Featured Speakers

The 2015 Presidents Institute features a strong lineup of speakers addressing this year's theme, “Power of Independent Colleges: Better Education, Better Outcomes.”

Keynote Address  •  Sunday, January 4, 5:00–6:15 p.m.
(Cosponsored by Aramark and Stevens Strategy, LLC)
Powerful Colleges: Educating Students to Think in the Digital Age

Cathy N. Davidson, a national leader in the digital humanities, an advocate of new approaches in teaching and learning, and cofounder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), will discuss the future of learning and higher education institutions in the digital age and the lead role to be played by independent colleges and universities. Her recent book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (2011), argues that current structures for learning and assessment of learning are outdated. New methods need to be adapted to teach students how to collaborate with one another across diverse cultural and disciplinary divides. Her work on “collaboration by difference” encourages problem solving through heterogeneous teams whose members bring different expertise and biases to the challenge at hand, thus accounting for different aspects of “attention blindness” among team members. Davidson will discuss how independent colleges can lead the way in effectively educating students for the challenges of the world we live in now.

Cathy N. Davidson is Distinguished Professor of English in the PhD program and newly appointed director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. For the past 25 years Davidson was at Duke University where she was John Hope Franklin Humanities Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English. She is a cofounder of HASTAC, a virtual network of more than 14,000 innovators worldwide dedicated to “Changing the Way We Teach and Learn.” HASTAC administers the annual $2 million HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, codirected by Davidson and HASTAC cofounder David Theo Goldberg. Together they won the 2012 World Technology Award for Education. Davidson served as vice provost for interdisciplinary studies at Duke University from 1998 to 2006. She helped create the program in information science and information studies, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, and 70 other innovative programs. President Obama appointed her to the National Council on the Humanities in 2011. In addition to Now You See It, her more than 20 published books include The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (2010, with David Theo Goldberg); 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan (2004); Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (2004); and Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory (1998, with photographer Bill Bamberger). She writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and the Washington Post, among others. Davidson earned a BA in philosophy and English from Elmhurst College and an MA and PhD in English from the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Chair: Henry N. Tisdale, President, Claflin University

Plenary Session  •  Monday, January 5, 8:30–9:45 a.m.
(Sponsored by Credo) 
Better Education and Better Outcomes for Underrepresented Students

Michael T. Nettles, a leading educational policy researcher, will report on the academic success of underrepresented students at independent colleges and discuss the new challenges to maintaining a commitment to access during lean economic times. Widely regarded as a national policy expert on educational assessment, student performance and achievement, educational equity, and higher education finance, Nettles’s publications reflect his broad interests in public policy, student and faculty access, opportunity, achievement, and assessment at both the K–12 and postsecondary levels. His plenary address will discuss the educational needs of and opportunities for the students now entering higher education—who have a different demographic profile from earlier generations of students—and the critical role independent colleges can play in serving underrepresented students.

Michael T. Nettles is senior vice president of the Policy Evaluation and Research Center at Educational Testing Service (ETS) where he holds the Edmund W. Gordon Chair. He worked at ETS as a research scientist from 1984 to 1986 and as a senior research scientist from 1986 to 1989. From 1989 to 1992 Nettles was vice president for assessment of the University of Tennessee system, and from 1992 to 2003 he was a professor of education at the University of Michigan. Nettles was appointed by two U.S. Secretaries of Education to serve on the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees and develops policies for the National Assessment of Educational Progress; he served as the vice chair of NAGB for three years. Prior to rejoining ETS in 2003, he served for eight years as a trustee of the College Board and for four years on the Graduate Record Exam board. From 1996 to 1999 Nettles served as the founding executive director of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute at the United Negro College Fund. He returned to ETS as executive director of policy research and became vice president in 2004. He assumed his current position in 2006. Nettles is the lead author of the three-volume African American Education Data Book series and Two Decades of Progress: African Americans Moving Forward in Higher Education. In summer 2014 Nettles was appointed by President Obama to serve on the President’s Commission of Educational Excellence for African Americans. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Tennessee and master’s degrees in political science and higher education as well as a PhD in education from Iowa State University.

Chair: Elizabeth A. Fleming, President, Converse College

Plenary Session  •  Tuesday, January 6, 8:30–9:45 a.m.
(Sponsored by Metz Culinary Management)
Lessons from the Past for Leadership Today

In an unusual approach to understanding presidential leadership, two eminent scholars will draw “lessons” from their respective fields of study, American history and classics, and apply them to the leadership challenges that presidents of independent colleges face today. David W. Blight is an acclaimed historian of the Civil War era, and Gregory Nagy is a renowned authority in the field of Homeric and related Greek studies. Blight will draw lessons from such prominent American leaders as Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, while Nagy will draw insights from the leadership of great statesmen of ancient Greece, such as Pericles. For the past decade, Blight and Nagy have led separate and highly successful seminars for CIC faculty members. Blight has led CIC’s annual American history seminar for faculty members, cosponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, most recently from 2008 through 2012 on “Slave Narratives.” Since 2006, Nagy has led CIC’s Ancient Greece in the Modern College Classroom seminars for faculty members, cosponsored by the Center for Hellenic Studies, on such works as the Odyssey and the Iliad. Their combined efforts have equipped more than 400 faculty members of CIC colleges and universities to teach these important subjects in new ways. Both scholars will mine their respective fields of history and classics for lessons from the deep past for today’s campus leaders. Rebecca S. Chopp, chancellor of the University of Denver and former president of Swarthmore College, will serve as the session’s interlocutor and lead an interactive discussion.

