A new era at Lawrence University begins today as Carter steps in as the 17th president in the 174-year history of the university. She comes to Lawrence from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, where she had served as president since 2017.
Carter succeeds Mark Burstein, who closed his Lawrence presidency at the end of June after eight years, wanting to return to the East Coast to be closer to family.
Carter was named president following a national search conducted by Lawrence’s Presidential Search Committee, led by chair Cory Nettles ’92 and vice chair Sarah Schott ’97. The 17-member committee, which included alumni, faculty, staff, and students, delivered a unanimous recommendation for Carter to the Board of Trustees.
Since that announcement in early March, Carter has been communicating regularly with various members of the Lawrence community to help get her presidency off to a fast start.
She arrives with a work history that includes a 25-year stint in various leadership positions at the Juilliard School in New York City and several years as an executive vice president at Eastern Kentucky University.
The number 17 has been significant for Carter. She also was the 17th president at Shippensburg. Before leaving Pennsylvania, Carter and the Shippensburg University community held “17 Days of Kindness,” featuring blood drives, service days, community clean-ups, and food and school supply drives. It was a flashback to something the campus had initiated when she first arrived at Shippensburg, and she told the student newspaper it was important to her to do it again on her way out.
“I think it’s really significant to the world — kindness matters,” Carter said in the interview with The Slate before leaving campus. “And a little kindness goes a long way. It really softened the community, brought us together in so many ways. And I thought it appropriate for us to end in the same way, really focusing on how we treat one another and that mutual respect.”
As Carter’s tenure at Lawrence begins on July 1, we’re sharing some content that has helped us get to know her a little better over the past few months.
“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 said on that day in early March.
The things to know included her background in higher education, much of it spent in a liberal arts setting, her work as a lawyer, her early days in Student Life, her successes as a student athlete, her passion for the arts, and her enthusiasm for exploring all things Wisconsin.
Carter, her husband, Gary Robinson, and the new presidential pup, Pepper, are settling into the newly renamed Hamar House, previously known as the President’s House. An inauguration for Carter is being planned for Fall Term. Stay tuned for details.
It’s time to get to know Laurie A. Carter just a little better.
Carter will join Lawrence University as its 17th president on July 1. Currently the president of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, her professional career also includes 25 years in key leadership positions at The Juilliard School in New York City and four years at Eastern Kentucky University. She has spoken in media interviews about her excitement in coming to Wisconsin—yes to cheese curds and ice fishing—and becoming part of the Lawrence and Appleton communities.
“Lawrentians are the light because of the commitment that faculty and staff make to ensure that students have every opportunity to lead a life of success,” Carter said.
Coming May 4:A Conversation with Presidents Laurie A. Carter & Mark Burstein. Lawrence’s 16th and 17th presidents recently had the opportunity to spend time together on campus. They discussed everything from their hopes for Lawrence, their respect for presidential history and their personal and professional journeys, to Meatless Mondays. They also answered questions from Lawrentians. Watch this engaging conversation between Presidents Carter and Burstein at 6:30 p.m. May 4 at go.lawrence.edu/welcome17.
In the meantime, we’ve compiled a list of 17 things to know about No. 17 as we await her arrival.
Carter got her start working in higher education via student life. She served as a residence hall director at William Paterson College and then as director of residence life at Fairleigh Dickinson College. “I fell into higher education by accident,” she told The Lawrentian. “I worked as a residence hall director to help fund my master’s degree. I never left the profession after that.”
Her first position at Juilliard, beginning in 1988, was as director of student affairs. Among other things, she helped alter the NYC skyline—well, sort of—as she oversaw construction of the school’s first dormitory.
She is a lawyer. Carter was already working at Juilliard when she began taking classes at Rutgers School of Law in Newark, N.J. When she graduated with her JD in 1993, Juilliard asked her to stay at the school to establish an in-house legal department. She became the school’s first chief legal officer. ABA Journal, the flagship publication of the American Bar Association, recently featured Carter in a story about why lawyers bring strong skills to the role of a college president. “Having a good view of higher education and the role of the president really let me know I was prepared to take on the role and to be effective in it,” she told the magazine.
Her work at Juilliard went well beyond legal matters. She co-created the jazz program at Juilliard and served as executive director of the Jazz Studies Department. “Creating that program from scratch was really one of the highlights of my career,” she told Wisconsin Public Radio. In all, she held five different leadership positions during 25 years at the school.
