Sims deal with Monday morning. Besides familiarizing themselves with the lay of the land, the location of the presidential restroom, and the names of their staff, all three will be in some uncharted territory; none have been presidents before. That’s not unusual for top academic administrators in the Rochester area, regardless of gender. Candidates for these jobs often have their first presidential-level job at colleges and universities here before either moving on or retiring.

Joyce P. Jacobsen
Joyce P. Jacobsen

Those who’ve gained experience on the job locally suggested the three be true to themselves.

“Be yourself; your authentic voice and vision of leadership was central to your selection as president,” Kress said.

“Lead from your strengths,” offered Porterfield.

Another common suggestion was to start off by learning the institution and its culture.

“It is important to value what was done before and also create new strategic pathways for the institution using your gifts and abilities,” Porterfield said.

Kress added, “Honor the past while preparing for the future: As you learn more about the history and culture of the extraordinary institution you lead, you will learn how your unique experiences will help it advance and thrive in the years ahead.”

Macpherson also stressed transparency.

“A successful presidency is about communications, transparency and clarity,” she said. “People don’t have to agree with all of your decisions, but if they understand why you’ve made them, they will accept them. It’s important to establish early on how you work with others, and how you want others to work with you.’

Macpherson also brought up the invisibility that women – even at the presidential level – sometimes experience.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said. “There will be times when you enter a room and people won’t realize you are the president. They may even address someone else standing next to you. How you handle those moments will be remembered.”

Kress, the most experienced female college president in the area, also suggested the newbies reach out to their colleagues. “The depth and diversity of leadership within the Rochester region is powerful, and your new community stands ready to support your success.”

According to a study by the American Council on Education, though the percentage of female presidents across the country is growing, the rate was slower between 2001 and 2016 than it was in the previous 14 years. And upon closer examination of the 2016 statistics, when 30.1 percent of colleges and universities had female presidents, the study found that women are more likely to be presidents at community colleges and limited-scope institutions than universities with greater resources, as Battles pointed out.

Private nonprofit colleges had a female presidential rate of 27.3 percent while public institutions were at almost 33 percent and community colleges hit 36 percent, according to the June 20 edition of Inside Higher Ed.   

The article also reported that public colleges and universities are about twice as likely to hire minority presidents as are private ones. Perhaps surprisingly, while many African American administrators are trained at historically black colleges and universities, the percentage of those institutions that have black presidents is declining.

But with seven out of 12 –  58.33 percent – colleges in Monroe County and its bordering counties now having women at the helm, Rochester is certainly ahead of the curve.

“It is extremely exciting to think that the Rochester area is leading the way across the country in female presidents of higher education institutions,” Porterfield said. “It is fitting that in the birthplace of women’s rights that we would be a model for women leaders.”

Several of the current presidents said the wave of female presidents can only inspire other women to do the same. “If she can see it, she can be it,” Macpherson said, echoing the motto of the Geena Davis Institution on Gender in Media. “I like to think that motto works for higher education, too.”

Women now in presidential seats owe a debt of gratitude to their female forebears, Kress said. “Their success in the face of great odds opened the door for us. We need to do the same.”

Macpherson said concerted efforts to mentor women, along with the American Council on Education’s “Moving the Needle” campaign, have helped move the percentages in the direction of parity, even though they haven’t reach the goal yet.  Moving the Needle has set a goal of parity by 2030.

“Women in positions of influence can and should help with this; we recognize the barriers that women might face (both internally and externally,) since we faced them ourselves. And we can purposefully offer women opportunities to demonstrate their ability to success,” Macpherson said.

Battles added demographic shifts are playing a role, too.

“Part of that increase is no doubt attributable to greater numbers of women in the higher education pipeline,” she said. “As more women enter academia, those qualified for the role of president also increases.”

Indeed, “women make up the majority of students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the U.S., and the same is true in our region. Yet, only about a third of college presidencies are held by women, so it is powerful and empowering that women studying in the Rochester area can look to the leadership of their college or university and see themselves,” Kress said. “In turn, the women leading these institutions will undoubtedly reflect back on the challenges they experienced in reaching these positions and work to remove them for the next generation of leaders.”

Last week, as outgoing UR President Richard Feldman bid farewell to many of his colleagues, he took pains to note that he has faith that Mangelsdorf will be a great president and said she was hired because she was the best candidate.

But two local female presidents said woman also bring unique gifts and challenges to the presidential suite, too.

“Research shows that women lead using different gifts and skills in building teams, creating vision and moving communities forward,” Porterfield said. They create “robust community engagement and communication,” she said.

And they disproportionately face family responsibilities that conflict with career progression, Battles noted.

“Data show that women presidents are twice as likely as men to have altered their career progression to care for others. Those life choices can influence a person’s desire or opportunities to pursue, assume or continue a presidency,” Battles said.

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Other women have served at area colleges

It should be noted that the MCC, Roberts, Brockport and Geneseo presidents are not the only female presidents who have served in the Rochester area. Nazareth College, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph as a college for women, has had six female presidents, starting with Mother Sylvester Tindell in 1924.

Three of the last four presidents at Nazareth have been men and all of them came after that school went coeducational in 1971. President Daan Braveman plans to step down in 2020, so it’s possible Nazareth could return to female leadership then.

St. John Fisher, which started as a college for men, also went co-ed in the early 1970s and more than two decades later was led by Katherine Keough from 1996 until her death in 2006.

And Finger Lakes Community College was the first community college in the area to hire a female president: Barbara Risser, who served from 2007 to 2016.

The first woman to be president at Geneseo was Carol C. Harter, who served from 1989 to 1995, when she left to become president at University of Nevada, Los Vegas. There she became that institution’s longest-serving president.

Of 12 local schools, only Rochester Institute of Technology and Genesee Community College have never had a female president.

Diana Louise Carter

Divinity school picks first female president

Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School has named a new president, and she’s the institution’s first female president.

Angela D. Sims, 62, currently a dean and vice president of institutional advancement at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas and Oklahoma, will begin her job in Rochester July 1.

Angela D. Sims, newly named president of Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School
Angela D. Sims, newly named president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

The announcement was made in the atrium of Rochester’s City Hall, with Mayor Lovely Warren – the first female mayor of Rochester extending a welcome to Sims and noting that she’s also the first African-American female president of any Rochester-area college.

Sims was born in Monroe, La., and spent her early years elsewhere in that state, but considers Hayward, Calif., her home as that’s where she spent her teenage years. She holds a doctorate of divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary, a master’s degree from Howard University School of Divinity and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Trinity University-Washington.

Peter Abdella, president of the board of Colgate, said of Sims, “Her scholarship was exemplary,” and he noted the three books she’s written. Her early career in finance before going on to study divinity, and her experience in administration as well as teaching also impressed the board.

The non-religious experience Sims brings to the job will come in handy as the school leaves the campus on South Goodman Street that it has inhabited for generations, and moves to leased quarters on North Goodman Street later this summer.

“When I think of free-standing divinity schools, nearly all are making similar moves,” Sims said in a brief interview after the announcement.  Saint Paul went through a similar downsizing six years ago, she said. Such a move gives a school the opportunity to focus anew on its mission, she said.

Sims is married and has three grown children and three grandchildren.

She replaces Marvin McMickle, who is retiring after serving as president of the divinity school for the last eight years. Warren thanked McMickle for his leadership in the community and presented him with the key to the city before the announcement of Sims’ selection was made.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275