Northfield, Minn.––Robert A. Oden Jr., 63, Carleton College president since 2002 and a leader of educational institutions for more than 20 years, has announced his retirement effective June 2010, the end of the current academic year.
“I’ve personally informed all Carleton Trustees to tell them of my plan to retire at the conclusion of the current academic year,” Oden said. “My wife, Teresa, and I have devoted a great many hours to considering this decision over recent months and reached the conclusion that the time to retire is this coming June. You have my pledge that my commitment to doing all I can for Carleton remains fully in place throughout the current academic year.”
“We reluctantly accept his decision, and are forever grateful for all he’s done for Carleton and will do in this next year,” Jack Eugster, Carleton Board of Trustees chair, said. “His ceaseless energy and enthusiasm for the College and love for the liberal arts has been evident at every step, with every set of remarks to the community. Students often remark President Oden’s open friendliness characterizes the Carleton they have come to love. His encouragement for the entirety of the College’s mission, including his enthusiastic support of Carleton athletics and the arts, is appreciated by all.”
Oden’s leadership has transformed Carleton on many fronts. The College is in the final stages of its Breaking Barriers, Creating Connections campaign, Carleton’s ambitious $300 million fund-raising campaign which currently stands at $235 million due to the extraordinary support of trustees, alumni, parents, and friends, and the College is poised successfully complete the campaign in 2010.
Oden’s other notable accomplishments during his tenure include leading the faculty in the College’s first systematic curriculum review in nearly 50 years to develop a liberal arts curriculum accenting creativity and inventiveness. Tied to that initiative is the Arts Union project, which through both its physical structure and its programming will shape Carleton as a leader in interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the arts and beyond. Carleton also has expanded its faculty, while keeping undergraduate enrollment steady, with the addition of 15 tenure-track faculty members over the past three years. Carleton added majors in cinema and media studies and environmental studies during Oden’s time in Northfield, and established Carleton’s Headley House program, an extended-stay residential program to promote sustained dialogue between visiting scholars, students, and faculty members. This fall, the College opened Cassat and Memorial Halls, two new residence halls that filled a huge need that Oden first noticed as the leader on an accreditation visit more than a decade ago.
An emphasis on intercultural understanding and global issues also has emerged during Oden’s tenure at Carleton. The College has increased its international student population from 18 students enrolled in fall 2000 to 117 enrolled in fall 2007. Off-campus studies programs have expanded to include the Middle East and new programs in Africa and China. Oden, a scholar of ancient Near Eastern languages and religions, is a trustee of the American University in Cairo and taught 32 Carleton students during the Egyptian portion of the inaugural Middle East off-campus studies seminar in winter 2008.
“These years [as an educational leader], and especially the Carleton years, have been filled with the friendships and opportunities and profound satisfactions that few positions can offer to anyone,” Oden said. “Still, I do sense that the full energy I have proudly devoted to leading Carleton will someday begin to diminish and that the time to retire is soon, while my enthusiasm and energy remain undiminished.”
Oden is a member of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and has led Carleton in several sustainability initiatives, including the construction of Carleton’s wind turbine, the first college-owned and operated utility-scale wind turbine in the United States. It produces the equivalent of 40 percent of Carleton’s electricity. Carleton is seeking LEED gold certification for the Arts Union project, as well as for Cassat and Memorial Halls, the two new residence halls that were completed this fall. Oden is a keen advocate of the conservation of Carleton’s 880-acre Cowling Arboretum, a connecting landscape between the core campus and the greater prairie of the Midwest. He runs regularly in the Arb, often inviting students to join him, and annually teaches a non-credit course on fly-fishing, a pursuit of which he is an avid practitioner.
Oden served as president of Kenyon College from 1995 to 2002 and as headmaster of the Hotchkiss School from 1989-95. Born and raised in Vermillion, S.D., he holds a BA degree in history and literature from Harvard College. He attended Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, earning a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in religious studies before returning to Harvard to complete a master’s of theology degree and a PhD in Near Eastern languages and literatures. He holds two honorary degrees, a doctor of humane letters from Kenyon and an honorary master’s degree from Dartmouth, the latter presented when Oden became a full professor at the college.
From 1975 to 1989, Oden was a religion professor at Dartmouth, where he received Dartmouth’s first Distinguished Teaching Award. He is the author of five books, including The Bible Without Theology, and scores of scholarly articles, as well as a number of articles on fly-fishing. His chief research interests are in ancient Near East languages, history, and religion. In 1989 Oden was selected to be among the first of the Teaching Company’s “Superstar Teachers,” for which he has taped three lecture series on comparative religion and the Old Testament.
The Board of Trustees will be charged with naming Carleton’s next president, the College’s 11th in the institution’s 139-year history. “The Board of Trustees has primary responsibility for bringing a new president to Carleton, and to managing an efficient transition, but we will need the help of the entire Carleton community along the way,” Eugster said. “Over the next few weeks, the Board will create a search committee, which will be co-chaired by Trustee Cathy Paglia and me.”
Text of President Oden's message to the Carleton community | Response from Carleton Board of Trustees chair Jack Eugster on Oden's retirement (pdf) | Carletonian Article | Video: President Oden Retirement Public Gathering Comments | Audio: President Oden Retirement Public Gathering Comments