On the Reach and Reputation of Colgate University

When I think of all the things we hope to accomplish at Colgate during the next few years — removing student loans from the financial aid packages of all entering students, moving our faculty to levels of support seen at the finest colleges and universities, rebuilding many of our residential units so that students live in appropriate housing that provides a “home” for all, supporting athletics in appropriate ways, and creating new spaces for arts and innovation — I also think about the ways in which we can, and should, extend the University’s reach and reputation.

While this might seem like a less noble endeavor than, say, increasing financial aid for students or building new science facilities, it is imperative that Colgate take the steps necessary to engage more robustly in national conversations and serve as a crossroads for American intellectual life. People are profoundly aware of great colleges and universities and seek them out, whether as visitors, scholars, or applicants. These institutions are known for their greatness, being part of the national scene, and their common understanding of American thought and American education — or, better, world thought and the global educational system. Along with the other aims of our long-term plans, to be similarly known for engaged and consequential greatness must be a priority for this university.

Placing Colgate in the national conversation is a complex endeavor. It goes beyond a slogan or a University logo. There is no single lever that, once pulled, will suddenly and profoundly place Colgate in the minds of leading students, scholars, and supporters. I know this in the face of many comments and suggestions from alumni about how best to “brand” Colgate, how best to create that single webpage that uniquely and compellingly presents Colgate to the world. People occasionally send me paragraphs on how they would describe Colgate. If we get that right, they are stating, then all else will follow. I read these with great attention and know that to mail such a thing to your alma mater’s president is best understood as an act of love and interest.

Reputation, however, follows excellence. So I hope our alumni see a two-prong endeavor unfolding over the next several years. As we implement The Third-Century Plan initiatives — whether they be in faculty recruitment and support, village improvements, athletics enhancements, or increased student aid — Colgate will exhibit the confidence to let the world know of this work and how it supports a vision for the future. Meanwhile, there is a young graduate student who, in a few years’ time, will seek a long-term faculty appointment at a great college or university. There is a leading political scientist who will finish an important book and will want to engage members of the leading campuses on the arguments of the work. There is an extremely talented high school student in California who is sitting down to think about college applications. There is a leading lacrosse coach at a renowned university who is looking to expand next year’s schedule and pepper the calendar with visits to the best programs. There is an assistant dean or financial analyst considering colleges or universities as a next important career home. There is a couple approaching retirement, and they are thinking about relocating to the next great college town.

In every one of these moments, the reach and reputation of Colgate is in play. In each and every one of these moments, Colgate’s future is being determined. So, as we begin this third century, we are entering a period of commitment to profound excellence in all we do, as well as a willingness to share this work with the world.