The Colgate Scene
November 1999
Table of contents
Inaugurating Charles Karelis
Praise and good wishes for Colgate's 14th president
by James Leach

Professors George Hudson (with the university mace) and John Novak led the processional from Olin Hall to Memorial Chapel.
Portraits of Colgate's presidents line the walls of the Hall of Presidents in the Colgate Student Union.

     Those portraits, and the physical presence of the college's five surviving former presidents, were a reminder throughout the inaugural weekend of the legacy that passed to Charles Karelis as he became the 14th president in the college's 180-year history.

     For all the informality embodied in the style of a new president who had wished for "the Volkswagen of inaugurations," the weekend accommodated ample helpings of historical reminders and traditional trappings.

Words and symbols
Sharing the weekend with Homecoming and the fall meetings of the board of trustees and alumni corporation board of directors contributed energy and context to the inauguration. The formal welcoming of a new leader occurred as an appropriate moment in the life of a busy place. It also made October 15-17 one of the fullest weekends in recent campus memory.

     By Saturday evening, the business meetings had concluded, the football team had dispatched previously unbeaten Cornell 55-16, and a gala dinner provided the first formal occasion to greet the new president. In the Hall of Presidents, Trustee Chairman Wm. Brian Little '64 spoke of the search that had discovered a president who would "chart the course and lead the university into the new millennium."

     From the notes that he had kept during the presidential search, Little shared telling descriptions of Karelis as "smart, bright, a strong leader and original thinker, compassionate, with a good sense of humor and a thick skin." Beyond his "obvious intellect," Little said, the new president had demonstrated "understanding and a real appreciation for liberal arts education," while "recognizing Colgate's excellence." The chairman also answered a question that had been on the minds of many: a loving grandmother had nicknamed the new president "Buddy" after her cat.

     Alumni Corporation President C. Bruce Morser '77 thanked Karelis "for helping us over the 13 hurdle." The importance of the number 13 to a college founded by 13 men with 13 dollars and 13 prayers had led him to wonder if Colgate suffered "a special kind of Y2K problem," which Morser said he was happy to have resolved by the appointment of the 14th president. While President Neil Grabois' departure was "like the honored guest getting up and leaving the party," Morser said, "the process of selecting a new president was galvanizing." He told Karelis, "Alumni are excited by your presidency. It is hard to overestimate the degree to which we love this school. On behalf of 26,000 alumni, we're so glad you're here." 

Colgate's six surviving presidents gathered for this portrait on inaugural weekend in the Hall of Presidents. Everett Needham Case (1942-1962) is seated, with (l to r) George D. Langdon Jr (1978-1988), Neil R. Grabois (1988-1999), Charles Karelis (1999- ), Vincent Barnett Jr (1963-1969), and Thomas Alva Bartlett (1969-1977) behind him.
     As a professor of political science at the college from 1961 until 1994, Professor Emeritus Charles Naef had taught under five of Karelis's predecessors. But it was as the recently-elected mayor of the Village of Hamilton that Naef approached the microphone to offer greetings at the Saturday evening dinner. "Colgate and Hamilton are locked in a symbiotic relationship," said Naef. "Colgate is part of the Hamilton community -- a community that would lose its identity, distinction and purpose without its shining citadel of learning on the hill. . . . Colgate's cultural, intellectual and recreational outreach enhances the quality of life for all residents of the Mid-York area . . . We offer you our enthusiastic support in achieving the objective of developing the Hamilton community into a model environment for a distinguished institution of higher learning."

     When Karelis left the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) to accept the Colgate presidency, Sandra Newkirk became acting director. As Saturday evening's final speaker -- "one who has known Buddy as a leader and a boss" -- she found herself in the position "not of welcoming Buddy, but of saying goodbye." While working in a government bureaucracy might seem a strange path to a college presidency, said Newkirk, FIPSE trained people to be responsive, "to keep an ear to the ground." In Karelis, she said, Colgate had found someone who could "see the panorama of higher education today." Karelis had led FIPSE in outcome-based assessment of higher education programs, said Newkirk, and he had successfully defended that principle when some members of Congress had sought to usurp the agency's resources for pork-barrel appropriations. "We're giving you our best," she concluded.

