Carleton College inaugurated Steven G. Poskanzer as its eleventh president last Saturday in an elaborate ceremony evoking both continuity with the past and glimpses of Carleton’s future under its new president.
The ceremony at Skinner Memorial Chapel formally installed Poskanzer as president, though he had been performing presidential duties since August 2.
Speakers at the event praised Poskanzer’s personal qualities and leadership while emphasizing the importance of Carleton’s liberal arts mission in the future.
“He is a person who loves students, loves the academy and loves the liberal arts,” said Jack Eugster ’67, chairman of the Board of Trustees.
The ceremony was planned by the Inauguration Committee, a 14-member panel chaired by Classics Department Chair Clara Hardy and including faculty, staff, a student, an alumnus and a trustee. While the ceremony itself was modeled on the college’s most recent inauguration in 2002, Hardy said that aspects of the other events were modified due to scheduling issues.
“Steve is not the kind of guy who enjoys being the center of attention, and I think he would have been happy to skip all the ceremonial stuff, but he understood that this is a big moment in the life of an institution, especially since we’ve only had ten previous presidents,” Hardy said.
Eugster’s remarks opened the ceremony after an academic procession and salutatory reading. A series of speakers followed Eugster and extended their greetings to Poskanzer and the Carleton community. David Anderson, president of St. Olaf College, offered “greetings and best wishes to the Carleton family” while expressing the hope that the two institutions would “flourish together” in the future.
Carleton Alumni Council President Dana Wright ’95, faculty president Michael Hemesath and Carleton Student Association President Jinai Bharucha ’11 gave speeches extolling Poskanzer’s enthusiasm and commitment to improving Carleton. All expressed confidence in future work with Poskanzer. Bharucha’s speech also referred to Poskanzer’s immersion in student traditions at Carleton, particularly one revolving around the notorious bust of German poet Friedrich Schiller.
“We are delighted that you have embraced our culture,” Bharucha said.
Hugo Sonnenschein, President Emeritus of the University of Chicago, delivered the inauguration address. Poskanzer described Sonnenschein as a “mentor,” and in his address Sonnenschein described Poskanzer’s educational background and longstanding commitment to academia, as well as his “transformational presidency” of the State University of New York at New Paltz.
“Poskanzer and Carleton is the perfect match,” Sonnenschein said.
Besides describing Poskanzer’s academic career, Sonnenschein spoke of Poskanzer’s personal traits from the perspective of a self-described “FOS” (“friend of Steve”). He described Poskanzer’s personality as “caring, wise, loyal and fun.”
“Steve is good at making friends, and they stick,” Sonnenschein said.
Sonnenschein also discussed the place of liberal arts colleges such as Carleton and noted the similarities and differences between Carleton and the University of Chicago. He stressed Carleton’s ability to serve as a counter to larger, research-focused universities, “nudging” them towards the “ideal” of first-rate teaching and commitment to students.
Poskanzer was formally inaugurated by Eugster after the speech, with the medallion of office placed around his neck.
In his response, Poskanzer thanked Sonnenschein as well as his family for their support. He emphasized his “ever-present obsession about how to give the very best care to Carleton.”
“With humility and great excitement about what we shall achieve together, with deep thanks to the Board of Trustees for selecting me and reposing their trust in me and before them to the search committee for also selecting me, I joyfully take up my new post,” Poskanzer said.
Poskanzer pledged to see that Carleton “grows and remains true to its best self” in his presidency. He praised Carleton’s students and emphasized a “shared commitment to learning together,” referring to Carleton as a “gem in the crown of higher education” and promising to work with the community to help the college “reach beyond even its present high level of excellence.”
“What could be more noble or more fulfilling?” Poskanzer asked rhetorically.
Following the inauguration, Poskanzer and his family ceremonially planted a maple tree near Laird Hall, following a tradition which dates back to the first formal inauguration, that of President William H. Sallmon in 1901. Poskanzer, his mother Joan and his daughter Jill all delivered readings at this event.
Three of Carleton’s former presidents were in attendance at the inauguration ceremony: seventh president Robert H. Edwards (in office 1977-1986), ninth president Stephen R. Lewis, Jr. (1987-2002) and tenth president Robert A. Oden, Jr. (2002-2010). In addition, delegates from 56 other institutions were in attendance, including 18 presidents or presidents emeritus. A large number of institutional presidents received invitations, and many sent either other members of the institution or alumni living in or around Northfield to attend, Hardy said.
While there was a risk that electrical power at Carleton might be shut down due to flooding, the inauguration ultimately went ahead as planned. However, many crossings of the Cannon River were still closed at the time.
“My guess is that attendance both at the Bad Plus concert and the Installation itself was somewhat hampered by the difficulty of getting across the river,” Hardy said.