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College celebrates inauguration of Lee Pelton

Emerson College celebrated the presidential inauguration of Dr. M. Lee Pelton on Friday, September 14. Hundreds of people gathered in the Cutler Majestic Theatre to mark the installation of the College’s 12th president in its 132-year history.

As Board of Trustees Chair Jeff Greenhawt ’68 opened the ceremony, he asked the audience to observe a moment of silence for College Trustee Tony Goldman ’65, who died September 5. Goldman was deeply involved with the expansion of the College’s Los Angeles Program, including the decision to locate the new building on Sunset Boulevard as well as the facility’s design concept. Pelton later paid tribute to President Emerita Jacqueline Liebergott and her 18 years of service as Emerson College president. Liebergott established the College’s new campus on Boston Common and thereby revitalized the city’s historic Theatre District.

Pelton received greetings from a number of community members: Columbia University Professor of American Studies and Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities Andrew Delbanco was the ceremony’s featured speaker. He is the author of Melville: His World and Work (2005), The Real American Dream (1999), Required Reading: Why Our American Classics Matter Now (1997), The Death of Satan (1995), and The Puritan Ordeal (1989). His most recent book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, chronicles the history of higher education in the United States.

“Among the many assets that support our future hopes, perhaps none is more important than the distinctive interplay of the arts, communication, and liberal arts in our curriculum. There’s nothing quite like it in higher education. It creates an identity and purpose that sets Emerson apart from its peers.”

The installation of the president also included remarks from Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick. “President Pelton is a wonderful addition to Emerson College,” Patrick said. “I’ve known Lee for many years and he is a great person. His warmth and clarity of vision will lift Emerson to greater heights.”

  • Charles I. Wallace Jr., Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Willamette University
  • Linda Kowalcky, Deputy Director for Institutional Sector, Boston Redevelopment Authority and Mayor’s Liaison to Higher Education
  • Aaron M. Michlewitz, State Representative, Third Suffolk District
  • Ronald A. Crutcher, President, Wheaton College
  • David G. Breen ’78, President, Alumni Association
  • Mohammad “Tau” Zaman ’13, President, Student Government Association
  • Tim Douglas, MA ’13, Communication Management Program
  • Jan Roberts-Breslin, Professor, Visual and Media Arts
  • Alexa Jackson, MS, Associate Vice President, Human Resources
  • Maria Figueroa, MA ’96, Administrative Associate, Graduate Studies

In his inaugural address, Pelton said the College will commit itself to five important measures in order to move from “excellent to extraordinary”: to raise higher the bar of academic excellence; to innovate; to extend its reach globally; to engage and assist nearby communities; and to ensure sound financial stewardship. All five initiatives support Pelton’s vision to establish Emerson College as “the world’s leading institution of higher education in the arts and communication.”

“Today was a call to action and the beginning of a conversation about our future,” said Pelton. “It represents a new beginning, a new chapter in Emerson's history. Our future is bright and strong. I’m very eager to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Yet, I realistically recognize that it will take time, resources, and planning to achieve our goals. I am looking forward to working collaboratively with faculty, students, staff, and Trustees in the months and years ahead,” he said.

From among the five commitments, Pelton emphasized the formation of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement and Learning and an online instructional partnership with Berklee College of Music. The proposed Elma Lewis Center would bring existing Emerson College civic engagement programs under a single administrative structure and support the development of new Emerson College–community partnerships. The College has already begun discussions with Cristo Rey High School in Dorchester and East Boston High School. The partnership would assist Cristo Rey in improving the communication skills of its students and would help launch a four-year college preparatory program for East Boston students.

An Emerson–Berklee technology partnership would extend the reach of Emerson’s educational excellence to a global audience with an educational partner who shares the same values and has already achieved notable success in online learning, said Pelton. The proposed partnership would promote the humanities, in the arts, communication, and music disciplines, just as Harvard, MIT, and UC Berkeley have done for science, technology, and math with their online partnership, EDx.

“These measures are authentic and deeply vested in what we value,” said Pelton. “Among the many assets that support our future hopes, perhaps none is more important than the distinctive interplay of the arts, communication, and liberal arts in our curriculum. There’s nothing quite like it in higher education. It creates an identity and purpose that sets Emerson apart from its peers,” he said.

President Pelton came to Emerson in July 2011 from Willamette University in Oregon. He served as Willamette’s president for 13 years and is credited with increasing the university’s academic profile and national reputation as well as attracting outstanding faculty and students from across the country and world. He also served as dean of the college at Colgate University and at Dartmouth College. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Wichita State University and holds a PhD in English from Harvard University, where he taught and served as senior tutor at Winthrop House.     

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