Recently, I offered some speeches in New York City and elsewhere, about Colgate and its third century. The story of where we are as a university, and where we are going, bears telling. This is our story. It behooves us to stop to see where we are, and to see where we are going.

You see, I believe ourselves to be at a pivotal point as a university, just as I think we are at a pivotal point as a nation. And, as I hope you will see as we go along, I think of these as related.

But, let’s start with Colgate. For, as you have probably seen and heard in recent months, changes are underway at Colgate.

Some of those changes are quite visible.

We have built two of the most beautiful residence halls in the country, with Burke Hall and Jane Pinchin Hall opened up on the Hill.

And we are now breaking ground on many other fronts.

  • We have broken ground for the Robert H.N. Ho Mind, Brain, and Behavior Center, modernizing our largest science building.
  • As summer ends, we will break ground on the Benton Center for Creativity and Innovation, beginning the construction of the physical Middle Campus.
  • Architects are now drawing up plans for the new Fox Residence Hall to finally replace Gate House up by the observatory.
  • And plans are being completed for our newly renovated and reimagined athletics center, thanks to the $25 million gift of the Carey family.

Yet some of the changes afoot at Colgate you cannot see — and these might be even more impactful.

First, admissions to Colgate— the desirability of being here at this University — has profoundly changed over the past two years. We are the first liberal arts college to receive more than 20,000 applications for admission to a single class.

We have taken away federal student loans for nearly all of our students. If you walk the campus today, you will be walking by more than 800 Colgate students who no longer have federal loans weighing them down.

Six faculty members are in new, fully funded endowed chairs. Six more will join them in new endowed chairs in a few months.

We are launching several new academic initiatives across the University. And the world has noticed.

And we have been noticed in national media and in national news shows. We were noticed for our community response to COVID-19. We brought back all of our students and kept them here, and safe, and learning together through the last two years.

Our Raiders are being noticed. We are a small college with three teams in postseason, NCAA play — joining a small group that can make that claim, including Michigan, Duke, Stanford, and Notre Dame.

And our famous founding story — of 13 men giving 13 dollars — has been topped now. This year 13 women each gave $1 million to Colgate.

So, yes, things are happening at Colgate. I don’t have to tell you that all of this is exciting. How could it not be?

But that’s not what I am here for. I am here to tell you that all of this is important.

It is important because it is part of something bigger— something every Colgate person should know, and something we should all embrace.

It is important to this University and to all of us. It is a challenge.

Among the greatest gifts America has given to the world — perhaps only matched by its Constitution, its form of government, and its culture of innovation — are its colleges and universities.

By the middle of the 20th century, as America was becoming ascendant in the world, its loose network of colleges and universities became engines of research, centers of scholarship, purveyors of a world view, the incubators of leaders. And not only did these institutions shape America, but they also attracted the best talent from around the world.

One of the reasons why these institutions became so strong, so attractive, was that, at key moments, certain institutions took the lead. Every now and then a college or university suddenly grows in strength by being bold academically, socially, or technologically. Every now and then some college or university hears something the nation is saying, or needs, and it responds.

These new leaders — the colleges and universities that rise through intelligence and ambition and care — they deepen the role of education and the place of colleges and universities, and they compel others to strengthen themselves.

The history of American higher education is that history.

What has been so striking, however, is that in the 21st century, colleges in this country have become less sure of what they are and what purposes they serve. They have become inward-looking. They are unsure, stagnant, divided, cautious.

But here is Colgate. For a whole host of reasons, the nation has started looking at Colgate. And now we have the chance not only to be one of the most compelling undergraduate institutions in the country, but also a leader.

Colgate’s Third-Century Plan is many things: It’s a road map, it’s a framework, it’s a set of initiatives. What it is most fundamentally, however, is a declaration.

We declare that the liberal arts — reading, engaging, debating, writing, led by an excellent and well-supported faculty —remains the finest form of education to shape generations of leaders.

  • We declare that living together — even when it gets fractious and loud — is essential.
  • We declare that beauty matters — that the architecture and grounds of a university can inspire; they can shape a person.
  • We declare that success on an athletics field need not come at the cost of academic rigor, but can be concomitant with it.
  • We declare that a college can be clear, robust, compelling, and strong about what it is and where it is going.

That is how leaders are made. That’s how American higher education changes.

So, we ask: Can strengthening one college — can the transformation of one university — strengthen a nation and change the world? The answer is yes.

The pandemic caused the world to pause, to shut down. And in our own darkest days of the crisis, we in the administration kept looking for things to keep us moving forward.

One of the things we did — a symbol of Colgate — was fix the bells of the chapel. Throughout the years, they had fallen into disrepair — and they could only be rung for a few moments, by hand, at certain events. Now repaired, the chapel bells ring on the hour, every hour — as students walk to class, as they head to Frank for dinner, as they gather in the academic quad. You can hear them up the hill and down by the lake; from Oak Drive to the athletics fields.

They, too, are a declaration. About taking care of what is our core, our history, and about committing ourselves to a deep and public excellence. They can be heard by anyone who believes in the power of education, and who wishes to see learning pursued in robust ways.

So, we ask again: Can strengthening one college — can the transformation of a university — strengthen a nation, and change the world? The answer is yes.

Colgate’s Third-Century Plan is many things: It’s a road map, it’s a framework, it’s a set of initiatives. What it is most fundamentally, however, is a declaration.

President Brian W. Casey

Things are changing at Colgate, and now we will keep that going. We have an ambitious long-term plan. We are the first liberal arts college to embark on a $1 billion campaign. We are taking all that is true about this place and enhancing it. For our students, for our faculty members, for our staff members, and for our alumni.

This is the important work of an important place.

You know, the first time I spoke to a large group on this campus, about where Colgate was going, I was under another large tent. It was our Bicentennial year, and we were marking the occasion with a big night — a big dinner. I still felt quite new in the job, having only been at Colgate for fewer than two years.

It’s a daunting thing to be handed a bicentennial … to bring a university out of its second century and into its third. On that night, our Bicentennial night, I closed that speech with these words: “I cannot know what challenges are before us, and what the world will bring to Colgate. It seems clear, though, that the world is changing. Some of that change will be unnerving, perhaps even frightening. But I do know one thing: When the great challenges come to us and to this nation, one or two colleges and universities will decide to lead. Most will not.”

My final sentences that night were these: “I promise to all of you and to this University, gathered on the brink of its third century, that we will rise to whatever challenges come to us. We will do so with grace and intelligence. We will do so with confidence. And the world will know that this is Colgate’s time.”

It turns out, those sentences were right. Challenges came to us, and we met them with grace and intelligence. And bravery.

And, it turns out, now is our time. That is why the world is watching us.

It is a rare and marvelous thing to be part of changing a college. It is a challenge, a calling.

I am excited about Colgate. I am excited about where it is and where it is going. And I’m excited to partner with all of you in what comes next.

Here we go, Colgate.

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