The Colgate Scene
March 2001
Table of contents
As we move forward

Shortly after John Golden '66 was elected chairman of the Board of Trustees, he sat down with the Scene to discuss Colgate's past, present and future.

Why were you interested in being the board chair?
Brian Little was such a strong and dynamic leader that we expected him to go on forever. So it was a sad and unfortunate event that led to my becoming chair. Having said that, I have served in leadership positions on the Board of Trustees for the past seven years and I feel particularly knowledgeable and experienced with respect to the issues and opportunities facing Colgate. When my fellow trustees asked me to consider following Brian, I felt that I had the kind of skills and interest required and affection for the university to say yes and make myself available. So I am excited to be involved. I think Colgate has achieved great things and I think there is the same amount of opportunity to grow in the future.

     I also would point out that Colgate has an exceptionally fine group of trustees and I look forward to their continuing advice and participation. I am especially pleased that Bruce Calvert, who served ably as acting chair following Brian's death, will be continuing as vice chair. His assistance and that of all my colleagues on the board will make my job that much easier.

What are the key issues facing you and the board?
At our November meeting the Board of Trustees adopted the Planning Committee Report, which forcefully set forth Colgate's unambiguous commitment to academic excellence. That report and the plans for implementation of the recommendations contained therein are just starting to get appropriate attention. Obviously Colgate need not apologize to anybody for its current excellent reputation as an academic institution. However, three summers ago, under Brian's and President Neil Grabois' leadership, the board unanimously concluded that we were not content with our position in the universe of excellent, highly competitive selective liberal arts colleges and were committed to improving both the reality and the perception of that reputation. A long-range planning committee was formed under the leadership of trustees Howard Ellins '73, Jim Manzi '73 and Will Browne '67, and included faculty, administrators and trustees. The two-year planning process, which was open, frank and rigorous, resulted in a clear endorsement of that commitment to excellence and, as importantly, specific steps intended to make that commitment a reality. President Buddy Karelis joined wholeheartedly in this effort when he succeeded Neil in 1999, and we are pleased that he has already started to implement certain aspects of the planning report.

     Obviously, on the other side, we had some terrible situations on campus. One can only express sadness for the loss of life that happened on Oak Drive. The board's and my heartfelt condolences go out to all the families that have been touched by that tragedy. We have to learn what led up to the accident and do all we can to prevent such tragedies in the future. There were other troubling incidents last fall involving fights and brawling among Colgate students. The administration has called such behavior, and the board strongly agrees, intolerable and abhorrent to a school like Colgate. We strongly feel that the actions of a few -- and I emphasize a few -- that impact adversely on the academic and social environment of the many will just not be accepted. We further recognize that as a rural, residential liberal arts college, Colgate has a particular obligation to provide a positive academic and active social environment for its students, whose academic and social life are quite entwined. That is one of the reasons students made the decision to come to Colgate as opposed to staying in an urban center where their social lives are quite separate from their academic lives. We have created an all-encompassing committee of trustees, students, parents of students, faculty and staff to look into the social culture on campus.

     The trustees have no preconceptions as to where we will come out, but we are seeking counsel and advice from a broad constituency to see how we can better serve our student population. One thing I do know is that we older Colgate graduates cannot impose our remembrances of what was right for Colgate in the 1960s, '70s and '80s on today's generation. Rather, we have to understand what's important to students today and provide them with the opportunities and outlets, both academically and socially, that will allow them to learn and grow as they experience life at Colgate.

What lies ahead in terms of making all of our aspirations for the university a reality?
First, all Colgate supporters should be rightfully proud of our many years of fiscal prudence and balanced budgets. The trustees recognize that hard choices often must be made among competing interests. I recognize that the price tags for some of the planning initiatives are large, especially for financial aid. However, my experiences as a chair of Campaign Colgate make me quite confident that the reservoir of support for Colgate, among it 27,000 alumni and friends, is extremely strong and deep. Our task is to make the case and explain our needs as reasonable and prudent. If we all do our job, we will be successful in eliciting their emotional and financial support. Colgate's endowment, during the past ten years, has increased from less than $200 million to nearly $500 million. We achieved those results, in part, because of fortuitous capital markets and prudent investing. As important has been the significant increase in the level of both annual fund and capital gift giving to Colgate by its alumni, friends and parents. I would hope that our endowment will reach a billion dollars during this first decade of the 21st century.

     So again, if we can make the case, and I believe we can, I see no reason why we should not be able to meet our financial goals. At the same time, I promise that Colgate will continue to be quite conservative in its budgeting. We are very proud of the fact that we have had balanced budgets for the last 37 years and we have no intention of breaking that string. But we do run much leaner than most of the schools we compete with for students. Our growing alumni base needs to recognize that and we must raise more permanent endowment money to provide the kind of educational opportunity that our students deserve.

