The Colgate Scene
March 2001
Table of contents
Considering the future

by Charles Karelis, President
Over the course of my first year and a half at Colgate I have had the pleasure of meeting and corresponding with many alumni, parents of students and friends of the college. Still, time and distance limit my ability to meet as many of you as I would hope, so I have asked the Scene for a regular space where I can share my thoughts about our college. This first column will be longer than my usual expectation because I have some catching up to do.

Much of this installment will be devoted to our aspirations for Colgate as they are described in the report of a committee that spent two years planning for the college's future. But first, some thoughts and observations:

     Colgate is as welcoming a place as I have known. Since the day I arrived on campus in July 1999, students, faculty and staff have shared with me their knowledge of and affection for this college. On the road, alumni and parents have taken me into their homes and greeted me at their functions. Before I arrived I'd been told about the "hello tradition," and I've found it to be in full practice, not only on campus, but wherever Colgate people congregate -- it is a manifestation of the Colgate Spirit.

     That spirit was tested mightily last fall. First, on a weekend when Colgate people from across the eras had gathered to pay tribute to the long and fruitful life of one of the college's great presidents, Everett Needham Case, we learned that the young and dynamic chairman of our Board of Trustees, Wm Brian Little '64, had died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 58. There is a close fraternity among the college's presidents. Vince Barnett, Tom Bartlett, George Langdon, Neil Grabois and I were all on campus for the Case memorial service, and we learned together of Brian's passing. On a day when we had gathered to celebrate the life's work of Everett Case, we were all struck by the loss of Brian in his prime.

     Two months later the college endured a horrible tragedy when four young people died in an automobile accident on Oak Drive. First-year student Katie Almeter from Norwich died in the crash along with two of her best high school friends, Hobart and William Smith students Rachel Nargiso and Emily Collins, and Kevin King of Troy, NY, who was visiting campus. Elke Wagle '04, who suffered serious injuries in the crash, has made a wonderful recovery and returned to campus this semester.

     Alcohol abuse contributed to that fatal accident. Alcohol abuse was also a factor in an intolerable campus brawl last semester that led to the closing of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity for four years.

     One great strength of residential liberal arts colleges is the opportunity they afford for students to grow and mature outside the classroom through their interactions with their fellow students, faculty members, staff and the residents of the larger community in which they live. With more than 100 student organizations, a variety of living options, volunteer affiliations, athletic and recreational activities that cover the spectrum from outdoor recreation to varsity competition at the Division I level, Colgate offers a range of extracurricular options that is unsurpassed. At their January meeting, the members of the college's Board of Trustees asked the chairs of four standing committees -- student affairs, academic and faculty affairs, admission and financial aid, and athletics -- to form a task force of trustees, faculty, students, parents, and administrative staff to look in depth at Colgate's campus culture and identify areas where we can become even stronger. Ralph Verni '64 is chairing that effort, and you are certain to hear more about the work of the task force in the months ahead.

     Also at their January meeting, the board elected John Golden '66 (see his interview) to succeed Brian Little as chair. John has been a leader on the board for seven years and he brings intelligence, energy and a deep appreciation and understanding of Colgate to this vital position.

     The college is indebted to Bruce Calvert '68, vice chairman of the board, who performed the duties of chairman in the interim and continues as vice chair. Bruce was in the chair in November when the board considered the recommendations contained in the planning committee report that appears on the following three pages.

The future is ours in Little Hall where associate professor of art and art history Lynn Schwarzer works with a student in the printmaking studio.
     The planning effort was initiated during a board retreat in July 1998 and concluded in early fall 2000. The goal bears repeating here: "To improve Colgate academically -- both in actuality and in perception -- relative to its peers." For an institution that is already acknowledged to be among the top 20 liberal arts institutions in the country, that is a lofty goal, but the trustees knew that to aspire to anything less was to deny the college the distinction it deserves.

     The report identifies "four special targets of opportunity," which I will summarize here:

  • Innovation - With its core program, ambitious study groups, interdisciplinary offerings and a variety of other programs, Colgate has long demonstrated its capacity for innovative instruction. Liberal arts colleges have the potential to integrate students' educational experiences in ways that equip them to judge issues in broad context -- just the sort of judgment that the world wants from its leaders and that parents want for their children. The emergence of technology has provided us with a new array of tools to enhance the kind of innovative, integrated teaching that has marked Colgate for so long. We plan to seize this moment in ways that will distinguish Colgate among its peer colleges.

  • Smaller classes - To support new teaching strategies and make smaller classes available to more students, the college will increase the size of its faculty by 19 teaching members. A "bridge" gift of $5 million from an anonymous donor has enabled us to begin increasing the size of the faculty this year, and we are at work raising the funds to complete and sustain that growth over the long term. In the process, the college's student-faculty ratio will drop from 11:1 to 10:1, but more importantly, we will have created greater flexibility for the faculty to do what they have done so well for so long.

  • Financial aid - The best colleges in the country have the capability to admit all qualified applicants regardless of their financial need, and then to meet the demonstrated financial need of all who enroll -- a policy known as "need-blind admission." While Colgate has been close to that policy, financial limitations have forced the college to be "need sensitive" for a given number of applicants each year. Almost invariably we lose those applicants, who would have made important contributions to the life of the college. The planning committee recommends that we test the concept of need-blind admission for up to four years and carefully monitor its effect on the quality of the college. The decision presents two fundraising challenges: finding support for the experiment (estimated at $10 million over four years), and building the endowment to sustain the program after the experimental phase if the results prove our theory.

  • Environment - The fourth pillar on which the trustees have built their plan recognizes the importance of the learning environment, both on campus and in the greater community. We will continue our efforts to cooperate with the village and town of Hamilton in improving economic opportunity and the quality of life for people in our village and surrounding town. At the same time, we will sustain the quality of a campus that is widely recognized as one of the finest and most beautiful in the country, paying particular attention to emerging needs for new facilities in the sciences and the expansion of Case Library.

     Colgate is a strong college, poised for even greater distinction. I look forward with optimism to what we will be able to achieve together as this new century unfolds.

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