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Ronald D. Liebowitz becomes Middlebury's 16th president

June 30, 2004

Ronald D. LiebowitzMIDDLEBURY, Vt.-Ronald D. Liebowitz, selected as the 16th president of Middlebury College in April, and John M. McCardell, Jr., the College's 15th president, marked the presidential transition in a brief noon-time ceremony at the College's Mead Memorial Chapel on June 30, 2004.

On July 1, Liebowitz, 46, officially succeeds McCardell, who announced in November 2003 that he would be stepping down after serving 13 years as president.

In the Mead Chapel ceremony, McCardell offered thanks to the crowd, largely made up of faculty and staff. Then he donned his academic robe, symbolizing his return to the faculty for the 2005-06 academic year, after a year off. He helped Liebowitz put on the president's robe, and then handed off to the new president two enduring symbols of the College: Gamaliel Painter's cane and a silver presidential medallion.

Liebowitz's appointment had been announced back on April 16 by Churchill Franklin, chair of the Middlebury College Board of Trustees, at a meeting of the College community, also in Mead Chapel. The appointment had been made official the previous day at a special meeting of the College's board of trustees in Boston. The announcement followed a five-month search during which 400 prospective candidates were reviewed. Finalists were selected from among about 30 top candidates considered by a 16-member, board-appointed search committee. The search committee reviewed credentials, interviewed finalists and checked references before forwarding the results of its deliberations to the board of trustees.

In announcing the appointment in April, Franklin said that because of the central role Liebowitz has played as a senior member of the administration at Middlebury during a time of momentous positive change and progress for the institution, the board had complete confidence that he was the person to lead the College into the future. 

"I am enormously pleased with the selection of Ron Liebowitz as the president of Middlebury College," said Franklin. "Ron has been an extremely dedicated and talented member of the Middlebury College community for 20 years.  Because of his excellent record of accomplishment, he has become a much sought-after presidential candidate by a number of very prestigious institutions. Fortunately for us, Ron's dedication and commitment to Middlebury is very strong, and he has remained here where his efforts have been instrumental in making the College a leading presence in higher education." 

Noting that the candidates who received serious consideration included provosts and deans from leading programs and institutions, sitting presidents, and a number of other highly-qualified academic leaders, Franklin said the decision to name Liebowitz was made with enthusiasm. "The board's decision to name Ron Liebowitz as the next president of Middlebury College was made with the full confidence that we had unquestionably selected the best person to lead the College forward at this vital juncture in its history," said Franklin. 

Speaking to the members of the College community gathered in Mead Chapel (text of his remarks), Liebowitz expressed his confidence in Middlebury's future and said he was honored to be selected as president: "Middlebury is a great institution, and I look forward with enthusiasm and pride to leading it in the next chapter of its history."

Liebowitz had most recently served as provost and executive vice president of Middlebury, a post he'd held since 1997. From 1993-95, he was dean of the faculty, and from 1995-97, he was vice president of the College. From February to June 2002, Liebowitz served as acting president. 

Liebowitz joined the Middlebury faculty in 1984 as an instructor of geography and was promoted to associate professor in 1988 and full professor in 1993.  He is a graduate of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Penn., where he majored in economics and geography, and competed as a varsity swimmer. He received his doctorate in geography from Columbia University in 1985.

Recognized as an authority on Russian economic and political geography, Liebowitz has authored scholarly articles related to Soviet and Russian regional economic policy, a field of expertise made relevant most recently by Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to recentralize economic and political authority within the Russian state. Liebowitz is the editor of three books and the recipient of a number of national fellowships, including those from the National Council on Soviet and East European Research, the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), the George F. Kennan Institute, and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. He also served as the first board chair for the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE), an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-supported consortium of 81 liberal arts colleges that serves as a catalyst for innovation and collaboration for national liberal arts colleges.

Liebowitz has been a member of the senior administration at Middlebury through a period of intense activity and change, and has led the development of a number of major College initiatives. He oversaw the establishment of additional centers and new schools for the C.V. Starr-Middlebury Schools Abroad in France, Italy, Latin America, Russia, Spain, and most recently in Hangzhou, China. In addition, Liebowitz spearheaded the addition of Arabic and Portuguese to the undergraduate curriculum, and led the effort to establish the Portuguese School as the ninth Middlebury College Language School. He also played a leadership role in the significant internationalization of the curriculum, which included the introduction of innovative interdisciplinary, team-taught senior seminars in international studies, the establishment of a new major in international studies, and the strengthening of the program in international politics and economics.

Liebowitz chaired the science planning committee that established what are widely considered to be the finest facilities for teaching, learning and research among liberal arts colleges. He assumed a leading role in the establishment of the College's residential commons, which created smaller student living communities within the larger residential life system, led to the decentralization of the dean of student affairs office, and introduced residentially-based first-year seminars. 

The search process that led to the appointment of Liebowitz began when John McCardell notified trustees in early November that he would step down at the end of June 2004. When McCardell announced his decision publicly on November 18, the trustees had already begun the process of appointing a search committee. The committee comprised nine trustees, four faculty members, the president of the College's staff council, the president of the Middlebury College Alumni Association, and the student co-chair of the College's community council. Working with A.T. Kearney, a national executive search firm, and after consultation with many members of the College's faculty, staff, administration, students and alumni, the committee held formal meetings both on and off campus over the next several months to review credentials, interview candidates, and conduct reference checks. 

According to Frederick M. Fritz, trustee and chair of the search committee, the committee undertook an extensive review of a diverse pool of qualified candidates.  "The candidates for this position were absolutely first rate," he said. "That we were able to attract the interest of so many highly-qualified candidates speaks volumes about Middlebury College's desirability as a vital institution that offers a very attractive leadership opportunity for the right person. ... The committee endeavored to match up its evaluation of candidates with the specifications of the job, while also addressing the important issue of determining how individual candidates would fit within the institutional culture of Middlebury." 

Of the 16 presidents in Middlebury's 204-year history, Liebowitz is the third to be chosen from inside the institution. In the 19th century, Middlebury faculty member Ezra Brainerd was appointed president, and John McCardell was acting president and a longtime faculty member when he became president in 1992. 

This summer, Liebowitz, his wife Jessica and their infant son David Heschel move in to the official home of the Middlebury College president at 3 South Street in Middlebury.