Emerson College looked to the future today with an eye toward its role in the local and global communities as students, faculty, and staff officially welcomed the school’s 12th president to his post.
At his inauguration ceremony at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, M. Lee Pelton, the college’s first African American president, outlined his immediate and long term plans for Emerson that he hopes will make the school a global leader in communication and the arts education.
“This goal might seem presumptuous, if history were not on our side,” said Pelton, a Harvard-educated scholar who spent 13 years as the president of Willamette University in Oregon before coming to Emerson last year. “For Emerson’s history instructs us that when this college meets its challenges head-on with vision, courage, and integrity, it will flourish beyond measure.”
The paths to that goal include improving academic programs, innovation, extending the school’s global reach, and working in the neighboring communities while staying financially sound, Pelton said.
To start, Pelton announced a new partnership with Berklee College of Music to develop online courses in the humanities, the arts, communication, and music.
“An Emerson–Berklee technology partnership would extend the reach of Emerson’s educational excellence to a global audience with an educational partner who shares our values and has already achieved notable success in this area,” said Pelton.
Emerson currently has eight on-line courses, while Berklee has more than 130, according to Pelton.
Pelton also called for the hiring of at least 40 new full-time faculty members over five years, starting in 2013; a focus on interdisciplinary studies with the creation of academic centers that would allow faculty and students from all departments to share interests; and a review of the School of Communication to ensure its curriculum and departments prepare its students for an ever-changing world.
Looking outside the college, Pelton also announced the establishment of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement and Learning.
Named after the Roxbury native and Emerson graduate who founded the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts and the National Center of Afro-American Artists, the center will bring existing civic engagement programs under one umbrella and support new community partnerships.
Partnerships with Cristo Rey High School in Dorchester and East Boston High School are already in the works.
“I came to Emerson with a single idea: to make sure that Emerson provided you with the best that is thought and known in the world...But more than that, I was anxious that within the warm embrace of our commonwealth of learning you would begin that bewildering process of learning how to live and how to be a good global citizen,” said Pelton.
Friday’s ceremony, also featured remarks from fellow educators, students, city and state leaders who praised Pelton’s humility, vision, and commitments to diversity and service.
“I have known this man for many, many years and you have no idea maybe you do, just how good you got it,” said Gov. Deval Patrick in brief remarks at the ceremony. “He’s a wonderful addition to our community, he’s a wonderful addition to Diane’s and my life, and I look forward to--as I know you all do--working with him to lift Emerson College to even greater heights.”
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