All News

Presidential Announcement Speech

April 9, 2024

Event Recording

Prepared Remarks

Thank you for being here. I appreciate all of you taking the time to gather this afternoon.

I’m thrilled to be joining the Bryn Mawr College community as the College’s 10th president - there is nowhere else I would rather be. I want to add my thanks to those Cynthia offered to the search committee. It is an enormous commitment of time and energy and a mark of your commitment and dedication to the College - thank you.

I also want to thank President Kim Cassidy for her amazing leadership of Bryn Mawr College and the kindness she has shown me. I am thankful to have Kim’s support as she completes her term and we work together during this transition period.

I want to share a little about me and what led me here.

I believe the liberal arts change lives, and their influence does not stop with a bachelor’s degree. My work in higher education brings undergraduate and graduate students together with faculty and staff to teach, learn, grow, collaborate, nurture, and celebrate. Bryn Mawr’s remarkable commitment to undergraduate and graduate students, academic excellence, and preparing all of us for lives of purpose is why I am here.

But I am getting ahead of myself….

I grew up in Delaware County and went to Springfield High School - about ten miles from here - where I received the Bryn Mawr Book Award in my junior year.  I went to Swarthmore College, where I had a very challenging first year. The academic work was hard, the people were amazing and intimidating, and the friends I was making kept telling me I had an accent and spoke like the people who worked in the dining halls. I did speak like the people who worked in the dining halls - but why did people keep bringing that up?  Why did it matter?

I had enough spunk to remind these people that I was the local one and maybe they had the accents - but these questions about class and difference and how to engage across differences, seen and unseen, stayed with me. They led me to sociology and eventually to graduate school so I could pay forward the gifts I received as an undergraduate at Swarthmore. I was on the faculty at Bowdoin College in Maine before moving to Brandeis, where I have been for the past 18 years.

I experience my sense of vocation as a double helix. One strand is my deep commitment to the liberal arts and the belief that what we learn in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities transforms us and prepares us to make a difference in the world. And this does not stop with a bachelor’s degree.

At Brandeis, I have served most recently as the dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, which I sometimes describe to people as a liberal arts college for graduate students because it is small. Students work across departments and programs; they collaborate rather than compete, and we have done everything from creating a student representation system to putting snack boxes in student lounges to celebrating the first Graduate Student Appreciation Week on campus to support them outside of the classroom and lab as much as inside.

The second part of my vocation - the other string in my double helix - is in research that explores what makes us tick - where we find meaning and purpose, and how we can engage authentically with others in the world. In recent years, I have interviewed and observed chaplains and spiritual care providers working on cargo ships, hospital morgues, police and fire departments, and many other settings. I describe spiritual care providers as professionals who quietly come alongside people and institutions - often at times of pain, transition, and difficulty - and are present through these experiences.

So why am I here? Why Bryn Mawr at this point in your history?

Since I learned about this place, I have experienced a deep affinity with its undergraduate and graduate missions. I care deeply about what happens in the classroom, the lab, and the athletic fields. The unique and unusual combination of a dynamic undergraduate liberal arts program with graduate studies in social work and six other areas, including post-baccalaureate studies for premedical students, is distinctive and valuable in the higher education landscape.

Higher education and the world are evolving rapidly. Bryn Mawr College has a rich history as the first women's college in the United States to offer a Ph.D. education, as a leading producer of Fulbright Students, and as a highly ranked research-oriented liberal arts college. I am committed to upholding this legacy and contributing to its growth and development.

I am deeply impressed with how many of you are re-considering and re-telling the College’s history through the ARCH project, the Black at Bryn Mawr tour, which Adalia Rodriguez generously took me on, and other efforts to fully understand the contributions of all people to this remarkable institution. We have to see everyone and work collaboratively to ensure that everyone in our community—staff, students, faculty, alums—is named, seen, and valued.

I am excited about the creative teaching and research happening here, in Philadelphia, and around the globe in the 360 Programs, the palpable sense of community, and the ways we must work together to continue the academic excellence at the core of this institution. Now, perhaps more than ever, the world needs liberal arts colleges to prepare undergraduate and graduate students for our beautiful and suffering world.

I greet you today with greetings from my wife, Deborah, and our two children. I will be back on campus for a few days in May and June, and we will all move here this summer with our dogs, cats, and even a pet frog (in a tank, don’t worry!).

So what can you expect from me?

  • I will come alongside you and learn. I will ask a lot of questions.
  • I will be around campus asking to be invited to staff meetings, student events, sporting events, and alumnae/i gatherings.
  • I will be curious, honest, and straightforward.
  • I will listen and collaborate with staff, faculty, and students as partners
  • I will eat a lot of ice cream and probably host several ice cream parties - something of a family tradition that we brought to Brandeis with pop-up events with ice cream trucks.
  • I will do my best for you - as I hope you will continue to do for each other across our similarities and differences as we agree and disagree and work together on campus and in our complicated world.

To conclude, thank you again for being here and for this party - which isn’t for me but for all of us as we take the next steps in the College’s presidential transition. I look forward to meeting you more informally at the reception and in the coming days.