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John McCardell announces he will step down as Middlebury College president

November 18, 2003

John M. McCardell, Jr.MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-Middlebury College President John M. McCardell Jr. will step down from his post in June 2004.  McCardell announced his decision to an audience of Middlebury students, faculty, staff, members of the town community and others at an all-campus meeting held today at 12:15 p.m. in the College's Mead Chapel.  Members of the campus community were notified of the meeting by e-mail this morning. 

"This morning, I informed the Prudential Committee of the board of trustees of my desire to relinquish my duties as president of Middlebury College, as of June 30, 2004," said McCardell.

Stating that he plans to remain at the College, he said, "This is my 13th year as president...and this seems the right time to begin a transition to new leadership.  The vision for the College is clear, and its pursuit will remain the highest priority for me in the remaining months of my presidency.  Its attainment continues to define the ever less distant horizon toward which, I hope and expect, our College will continue to move in the years ahead," said McCardell.

McCardell said his successor will inherit a college that is strong and healthy.  "Our academic, residential, social and athletic facilities are second to none.  Our financial condition is sound.  Our faculty and staff are extraordinarily talented in the work they do and unhesitatingly committed to the special mission of the residential liberal arts college.  Our students are drawn from the largest and deepest and strongest applicant pool in our history, and by their accomplishments and by their character, they exemplify what it means to go here and, as alumni, what it means to have gone here.  In short, the spirit of this College and of its extended family has never been stronger, its prospects never brighter."

Expressing his gratitude to Middlebury's board of trustees, which he called "remarkably generous and supportive,"  McCardell said, "My deepest thanks for entrusting this precious institution to me, and for doing so at an especially critical moment in the College's history.  I have done my best to merit that trust, and I shall be forever grateful for the opportunity to have led this truly wonderful institution."  McCardell also thanked faculty, administrators, students, alumni, parents, citizens of the town of Middlebury and his family for their support.

Speaking to the group following McCardell's remarks, Churchill Franklin, chair of the Middlebury College board of trustees, said he reluctantly accepted McCardell's decision to step down.  Franklin credited McCardell's leadership and hard work with placing the College in a very strong position.  "In just a dozen years," said Franklin, "John has taken Middlebury to a position of national and international leadership among liberal arts colleges by continually focusing on what makes Middlebury excellent, never emulating any other college, and by always keeping in mind that it is people, and the interactions among them, that truly distinguish Middlebury.  For students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, others in the community and even the state.John is their-our-president," said Franklin.

Following a one-year leave, McCardell will return to the College in July 2005, and will continue to teach with the title of college professor.  He will be named president emeritus effective this July, and will become a trustee emeritus in July 2005.

A graduate of Washington and Lee University, McCardell received his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1976.  A scholar of United States history with a special emphasis on the old South and American historiography, he came to Middlebury in 1976 as a faculty member, and at various times has served as dean of academic development and planning, dean of the faculty, and provost and academic vice president.  When then-president Timothy Light left Middlebury in 1991, McCardell was appointed acting president.  In 1992, he was named president.  Throughout his presidency, he has continued to teach a history seminar each year.

During his tenure as president, the enrollment of the College has grown from about 2,000 to more than 2,350 students.  About 30 new faculty positions have been created, and the size of the administration and staff has grown from about 750 to nearly 1,000.

Shortly after becoming president, McCardell outlined his vision for Middlebury College in a speech to the College community.  In the speech, he laid out a plan that designated six areas of the academic program that would become what he called peaks of conspicuous excellence, selecting a metaphor that he derived from Middlebury's proximity to Vermont's Green Mountains.  McCardell's vision established the goal of keeping Middlebury College pre-eminent among liberal arts colleges in the overall excellence of its programs in environmental affairs, international studies, language studies and literary studies.  McCardell also called for a commitment to general excellence in the academic program.  The sixth area was an increased emphasis on programs, such as internships, that allow students to apply in the real world what they learned in the liberal arts classroom.  Later, the commons-based residential life program became another peak.

In the mid-90s, McCardell led an initiative to establish a commons-based residential system.  Approved by the board of trustees in 1997, the commons system is designed to more closely align the academic and residential components of the student experience.  Grounded in three operating principles-continuing membership, decentralized dining and proximate faculty residence-the commons program required the College to reconfigure its residential and dining facilities to embody these principles.  Ross Commons, completed in 2002 with the construction of a new residence hall and a dining facility, was the first to be fully configured.  A second commons-Atwater Commons-will open in the fall of 2004 when construction is completed on two new residence halls and a new dining hall.

