The Colgate Scene
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Colgate's Next President
Charles "Buddy" Karelis will take office July 1 as the college's 14th president. He was introduced to the press and campus community April 27.
At a campus reception April 27, Trustee Chairman Wm. Brian Little '64 announced that Charles Karelis will succeed Neil R. Grabois as president on July 1. For 13 years a member of the faculty in philosophy at Williams College, Karelis has directed the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) since 1985.
What motivated you to want to become a college president?
What about Colgate do you find particularly attractive?
The student profile is also appealing. Research describes Colgate students as entrepreneurial, creative, tolerant, friendly, smart, loyal, cooperative -- this is a set of qualities of character and personality that is almost irresistible. Some of those traits are not all that commonly combined -- "entrepreneurial" and "loyal," for instance. Again, this is confirmed by my candid chats with students, some of whom didn't know they were talking with a presidential candidate.
I was drawn to that ineffable thing that is Colgate's spirit. Spirit is a funny word because it is a little unfashionable to be into school spirit. It sounds a little corny. But what I've seen at Colgate is incredible spirit combined with sophistication. People believe in the place, and they should. It's doing an absolutely wonderful job.
I am an aesthetically sensitive person, interested in art and architecture and visual art, and I am knocked out by the physical beauty of the setting and of the campus in particular. Colgate's campus architecture is some of the most beautiful and successful I have ever seen. The individual buildings impress, and the whole set of them work together and cohere. My heart races when I see the campus, particularly after a drive through the peaceful and harmonious surrounding landscape.
Another attraction is that a serious core curriculum survives at Colgate. I think you'll see the comparable schools move back in our direction. What's happened is that consumer sovereignty has become such a powerful force in American higher education that most colleges have given up their core curricula. What's on a student's transcript has become largely a function of the student's interests. I'd argue that the pendulum has swung too far. Students' interests need to be taken seriously, but I think students also need some guidance. They need to have some doors opened that they might not know to open for themselves. They need to be confronted with the perennial questions of human existence, and challenged to look at competing answers and then find or construct their own truth. This is especially important today, when surveys tell us that college students are less apt to initiate the search for a meaningful philosophy of life on their own. All this is possible with a core curriculum.
I am also attracted to Colgate's international emphasis. The world is changing and professions are increasingly going to be practiced globally. People are going to be working in multinational organizations that will want to move them around the world. The European Union is busy lowering barriers to the flow of intellectual capital across borders. We need to prepare Americans for the same kind of opportunity and flexibility. Anything that can get students overseas and acquaint them with foreign languages and cultures is for the good.
Finally, the search process itself was a positive experience for me. I talked with thoughtful trustees and faculty. Those were considerations. And my predecessor Neil Grabois absolutely raves about Colgate. I've trusted Neil on many things in my life and the enthusiasm that he has for Colgate is contagious.
Where do you see Colgate within higher education today?
What are the key features? The fact that students live together on campus is just crucial. One of the leading researchers -- Alexander Astin of UCLA, the parent of a Colgate graduate, incidentally -- sometimes says that the most important educational facility on a campus is the dormitory. Small classes and the personal attention that students get from faculty is a second feature that is associated with the success of liberal arts colleges. The breadth of curriculum that is characteristic of the liberal arts college is important. People specialize late and moderately in a liberal arts setting. Interdisciplinary study is stressed, and that is increasingly vital; reality is interdisciplinary, and curriculum should be, too.
Another quality of the liberal arts colleges is the emphasis on individual and moral development. The country needs mindful, morally aware leaders, and the liberal arts colleges make a tremendous contribution because of their self-conscious interest in that kind of education. Those are qualities of the type.
At an all-campus reception, the president-elect was introduced by Trustee Chairman Wm. Brian Little '64 (left) and welcomed by a former colleague, Colgate's 13th president, Neil Grabois (right).
Within that type of college, what do you think sets Colgate apart?|
Lots of things. People often mention spirit, setting, architecture, the core, the off-campus study groups, student research opportunities. These are all important. But I'd want to add to the list an unusual openness to new ideas about education itself. There seems to be a consensus that, while we would not abandon the liberal arts college paradigm, it is a paradigm that can evolve and we should push to be on the cutting edge of its development. That is where I feel I have a potential role to play. My professional experience is in supporting, encouraging, and occasionally even concocting educational innovations. I think I know something about what makes them work and what makes them fail, about the conditions under which they flourish.
