Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Model Inauguration

Last weekend, I was pleased and honored to serve as Smith College's representative at the inauguration of Karen Gross, a Professor at New York Law School, as the eighth President of Southern Vermont College in Bennington, Vermont. President Gross and I are Smith alumnae, and have known each other for many years. It was an inspiring day.

The festivities began with a panel including several sitting college presidents discussing one of my favorite topics, Education in the 21st Century. I was particularly struck by Frank Macchiarola's remark to the effect that what really matters is not the students we enroll, but the students we turn out. So much of our energy is focused on recruiting students, and that's obviously crucial to the future of any educational institution, but we also need to think harder about fostering our students' intellectual and moral growth. Everyone on the panel spoke about access to higher education and the high cost of tuition today, and that is an issue that resonates with anyone who works at a law school; we all know students who would love to enter public service but cannot because of the large debt they have incurred to pay for their tuition.

Next on the agenda was a live conversation with New York Law School's Professor Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union. Professor Strossen could not attend in person, but spoke via telephone. Her focus, naturally, was civil rights, and she stated that although the Bush administration has an abysmal record on civil rights, the Clinton administration also had a bad record; after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Clinton took steps to restrict the due process rights of American citizens. Professor Strossen is a fascinating speaker, and I was particularly pleased to hear her commend librarians for their strong opposition to the Patriot Act.

President Gross wanted her inauguration to be more than a "one-off event," as she calls it in an article she authored for Inside Higher Education on November 7. For this reason, she announced in advance the five books that she would cite in her address. She hoped thereby to involve the college community and the broader Bennington community in her inauguration and make it "replete with lasting institutional value." I think she succeeded admirably in this effort--some of the students with whom I spoke talked about the five books President Gross had chosen, and said that they were books that ordinarily the students would not have read, but that because they were going to be cited in the speech, they had read them and were going on to read other books by the same authors. What more can a librarian ask for?

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