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Message from Incoming President Jeffrey Herbst
(Photo by Andrew Daddio)
I am deeply honored to have been named Colgate University’s 16th president. Since the announcement, my wife, Sharon, and I have been greatly moved by the warm embrace offered by Colgate faculty, students, staff, and alumni, and we are excited about joining this wonderful community in July.
While becoming familiar with Colgate, I was most impressed by the determination of the Board of Trustees, relayed emphatically by the search committee, to move the university forward even during these difficult times. Many institutions have been tempted to ride out the current storm by hunkering down and merely protecting what they have. But Colgate’s desire to advance is derived directly, I have learned, from its tradition of leadership — in the classroom, on the playing field, and in numerous extracurricular activities — that has been passed from one generation to the next.
As we adjust to the economy that will emerge from the current recession, Colgate’s history of fiscal conservatism will serve us well as we not only balance budgets, but also seek out new opportunities. In addition, the tremendous support provided by alumni through the Passion for the Climb campaign is an extraordinary asset that makes Colgate the envy of many schools.
Beyond the immediate fiscal tests, we face a shifting higher education landscape due, in large part, to technological innovation. Rich online news and data sources allow students to do work that was previously unimaginable. In my area of African politics, for example, students are able to access African newspapers the day they are published, read just-released reports from UN agencies, and tap into international databases that were previously inaccessible or that would have required a plane trip and much negotiation to review. Students are producing ambitious original work very early in their college careers and, as the Internet matures, many more opportunities will undoubtedly become available to students and faculty alike.
On the other hand, the Internet offers so many opportunities to study remotely that it is less clear to students emerging from secondary schools that they must actually go to a campus to learn. This is a fundamental change, because for hundreds of years, students and faculty had to reside in close proximity in order to learn and to take advantage of important resources such as labs and libraries. Indeed, some believe that universities will face the same difficulties that have confronted the newspaper industry as a new generation seeks information in fundamentally different ways. It does seem inevitable that the next 25 years will see far more changes in the way students think about college.
Colgate is extremely well positioned to answer these challenges because of the profound nature of its residential community, where faculty and students work and learn in close quarters. No matter how advanced computers become, they can never replace the value of students working side by side with their professors and learning from each other in a residential setting. We must continue to enhance opportunities for student engagement with faculty and, at the same time, ensure that our residential community is welcoming to all so that students are able to interact and learn from as many of their peers as possible. These goals are not merely worthy ideas; they are essential to the strategic advantage of the university in an age where many will ask if they could not learn the same in front of a computer.
Today’s students will have careers that span most of the 21st century, and it is therefore imperative that they develop the competencies — including languages, knowledge of history and society, and a willingness to celebrate differences — to interact with people across the globe. Again, Colgate’s dedication to a liberal arts education and its enviable record of study abroad positions the university to lead in an era when institutions will be judged in good part on how well they prepare students for careers and lives that will span the globe. The opportunities for our society, but also the threats, require that we provide students with the ability to understand the world they will inherit.
Finally, I am very excited about the prospect of Colgate further enhancing its relationship with alumni in order to provide a lifetime of education. People are living longer than ever, and they rightfully look to their alma maters for continued intellectual excitement and renewal. I can think of no greater ratification of what we do, and I am eager to help fulfill this mission.
There is much else to discuss. I look forward to meeting you in Hamilton and in my travels. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact me at
to begin a discussion that I hope will continue for many years.
Read more about Jeffrey Herbst at