Katherine Bergeron, the dean of the college at Brown University and a native of Old Lyme, has been named Connecticut College’s 11th president.
Bergeron, 55, whose academic background is in music and French, said in a phone interview Tuesday that president Leo I. Higdon Jr., who is retiring at the end of the year, is leaving her in the enviable position of being able to build on the college’s strong foundation.
Under Higdon’s leadership since 2006, the college completed a $211 million fundraising campaign, invested $85 million in campus renewal, and constructed a new science center.
“I’m really a passionate believer in the power of the liberal arts, and Connecticut College offers one of the most powerful examples of that in the country,” said Bergeron, who will start her new job on Jan. 1.
She cited the strength of the college community, its academic rigor and its commitment to inclusiveness and social responsibility.
“I think it’s a marvelous place,” she said, adding that she is looking forward to moving into the president’s house on Williams Street and building on the strong connections between the college and the local community.
Her husband, Joseph Butch Rovan, a professor of music and chairman of the music department at Brown, will divide his time between Providence and New London, she said.
Bergeron graduated from Lyme-Old Lyme High School in 1976 and attended Wesleyan University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of arts in music. She later earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in musicology from Cornell University.
Bergeron joined Brown University as professor of music in 2004 after 11 years as a member of the music faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. She was named chairwoman of the music department in 2005 and, a year later, appointed dean of the college. Earlier in her career, she taught at Tufts University and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
During her nine-year tenure as dean of the college, Bergeron led a comprehensive review of Brown’s curriculum and helped create new learning goals and standards. She also designed and implemented new initiatives to support students who study science, mathematics and technology.
“Katherine Bergeron is the right leader for this moment in our history,” said Pamela D. Zilly, a 1975 graduate of Conn and chairwoman of the Connecticut College board of trustees and the presidential search committee. “She has a tremendous ability to connect ideas and convert them into action.”
Zilly said it was important to the search committee that the successful candidate recognize that the place once referred to as the “college on the hill” is an integral part of the local community,
“We did ask her about being a part of the New London community, and she had some very good thoughts about how to involve students in the community and how to get people in the community up on campus through programs, events and classes,” Zilly said.
Incoming senior Timothy Kast, a double major in government and economics from Medway, Mass., was one of two students who served on the search committee. Reached by phone Tuesday, Kast said it was important to find someone who could be a collaborative leader.
“At such a small school, someone who would be an engaged member of the community is a valuable trait, both on campus and off campus,” Kast said. “We were looking for someone who really wanted to work with students on concerns we have.”
He said higher education institutions across the board are challenged with rising costs, ensuring a firm commitment to diversity and offering the best education possible.
“I think Katherine will be the perfect person,” Kast said.
Kerry M. Flynn/Special to The Day contributed to this report.