Middlebury College: Liebowitz will step down in 2015
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College is in search of its 17th president to succeed Ronald Liebowitz, who announced Thursday he will step down in June 2015.
Liebowitz, who took over as president in 2004, made his announcement in an email to the campus community following the conclusion of a regular board of trustees meeting in New York City.
He scheduled the announcement to coincide with the trustees’ approval of a new board governance structure that will take effect July 1.
“It has been an honor of the highest order to serve as the 16th president of this remarkable institution,” Liebowitz said in his email. “With its dedicated and committed staff, superb faculty and outstanding students, Middlebury has never been stronger or better positioned for the future.”
Liebowitz added that the college “will continue to pursue the ambitious agenda we have set for ourselves” through the presidential transition and beyond.
He said the timing of the announcement would allow the board of trustees time to name a search committee to select Middlebury’s next president.
Reaction from the greater Middlebury community was overwhelmingly positive about Liebowitz’s tenure, with praise for his skills in moving the college forward while also being aware of the needs of the larger community.
John Tenny, a longtime former selectman, said he and Liebowitz enjoyed a close working relationship. He said those efforts resulted in construction of the $16 million Cross Street bridge with the college paying $9 million of the cost.
Tenny said the college under Liebowitz helped with other economic projects that benefited the town, including fiber optics.
“The most important thing Ron has is an economic background in economic geography,” said Tenny, who owns a construction company. “Better than other college leaders, he well understands the relationship between the college and the host community.”
Current Select Board Chairman Dean George said he was a bit surprised at the announcement of Liebowitz’ departure in 18 months. George said the town has had a “great relationship with the college” and will continue to work with its next president.
“My experience with Ron has been fantastic as far as being approachable and wanting to get involved in projects to help the community … and obviously it benefits the college as well,” George said.
Not all those projects have met with unanimous support. Current plans to build a new town office and municipal gym under a financial arrangement with the college have been criticized by some in town.
Paul Ralston, a Middlebury businessman and state representative, agreed that Liebowitz is no ordinary college president. He called him an entrepreneurial president and one who took the town’s interest to heart.
“I think President Liebowitz has been a strong voice in the college community at the trustee level to being an active and equitable partner in town-gown kind of things,” said Ralston, founder and president of Vermont Coffee Co.
In addition to the Cross Street bridge project, he said, the college under Liebowitz branched out into the private sector, starting Vermont Interactive Languages as well as a bistro, 51 Main.
Ralston said one of the benefits was drawing the college closer to its host community.
Jon Isham, faculty director of the school’s Center for Social Entrepreneurship, said it’s understandable that Liebowitz will leave after an 11-year tenure as president. He called Liebowitz a remarkable leader, a risk taker, who is very data oriented but someone who “leads with his mind.”
But he also said not all of the president’s decisions pleased faculty members.
“I think faculty were not pleased initially with the decision to take on a graduate school, Monterey (Institute of International Studies) and for some that remains a sticking point,” Isham said.
Jay Parini, a well-known author and Middlebury English professor, said the college has benefited greatly from Liebowitz’ service.
“He has done a great deal to assure Middlebury College of its place on the front rank of American colleges,” Parini wrote in an email.
“He steered us admirably — with tact and real vision — through the Great Recession,” Parini said. “Those of us who have had a long association with Middlebury are hugely grateful to him for his work. Such clarity and focus are rare. He will be missed.”
During Liebowitz’ tenure, Middlebury acquired the Monterey Institute of International Studies; opened 23 new Schools Abroad sites; added 120 endowed student scholarships for financial aid and 15 endowed faculty positions; established the School of Hebrew, the summer School of the Environment, Environmental Center for the study of the environment and sustainability; and created the Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
In a statement, Marna Whittington, chairwoman of the Middlebury board of trustees, called Liebowitz a “transformational president.”
A 1979 graduate of Bucknell University, where he majored in economics and geography, Liebowitz focused on Russian economic and political geography. He received a doctorate from Columbia University and joined the Middlebury faculty in 1984. In 1997, he was appointed provost and began his presidency on July 1, 2004.
In 2009, Time Magazine named Liebowitz one of the 10 best college presidents in the country.
He and his wife, Jessica, have three children: David Heschel, Shoshana and Ezra.
Whittington said the board of trustees will provide information about a presidential search following the February board meeting.
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