'Nothing succeeds like successors'
By Sunday morning's brunch, the campus community had been joined by a full complement of Karelis family and friends and delegates from some 75 colleges and universities. Little, as master of ceremonies, introduced Jewish Chaplain Joan Friedman, who drew from her tradition the apt invocation: "It is not incumbent on you to complete the task, but neither are you free not to begin it."

     Jerome Balmuth, Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of Philosophy and Religion and the senior member of the teaching faculty, focused on the educational roots of the new president and two of his predecessors. Karelis is both an alumnus and a former member of the philosophy department at Williams College, whose faculty had earlier provided Colgate with presidents Vincent Barnett (a political scientist) and Neil Grabois (a mathematician).

     "It has probably not escaped anyone's notice," said Balmuth, "that this is the third time in recent memory (mine, that is) that this board and faculty have enticed a blossoming talent from the Williams College nursery, a burgeoning talent just ripened for us, and plucked as the fruit reached maturity and succulence -- or, to change the metaphor, just when the toddler began to talk coherently and think clear thoughts. . . . We are fortunate to have, now officially, a counterpart of Plato's philosopher-king, disposed to serve here as philosopher-president of Colgate."

     To the new president Balmuth said: "You will find here a community of thoughtful and intellectually ambitious scholars (I won't say necessarily `amenable'), dedicated to teaching and learning and research -- in that serial order, but not in decreasing importance . . . a faculty fiercely committed to the liberal arts . . .

     "We invite you to share our mission of seeking to enlarge the knowledge, skills and understanding of our students, so they continue to discover what they never knew they didn't know, or thought themselves, mistakenly, unable to do; while deepening their sensitivity and critically concerned responses to all forms of injustice, intolerance, ignorance and indifference. At the same time we would hope, whenever possible, to develop their (and our) sensibilities to reflect on new forms of the beautiful and, if fortunate, even the sublime. . . . May you have many happy years here in this ambitious and aspiring college."

President Charles Karelis receives the key to the university from his predecessor, Neil Grabois.
     Four of the luncheon greeters would be identifiable from their portraits in the Hall of Presidents (Neil Grabois' portrait is yet to be hung). "Everett Needham Case remains a beloved friend of the college," said Little in introducing Colgate's president from 1942 to 1962. In welcoming Neil and Miriam Grabois, Little said of the college's 13th president (who would speak later in the Chapel), "he led Colgate through a decade of great accomplishment."

     Vincent Barnett Jr, who presided at Colgate from 1963 to 1969, offered "greetings to the 14th president from the tenth. I am deeply privileged to be here with you and all my fellow has-beens," he said, recalling the Everett Case quip, "nothing succeeds like successors."

     To Karelis Barnett said, "I wish you all the joy of this glorious day and assure you that there will be other days not so fully enjoyful. You will find it both enlightening and rewarding. Colgate was great in my time; it is greater now; and it will become even greater in the years to come."

     Thomas Bartlett was Colgate's president from 1969 through 1977. "Many think this is only an inauguration, but it is also a welcome into the distinguished club of former Colgate presidents," he said, calling Karelis "an initiate member" and wishing him "a long, fruitful, joyful initiation before you join the regular members." Advice would pile up, he told the new president, "It should remain outside the office door -- use your instincts to do what's best."

     In an educational community, said Bartlett, "Rubbing shoulders generates friction -- a president absorbs that heat. Like a punching bag, a president absorbs the blows but doesn't strike back."

     Campuses are characterized by procedure and process, said Bartlett, lots of it. "Presidents pick places to plant trees because B&G people will actually plant them there. Find a spot to plant some trees."

     And finally, Bartlett advised Karelis, "As president, you are the only one who sits where he can see 360 degrees clearly. The institution depends on your ability to pick up those views of the horizon and make them a vision." 

The Hall of Presidents was decorated with gossamer and lights for the inaugural dinner and brunch.
     George D. Langdon Jr said of his presidency from 1978 to 1988, "This was the best job I had and the best place I've worked. Students receive a much better education here than at some of the larger places at which I've worked. It's been wonderful to be back."

     Having received Little's praise for leading the college through an important fundraising campaign, Langdon said to Colgate's supporters, "I didn't raise the money, you did." He did comment to his successors, however: "I took up the tin cup, Neil took up the silver cup, and Buddy, you'll take up the platinum cup."

     Following thanks to the organizers from Karelis and Little, the brunch adjourned uphill to the inauguration proper.

