President William D. Adams will retire in June 2014.
President William D. Adams will retire in June 2014.

President William D. Adams announced in January that he will retire in June 2014. The news set in motion the process of selecting Colby’s 20th president.

Adams, president since 2000, guided the College through many significant changes and milestones

He has overseen the growth of the academic program, most notably in the areas of environmental studies and the visual arts. Adams also oversaw the founding of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement and a new center for the arts and humanities. He led a $376-million capital campaign, the largest in Maine history, which included numerous building projects, the College’s expansion on the Colby Green, and the gift of the Lunder Collection of American Art.

“I am honored to have had the opportunity to lead such a remarkable place,” Adams said.

Adams, however, stressed that he has three more semesters in the job and much left to accomplish in support of Colby’s mission. “This is not the time for a valedictory note,” he said, in a message to alumni.

Some of the unfinished business, he said, includes the College’s bicentennial celebration and completion of Colby’s 2013 strategic initiatives. “We’ve got a lot to do and a lot I want to accomplish in my remaining time here,” he told a staff gathering in February.

Running parallel to Adams’s work in the coming 15 months will be the search for his successor. A presidential search committee, which first met in January, is headed by Trustee Emeritus Michael L. Gordon ’66. The 19-member committee includes nine trustees, five faculty members, an administrative representative, the head of the Alumni Council, two students, and Gordon.

According to Sally Baker, vice president and secretary of the corporation, it is customary to have a new president in place six months before the preceding president steps down.

Baker said the Colby community will be asked to participate in the process in open forums on campus and via electronic forums. Updates on the search committee’s progress will come periodically from Gordon, she said.

“One of my tasks is to ensure that the committee gathers—and considers thoughtfully—the views of those who work and study at Colby and of those with other connections to the College,” Gordon said, in a statement on the presidential search page on the Colby website. The process, he said, “embraces every constituency in our community.”

While Adams will remain president until the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, he plans to take a sabbatical this summer, he reported at the staff gathering in February. 

Adams, who holds a doctorate in political philosophy from the University of California at Santa Cruz, said he plans to spend the summer in France doing research for a book project. He described the book as “part memoir, part travel narrative, part intellectual history,” prompted by and organized around the French philosopher on whom he wrote his dissertation, Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

One part of the project, Adams said, was prompted by his experience at Colby, specifically with the Colby Museum of Art. He has spent time thinking about painting, and Merleau-Ponty was interested in art, especially the work
of Cézanne. 

Asked by Tony Marin, a plumber in the Physical Plant Department, to explain the premise of the book he is taking time off to write, Adams smiled and said he wasn’t sure he was taking time off, but rather, was exploring a long-held interest in Merleau-Ponty.

“I want to revisit that interest,” he said, “but in a very friendly and not precisely academic way.”