Laurie A. Carter (Photo courtesy of Shippensburg University)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Laurie A. Carter, a strategic, engaged, and experienced leader in public and private higher education, has been named the new president of Lawrence University.

She will become the 17th president in the 174-year history of Lawrence on July 1, succeeding President Mark Burstein, who announced in September that he would step away at the close of this academic year after eight years leading the liberal arts college.

Carter, whose appointment was announced at noon Thursday in a video introduction to the Lawrence community, comes with a deep and impressive resume in higher education leadership, including holding key positions at The Juilliard School and Eastern Kentucky University before being named president of Shippensburg University in 2017.

Carter, who is African American, will be Lawrence University’s first BIPOC president.

Upon her announcement, she called it an honor to lead a university so steeped in excellence.

“Lawrence’s integration of the college and the Conservatory has produced a rich campus culture informed by academics, athletics, and the arts and inspires creativity across all endeavors,” she said in a video message.

“… As a sitting president, I am well aware of the challenges facing higher education, but I know the Lawrence community is ready to work together to continue the traditions of excellence while ensuring a bright future for the students, the university, and the community.”

Carter rose to the top of a field of impressive candidates during the six-month search process. The Presidential Search Committee, led by chair Cory Nettles ’92 and vice chair Sarah Schott ’97, said the “breadth, depth, and diversity” of the candidate pool was robust.

“We wanted someone who would deepen the learning opportunities for Lawrence students, someone who was capable of managing the tremendous financial challenges that are buffeting liberal arts colleges all across the country, someone who would help us continue down the journey we’re on of diversity and inclusion and our goal to become an anti-racist institution, and someone who understands the hallmarks of a private, residential, liberal arts college,” Nettles said. “There was one candidate who rose to the top of our list and who stayed there, and that candidate is Laurie Carter.”

The Search Committee unanimously recommended Carter to the Board of Trustees as the 17th president of Lawrence, and the Board enthusiastically accepted the recommendation.

Carter’s tenure at Shippensburg, a regional, public university in south central Pennsylvania serving 6,500 students, has focused on prioritizing student success, building a positive relationship with the community, and enhancing overall quality. She has strengthened student success efforts by creating a first-year experience program, a first-generation college students’ program, a comprehensive student success center, and an academic center for student-athletes.     

In addition, she collaborated with the local business community to create a downtown location for Shippensburg University’s Centers of Excellence, transformed the gateway to campus into a new Alumni and Welcome Center, and renovated a decommissioned steam plant into a home for the state system’s first School of Engineering. 

Carter’s efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion at Shippensburg were recognized by the publication Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, which named her as one of 25 outstanding women in higher education. Her efforts have included the addition of an executive level chief diversity officer, renovation of a multicultural center, creation of a PRIDE Center, and expansion of the Title IX office. Most recently, she created an Anti-Racism Institute to foster racial understanding.  

“For the last three years, I’ve been leading a university with a laser focus on equitable student success,” Carter said. “It’s work that I’m passionate about and have spent my career committed to.”

The Presidential Search Committee, which included representatives from all areas of the Lawrence community—students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees—was impressed by Carter at every turn, Nettles said.

“Certainly, her experience as a sitting college president at Shippensburg University was among her top attributes,” Nettles said. “But we also found that Laurie has a calm, steely demeanor, she’s extremely collected, she’s thoughtful, she’s insightful, she’s a good listener. And most important, perhaps, she was a fan of our student representatives at every stage of the process.”

The announcement of Carter’s hire comes a week after Lawrence celebrated the close of its seven-year Be the Light! Campaign, which raised $232.6 million, making it the largest fund-raising campaign in the school’s history. These are exciting days for Lawrence, said David Blowers, chair of the Board of Trustees, calling the campaign’s success a big part of Burstein’s legacy and something that will provide momentum as the leadership baton is handed to Carter.

“The depth and breadth of his experience paired with his deft and compassionate leadership made him the right leader for Lawrence at the right time in our history,” Blowers said of Burstein. “He has led the university through unprecedented challenges and remarkable opportunities.”

Burstein said Lawrence will be in great hands as the transition to Carter takes place this summer.

“I believe her energy, experience, and shared values will move us forward in essential and important ways,” he said.

For Carter, the move to Lawrence brings her back to a private school setting, one with cherished investments in the performing arts and a deeply ingrained liberal arts philosophy. She spent 25 years in leadership positions at The Juilliard School, a prestigious private performing arts college in New York City. She was Juilliard’s first African American administrator and taught on the liberal arts and graduate faculty. She developed the institution’s student affairs program, launched diversity initiatives, created the Office of the General Counsel, and co-created the Jazz Studies program.

She was vice president and general counsel and executive director of Jazz Studies when she left Juilliard in 2013 to lead the nation’s third-largest arts education department at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. She later joined Eastern Kentucky University as executive vice president and university counsel. And in 2017, she was named president of Shippensburg. 

“Excellence was a part of everything we did at Juilliard, and I bring that value with me to Lawrence,” Carter said. “My passion for an environment with liberal arts leanings that embraces the arts was born at Juilliard.”

A native of New Jersey, Carter attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where she received a bachelor of science degree in communications. She received her masters of arts in communications from William Paterson College and earned her JD from Rutgers University. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Snow College. A former track and field athlete, she is a member of the Clarion University Athletics Hall of Fame. 

During the interview process, Carter had the opportunity to spend time not only at Lawrence but also in the Appleton community. She said she came away impressed with the “good work taking place” in the Fox Valley.

“I am thrilled to be a part of this community and the people who care so much about it,” she said.

Carter will be joined in Appleton by her husband, Gary Robinson; their son, Carter, currently a senior in college; and their family dog, Pepper.  

“Ella Baker once said, ‘Give light and people will find the way,’” Carter said. “I have found my way to the light of Lawrence University and I am honored to serve as its 17th president.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu