Setting a course for the future
In his inaugural address, President Conner calls for a ‘daring education’ that prepares graduates to lead ‘lives of consequence’
At his inauguration as Skidmore’s eighth president, Marc C. Conner outlined a vision for the College’s future with community at its heart and the liberal arts as a force for innovation and change.
Conner, an innovative leader of interdisciplinary academic programs, a longtime proponent of diversity and inclusion initiatives, and an accomplished scholar, officially took office on July 1, 2020, but his ceremonial installation had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his inaugural address on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, Conner stressed that diversity and inclusion efforts “will continue to be woven into the very fabric of our institution.” He said that supporting the Skidmore community — students, faculty, and staff — would always be the focus of his work at the College, his “North Star,” and how he wants to define his presidency.
“A community of trust means a place where everybody feels at home, everybody feels they can thrive, everybody feels safe enough to challenge and be challenged by an education that we know is daring,” Conner told trustees, alumni, faculty, students, staff, community members, his family, and many others who gathered in Arthur Zankel Music Center or watched the ceremony via simulcast or livestream. “I want that phrase, a community of trust, to resonate with us as an aspiration, as a challenge, and as a description. To me, it stands alongside (Skidmore’s motto) ‘Creative Thought Matters’ as twin assertions of what we most value and what defines us at our best.”
Throughout his first 16 months at Skidmore, the president has steered the College through the many challenges wrought by the pandemic, reopening the campus for the 2020-2021 academic year and bringing the entire campus community back for 2021-22.
At the same time, Conner has also introduced impactful programs, including Skidmore’s Racial Justice Initiative, a series of projects that seek to address the realities of racial injustice locally and beyond, and an inclusive Campus Master Planning process to outline the community’s aspirations for the future.
“President Conner successfully navigated the College through an unprecedented global health crisis, as well as a period of historic societal protest and division. And this period of crisis did not deter him from moving the College forward,” said Nancy Hamilton ’77, chair of Skidmore’s Board of Trustees.
Marc C. Conner
“A community of trust means a place where everybody feels at home, everybody feels they can thrive, everybody feels safe enough to challenge and be challenged by an education that we know is daring.”
A postponed welcome
Hamilton described the inauguration as “a celebration of Skidmore” and a “long overdue” official welcome for the president.
Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Dance Department, Jason Ohlberg welcomed Conner on behalf of Skidmore faculty, saying “President Conner has already demonstrated that his style of leadership lies not in the celebration of the individual, but in the health and well-being of the institution and community.”
Speaking on behalf of staff, Amelia Clarke, academic administrative assistant in the departments of Economics and Classics, told Conner, “Your unwavering support, comfort, and guidance to the Skidmore community ... during these challenging and, in many ways, tragic times, has proved you to be the right person at the right time to lead us.”
Issy Mejia ’23 also extended a welcome on behalf of students: “The beauty of today is that, through me, they all come together — even on a Saturday morning,” she said to laughter, “to welcome you, President Conner.”
Before joining Skidmore, Conner spent 24 years at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, serving as an English professor and then as the longest-serving provost and chief academic officer in the university’s history.
Lena Hill, Washington and Lee’s current provost, described Conner as “a scholarly collaborator, a colleague, mentor, and friend” who left a lasting impact at his former institution. “Marc’s treasure overflows. At W&L, signature programs like our Spring Term sprung from Marc’s vision and will forever bear his fingerprints,” Hill said.
As a scholar, Conner has taught and written extensively on African American, American, and Irish literature, including the work of Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison, whom Conner quoted in his inaugural address.
National Book Award-winning author Charles Johnson, who has also been featured in Conner’s scholarship and taught Conner as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, also spoke at the ceremony.
Johnson described the president as “a compassionate administrator" who "has never abandoned his role as a teacher and scholar devoted to the good, the true, and the beautiful." Conner is “one of the best humanist scholars working today,” he said.
Conner’s wife of three decades, Barbara Reyes-Conner, spoke of Marc’s dedication as a father of three sons, Matthew, Noah, and Isaac, and described the couple’s excitement in joining the larger Skidmore family. She said Conner’s current role at Skidmore is “Marc’s dream job.”
“Skidmore is getting the hardest worker I have ever known … who is dedicated to making Skidmore the greatest school it can be,” she said.
Conner's mother, Beverly Hays Conner, also traveled from Tacoma, Washington, for the occasion. An emotional President Conner mentioned his late father as "here right now, smiling somewhere."