While I am on the subject of what makes new ideas take root, I would like to stress the importance of faculty ownership. I have seen many good ideas fail to work on particular campuses because they were imposed on faculty, and I don't intend to forget that lesson. I look forward to working with Jane Pinchin and others on the academic side of the house to nurture and support faculty innovation.
Just to expand on this theme of faculty openness to new ideas, I am encouraged to hear people talking about learning from the successes of other institutions. Higher education in general is bad at learning from its own successes. Almost every challenge and opportunity is being faced brilliantly somewhere. And yet, as a collection, the colleges are slow to take up new ideas that have proven themselves elsewhere. This is particularly true when the pioneering institution is not a prestigious one. There are many colleges that would sooner go down for the third time than accept a life jacket from a place that they consider inferior to themselves. I want to make sure we are alert to good ideas wherever they may be.
Coming back to distinguishing features, the athletic program is clearly a cornerstone of the institution. The way Colgate runs its Division I athletic program sets the college apart, I think, along with a select group of like-minded institutions. It is more evidence of the spirit that I mentioned. To have such an ambitious program at an academically serious institution, and to stick so faithfully to the ideal of the amateur, has to impress you that the place is daring and spirited -- even nervy. Division I athletics is a signature program that I would cite as a distinguishing feature.
How did you arrive at FIPSE?
Describe your focus at FIPSE over these past 14 years.
How does your experience at FIPSE inform the way you will approach your
Second, I know lots of things that are happening around the country that are working well. I am not deluded into thinking I know the true path, but I will work to make sure that people have been exposed to the widest range of current thinking on how to do things the best possible way. Here I am thinking not so much of curriculum, but of the art and science of teaching. Curricular discussions are the province of the faculty; they are an important part of faculty development. But I do think that in the area of teaching there are lots of good ideas out there and I want to make sure that faculty are aware of any that might be relevant.
What are the special opportunities open to liberal arts colleges today?
What are the major challenges?
What, if anything, can colleges do about costs?
That doesn't mean there aren't opportunities for efficiency. Discussions of curriculum can sometimes lead to both educational and economic improvement. Just asking the question collectively, "What's most important?" can help focus curriculum on things that are most worth doing for educational reasons, and this can sometimes be cost effective for the institution, as well. Colleges can also do more to share resources -- library resources, for example, though it is harder if you are physically remote. In the area of technology, it's premature to talk about technology as a cost-control strategy. It is an educational enhancement as long as it is being used to facilitate personal interaction.
In what it charges students, Colgate needs to stay with the pack, to stay in the same range of costs as our comparative colleges. We want to offer the best possible programs, so we aren't going to offer a bargain deal. But we must not become so expensive that we lose people because of price.
How important is the concept of residential life to liberal arts colleges?
Students turned out to welcome the next president at an all-campus reception.
What are the most important variables determining quality in a liberal arts college?
The best liberal arts colleges have faculty who are simultaneously committed to undergraduate education and to staying intellectually active through research. The liberal arts colleges are unique in managing to combine both a student orientation and a research orientation. The non-selective liberal arts colleges and community colleges do well in student orientation. The research universities do relatively well in the research orientation. But the selective liberal arts colleges seem uniquely successful in doing both. You can't expect students to be active learners unless faculty are themselves professionally and intellectually active.
How will you involve the various Colgate constituencies in the decision-making
Who have been the biggest influences on your life in higher education?
Second, Johnnetta Cole, the recently retired president of Spel-man College, has been a mentor all along. She was the chair of the board of FIPSE. She reached out to me in that capacity and we had a very successful partnership. I visited Spelman many times.
Who have been the biggest influences on you intellectually?
What have been your biggest challenges as an administrator?
What do you enjoy away from your work?
I like to ski, and I'm happy to note that the equipment is making it easier at about the same rate my ability is deteriorating. In sleight of hand I'm pretty good with sponge balls, cards and coins, but I don't expect to perform on television any time soon.
Do you plan to teach?
What is your memory of Neil Grabois as a colleague?
What are your initial impressions of Hamilton?
What would you like to say to alumni?
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