Interim President Kevin Clayton: The Exit Interview

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Monday, June 1, 2015


Kevin Clayton is stepping down from the post of Interim President at the end of June, but this son of Lehigh isn’t going far. He’ll be returning to the Board of Trustees, where he will continue in his role as Vice Chair.

It’s no wonder that Kevin has been continuously involved at Lehigh in one way or another since his undergraduate years. His earliest memories include Lehigh football games at Taylor Stadium with his father, a member of the class of 1951. 

“Lehigh was the only school I considered, it was the only school I applied to,” Kevin said. “It was probably the only school that would let me in,” he joked. 

He’s certainly not the only member of his family to gravitate here. When Kevin’s son, Patrick, graduated in 2013, he was the twelfth to do so.

Spotlight caught up with Kevin recently for our own version of an exit interview. 

Q: Why did Lehigh decide to appoint an interim president?

A: Once President Gast announced she was leaving, our Trustee Chairman Brad Scheler announced the search for a new president, with Jane Jamieson and I as co-chairs. About this time last year we realized we had several great candidates, but we knew none of them would be able to start on August 1, 2014. With Alice leaving on July 31, we knew we needed an interim president.

Q: As the son of an alumnus, a student, a trustee, and a parent, you’ve had every kind of experience and perspective at Lehigh. What made you decide to say yes to interim president role?

A: I think it’s very important to give back. I was strongly influenced by a lot of folks who made Lehigh great long before I arrived. Many of these men and women were close with my parents. I was so impressed with the many ways they gave back—volunteering their time, efforts, and certainly their philanthropy. I benefitted from their generosity, as did thousands of other Lehigh students. Not to mention the generations of students to follow. 

I’ve been successful in my professional and personal lives. In many ways, I can thank Lehigh for that. I believe it is important to give back to so that the next generations can be afforded the same, if not better, opportunities. 

Brad and Jane asked if I would serve as interim president. My wife and family thought it was an amazing opportunity to serve, as did my partners at Oaktree Capital.  They were all very supportive. So, here I am.

Q: Did you move into the President’s House? What was that like?

A: I did move into the President’s House. Since our daughter was finishing up high school in New Jersey this year, we wanted to balance that with spending as much time as I could here. It has been a wonderful experience to have the chance to stay at the President’s House when I’m on campus.

When I walk down a hall, or come up the staircase, I’m cognizant of who has preceded me and what they’ve done for Lehigh. When I rattle around the house by myself or spend time there with my family, I think about the great men and women who lived there before me. It’s a pretty awe-inspiring list. 

Q: You didn’t just stay in the house, though. You also opened it up more. Why and how did you do that?

That was an idea I came up with on the beach at Avalon last summer. I wanted my tenure to be productive, candid, and open. I think that’s a hallmark of Lehigh. So, I decided to open up the President’s House to the campus community.  

For example, I thought one night a week I could have students over for pizza. We’d call it “Pizza with the Prez.” No agenda, no formal dress code. So we started inviting students over on Tuesday nights. We ordered a bunch of pizzas, gathered on the first floor, and got to know each other. 

The students enjoyed seeing the house and getting a chance to ask questions of the president. They asked a lot of good questions. And I also learned a lot from them.

One popular question they asked me was if I knew the true identity of Asa Packer’s Ghost on Twitter (@asapackersghost).  I don’t know, but I had already promised that I would take the secret to my grave if I ever found out.

In all seriousness, the students asked great questions. They’re inquisitive, mature, poised, and truly proud to be at Lehigh.

After every faculty meeting, we opened up the house for a faculty reception. We also had the staff come in as much as possible.  I strongly believe this does a lot toward improving the campus climate and enhancing the sense of community.

Q: Many staff we’ve encountered over the past year expressed appreciation that you’ve been supportive of their work. Why was that important to you?

I’m a great believer in one team. The faculty are the life-blood of this institution, our students are the successful end product, and our staff work extremely hard to support them both. 

Having been an alumnus and parent, I’ve seen firsthand how our staff help, engage, and enrich the learning environment of our students. Our staff is extremely devoted. They work very hard and care a tremendous amount about our institution. 

I think of us as one Lehigh. We’re all in this to make Lehigh even greater. While a student may go on to remember a professor for the rest of their life, they may equally remember a staff member who made a significant impact during their time on South Mountain. 

Q: What was the most fun thing that you got to experience as Interim President?

A: Well, in 25 years on Wall Street, I never once had the Marching 97 playing in my office or a tuba player standing on my desk! 

Rivalry 150 Weekend was the most fun; I was fortunate it happened during my year. Think about it, that weekend was the largest gathering of Lehigh alumni, students, staff and faculty in history. The spirit was unmatched. I was so proud and honored that I had the opportunity to serve as the interim during this year.

Another highlight was leading our faculty meetings. At one point, I realized that I was asking questions of a professor who had asked me the questions 30 years ago when I was a student. 

A Highlight of The Year: Rivalry 150 at Yankee Stadium


Q: Were there any surprises about the job?

A: Not really any big surprises, no. People have said, “You must feel like the world’s biggest traffic cop.” You do have a lot of constituencies who need advice, guidance, and counsel of the president, but that’s not too different from the world I came from. You also have to engage faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the community to be focused on one set of priorities for the institution. 

So you have to prioritize your time. You have to make yourself visible and available. I can say with confidence that Lehigh is extremely well positioned for further success in the future.

Q: Do you think we’ve made progress this year in making Lehigh a more inclusive community?

A: Yes, we have made good progress in making Lehigh more inclusive. And our efforts must continue in the years to come. We need to truly institutionalize our diversity and inclusion programs as a part of the fabric of the university. 

I was happy to see us take bold steps in the past year, and there are many people who deserve credit.  The CEC (Council for Equity and Community) has done an outstanding job. They’ve become empowered to address some of the tough issues we face on campus. 

As we continue to make advances, this will make Lehigh an even stronger and more desirable institution.


Q: You’ve gotten to know our incoming president, John Simon, pretty well. What’s your sense of the future of Lehigh with him at the helm?

A: I’ve never felt more bullish about Lehigh’s future knowing John Simon will be our 14th president on July 1. John and I work really well together. 

John is fitting in well already with the campus community. He’s a true listener. He’s a tremendous scholar. And he’s a team builder. He likes to engage and empower people in the process of making decisions. I have found John to be down-to-earth and a real people person. I can also say that he’s a true leader who isn’t afraid to make tough decisions.

I think those characteristics, combined with Lehigh’s solid foundation today, will raise this institution to new heights. Of course this requires all of us to be focused together—faculty, staff, students, trustees.

Q: What will you do next?

A: In the immediate future, I’m going to recharge my batteries. I’m going to the beach and enjoy time with my family. On July 1, I’ll return as Vice Chair of the Lehigh Board of Trustees.