To the Chapel, with purpose
After being organized in Olin Hall under the direction of Professor Emeritus William Oostenink, the processional made its way across campus, a brass quintet creating the backdrop: trustees, delegates of other institutions, Colgate faculty and administration, the alumni board, students, and the official party, all attired in colorful academic regalia.

     Provost and Dean of the Faculty Jane Pinchin, who had chaired the inauguration planning, welcomed the community and the participants and explained that, following the invocation by G. Gary Ripple '64, chaplain of the trustees, Karelis would receive "three tangible gifts from three wise givers: the university charter, the faculty gavel and the university key."

     Presenting the charter, Chairman Little said, "One of Colgate's greatest strengths throughout its history has been its administrative leadership.

     . . . Identifying someone to continue the tradition of leadership was the most important assignment to the board of trustees this past year. Today, we as a board and as a Colgate community celebrate our unanimous selection of Charles `Buddy' Karelis as Colgate's 14th president."

     Little offered Karelis three things: "First, official immunity from triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number 13. Second, the college's charter. And finally, a commitment from the entire board of trustees to help you continue to advance our great Colgate."

     Professor Ellen Kraly, director of university studies, presented the faculty gavel, "the symbol of the governance system of the faculty. It is with sincere pleasure that on behalf of the Colgate faculty I welcome you to our scholarly community. Community is a word heard frequently among faculty at Colgate. We understand that in pursuing Colgate's educational mission, this academic community encompasses faculty, students, staff and administrators working shoulder-to-shoulder to make the whole operate rigorously, vigorously and effectively."

     Kraly concluded her remarks with a reference to Karelis's love of magic and collecting: "As you receive this gavel, you may want to consider it as one among your collection of magician's wands. Please do, and proceed to work your magic."

Marietta Cheng, conductor of the university orchestra, and G. Roberts Kolb, director of the chorus, arranged an inaugural concert of mostly American music.
     In presenting the key to the university, Grabois recalled a time, "some 30 years ago, when a student and a young faculty member met to break bread together. They had an intense conversation of the kind liberal arts colleges make likely. I can't remember what we talked about, but Buddy assures me that it was interesting. Some 12 years later we were colleagues teaching a course together. There is a picture hanging in my office now of the two of us and the students. The students look eager. One of us looks very young. I had not seen Buddy much in the past 15 years, but when I learned that the board of trustees had just named him Colgate's 14th president, I was delighted and knew it was right."

     The key that Grabois would present, he said, was not real, but "platonic, symbolic, one that opened no physical doors, but represented possibilities. This key represents your authority, even as it symbolizes your role in helping to unlock students' intellectual, moral, emotional and social capacities. It opens opportunities for the faculty and staff to provide their wisdom and experience to your effort to enable a great university to become even greater. And finally it suggests that you might occasionally use it to try to unlock a few purses in support of Colgate."

     Offering greetings from the student body was Thomas Campbell '00, president of the student government association. "Our students come from all over the country and all over the world," Campbell said. "I, like my predecessors, try to coordinate a variety of student interests, but unfortunately we come and go every year. We have before us today a new leader who has what it takes to carry us steadily and safely into the new millennium. . . . He expresses an understanding of the entrepreneurial, creative and loyal Colgate student, and how the student fits into the future of this institution. Welcome. We will follow where you lead us."

     Colgate's Brass Quintet performed a fanfare interlude to lead into inaugural addresses by John Chandler and Anthony Kronman.

     Chandler, president emeritus of Williams College and former president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said that Karelis "has a knack for making people and institutions look good, but, more important, he has a consistent record of energizing and elevating the enterprises with which he is associated."

     "Colgate is a wonderful example of the residential liberal arts college. . . . I urge you with the leadership of your new president to realize the full potential of that residential experience."

     Citing examples of widespread anti-intellectualism in the world, Chandler said, "It is especially important that universities serve as communities of rational discourse and rigorous inquiry. . . . What excites me most as I contemplate this presidency is Buddy Karelis's unusual capacity to lead the ongoing conversation about what this univer-sity should be doing to prepare its students for useful and fulfilling lives and for their roles as leaders and citizens in the wider world."

