September 13, 2021
Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Friends of the College,
As many of you know, this is the beginning of my 11th year as president. I am writing to let you know that it will be my last year in this position. I have never read an announcement in which outgoing presidents failed to say what a difficult decision they have made; in this case, I can certainly attest to the difficulty. I love this place, its mission, its beauty, and the people who make it so extraordinary. I love the work. And I feel at home here. Amherst students bring me tremendous joy, whether I am interacting with them at a festival, guest-teaching in a class, listening to groups or individuals in office hours, attending student concerts, poster sessions, public speaking contests, athletic events, or just chatting with them at the top of Memorial Hill. It’s enough just to see students making their way with friends across campus and hearing them laugh. If I have one regret, it is not having had time to teach a course. I look forward to returning after a sabbatical year so I can do that.
My respect and admiration for the Amherst faculty make me proud to have the title of professor at Amherst. As a faculty, they are the most devoted to student learning and success of any faculty I have had the good fortune to be part of or to experience. The quality of their scholarly work makes Amherst a research college, in fact, if not in name. I will enjoy being one of them for a time. And I cannot imagine a more dedicated and hardworking staff—at every level of the institution. I marvel at what Amherst’s staff members have done to modernize our administrative functions over the past ten years and, over the past two, to keep us safe and allow us to carry on. It Is hard to imagine days without the pleasure of my own staff’s support, humor, and warmth; fortunately, I don’t have to deal with that loss right now.
What a great pleasure and privilege to know and work with the fascinating people among Amherst’s alumni and trustees, people in all walks of life whose accomplishments and generosity are models of what it means to serve a beloved community and a larger purpose. Our alumni support the College as though, to cite the writer Marilynne Robinson, the students "were their kin and heirs.” I love being part of this multi-generational, heterogeneous, and expansive family and I will miss working with a truly extraordinary board.
The end of this academic year will be the right time for me to begin my next chapter. I look forward to writing and also to playing more, contributing to the causes that matter to me, and to a lasting relationship with many of you. It will also be a good time for a new president to assume leadership of the College. We will have celebrated our bicentennial year. The College is in excellent financial shape. A new president will benefit from the vibrancy and promise that come with the mutual reinforcement of talent and diversity in students, faculty, and staff. And the 20th president will lead the celebration of several amazing completed projects.
We have a lot of work to do over the course of this year. I hope our fundraising campaign will hit the mark a year earlier than we had planned. We will continue to identify and provide support to faculty across disciplines, focusing on faculty research needs and on areas that have consistently seen growing student interest. We will make visible progress on the Climate Action Plan as work on geothermal wells begins this spring. The student center will continue through schematic design, in preparation for construction, and work will start on the Aliki and Seth Frank Lyceum, which will house the Center for Humanistic Inquiry, the Department of History and Lyceum faculty. Progress on our diversity, equity, and inclusion and anti-racist goals will be essential. Finally, there are key policy decisions that we need to make on the basis of wide-ranging, open, and respectful discussions. I will be focused on our priorities for the year as intensely as I have approached the work we’ve done over the past ten years.
High standards, remarkable people, and a commitment to shared governance make the College an invigorating, vibrant, and sometimes rambunctious place. We are united in the goal of providing the highest-quality education to talented and avid learners from every background, regardless of their ability to pay. We share a desire to be part of a learning environment in which it is cool to be smart and intellectually curious, to think critically and independently, to pursue interests in music, dance, athletics, debate, political work, and many more things than I can possibly list. It is an honor to be part of a community that aims high, works hard, finds joy in one another’s company, aspires to serving others, and has demonstrated how highly its members value the health and well-being of the larger community.