After tackling a plethora of upper-level administrative positions at DePauw in a career that spanned 26 years, Cindy Babington retired.
And after so many years, it’s easy to understand why she’s already missing the day-to-day interactions with staff and faculty with whom she worked alongside as coordinator of institutional research, dean of students, vice president for student life, vice president for admission and financial aid, chief of staff, vice president of enrollment management and, most recently, vice president for strategic initiatives.
Babington served under three presidents and says each asked her to make “kind of big dramatic changes” in what she had been doing previously.
It started with President Bob Bottoms. “He came down to my office one day,” Babington says. “I was director of institutional research, working with the vice president of student services, and in that role I had been working with students a lot on survey construction and research projects.
“The dean of students, Alan Hill, had just left and President Bottoms said, ‘I’d like you to be the dean of students,’ and I said, ‘No. I don’t think that sounds like a good plan at all.’
“He said ‘no, I’d really like for you to do this.’”
And that was the start of a diverse career at DePauw where she had thought she would be for a only a couple of years.
“The reason I stayed at DePauw so long,” she says, “is because I got these opportunities to do different things. And I am a person who thrives on change.”
But her favorite role was in student life.
“When I first became the dean of students I recognized right away I needed to hire really good staff. We had 2,400 students; there was one of me and I knew that, if I could get really good staff on board, we could do some really great things.
“And so probably the most fun we had was in those beginning years when everybody was new and we were developing goals for our area and a vision.
“I think, strategically, I enjoyed being the vice president for student life. It was a really big division and there were a lot of moving parts and a lot of opportunity to make change and to develop staff and work with students.”
What’s Babington’s best advice for DePauw to work through some of the difficulties we are facing? “I think DePauw needs to take a look at what we do really well and capitalize on that.
“For whatever reason, maybe we’ve lost a little bit of that. We used to talk about the ‘DePauw magic’ all the time. And I saw it over and over and over in the development of our students. When they are dropped off on opening day to when they go across the stage is remarkable. That’s because of the faculty and staff and alumni and everybody contributing to that.
“So I think there’s a ton to capitalize on, and I don’t even mean just the big things like Fulbright winners but just the day-to-day interactions that students have in the classroom or with a staff mentor on campus.
“That’s what special about DePauw,” she says.
And what kind of future does Babington see for DePauw? “It’s an old, old institution. I think it will survive, and be fine. There’s a lot of talk about trying to figure out who are we. You hear that question all the time. I think we know who we are.
“We just have to figure out how to bring some of those different identities together into something that makes sense. We need to pay attention to who these students are today and how we can best serve them in order to provide an education that is in sync with how they want to learn and live on a college campus.
“And I think if we don’t,” she says, “that could be our challenge.”
As for retirement plans, Babington’s biggest goal is not work for six months, when she’ll travel and garden and do yard work – “all those things you don’t do when you’re working full-time.”
Beyond that, she’s looking at opportunities to consult but nothing is definite yet. “I don’t know,” she says. “This is not in my nature, but I’m trying to be really calm about it.”