No, Carter doesn’t play a musical instrument, but she taught on the faculty while at Juilliard, focused first on diversity issues and later on legal and business matters related to the arts. “I have a real passion for liberal arts and the skills that students gain through that experience, but I have a passion for the arts as well,” she told The Lawrentian.
She spent a year (2013-14) leading arts education at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, among the largest performing arts centers in the country, before returning to higher education with Eastern Kentucky.
She was both the first woman and first African American to serve as president of Shippensburg University. She will now be the first BIPOC president at Lawrence. “It’s very meaningful to me,” she told Madison365. “And I know that it’s meaningful to the community; I know it’s meaningful to the campus community as well.”
She initiated a program for first-generation college students at both Eastern Kentucky and Shippensburg and said she’s impressed with the Full Speed to Full Need initiative at Lawrence that is making the university more accessible for all. “This is a long-term commitment for the university,” she told Wisconsin Public Radio.
Carter created an Anti-Racism Institute to foster racial understanding across the State of Pennsylvania while at Shippensburg and likewise wants to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion work beyond the borders of the Lawrence campus. “I look forward to spending time listening to folks with where they are and where they think Lawrence can go in this regard, as well as connecting with the broader Appleton community,” she told The Lawrentian.
She was named one of 25 outstanding women in higher education by the magazine Diverse: Issues in Higher Education earlier this year.
As an undergrad, she was a standout track and field athlete at Clarion University, elected to the Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018. Carter placed second at the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championships in the 100 and 400 hurdles and qualified for the 1981 AIAW Division II National Championships.
She and her sister, Taryn Carter Wyche, made track and field a family affair at Clarion. Carter ran a school record 1:05.43 in the 400 hurdles, setting a record that lasted for 26 years. She also ran a 14.5 in the 100 hurdles—second only to her sister. Carter Wyche was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014. At the time of Carter’s induction four years later, the Carter sisters were the only siblings in Clarion’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Carter will move into the President’s House at Lawrence with her husband, Gary Robinson. Their son, Carter, is graduating from a liberal arts college in New England next month and will be a regular visitor to Appleton.
The family dog, Pepper, is not shy about being on camera. The dog starred in Shippensburg’s annual holiday videos since 2017.
Carter has vowed to be an enthusiastic newcomer to all things Wisconsin. “Every person I talk to about Wisconsin, I tell them about the fact that I want to go ice fishing,” she told The Post-Crescent. “I want to eat cheese curds; I want to do it all. Snowmobiling, too. I want to try that. I really just want to get a sense of the culture; the unique things about Wisconsin. I can’t wait. I’m very excited.”
She wants to embrace the important traditions of her new home. “I’ve heard that I am a Packers fan now, and I’m good with that,” she told Wisconsin Public Radio.
Carter collaborated with community leaders in Shippensburg to create a downtown location for the university’s Centers of Excellence. She said enhancing the relationship between a college and its surrounding community is important work, and it will be a priority in Appleton. “I have had discussions with the mayor already and he and I are excited to work together to do just that,” she told The Post-Crescent. “He is a Lawrence alum and he’s a fourth-generation Appletonian, so I think this is the perfect opportunity for us to strengthen those relationships and really make a difference both on campus and in the community in meaningful ways.”
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: email@example.com
Mark Burstein, president of Lawrence University since 2013, will leave the post at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, he announced Friday in a letter to the Lawrence community.
Burstein called his time at Lawrence the “greatest honor and pleasure of my professional life,” and said he made the difficult decision to leave for family reasons. He and his husband, David Calle, will return to the East Coast to be near their parents.
Burstein is beginning his eighth and final year at Lawrence with the start of Fall Term on Monday. He said he will “serve as your president for this academic year with all of my focus and energy” before stepping away on June 30.
“With the end of our strategic plan in sight and the completion of the Be the Light! Campaign this December, it seems like an appropriate juncture in the arc of the University to prepare for new leadership,” Burstein said in his message. “The pandemic has also made it difficult for David and me to keep connected to our parents during an important period in their lives.”
David C. Blowers ’82, chair of the Lawrence University Board of Trustees, praised Burstein for his “deft and compassionate leadership” and said his work over the past seven years has positioned Lawrence well to succeed amid the many challenges facing higher education in the coming years.
“During Mark’s tenure, our curricular offerings became deeper and broader, applications and the endowment increased dramatically, and our community became more diverse, inclusive, and equity-minded,” Blowers said in a message to the Lawrence community. “Thanks to his dedication and service, Lawrence is well positioned for the future.”
