Date: January 21, 1999
Contact: Stephen Collins
William R. Cotter, president of Colby College for more than 20 years, will retire effective June 30, 2000. Cotter, inaugurated in 1979 as Colby's 17th president, made the announcement to Colby faculty, staff and students in a letter this week after informing the college's board of trustees on January 16 in Boston. Board Chair Lawrence R. Pugh praised Cotter's "excellent leadership" and outlined the trustees' plans to appoint a 19-member search committee that in March will begin the job of recruiting Colby's next president.
Cotter already has served longer than any previous president since the liberal arts college in Waterville, Maine, was chartered in 1813. During his term, Colby's endowment has increased almost tenfold, more than 20 buildings have been built or substantially expanded, and Colby's reputation among the nation's best private liberal arts colleges has improved. All this was achieved with a balanced budget in every year of his presidency.
At Colby he directed adoption of a revolutionary residential life program in the mid-1980s, and his insistence on international education led to one of the strongest study-abroad programs in the nation. His work on behalf of diversity has seen the number of women and minorities on the faculty double, and his focus on competitive faculty salaries helped Colby maintain and recruit an outstanding community of teaching scholars.
In 1997 the Knight Foundation of Florida recognized Cotter's "courageous leadership" among college presidents by making an unsolicited $150,000 grant to the college, and last year the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation honored his achievements and his seniority among college presidents with a $200,000 grant.
John M. McCardell Jr., president of Middlebury College in Vermont, called Cotter "the dean" of New England small college presidents by virtue of his long tenure and the clarity of his vision in matters of presiding at a college. "It is clear that Colby's progress and the increase in stature that Colby has enjoyed are traceable to the role Bill Cotter has played," McCardell said. "His longevity as president is a tribute to his understanding of the job."
McCardell worked with Cotter as a member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and chaired the New England Association of Schools & College's accreditation team that reviewed Colby last year. He praised Cotter's bold approach to restructuring student life at Colby and said that Cotter set "a very high standard" by inviting outside scrutiny of academic and administrative departments through Colby's board of overseers.
Cotter came to Colby from The African-American Institute, based in New York. Prior to that he worked on international programs for the Ford Foundation. He has lived in Nigeria, Colombia and Venezuela as well as in the United States. He earned a bachelor's degree, magna cum laude, from Harvard College and a J.D. degree, cum laude, from Harvard Law School.
He served as a director and chair of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, was a member of the congressionally appointed National Commission on Responsibilities for Financing Post-Secondary Education and in 1993 was named Educator of the Year by The Washington Center. He has published articles about academic tenure, financial aid, hate speech, South Africa and slavery in periodicals including The Boston Globe, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Nieman Reports, and History and Academe magazines.
In addition to his work at Colby, he has taken an active role in community affairs as a founding member of the Mid State Economic Development Corporation, founding chair of the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center, trustee and former chair of Maine Public Broadcasting among other initiatives. He is a member of the New York Bar and the United States Supreme Court Bar.