History of Carleton Presidents

James Woodward Strong
1870–1903

Before being asked to be Carleton’s first president (known at the time as Northfield College), Strong had been a successful minister at Plymouth Congregational Church of Faribault, and a trustee of Northfield College since its inception in 1867. Shortly after he assumed the presidency, William Carleton, a successful businessman, donated $50,000 to the College. The name of the College was changed to honor his gift. During the course of Strong’s presidency, according to Carleton: The First Century, the administration added 40 campus acres, constructed six buildings, added 14,000 library books, acquired a $400,000 endowment and added 20 faculty members. When he departed, there were 237 enrolled students and 480 graduates.

William Henry Sallmon
1903–1908

Sallmon came to Carleton with a degree from Yale and as a pastor of the South Congregational Church of Bridgeport, Conn. During his years at the helm, Sallmon developed distribution requirements as well as majors and minors. Carleton Academy was dissolved, and the Laird Hall of Science was dedicated.

Donald Cowling
1909–1945

At the time of his presidency, Cowling had the distinction of having more degrees from Yale—B.A., M.A., B.D. and Ph.D.—than any other living person. He was also the youngest president at Carleton, starting at the age of 29. He led the school for 36 years, longer than any other Carleton president. It was under Cowling’s presidency that the Arboretum began development, with the help of professor Harvey Stork and superintendent of grounds D. Blake Stewart. The school gained considerable stature under Cowling’s guidance.

Laurence McKinley Gould
1945–1962

Gould, who earned a B.S., M.A. and D.Sc. from the University of Michigan, was deeply engaged in arctic study and exploration before coming to Carleton as a professor of geology. During his administration, the number of faculty more than doubled, to 122, the endowment more than quadrupled, to $15 million, and student scholarships and loans increased tenfold.

John Nason
1962–1970

John Nason ’26 was the first Carleton graduate to serve as president of the College, having graduated summa cum laude with a degree in history. He had three generations of relatives who had attended or worked at Carleton when he arrived. A former president of Swarthmore College, and president of the Foreign Policy Association, Nason saw the College through the turbulent ’60s.

Howard R. Swearer
1970–1977

An expert on international affairs at the Ford Foundation and a former UCLA professor of political science, Swearer and his family were installed in the newly acquired Nutting House. Among the buildings that are dedicated under his leadership are the Music and Drama Building and the Mudd Hall of Science.

Robert Edwards
1977–1986

Like Swearer, Edwards was a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, and he arrived at Carleton from the Ford Foundation. During his tenure, the college launched an innovative program, "Science, Technology, and Public Policy” (which evolved to be the current Environmental and Technology Studies program), and the library was remodeled and expanded. ACT (Acting in the Community Together) is established to coordinate volunteering between students and volunteer programs. Bob Edwards was appointed President Emeritus by the Carleton Board of Trustees in October 2011.

David Porter
1986–1987

A Carleton professor of classical languages and music, Porter was named president in April following Edward's departure to head education agencies of the Aga Khan in Paris. Porter left to assume the presidency of Skidmore College at the end of the 1986-87 academic year.

Stephen R. Lewis Jr.
1987–2002

Lewis, a graduate of Williams College and Stanford University, had been a professor in economics at Williams and had a position as economic consultant to the government of Botswana. During his 15-year tenure, Lewis presided over a successful $158.5 million “Assuring Excellence” campaign. Among the new buildings constructed on campus during his tenure were nine student townhouses, the Language and Dining Center, the Recreation Center, Hulings Hall, the Center for Mathematics and Computing, and the Alumni Guest House. The Multicultural Alumni Network was organized, and the college saw record increases in student applications for admission. Steve Lewis was appointed President Emeritus by the Carleton Board of Trustees in October 2011.

Robert A. Oden Jr.
2002–2010

Robert A. Oden Jr. retired from Carleton College in summer 2010 after having been a leader in higher education for more than 30 years. He was president of Kenyon College from 1995 to 2002 and headmaster of the Hotchkiss School from 1989 to 1995. During his tenure at Carleton, Oden's leadership and vision for the College was realized through many initiatives, including the largest capital campaign in Carleton history, Breaking Barriers, Creating Connections: The Campaign for Carleton, which raised more than $300 million. His leadership transformed the college on many fronts, including leading the faculty in the College's first systematic curriculum review in 50 years; championing the creation of an Arts Union as a center for interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the arts and beyond; and promoting intercultural understanding and global issues. Rob Oden was appointed President Emeritus by the Carleton Board of Trustees in October 2011.