On Friday, September 25, 2009, President Robert A. Oden Jr. announced his retirement effective June 2010.
“It will have been eight years that I have served as Carleton’s president and 21 years that I have served as someone’s president. It is the best job in the world but it leaves no time for family and friends,” President Oden said.
Oden cites many factors in his decision to retire. “In the last 12 months, probably because of my age – I am 63 – I’ve received so many reminders that we’re all mortal; life is fragile and we can’t count on time forever.”
Oden chose this time to announce his retirement in order for the College to have ample time to find his successor.
“You have my pledge that my commitment to doing all I can for Carleton remains fully in place throughout the current academic year,” Oden said.
“These years [as an educational leader], and especially the Carleton years, have been filled with the friendships and opportunities and profound satisfactions that few positions can offer to anyone,” Oden said.
“Still, I do sense that the full energy I have proudly devoted to leading Carleton will someday begin to diminish and that the time to retire is soon, while my enthusiasm and energy remain undiminished.”
In his years at Carleton, Oden’s leadership has transformed the College on many fronts. The College is in the final stages of its Breaking Barriers, Creating Connections campaign, Carleton’s ambitious $300 million fund‐raising campaign which currently stands at $235 million due to the extraordinary support of trustees, alumni, parents, and friends, and the College is poised to successfully complete the campaign in 2010.
An emphasis on intercultural understanding and global issues also emerged during Oden’s tenure. The College has increased its international student population from 18 students enrolled in fall 2000 to 117 enrolled in fall 2007. Off‐campus studies programs have expanded to include the Middle East and new programs in Africa and China.
Oden’s other notable accomplishments include leading the faculty in the College’s first systematic curriculum review in nearly 50 years to develop a liberal arts curriculum accenting creativity and inventiveness.
Tied to that initiative is the Arts Union project, which through both its physical structure and its programming will shape Carleton as a leader in interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the arts and beyond.
“Creativity will be the key educational currency in the 21st century,” Oden said.
Carleton also added majors in cinema and media studies and environmental studies during Oden’s time in Northfield, and established Carleton’s Headley House program, an extended‐stay residential program to promote sustained dialogue between visiting scholars, students, and faculty members.
This fall, the College opened Cassat and Memorial Halls, two new residence halls that filled a huge need that Oden first noticed as the leader on an accreditation visit more than a decade ago.
Oden has been a leader in higher education for more than 30 years. He served as president of Kenyon College from 1995 to 2002 and as headmaster of the Hotchkiss School from 1989‐95. Born and raised in Vermillion, S.D., Oden holds a BA degree in history and literature from Harvard College. He attended Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar, earning a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in religious studies before returning to Harvard to complete a master’s of theology degree and a PhD in Near Eastern languages and literatures.
He holds two honorary degrees, a doctor of humane letters from Kenyon and an honorary master’s degree from Dartmouth, the latter presented when Oden became a full professor at the college.
The Board of Trustees will be charged with naming Carleton’s next president, the College’s 11th in the institution’s 139‐year history. “The Board of Trustees has primary responsibility for bringing a new president to Carleton, and to managing an efficient transition, but we will need the help of the entire Carleton community along the way,” Jack Eugster, Carleton Board of Trustees chair, said. “Over the next few weeks, the Board will create a search committee, which will be co‐chaired by Trustee Cathy Paglia and me.”
After he retires, Oden looks forward to devoting more time to his passions outside of education. A trustee recently commented to Oden, “You’ve got more interests than most people I know. You’re the kind of person who retirement is designed for.”
Hiking, running, biking, fly-fishing and a stack of books eight feet high all await Oden in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he and his wife Teresa plan on moving.
When asked if there was anything he wanted to share with the Carleton community, Oden said, “Carleton College is what college should be. What a lot of places promise college is going to be – Carleton is.”
– Carleton College Media Relations also contributed to this story.