Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, announced its next president Tuesday. Laurie Patton, 53, will assume the leadership role next summer. She will replace Ron Liebowitz, who previously told the Middlebury campus and alumni that he will be stepping down in 2015 after 11 years as the college’s president.
Patton is a native of Danvers, Massachusetts, who got her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and her PhD from the University of Chicago, according to a biography provided by Middlebury College. Patton is now a scholar of religion and the dean of Duke University's Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. Trinity College includes about 5,200 students and 640 faculty members across 36 academic departments, and awards 80 percent of Duke's bachelor degrees, the provided biography noted.
Patton will be the first female president at Middlebury, a 214-year-old private liberal arts college with about 2,500 students. "It's a wonderfully happy accident that I'm a woman," Patton said Tuesday at a press conference. "The best thing I can do is be the best president I know how to be, and serve this community as energetically and as intelligently and as patiently--and impatiently-- as I can."
The chair of Middlebury’s presidential search committee, Al Dragone, and the chair of the college’s board of trustees, Marna Whittington, each praised Patton. They said the campus, alumni, and other members of the extended Middlebury community had strongly indicated a desire to see a woman or a minority chosen for the job. Dragone and Whittington indicated they were very pleased to have found a candidate who, first and foremost, had all the qualifications for the job, who also will represent a new moment in the school’s history.
Madeleine Kunin, who was the first, and so far, only, woman to serve as governor of Vermont, cheered the announcement from Middlebury. Kunin told New England Cable News that having highly-qualified women and minorities in top positions, whether in government, business, academia, or other fields, sends a message to others like them to reach for big goals.
"We're still in the age of firsts," Kunin said. "Each person who makes it to the top really makes it easier for the next generation; for the next woman who aspires to leadership to do that."
Patton said she has studied the access girls and young women have to education in South Asia, noting she supports two non-profits in a state in Western India. She pointed to her "micro-philanthropy" support of scholarship funds for girls at an Indian orphanage, and of a documentation and research organization on Indian women as especially meaningful causes for her.
The biography distributed to media outlets said Patton also launched an initiative at Duke to further the work of women and minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. "Women's education is of huge import to me," Patton said in response to a question from NECN. "I think it's one of the major issues facing us globally."
Locally, Patton said strengthening financial aid offerings is one of her top priorities for Middlebury when she officially starts July 1, 2015.