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Laurie L. Patton, dean of Duke University's Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, will be Middlebury's 17th president.

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Laurie L. Patton to Become Middlebury's 17th President

November 18, 2014

The Middlebury Board of Trustees today named Laurie L. Patton, dean of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion, as Middlebury’s next president. Patton will take office on July 1, 2015, succeeding Ronald D. Liebowitz, who has served as president since July 2004.

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Patton, a distinguished religion scholar and translator of classic Indian Sanskrit texts, joined Duke in her current position in 2011. Trinity College is the largest of Duke’s undergraduate schools, with 5,200 students, 36 academic departments and programs, and 640 faculty members. It awards nearly 80 percent of the university’s bachelor degrees. As dean, she is responsible for overseeing the educational mission of Duke’s core undergraduate liberal arts programs, including curriculum, faculty hiring and development, student research, assessment, and the College’s $370 million annual budget. Under her leadership, Trinity College raised more than $300 million for professorships, financial aid, educational initiatives, and other priorities.

Patton’s selection followed an extensive, six-month search conducted by a 20-member search committee chaired by Middlebury trustee Allan Dragone Jr. ’78. The committee engaged in a process of broad outreach to students, faculty, staff, and alumni. From an initial list of more than 250 individuals nominated or put under consideration, the committee gradually narrowed the pool to a dozen and then to a small list of finalists, before unanimously recommending Patton to the full board on Tuesday. Patton will be the first woman to lead Middlebury in its 214-year history.

“She lives the values of Middlebury, and I am confident she will provide the leadership and innovative thinking required to maintain the positive momentum and success Middlebury has experienced during Ron Liebowitz’s tenure as president.”

— Marna C. Whittington, Chair, Middlebury Board of Trustees

“I can’t imagine a place that more fully exemplifies my interests and commitments to higher education than Middlebury,” said Patton. “These last five months have been a wonderful experience for me as I have had the opportunity to learn more about this great institution and the values it holds dear. I have so many people to thank, starting with the search committee and Al Dragone, and I am truly honored with the confidence the Board of Trustees has shown in me today. I look forward with anticipation to joining this community of faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and friends.”

Marna C. Whittington, chair of the Middlebury Board of Trustees, called Patton an “outstanding choice” to be the next president. “Laurie is an accomplished scholar with a deep commitment to the liberal arts and a global perspective on the value and role of education,” said Whittington. “She lives the values of Middlebury, and I am confident she will provide the leadership and innovative thinking required to maintain the positive momentum and success Middlebury has experienced during Ron Liebowitz’s tenure as president.” 

Patton, 53, is married to Shalom Goldman, professor of religious studies and Middle Eastern studies at Duke. The two met at Emory University. Goldman will become a tenured professor in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College. 

Dragone, who led the search process and spent many hours with Patton in recent months, said the search committee was deeply impressed. “Laurie combines qualities of scholarship and leadership to an extraordinary degree,” said Dragone. “She is enthusiastic and passionate about students and the totality of their experiences, from the classroom to the lab, from the performance space to the playing field, from the time they spend abroad to the way they can participate in the life of the Middlebury community in Vermont. We have found an exceptional leader in Laurie Patton and I know she is committed to building upon the institution’s strong foundation.”

Patton earned her undergraduate degree in comparative religion and Celtic languages and literatures from Harvard University in 1983. She received an MA from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1986 and her PhD in history of religions from the University of Chicago in 1991. Patton’s first teaching position was at Bard College from 1991 to 1996.

Before she joined Duke, Patton taught from 1996 to 2011 at Emory University in Atlanta, where she was the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Religions. While at Emory, Patton served as chair of the religion department from 2000 to 2007; founded and co-convened the Religions and the Human Spirit Strategic Plan; was the inaugural director of the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence; and from 2000 to 2010 was founder and co-convener of Emory’s Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding Initiative. In 2005 she received the Emory Williams Award, the university’s most prestigious teaching honor.

Patton is the editor or author of nine scholarly books on South Asian history, culture, and religion, including Myth as Argument: The Brhaddevata as Canonical Commentary; Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice; and Jewels of Authority: Women and Text in the Hindu Tradition. From 2008 to 2011, she served as president of the American Society for the Study of Religion.

In addition to writing two volumes of original poetry, Patton has translated the classical Sanskrit text, The Bhagavad Gita, for the Penguin Classics Series.

“Laurie Patton's commitment to the success of students and faculty has made her an extraordinary leader at Duke,” said Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth, the James B. Duke Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology. “She is energetic, creative, and passionate about scholarship and learning. We could not be more proud of her appointment at Middlebury.”

Liebowitz announced in December 2013 that he wished to step down following the 2014–15 academic year. By that time he will have served as president for 11 years and as a member of the Middlebury faculty for 31 years.

“Ron Liebowitz has been a transformative leader and his impact upon this institution will be felt for generations,” said Whittington. “Middlebury students have a richer experience than ever before because of the innovations he championed, and the institution is stronger than it has ever been.”

Liebowitz called Patton a “remarkable scholar whose deep commitment to her field would be an example and inspiration” to students and faculty alike. “I look forward to working with Laurie in the months ahead to create a smooth transition to what I am sure will be an outstanding presidency,” he said. “Jessica and I look forward to welcoming both Laurie and Shalom to Middlebury.”