The ceremony also served as a showcase for Skidmore’s creativity. At one point, nearly 30 student dancers filled both the aisles and stage of Arthur Zankel Music Center to perform the original piece “Celebration,” with music by Dance Department Music Director Carl Landa and choreography by Lecturer Erika Pujič. Students in the Vocal Chamber Ensemble and String Quartet performed the national anthem and Skidmore's alma mater. Alumnus Garland Nelson '96 also shared his creative rendition of "Lift Ev'ry Voice."
The gathering followed rigorous safety guidelines, including masking and universal vaccination, that have allowed the College to serve as a national leader in delivering an in-person education successfully during the pandemic.
Nancy W. Hamilton '77
“President Conner successfully navigated the College through an unprecedented global health crisis, as well as a period of historic societal protest and division. And this period of crisis did not deter him from moving the College forward.”
A vision for the future
Conner asserted that the COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced the enduring value of Skidmore’s “face-to-face, in-person transformative model of learning.”
“The liberal arts education that we offer has never been more exciting, never been more challenging, never been more necessary,” he said.
Outlining his vision for the future, the president said the goal of a liberal arts education at Skidmore should be for students “to emerge better prepared to change the world, to lead ‘lives of consequence.’”
“This is what we want for our students: for them to become heroes and to recognize that they are strongest when they stand with their communities,” Conner said. “I want Skidmore students to be prepared to take on the world with the resilience and grit to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and still go on to make that world a better place, because that ultimately is the highest aspiration of our mission: to make this flawed and perilous world into a better place.”
Conner also drew on Skidmore’s history, noting that College founder Lucy Skidmore Scribner had aspired to provide a “liberating education, an education that joined together the mind and the hand to help her students change their own lives, so they could then go out and change the world.” He said learning about “structures and working to change them for greater justice and fairness” is "at the very heart of Skidmore's mission.”
President Conner stressed that Skidmore’s liberal arts education must not only continue to cross disciplines, but also work as a catalyst for change.
“Integrated learning is more than interdisciplinary and more than an intellectual praxis — it is social, and it is ethical,” he said. “This is the work we enter into filled with faith, courage, forgiveness, and love: to make this world that we share a better place.”
A celebration of community
The ceremony capped an extended weekend of events celebrating the College’s past, present, and future.
On Thursday, the College recognized the impactful 17-year tenure of Conner’s predecessor, Philip A. Glotzbach. “The presidency of Phil Glotzbach was one of the great liberal arts presidencies of this century,” said Conner, who spoke alongside Hamilton and past chairs of the Board of Trustees Sue Thomas, Janet Whitman, Linda Toohey, and W. Scott McGraw at the tribute.
In line with tradition, Skidmore unveiled a portrait of the former president, painted by artist Ellen Cooper, that will be displayed alongside those of his six predecessors and Lucy Skidmore Scribner in Palamountain Hall’s Gannett Auditorium.
Both the president emeritus and his wife, Marie Glotzbach, a champion for the College, advocate for the arts, and community leader, also received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees.
On Friday, four Skidmore faculty members and a student joined an inauguration panel on “Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship: The Liberal Arts Education in the 21st Century.” Moderated by David Howson, senior teaching professor and Arthur Zankel Executive Director of Arts Administration, the panel featured Professor of Chemistry Kimberley A. Frederick, Teaching Professor of Management and Business Catherine Hill, Professor of Management and Zankel Chair Pushkala Prasad, Associate Professor and Chair of the Art Department Sarah Sweeney, and David Tago '23.
As part of inauguration events, Grammy Award winner and Tony and Emmy nominee Branford Marsalis performed at Arthur Zankel Music Center, the first major in-person concert in the venue since 2020. It was also Conner’s first concert at the venue. The acclaimed jazz musician also offered special classes to Skidmore students studying across multiple disciplines as part of the inaugural Pia Scala-Zankel ‘92 and Jimmy Zankel ’92 Residency in Performing Arts.
Also, as part of Celebration Weekend, Skidmore's annual event to welcome the families of students to campus, families enjoyed exhibitions at the Schick Art Gallery and Tang Teaching Museum, lectures by Skidmore faculty, a special reception for first-year students, open houses, religious services, two men’s soccer games, a women’s field hockey match, and a colorful fireworks display over Haupt Pond.