Greeting from the Carleton Faculty
Michael Hemesath, professor of economics and president, Carleton faculty
Saturday, September 25, 2010
On behalf of the Carleton College faculty I am pleased to welcome students, alumni, trustees, friends and guests to the inauguration of Carleton College’s 11th president. We are especially pleased to welcome home our alumni who are faculty members and administrators at other institutions of higher education. At Carleton we are especially proud of the number of our alumni who have found their vocation in education.
Inaugurations are by their very nature about the future, about the beginning of a new era and its possibilities. Yet what we celebrate here today is to many observers an anachronism. I do not mean our newest president, of course, as he has not been here long enough to become an anachronism just yet!
I refer to the residential liberal arts college. Of course the academy is regularly and rightly the subject of critiques and criticism, but some recent commentators have suggested that what is needed at residential undergraduate institutions is not so much reform but relegation. In a recent speech, no less a futurist than Bill Gates said that within five years the content available on the web will “be better than any single university.” Gates speculated that technology will thus make the future of higher education less “place-based.” Of course the world’s most famous college dropout obviously did not find the place-based education at Harvard essential to his success, but he is hardly alone in making this prognostication about the future of higher education. The future educational model proposed seems to require only a fast internet connection and good video-conferencing technology.
At Carleton College we respectfully disagree, as I suspect many of you do as well.
While of course there is a place for distance learning, especially in resource poor locations, we believe the finest liberal arts education will continue to depend importantly on geography and relationships. What Carleton College offers its students depends crucially on its location in Northfield, in Minnesota, in the Midwest. Even more importantly, the quality of education depends on the relationships nurtured in classrooms, on playing fields, in laboratories, in work-study jobs and in rehearsal spaces. The Carleton community believes this deeply and was seeking a new president that shared this vision.
We found such a leader in Steve Poskanzer. It was clear early and throughout the search process that Steve understood the liberal arts intimately and had strongly held beliefs about the importance of this model of higher education, beliefs he articulated beautifully yesterday in his inaugural convocation.
President Poskanzer, the Carleton faculty welcomes you and your family to Northfield and looks forward to working closely with you to show the world that residential liberal arts education will continue to be the finest education available in the 21st century.
And Mr. Gates, you are welcome to drop by Northfield and Carleton’s 11th President, Steve Poskanzer, will be happy to make the case for place-based education to you.