On August 28th, Carleton President Steven Poskanzer announced that he would retire from his presidential position following the end of the 2020-2021 academic year.
In an email to the Carleton community, Poskanzer explained his decision came from a place of understanding that it was time for Carleton to have new leadership.
“I adore this College, and serving as its President has been far and away the best and the most fulfilling experience of my professional career. I am very proud of what we have accomplished together. But there is a natural rhythm and cycle to any college presidency—and with our Campaign target of $400M already surpassed, the goals laid out in our Strategic Plan largely achieved, and the College in excellent academic shape—my heart tells me that next August will be the right time to hand responsibility for stewarding this remarkable place to a talented new leader.”
Poskanzer said he has been weighing this decision for the past two years, and feels that he accomplished what he set out to do when he first became President in 2010.
Although retiring from his administrative position, Poskanzer plans on staying at Carleton in the role of a professor in the Political Science Department following a sabbatical during the 2021-2022 school year, and hopes to continue pursuing his own academic research.
Before coming to Carleton, Poskanzer was president of the State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY New Paltz). According to a college press release announcing the Board of Trustees’ intention to name him as president in April 2010, he was selected for his fundraising skills, intention to increase graduation rates, improvement of his former college’s perception, and his “intellectual vitality, energy, and commitment to the liberal arts.”
Poskanzer’s announcement is the latest in a series of administrative turnovers that have recently materialized in the upper levels of the Carleton administration. Dean of the College Beverly Nagel ’75 also announced her decision to retire from her position next August after serving as Dean of Students for the last 11 years. And Paul Thiboutot, who served as Dean of Admissions for 32 years, retired in 2019 and was succeeded by Art Rodriguez ’96.
Both Nagel’s retirement and Poskanzer’s stepping down will open up Carleton’s administration to a new generation of leadership that will shape the school’s legacy as an institution of higher learning that aims to ensure equitable treatment of all its students.
The search for Carleton’s next president will be spearheaded by a committee led by Wally Weitz ’70, chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Cathy Paglia ’74, another trustee. The search committee will consist of five trustees, four faculty members, two staff members, two alumni representatives and three students — including Carleton Student Association (CSA) President Andrew Farias ’21.
Different campus governance groups like faculty governance and CSA are currently in the process of determining which faculty members and students will serve on this committee, respectively. Current students can apply to be on the Presidential Search Committee before September 27th at noon.
Once the members of the search committee are solidified, they will begin to scour the nation and the world to identify which individual will be best to take on the challenge of improving the College in the next decade.
“The needs of the institution in 2021 are different than they would’ve been in 2010, when the last search for a Carleton president was underway. Right now, there’s a pandemic. There’s a long overdue reckoning for justice and racial equity in this country. There’s different kinds of economic pressure that colleges are facing,” Poskanzer said.
According to Poskanzer, he will not play a part in the selection process. “It’s not good or healthy for a college president to pick their successor,” he said. Nagel’s interim replacement will be named by Poskanzer and will oversee the academic program of the College. The interim replacement will also play a crucial role in helping the new president get settled into their position until they are able to make a further decision on the Dean of the College.
These administrative changes in Carleton’s leadership also come at a time of enormous upheaval in American higher education, as colleges reckon with racial justice in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.
The Star Tribune recently profiled how Minnesota colleges are facing their own campus-wide systemic racism, detailing in their August 21st article:
“Many students and alumni of these Minnesota private colleges say they are fed up with the prepared statements, town halls and commissions that are formed in the wake of racist incidents but rarely lead to lasting change. They have no more patience for lip service and are calling on the schools to become more welcoming to students and faculty of color. Some are even demanding new leadership.”
The article mentioned how Carleton, St. Olaf, and St. Thomas have embattled histories with race relations and how their administrations have fallen short of meeting the needs of students, faculty and staff of color.
Carleton’s Ujamaa Collective, a coalition of members from Black student organizations on campus, released a list of demands in June 2020 of actions the administration could enact in order to “combat systemic, structural, and institutional anti-Black racism.” Some of these demands include extensive Carleton support of Black Lives Matter, an establishment of a Black center on campus, and required anti-racism training for faculty and staff.
Poskanzer says he is committed to improving the Carleton administration’s response to these demands throughout the course of his final year. Quoted in The Star Tribune, he says, “This is a moment where we’ve been called to step up and live our words and make sure that we really are being the type of institution that we want to be.”
“The goal of being more equitable and inclusive is a never ending task. I want to believe that we’ve made progress during this era, but we clearly need to continue in order to make more progress. And certainly some of that progress we’ll be able to make between now and next July when I step down. There is a lot of work that needs to be done right now, and that shouldn’t wait until then.”
But turning to the future, Poskanzer realizes that the next president will inherit many long-unaddressed problems within the campus culture and there will be a burning need to finally make reparations.
“We need to identify things that we most need to do in this particular realm. Where are we most falling short in our aspirations? Is it the curriculum, and students are not learning the things they most need in order to make a difference in the world? Is it the climate that’s existing outside of the classroom? Is it a dynamic between students, a dynamic between faculty and students? Then, we can look for a leader who either has a proven record of making progress in those domains, or someone who’s got all kinds of great ideas about how they will make our community move forward.”
For Nagel, post-Carleton plans involve returning to her research on economic and political development in Paraguay, which was put on hold 12 years ago following her appointment as Carleton Dean.
“Completing that research has always been a very high priority for me, and I owe it to the community groups and colleagues in Paraguay who have collaborated with me on this work to do my part to bring it to fruition,” she said.
Poskanzer hopes to be away from Northfield in the year following his resignation as President to allow his successor to feel free and never have to worry about their predecessor, and welcomes the opportunity to experience a change of scenery and to prepare for the classes that he’ll be teaching upon his return.
“This place has always done very well at picking the right person for the particular moment. I have enormous faith that a good committee made up of students, faculty, staff, and alumni will find an individual next leader for Carleton,” he says.
When asked about his favorite part about Carleton, Poskanzer immediately responded, “The students. These are the best, most curious, most fundamentally kind students of any institution I’ve had the privilege to work for. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I’m staying here.”