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Welcome President Bergeron

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published January 05. 2014 4:00AM

January, while ushering in a new year, can also bring with it resolutions and transition, new laws, new people in charge, as well as snow and cold.

Around here, one of the biggest changes in administration we will see at the start of 2014 is a new president, Katherine Bergeron, at Connecticut College.

There are a lot of things to applaud in her installation, not the least of which is the fact that all three colleges in New London are now run by women.

I am sure many in the Connecticut College faculty and on the staff are encouraged by the appointment of Bergeron, who has been serving most recently as dean of the college at Brown University.

"Katherine is an accomplished scholar and skilled administrator. A professor of musicology, she was recruited from the University of California-Berkeley to Brown in 2004," Brown President Christina Paxson wrote to the college community there in August, when Bergeron's appointment at Connecticut College was announced.

"Under Katherine's leadership, (Brown) renewed its focus on enhancing the undergraduate experience, affirming the value of Brown's open curriculum for the 21st Century, strengthening academic and career advising, integrating service opportunities and bolstering science education and international offerings and opportunities for students."

Brown's president went on to elaborate on many of the great things Bergeron has done to strengthen education in Providence.

All those same things about Bergeron's experience at Brown will encourage those working to improve education here in New London.

One of the things that most interests me about Bergeron's installation as president of Connecticut College is that she is a native of southeastern Connecticut, a graduate of Lyme-Old Lyme High School.

That makes me optimistic that Bergeron will be a Connecticut College president with a commitment to strengthening ties to the community, an association that can make both the community and the college stronger.

Indeed, in announcing her appointment last summer, the chairwoman of the college board of trustees noted that Bergeron had a lot of thoughts about how to involve students in the community and how to bring more members of the community on campus.

I know this is a not a priority the college in general might want its president to focus on. But it would certainly be welcome in the larger community.

Few at the college or in the community down the hill have forgotten the unfortunate and expensive ending that came of former college President Claire Gaudiani's aggressive move into the city, purchasing downtown buildings she hoped to see used as dormitories, offices and classrooms.

Gaudiani's instinct was great, even if the execution was not.

Simple geography has long been an impediment to bringing Connecticut College students more regularly into the community, making New London a more traditional college town.

I couldn't help but think, as outgoing Connecticut College President Leo I. Higdon Jr. recently described the programs in which students have volunteered in city schools and for social service work, that it sounded a bit like pilgrimages to some Third World country.

It would be nice to see students simply more engaged personally in a city they can call home. Maybe that would be as easily accomplished as installing a shuttle bus that does a continuous loop between the campus and downtown.

Higdon also presided over a program through which the college, which is generally not taxed by the city, began to make voluntary contributions. The college grant grew to $12,500 in 2013.It's a good program, but that's not nearly enough money.

Yale and even Brown - granted, bigger and much more endowed institutions - each give their host cities many millions of dollars each year.

Connecticut College, one of the most expensive schools in the country, needs to contribute more to the community where it is located than a share of what one of its students pays in tuition.

I wouldn't hope for Bergeron to repeat the aggressive outreach tried by Gaudiani. But everyone might hope she might end an era of retrenchment that seemed to begin at the end of Gaudiani's tenure.

Maybe Bergeron can start the new year with lunch with Mayor Daryl Finizio and City Council President Wade Hyslop.

How about a burger at the Dutch Tavern? I suspect someone who grew up in Old Lyme has been there.

I'd be glad to pick up the tab. I'm sure others would too.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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