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Jane Pinchin, here serving as master of ceremonies for the inauguration, chaired the campus committee that planned the weekend to the last detail.
     "The educator/president is rare these days," said Chandler. "In Buddy Karelis, Colgate has an educator/president. He is characteristically optimistic and hopeful without engaging in fulsome praise of the status quo, and while pointing to specific, practical improvements. I congratulate Colgate and I congratulate Buddy on this special occasion. The right leader has come to the right institution and I expect good and great things to result."

     Kronman, the Edward J. Phelps Professor and dean of Yale Law School, has been a friend of Karelis since their undergraduate days at Williams. His understanding of Karelis, Kronman said, "is the product of four decades of argument and laughter and shared pleasure in each other's lives, riding the whirlwind together as friends into the precincts of middle age. It is on the basis of this understanding that I say Colgate is lucky indeed to have chosen my friend to be its champion and leader. . . . But it is also Buddy's extraordinary good luck to have Colgate, an institution whose history and traditions as a great center of liberal learning are perfectly adapted to his own commitments and character, and whose presidency gives him the most precious opportunity a man or woman can ever have, the opportunity to protect something worthy of protection and to preserve one of those rare places of real freedom and unreasonably high expectations on whose durability the existence of the whole human world ultimately depends."

     Making the case for liberal arts colleges, Kronman said: "We live in an age of information, but it is the aim of every liberal arts program to increase the wisdom of its students, and wisdom and information are two very different things. . . . We have forgotten that information is just a tool, and that only wisdom gives us any hope of putting it to proper use. . . . The gigantic forces which the information age have put at our disposal demand an even greater thoughtfulness in their employment, a thoughtfulness which, among other things, is needed to guard us against the illusion that information is wisdom and that a sensible strategy for living is to acquire as much of it as one can. . . . For one group of institutions the teaching of such thoughtfulness has been and remains their principal reason for being. I am thinking, of course, of the small residential liberal arts colleges. . . . It is essential that Colgate and the small number of liberal arts colleges that share its goals continue to affirm the value of an education that has no product beyond the spirit of critical generosity. It is our best hope for living well. The new president you formally install today understands all this with unusual clarity and passion."

This image of a young Charles Karelis is taken from the inaugural exhibition at the Picker Art Gallery: Magic Wands of the Artist: Works from the Collection of Charles "Buddy" Karelis.
     Introducing Karelis, the final speaker of the day, Pinchin quoted his own words, offered earlier in the year. Prior to addressing convocation, Pinchin said, Karelis had told her: "`I suppose you might mention that I taught a pretty wide range of courses during my 13 years at Williams, including ethics, political philosophy, logic and philosophy of art, and that I worked my way up through the ranks from lecturer to professor, these being points of a little pride for me.'"

     When Karelis spoke, it was first with a reference to his family ("I have been looking forward to this occasion as a rare chance to speak to my children for 17 minutes without being interrupted"), and then to two "interesting men who were college presidents, Scotsmen and friends."

     The first, Woodrow Wilson, had been president of Princeton before becoming president of the United States. Wilson wrote "that the liberal arts college is the root of our intellectual life as a nation," said Karelis, "but he was also critical. He said that college was becoming too specialized.

     "But when Wilson tried to say what colleges should do instead, he got vague. His actual words were that colleges should try to impart not learning, but `the spirit of learning' -- which sounded nice -- but what was the spirit of learning, and how were colleges supposed to go about imparting it?"

     Enter Karelis's second Scotsman, Alexander Meiklejohn, Amherst's president from 1912 until 1924, and later the founder of an experimental college at the University of Wisconsin. "What mattered to him," said Karelis, "was not the coherence of God's world but the coherence of the self. The problem was not so much fragmentation in values, or history, or nature, but fragmentation in the soul -- what we would today call compartmentalization. And the challenge for colleges was to help students relate the parts of their education instead of compartmentalizing them.

     "Compartmentalizing is an almost inevitable result of organizing college into knowledge modules called courses and leaving those courses unlinked and unrelated," said Karelis. "We need courses, but we need the links and the relations between them, as well."

     Closing with a story about Meiklejohn visiting Wilson at the White House, and Wilson saying, "`Alec, when I get out of here, you and I ought to start a college together,'" Karelis said, "I like to think about that college that never was, that college that would have benefited from Wilson's stature and confidence and from Meiklejohn's fresh ideas about integrated learning. I wonder if that college might not be the great unwritten chapter in the history of American education."

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