David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. During the 2013–2014 academic year he served as the William Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at the University of Cambridge, England. Previously Blight taught at Amherst College for 13 years, and he also taught at Harvard University and North Central College. For seven years he was a public high school teacher in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. In 2012, Blight was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2002 he was elected as a member of the Society of American Historians and currently serves as its president. His newest book, American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (2011), received the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Award for best book in nonfiction on racism and human diversity. He also is the author of A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation (2007) and Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), which received eight book awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians. Blight currently is writing a biography of Frederick Douglass that will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2015. He holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned his undergraduate degree at Michigan State University.

Gregory Nagy is Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature and, since 2000, director of the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University, where he also is the curator of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature. He has served as chair of the Harvard classics department and as president of the American Philological Association. Nagy’s popular edX MOOC, “The Ancient Greek Hero,” has attracted more than 27,000 students. Previously he held positions at Johns Hopkins University. A renowned authority in the field of Homeric and related Greek studies, Nagy’s numerous honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Goodwin Award of Merit of the American Philological Association for his book, The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry (1979). His other books include Homer the Preclassic (2012); Homer’s Text and Language (2004); Homeric Responses (2003); Plato’s Rhapsody and Homer’s Music: The Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens (2002); Homeric Questions (1996); Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond (1996); Greek Mythology and Poetics (1990); Pindar’s Homer: The Lyric Possession of an Epic Past (1990); Comparative Studies in Greek and Indic Meter (1974); and Greek Dialects and the Transformation of an Indo-European Process (1970). Born in Budapest, Hungary, he studied classical philology and linguistics at Indiana University, where he earned a BA, and Harvard University, where he earned his PhD.

Rebecca S. Chopp is chancellor of the University of Denver. From 2009 to 2014 she was president of Swarthmore College and a professor in the department of religion. Previously she was president of Colgate University. Before her position at Colgate, Chopp served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Emory University, where she also was Charles Howard Candler Professor of Theology, dean of faculty and academic affairs of the Candler School of Theology, and director of graduate studies in the Institute for Women’s Studies. A well-known scholar of progressive religious movements in American culture, she is the author or editor of six books, including Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts (2013), which she co-edited with Haverford College President Dan Weiss; The Praxis of Suffering: An Interpretation of Liberation and Political Theologies (2007); and The Power to Speak: Feminism, Language, God (2002). Chopp served on the governing boards of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the National Survey of Student Engagement and has served on the executive committee of the Annapolis Group and the board of trustees of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. She also has served as president of the American Academy of Religion. A native of Kansas, Chopp received a BA from Kansas Wesleyan University, an MDiv from St. Paul School of Theology, and a PhD from the University of Chicago.

Chair: Thomas L. Hellie, President, Linfield College

Closing Plenary Session  •  Wednesday, January 7, 10:00–11:30 a.m.
(Sponsored by Hardwick Day)
Presidential Strategies for Effective Governance

In a special closing plenary session, a distinguished panel will address how presidents can improve institutional governance, facilitate its adaptation to rapidly changing expectations of trustees, and strengthen the president’s ability to shape the board’s work. The relationship between a college’s president and its trustees has always been key to an effective presidency, but in recent years success often has required attention to new dimensions of the relationship. Some problems that colleges face these days likely cannot be solved through the usual consultative processes of shared governance. Presidential leadership today might differ in perspective from the outlooks of both the faculty and the trustees. A further complication is that some trustees—concerned about financial and enrollment challenges, impatient with the slow pace of faculty processes, and sometimes emboldened by simplistic media coverage of trends in higher education—have begun to insert themselves into operations rather than focus on policy and strategy. The result has been that a college president’s ability to exercise leadership today calls for skills beyond those that sufficed in the past. Three seasoned college presidents and one former president—all with exceptional experience in governance—will engage in a wide-ranging and stimulating discussion of these challenges.

Thomas F. Flynn was named the sixth president of Alvernia University in Pennsylvania in 2005. He previously served Millikin University in Illinois, first as provost and later as president. Earlier he was professor of English and dean of the college of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. He also has served as a senior advisor to CIC, facilitating a series of President-Trustee Dialogues. A former member of the CIC Board of Directors, Flynn has served as a board member of the American Council on Education and the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities. He currently serves on the boards of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Flynn earned a BA in English from Boston College and an MA and PhD in American culture from the University of Michigan.

Lee Pelton is the 12th president of Emerson College in Massachusetts, a position he assumed in 2011 after serving for 13 years as president of Willamette University in Oregon. He previously was dean of the college at both Colgate University and Dartmouth College. Pelton has served on the Harvard University Board of Overseers and as vice chair of its executive committee. He is past chair of the board of directors of the American Council on Education and has served on the boards of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts. He currently is a member of the CIC Board of Directors. Pelton holds a BA from Wichita State University and a PhD in English literature from Harvard University.

Susan Resneck Pierce is president emerita of the University of Puget Sound in Washington, where she served as president from 1992 to 2003. She earlier held positions as chair of the English department at Ithaca College, assistant director of the Division of Education Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and vice president for academic affairs at Lewis & Clark College. Her newest book, Governance Reconsidered: How Boards, Presidents, Administrators, and Faculty Can Help Their Colleges Thrive, was published in May 2014. She also is author of On Being Presidential: A Guide for College and University Leaders (2011). Pierce earned a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College, an MA from the University of Chicago, and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, all in English.

William E. Troutt is the 19th president of Rhodes College in Tennessee, where he has served since 1999. He has been a college president for more than 30 years, having previously served as president of Belmont University in Tennessee. A noted expert in strategic development, Troutt recently led the implementation of a new trustee governance structure at Rhodes. He is former chair of the boards of directors of the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Troutt received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Tennessee, an MA from the University of Louisville, and a PhD in higher education from Vanderbilt University.

Chair: Robert R. Lindgren, President, Randolph-Macon College