13 Comments

I can not imagine a more enlightened and foresightful pick for Middlebury College. The Search Committee has done an exemplary job. They are to be congratulated and celebrated. I hope the new President will engage this same group and seek its advice in similarly important appointments. Great work, Mr. Dragone!

by Geoffrey F. Patton (not verified)

I can't believe that the new President's brother scored the first comment on this wonderful news for Middlebury, and I promise that she didn't ask him to. This is the new President's sister, then; and after so many weeks under an immediate family gag order that the CIA would envy, I can't just say nothing. Our brilliant sister is honored and just overjoyed by this appointment, and we are all so happy for her and for the College. Mazal Tov, dear Laurie! Mazal Tov, Middlebury!!!

by Kimberley C. Patton (not verified)

I hope that the appointment of Laurie Patton as Middlebury's next President proves to be succesful and builds on the structure that current President Ron Liebowitz leaves in place. President Liebowitz's term in office proved to be extraordinary. He raised significantly the level of Middlebury's academic standards, made the school a magnet for U.S. environmental interests and pulled off the purchase of the Montery Institute -- a coup of the first water -- all while maintaining Middlebury's stature as a pillar in the field of foreign languages. I'm unaware of Ron Liebowitz future endeavors but I will
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follow them with interest.
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by William S. Lofquist (not verified)

Congratulations to Middlebury and to Laurie Patton. She is a down-to-earth visionary, and that's what the liberal arts needs today. This is a great choice. Diana Eck, The Study of Religion, Harvard University

by Diana Eck (not verified)

1800 Middlebury founded 1823 first African American college grad (of any college) 1883 women admitted 2014 Laurie L. Patton named President Brava!

by Adrian Benepe (not verified)

Cheers from the Midwest! What a marvelous search, with stellar success! Welcome, Laurie! Thank you, Al, and our unanimous Committee!

by Sue Taylor '53 (not verified)

What a brilliant choice for Middlebury! And what a great new world for you to exercise your enormous talents in! I look for great things from you, Laurie, as I have always looked, and found in you, since your early days at the University of Chicago, decades ago. You have made us very proud of you in so many ways, and now this one. Long may you, and Middlebury, thrive! Mazeltov! Shubham astu!

by Wendy Doniger (not verified)

Farewell Ron; thanks for everything! Laurie, welcome...the search committee's diligence and trustees' confidence foretells further successes for our institutions and our communities under your leadership!

by Kyle Westgard, '90 (not verified)

Congratulations on this great achievement you have received from a great institution. I/we class of 2001( Football NESCAC champions) will like to welcome you with open arms and a warm Midd hug. Thank you for first having an interest in our school for we all have done our part to keep it second to none. With your help, I am assured that our board has made an excellent decision in someone that will be able to pick up the torch and lead us. I/We are here to help in any way possible in accordance to striving for nothing less
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then excellence. Edwin J. Cooper III (E.J.) (2001)
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by Edwin Cooper '01 (not verified)

I think it's wonderful that Middlebury will soon have a female president!! I wish her lots of luck and many years of satisfaction and pride as our new president. Jon Needham D.M.L. Modern Languages (Italian and French) '2004

by Jon Needham (not verified)

Dear Laurie Patton: As a foreign Fulbright student in 1962/63 I was picked up by the campus police on the wrong (the women's) side of the campus after 11 p.m. or so. Rules were ridiculously strict at that time. But when I told the officer that I had just had a glass of wine or two with the French professor, he just said: "Oh, you crazy Europeans!" - and let me go my way back to my fraternity house. There, an awfully filthy macho language, warmongering utterances at the Cuban Crisis, strange rituals at saturday nights and especially at Hell
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Night when the new members were initiated, made my academic year at Middlebury a really exotic and disillusioning experience. Some of it came back to my mind during the George W. Bush years of war, torture, militarism and contempt for the poor (and Cheyney's "Old Europe"). On the other side, lasting friendships with fraternity members endure until today, academic performance and engagement of my Middlebury professors were outstanding, and following the accomplishments ever since as an alumnus, and as an academic teacher since 1967, I can only wish you all the best for your new task hoping that Middlebury lives up to its cosmopolitan liberal arts objectives. Yours cordially, Manfred Nitsch, Professor emeritus of Economics / Political Economy of Latin America, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany.
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by Manfred Nitsch (not verified)

Congratulations to Laurie Patton. Delighted that she has been associated with both Emory and Duke. I look forward to a little cross-pollination of Southern university values and customs, hopefully with a renewed focus on sacred music, at Middlebury College. With shared new expectations, my alma mater will want to match some of the guest presentations at Duke Chapel such as we were able to attend. My comment is inspired by this experience, as well as my participation in Atlanta's Southern Arts Exchange for some years, and in conventions with my husband who received, in 1995, a Quarter Century Award for
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fundraising from CASE, Region IV. Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom '46 Kennebunk, Maine
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by Mary Elizabeth ... (not verified)

You have every reason to be delighted and proud of your sister's achievement and new appointment, Kimberley - your whole family does!! I find it to be very exciting news for a GREAT College (I knew it somewhat while a grad student at Boston University - summer languages!!), plus valuable prominence for a Religious Studies star! Congratulations to Laurie, and celebrations to the Patton clan! - from Saint Louis, MO (Webster University).

by Christopher P. Parr (not verified)

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