What has led to your lifelong connectedness?
I had a wonderful experience at Colgate and developed many lifelong friendships. I came from Millburn High School in New Jersey with two of my classmates, Steve Berkley and Billy Covert. Steve now lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where he has had a very successful career as the CEO of various technology companies; and Billy, who didn't stray too far away from home, is a respected lawyer in Newark, NJ. I was initially drawn to Colgate by the quality of the education, the beauty of the location and the feel of the campus. There was a sense of an unpretentious, small, select college with a bigger college or university attitude. I was one of those students who, when they visited, said, "I like this place. I'd be comfortable here," and I was right. It was an extremely enjoyable experience.

     I especially loved the quality of the teaching. I would emphasize this because I think it is relevant today. Colgate primarily is a teaching institution, and one thing that many of my classmates and I reminisce about is the many professors who had a real impact on our education and our lives. I can remember Jona-than Kistler, who brought literature to life in a way that was extraordinary. There were many other quality professors -- Leo Ellison, who led 13 of us on one of the first London economics study groups, and Bob Blackmore, who had just come up from New York City where he had worked in media, to teach literature. I even took a studio sculpture course in the basement of Lawrence Hall with Eric Ryan and a senior political science seminar that President Vince Barnett taught in Watson House. The quality of the teachers who were accessible and to whom you would relate was superb. I am thrilled that today's Colgate professors have continued that tradition of excellence in teaching.

     The second thing I most remember is the friendliness and camaraderie of the student body. I don't know if it was because we were just 1500 students, but even if you were not necessarily involved in exactly the same activities, you had friends who did everything on campus. And frankly, what fraternity or social house you were in was somewhat unimportant as to the range of your relationships. I have an older brother who attended college elsewhere and he would come to visit me on occasion. We would walk around and I kept saying hello to everybody and he said, "Do you know all these people?" I said, "Well, I will give you two answers. First, it's sort of tradition to say hello. But secondly, yes, I probably do know most of these people." And that's followed through for alumni, even though there are 27,000 of us, there is a common bond and affinity so that it is natural to start up a conversation in mid-sentence, so to speak. Maybe it comes from long snowy winters; I'm not sure, but it is there.

     Today many of my closest friends are my Colgate classmates -- Steve Berkley, Bob Malley in Boston and Richard Yarmuth in Seattle, who both went to Columbia Law with me, Munie Saltoun, my roommate at Colgate and neighbor in New York, Gerry Wald in Miami and John Kuen-hold, a judge in Colorado. I have also been fortunate to meet so many great people from all the generations on the Board of Trustees. Some of us have become very close and I seek out and respect their judgment.

Can you speak to your optimism about Colgate's future?
I am fervently confident that the future at Colgate is bright. However, there are significant challenges facing rural residential colleges such as Colgate in a changing educational environment. It is imperative that we remain relevant and attractive to the best students. We have to make sure that we have the product that will lead them to choose Colgate. There is no doubt that the competition for these students is broader and more intense. These prospective students are much more knowledgeable consumers; their information bases are much more real-time and in-depth than they were when many of us were choosing universities and colleges. Colgate needs to continue to be able to make its case to attract the best and brightest students.

What makes an education at a small private college such as Colgate unique?
The core of a residential, non-urban liberal arts college such as Colgate is the quality, the intensity and the involvement of its faculty with its students and its students with each other. As relevant as it was 35 years ago for me, is that interaction in and outside the classroom today. For instance, asynchronous learning. To someone like me that means you are able, at 2:00 a.m., to work online and probably find kindred spirits who are also up at that hour and have discourse and dialogue using modern communications. To some extent, we had a precursor to this back in the '60s when we used to talk late into the night in East Stillman with first-year dorm-mates Art Finn, Bob Hoene, Jay Rourke, Eric Livers and others.

     However, first and foremost is the interaction between the student and the teacher. And what does that mean? First there is a challenge for the admission office to attract interested and intellectually curious students to come to Colgate with a desire to take advantage of this close learning environment. But likewise, there is an equally large challenge on our teaching faculty to recognize that they have a responsibility to make their courses come alive and stimulate this group of students. Therefore, our teachers and our students need to work together to achieve the kind of intellectual involvement that both should seek to create and benefit from.

