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Skidmore College
Office of the President

First day message from President Marc Conner

July 1, 2020

Photo of Marc C. Conner with green background. Words at the bottom that say "watch video"

To all members of the Skidmore Community,

I'm so happy to write you on this morning, the first day of my service as the eighth president of Skidmore College. Barbara and I made the drive from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia up to Saratoga Springs on Friday and have now settled into the lovely Scribner House on campus. After months of contact with many of you via email, Zoom, FaceTime and phone, it is wonderful to finally be on campus and in the Saratoga Springs community. We are very excited to begin this adventure and to work and learn alongside all of you.

Back in February, when I was welcomed to the Skidmore community, I said that my primary goal at Skidmore is to build a community of trust. I know that such a project depends on more than just words. Trust develops through commitment, effort, shared enterprise, focused listening, and building a track record of matching words to deeds. It is a deeply collaborative effort, and that is exactly what I look forward to undertaking together: to further Skidmore's tradition of excellence as a leading liberal arts institution and continue building upon a diverse and inclusive community of trust where everyone feels welcome, supported and challenged. Yes, we find ourselves in challenging times in multiple ways. But my excitement and enthusiasm for this noble work is undiminished and I am quite confident that we are on the path back to brighter days. 

I am keenly aware that I assume this position of leadership and responsibility during a time of powerful protest of and attention to America’s long history of racial injustice — what novelist Ralph Ellison called "the American contradiction" between the nation's noble promise and its longstanding failure to live up to that promise. One of the things that drew me to Skidmore was the College's impressive record of commitment to and achievement in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work, yet I am conscious that there are areas where the College — like us all — can do better. That, of course, is the story of the nation, and we all need to renew our commitment to justice and diversity each and every day.

Yet this current moment seems different to me than any other in the quarter-century in which I’ve worked in the academy. We — the nation and the College — face a pivotal time of reckoning and a warrant for taking decisive action toward actively combating racism and proudly asserting the primary value of Black lives. Yes, Black lives matter. Our ongoing efforts toward greater diversity and inclusion will continue and with renewed vigor — such as increasing the numbers of historically underrepresented students on our campus and supporting their thriving at Skidmore, and enhancing the numbers as well as the experiences of underrepresented staff and faculty, to mention just two major examples. But in addition, the time is now to create tangible goals and achieve measurable success in the specific area of racial justice and the lived experience of our Black fellow community members.

Consequently, this summer I will launch the Presidential Initiative for Racial Justice at Skidmore College, a year-long series of projects that seek to address the realities of racial injustice locally, nationally and globally. In the coming weeks, I will begin conferring with multiple constituencies throughout the College to help inform and shape initiatives based on their own sense of what would be most effective, meaningful and transformative at Skidmore. I fully recognize and indeed depend on the fact that this must be deeply collaborative work, involving all constituencies of the College, including students, staff, faculty and members of the Saratoga Springs community as key partners. Our alumni and trustees are also invested in these efforts in significant ways. Collaboration, mutual support, trust and respect — these are the hallmarks of our College and the avenues we will travel to achieve the beloved community we all seek. In recognition of the urgency with which we need to act, I will announce relevant decisions and initiatives individually and collectively as soon as they take shape, as we grow this initiative together.

Of course, we also face the major challenges of the COVID-19 situation, and I have been highly involved in our fall planning process ever since late May. In recent weeks I have provided updates about critical planning for the fall semester, and tomorrow, July 2, we will share a comprehensive reopening plan with the entire community. That plan will remain a work-in-progress, for all such plans remain subject to the health and safety guidelines of federal, state and local health and government officials, and the ever-changing circumstances of this pandemic will likely require us to continue to adapt and revise our plans. 

But this challenge, too, we will meet together. Next week, we will hold virtual community forums for staff, faculty, students, parents and families, with an opportunity for questions and answers and a discussion with campus leaders in academic affairs, student affairs, finances and operations, admissions and financial aid. In the meantime, we will continue to post updates and links to important information and resources on the fall planning website, including a "frequently asked questions" section that is now up and will be regularly updated as more answers and information come available. As we work diligently to prepare our campus, classes and programs for the start of the fall semester on Aug. 24, I want to thank you all for going above and beyond to fulfill Skidmore’s mission and serve our students to the very best of our ability.

My entire career has been dedicated to the concept of liberal arts education in a residential setting. To be named president of our great College is, for me, a dream come true. I am honored beyond words at the trust Skidmore College has shown in me, and I fully intend to be worthy of that trust as I fulfill the duties and roles of the office. I sincerely appreciate all that you bring to the institution and I look forward to working with you to continue to cultivate the great educational experience that Skidmore provides. I know that as a community, there is no limit to what we can accomplish, and I look forward to saying with all of you very soon, in the words of one of my favorite authors, Toni Morrison: "Look, how lovely it is, this thing we have done — together."

Marc C. Conner