McCardell's tenure has been marked by extensive new construction on campus to support curricular, co-curricular, and residential initiatives.  The Center for the Arts opened in 1992; four new student social houses were completed in 1998; Bicentennial Hall, a $47 million, 108,000 square foot science facility opened in 1999; and a $40 million library/learning center will open in the summer of 2004.

Other construction projects completed during McCardell's presidency have substantially upgraded Middlebury's athletic facilities.  A natatorium, considered to be the best small college swimming facility in the nation, opened in 1996; a new ice arena opened in 1999; and a number of new playing fields were built, including an all-weather field of artificial turf.

During McCardell's presidency, Middlebury College faculty research grant funding has grown to more than $1 million annually; the College's endowment has grown to more than $500 million; and its athletic teams have won 17 national championships and 24 championships in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).  McCardell currently chairs the president's council for Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).  In that capacity, he has spearheaded proposals for controversial reform measures designed to change a number of Division III regulations.

Under McCardell's leadership, the academic reputation of the College among external audiences has grown as well.  Over the past decade, U.S. News & World Report magazine has consistently ranked Middlebury among the top 10 national liberal arts colleges in the country, with the College rising as high as fifth place in the magazine's rankings in 1999.  The number of applications for admission has risen to more than 5,400 from about 3,900 in 1991, and the College has become one of the most selective colleges in the nation, admitting approximately 24 percent of its applicants last year.

The College under McCardell has maintained its policy of being need blind in admissions and meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all undergraduates. Middlebury has also become a more diverse institution over the past decade, with students representing all 50 states and more than 70 foreign countries.  Students of color make up approximately 18 percent of the student body.  The class admitted to Middlebury in 2003 is the most ethnically diverse in Middlebury's history.

In 1994, the College and the Town of Middlebury reached a historic 10-year agreement that provided for a $1 million gift from the College to the Town.  Discussions are currently in progress for a new agreement to take effect when the current one expires in 2004.

As a member of the Vermont community beyond the College, McCardell has held numerous leadership posts.  He has served on the boards of the Sheldon Museum, the Addison Central Educational Endowment Fund, the Community Financial Services Group, the National Bank of Middlebury and the Vermont Business Roundtable.  He served as chair of Child Care Counts and is an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Middlebury.  A member of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Middlebury, he has served as vestryman and senior warden.

McCardell was named "Vermonter of the Year" for the year 2000 by the Burlington Free Press for his role in making Middlebury College a valuable asset to the state.  An economic impact study completed in spring of 2003 demonstrated that Middlebury College brings more than $125 million into the economy of the Town of Middlebury, Addison County and the State of Vermont each year, and that nearly 2,000 jobs exist in the county due to the College's presence.

McCardell was instrumental in establishing and guiding the direction of Middlebury's year-long bicentennial celebration which culminated on Nov. 1, 2000.  The bicentennial celebrated the College's founding by residents of the town of Middlebury by maintaining a focus on the theme "The Town's College."  Throughout its bicentennial year, the College mounted a series of public events, including lectures, symposia, exhibits and performances that culminated in a parade through downtown Middlebury.

One of McCardell's most significant areas of accomplishment is in fund raising.  In conjunction with the bicentennial celebration, he led the College in a $200 million fund-raising campaign.  Officially launched in 1997, the bicentennial campaign was completed on June 30, 2001, raising a total of $213 million.  One year later, McCardell led the College in meeting the terms of an anonymous $10 million challenge gift.  To receive the gift, the College was obliged to raise an additional $30 million within an eight-month period.  Though the economy was in a period of decline, and the Middlebury community had only recently been asked to contribute heavily to the bicentennial campaign, McCardell succeeded in raising the required amount in the prescribed time, completing the effort with a total of $41 million.

McCardell and his wife Bonnie, who also is an active member of the College and local community, are residents of Cornwall.  They plan to continue to live in Addison County where they raised their two sons, John and James.

According to board chair Franklin, the board of trustees will decide within a few days on a process to select McCardell's successor.




Note:  The text of a letter from McCardell and the text of a letter from Franklin are available on the Middlebury College Web site at