Greene inaugurated as the College’s 20th president

By: Megan Lasher and Sam Leblanc on September 18th, 2014.
On Saturday, Sept. 13, the College installed its 20th president, David A. Greene. Rivaling the Bicentennial celebration of 2013, the College’s inaugural celebration filled this past weekend with festivities.
The celebration began on September 12th with a series of brief presentations by six of the College’s faculty members. Ranging from adventure and love in anthropology to restoring endangered species, the talks covered a broad spectrum of unique topics. To conclude the six presentations, Greene led a discussion between the speakers, highlighting the common threads between the talks. He noted the importance of humility that professors all discussed in their presentations, and was grateful that their sense of values and priorities were so grounded. “Humility is a word I haven’t heard in the past 20 years,” he joked.
“It’s important to note that our faculty could be anywhere, but they choose to be here,” Greene said. He noted that each of the speakers and their colleagues are greatly established in their respective fields, and how that can be such a benefit to students. He followed up by asking the panel how they balance their own research with their work in teaching others in the lab. Faculty representatives admitted that, at times, it’s frustrating to train a student for four years and then lose the partnership and work ethic when the student leaves the College. “Colby students have an annoying habit of matriculating on time almost all the time,” Dr. Frank and Theodora Miselis Professor of Chemistry D. Whitney King said, and the rest of the panel laughed and nodded their heads in accordance.
In the evening, the College hosted a dessert reception followed by fireworks that were visible in the sky above the Davis Science Center.
Festivities on the 21st began with a student showcase to present important research from the College’s student body. The showcase revolved around research projects that were conducted over the summer, and research groups brought posters to the Diamond Atrium as administration, alumni, professors, and fellow students inquired about their work.
Concurrent with the showcase was a panel discussion entitled “The Role of Liberal Arts in Developing Future Leaders: Toward a More Engaged—and Civil—Citizenry.” The panel featured the honorary degree recipients whom Greene honored during the inauguration. The recipients included the Director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago David Axelrod, United States Senator from Maine Susan Collins, Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and President of the University of Chicago Robert J. Zimmer.
William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government Sandy Maisel moderated the discussion. The overarching theme of the talk was the role a college plays in preparing tomorrow’s leaders, with specific attention to bipartisanship and the best ways for people to talk about their differences while maintaining a commitment to civility and discourse.
All four speakers championed the importance of open and respectful dialogue. Lawrence-Lightfoot said that “good liberal arts classrooms are places of diversity of all kinds…good teachers provide a safe place to listen to the differences.” Zimmer echoed this sentiment, highlighting the importance of listening to others while also being able to turn a critical eye to one’s own arguments ad beliefs. He spoke of the power of “the temptation to succumb to simplicity,” saying that one must accept the complexity of all issues in order understand them fully.
Collins narrowed the definition of productive discussion, articulating that “civility does not mean meaningless discussion devoid of…passion…. [It’s a] search for common ground.” She explained the trend in today’s government that rewards individuals who make personal attacks against others.
Axelrod too cited this phenomenon and said that the “post-war generation felt they could disagree strongly…and still be civil.” He said that today’s young people “care deeply about the world…[but have] deep skepticism about whether politics is the way to [make change].” Axelrod specifically addressed the “young people” in the room saying, “Congress is going to meet with or without you” and said that the goal is to get bright young people into the arena of politics and nudge the government in the right direction.
The panelists also discussed the concept of “comfort” in the classroom and explained that a liberal arts education is not meant to be comfortable. They said a classroom can still be a safe place, even when people are disagreeing, and constant comfort means that students aren’t being challenged or pushed to consider new ideas.
The pinnacle event of the weekend took place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13. The Installation Ceremony featured numerous speakers, each welcoming Greene to the College community. Student representatives of dozens of countries carried the flags of their nations which subsequently lined the walkway surrounding the stage area. Individuals spoke on behalf of the many facets of the College community including representatives for the students, alumni, faculty, staff, the Board of Trustees and Waterville citizens.
In a speech following his official installation, Greene outlined his ideals for the future of the College: “We do not need to defend the liberal arts,” he said. Greene explained that “articulating and defending the importance of liberal arts is not enough,” but that the College must be ready to evolve and can’t be insular. He said “the Colby degree must continue to represent the most rigorous liberal arts program. Some of his main objectives included increasing the College’s funding in order to exceed the evolving expectations the country has of higher education institutions and ensuring that the College is a “highly networked institution” so that graduates will have no shortage of connections in the world.
Greene also reflected on the importance of the relationship between the College and Waterville, stating that “ingredients are already there for a renaissance of this city,” and that the College can play a major role in helping to catalyze that reinvigoration. Mayor Karen Heck [year] outlined similar hopes for the continued partnership between Waterville and the Hill. Greene concluded his speech with intense optimism for the College’s future, stating “This is Colby’s moment. This is Colby’s time.”