December 1, 2020 | By Jake Weber
Retired Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Susan Conner passed away November 28 in Jackson.
During her six years of service to Albion College, Conner developed and strengthened programs that distinguish Albion among its peers nationwide. A French historian by training, Conner oversaw the development of academic ties between Albion College and the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and other international institutions. Conner also helped create the current Career and Internship Center with its focus on student learning and career preparation as integral parts of Albion’s mission.
Conner’s most important legacy, however, may be her direction of the College’s 2010 accreditation review, and its impact on accreditation going forward.
“She worked harder on accreditation than anybody in the history of Albion College," said Drew Dunham, associate dean of academic affairs and registrar. "Before Susan came, we would maybe get a committee together and one faculty member would write the report. Accreditation is a huge task, but now it’s not a drudgery. Susan got us all talking about the institution and what we do, and to realize that it’s important to do this on a regular basis.”
Interim Provost Ron Mourad, recalling faculty meetings led by Conner, said, “Listening and persuading were her dominant modes of leadership, and I've certainly tried to learn from the way she demonstrated those skills.”
Mourad, who joined the College's Religious Studies Department in 2001, recalled Conner’s handling of one especially contentious faculty meeting. “Susan let the conversation proceed because she valued debate, but after 50 minutes most of the business on the agenda remained undone,” he remembered. “With some frustration, she said something like, ‘We need to be able to talk about our concerns, but we also have to get something done.’ The lesson for me was that she was fair and open-minded but also decisive when she needed to be.”
Professor of French Dianne Guenin-Lelle noted that, well before retiring, Conner and her husband, Ron, immersed themselves in the Albion community. “Susan was an inspired scholar and a generous colleague, opening her heart and her homes in Albion and Boyne City to visitors from our sister cities in France, AAUW, Lions Club, the Piano Festival, Albion Academy of Lifelong Learning, etc. She and Ron became ingrained in the Albion community,” Guenin-Lelle said. “In all things, Susan possessed a down-to-earth approach wrapped in a flawless sense of style. Truly, Susan was an inspiration whom I will miss very much.”
A specialist in 18th- and 19th-century French history, Conner continued to participate in academic forums and scholarship in retirement, and she taught courses in European history at Albion. Earlier in her career, Conner received an Excellence in Teaching Award and the Michigan Association of Governing Boards Distinguished Professor Award for her work at Central Michigan University. She was the author of The Age of Napoleon (2004), part of the Greenwood Guides to Historic Events series, and authored a large number of book chapters and peer-reviewed articles.
Prior to joining Albion's administration, Conner served as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at Florida Southern College, and also held administrative appointments at Tift College of Mercer University.
“I loved when she convened a faculty meeting with a brief poem, often from Billy Collins, bringing us together with some wry, true observation,” said Deborah Kanter, the John S. Ludington Endowed Professor who became Conner’s “boss” as History Department chair. “Susan agreed to return to the classroom, teaching several European history courses. My department—faculty and students—much enjoyed Susan's camaraderie in Rob Hall. On a personal level, I appreciated her model leadership and her infectious smile across a conference table. We had some fine conversations about books. I'm sorry that we won't have more.”
“I took her class on the French Revolution because I absolutely adored her,” said Phillip Carlisle, ’15, a music major at Albion who fondly remembers skipping the Progressive Piano Concert one year because of a conversation that lasted for hours on the Conners’ back porch. Carlisle recalled that along with their critical study of historical events, Conner quizzed the students on their ability to identify major cities on a current map. “She was adamant that we understand the ‘real’ country” and not just the history, he explained. “She went out of her way to make Albion a special place."
“I was on a birthday Zoom call to her in September with a lot of people, including some who were speaking French,” said Lori Duff, who worked some 40 years at Albion College, mainly in the Office of the Provost.
“Susan was the best, just what you would picture as a provost,” Duff continued. “She was professional and personal. She trusted me to do my job. She was warm and friendly and funny and so well organized; she loved Albion and the fact that she knew everybody and everybody knew her. I appreciated her as a boss and I adored her as a person. She was wonderful.”