John, you and your wife Suzanne have a home in Hamilton. Can you talk about what it is like to be a "townie" and what you see as the future of Hamilton and its relationship with Colgate?
Hamilton is a wonderful place. The first thing I would say is, come on down. I urge my fellow alumni who are reading this article to consider spending more time here. The beauty is unparalleled, it's enjoyable any season -- perhaps not mud season, but any other season. I would say to alumni who might be looking for a get-away home or even a retirement home, that Hamilton is a wonderful place, surrounded by rolling farm country. You cannot beat Seven Oaks Golf Course, a Robert Trent Jones golf course; many people say his best upstate golf course. It's just a superb facility, kept in wonderful condition, under the direction of Greg Wall and Marian Blain. I'd also say that Hamilton is far from a cultural backwater. There is a lot going on here. On campus, there are lectures, speakers, plays, concerts, art exhibits and, of course, Division I athletic events. In the area are Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown in the summer, antiquing all year round on Route 20 and a first-class art museum, The Munson Williams Proctor Institute in Utica.

     Colgate's roots were in a very progressive frontier community, and the university prospered with Hamilton. In the more recent past, the business of Colgate has become a bigger and bigger part of the business of Hamilton. And while Colgate has always been involved -- we own the Colgate Inn, the Barge Canal Coffee Company is located downtown, the golf course is near town -- last fall the Board of Trustees took bold, and I think correct, steps to further our direct involvement in the village. Under the leadership of Trustees Bill Finard and Tony Whaling, we established the Hamilton Initiative L.L.C., and we have been working with the Partnership for Community Development. I think Hamilton has recognized that the vitality of its core business area is important and has taken some wonderful steps -- creating the airport industrial park, restoring the village green, raising significant funds to expand the library and supporting the growth of the community hospital. Because the town and the village are making significant efforts to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life in Hamilton, the board is comfortable in having Colgate become more involved in facilitating this investment. So Colgate has committed more resources and we have purchased, through the Hamilton Initiative, several key buildings in town with the intention of renovating them and bringing in retail and commercial businesses that would serve both the local community and the Colgate student body.

What other strengths and issues do you see for Colgate?
Buddy Karelis's strong commitment to academic excellence and an enhanced student profile is totally in sync with the mandate of the Board of Trustees, and we view him as an exceptionally strong advocate of that objective. Buddy has been here almost two years and he is absorbing the unique culture that is Colgate.

     Obviously, athletics are an important part of Colgate's persona and it is enjoyable watching Colgate's men and women compete effectively against Cornell in hockey, Lehigh in football, and Navy in soccer and volleyball. The Patriot League has been very good for Colgate, and it continues to evolve both in its membership and in some of its basic tenets. It is important for Colgate, as a highly selective academic institution that has not adopted merit aid, either for scholars or for athletes, to closely monitor the development of the league. We remain firmly committed to the success of the Patriot League, but we will continue to assess the impact of league changes at Colgate.

     Another important issue at Colgate is financial aid for students. The number of Colgate students receiving financial aid today is significantly greater than the number of students the college was able to help back in the '60s and '70s. Today aid is a much more prevalent and acceptable mechanism for attracting viable students and Colgate fully participates in providing attractive aid packages.

     However, Princeton, an exceptionally wealthy school, has further raised the ante by eliminating loans from its financial aid packages. Colgate must maintain a prudent mix amongst students who are fortunate to have the ability to pay for college (recognizing the financial stretch many of these families are making) and those students who need financial assistance. Our objective to is attract a qualified and diverse student pool. In doing that, we are challenged not only to pro-vide assistance to worthy students but, as importantly, to attract those students who can pay and decide they are willing to buy our education. Both groups are equally important and deserve equal attention.

     While Colgate's endowment has increased impressively, it is clear that the university is significantly under-endowed relative to many of the institutions that we compete with for our top students. It is incumbent on Colgate to raise additional endowment monies for scholarship assistance for students. Our objective is that no qualified student will be denied admission for lack of funds. And in that sense, we hope to become a need-blind institution. At the same time, we also want to attract students who are highly qualified and have the capacity to pay for a Colgate education.

How do you feel as you take up the mantle for Colgate?
I get energized by people. I get energized by my peers -- Colgate alumni. I had a great time talking to members of the Alumni Corporation Board of Directors at their reception for seniors in January. It is a great group, and anytime you are in a room with Colgate people, you can't help but be energized. Similarly with the students. I guess I am biased like everybody else, but when I walked into the Student Union that night and looked around at the seniors, a knowing smile came across my face. It is an intangible, but these seniors, whatever their dress or background or outlook, are undeniably Colgate students. There is just something in the air after four years here that makes you recognize and feel good about these people. So I am energized by both the young people and the alumni body of all generations. I have always enjoyed the challenges, especially challenges where I think we can succeed. Our objective is to move up from our already lofty position in the group of highly selective universities. I hope that the leadership of Colgate today, and our friends who succeed us will look back from Colgate's bicentennial in 2019 and see a college even more highly recognized as one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the United States. So I am excited by that challenge and I look forward to working with President Karelis, Dean Pinchin, the rest of the president's staff and faculty and my fellow trustees and alumni as we move forward at Colgate.

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