A national search for a new president will begin immediately, Blowers said. A Presidential Search Committee will be formed, with membership from trustees, alumni, faculty, students, and staff. A national search firm will be selected to assist with the search.
“We expect to select a search firm shortly and have every expectation that we will select a new president during the Winter Term,” Blowers said.
The Presidential Search Committee will launch a web page shortly to provide updates and solicit input from the Lawrence community.
“In these moments of transition, it is important to find time to celebrate our progress and imagine our future,” Blowers said. “I hope the entire University community will join us in both activities.”
While Burstein’s focus now is on launching the Fall Term during these unprecedented times, he said there will be plenty of opportunity for celebration and reflection as the year goes on.
“We have accomplished so much together: launching new curriculum and teaching methods; renewing campus infrastructure; and deepening our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity,” he said. “I have had the privilege of participating in the lives of smart and caring students. Our endowment has grown more than 70%, which has helped us make Lawrence more affordable and decreased the average debt of our graduates. Many talented faculty and staff have joined us with their energy, insights, and new ideas. You have welcomed David, Homer, and me into this beloved learning community with open arms. We have established friendships that will endure for the rest of our lives.”
Richard Warch, who served as president of Lawrence University for 25 years, passed away peacefully after a battle with cancer Saturday morning, Sept. 14, 2013 at his home in Ellison Bay, Wis. He was 74 years old.
Warch came to Lawrence in 1977 as vice president for academic affairs and professor of history. In 1979 he succeeded Thomas Smith, who had been president since 1969. He became the college’s 14th president on July 1, 1979, and retired from that office on June 30, 2004. Warch was the second-longest serving president in Lawrence’s history. Only Samuel Plantz, who served 30 years as Lawrence’s president from 1894 to 1924, had a longer tenure. Nearly one-third of Lawrence’s 20,000 alumni now living graduated during Warch’s presidency.
Many people of all ages knew Warch affectionately as “Rik,” and his own story and Lawrence’s are so intertwined in “the Warch years” that it is impossible to separate them. Warch loved Lawrence and he practiced his presidency with zest, style, intellect, wit and warmth. He was a tireless and effective champion of the liberal arts college and of the unparalleled benefits and joys of a liberal education, especially as Lawrence practiced it. He extolled the residential liberal arts college model as a powerful and life-changing kind of education. He used many of his 25 annual Matriculation Convocation addresses at Lawrence, and numerous other occasions, to articulate the virtues of liberal learning. He compiled these addresses in a book, titled “A Matter of Style: Reflections on Liberal Education,” that the Lawrence University Press published in 2011, and which Lawrence made available to the public in 2012.
“So many people had the pleasure of knowing Rik as a colleague, friend and teacher,” said Lawrence President Mark Burstein. “During his 25 years as president he strengthened the university’s academic offerings, constructed much of what we call our campus today and fostered an engaging learning environment through personal charm and intellectual discourse. Rik also revitalized Bjorklunden and more closely connected our northern campus to the university’s mission.
“All of us at Lawrence will have many opportunities to celebrate his life in the coming weeks and months,” he added, “but at this moment our hearts and prayers go out to his wife, Margot, and the Warch family.”
Former Lawrence president Jill Beck, who succeeded Warch in 2004, hailed him as “the most eloquent spokesperson I have ever heard” on the value of liberal arts education.
“Rik was a partisan advocate for the kind of education Lawrence offers, and his persuasive oratory was a model for involved, educated citizens,” said Beck. “I will remember his open-hearted manner, his warm laugh, his wit, his scholarly understanding. He was a beloved figure who put the community first while paying attention and care to each of its members. He will be greatly missed and our sympathy goes out to Margot and his family.”
When asked at the time of his retirement what he would consider the main elements of his legacy, Warch started with a quotation from Jacques Barzun, a rather dismal view of the president’s job, concluding that “If, after his term of office, he has secured for the college a new gymnasium or library, he is held in as high esteem as if he had contributed an idea or an atmosphere.”
Warch hoped that “an idea or an atmosphere” would be his own legacy at Lawrence. To that end, he said, he had “tried to use Lawrence’s own history and past as a way of framing its present and future,” drawing on “the larger institutional history and trajectory, sometimes substantively, sometimes humorously” that went beyond the buildings and articulation of the importance of a liberal arts education. He brought familiarity through continuity to the college and its inhabitants, as he believed “familiarity can induce a sense of stability.”
While Warch maintained an intimate view of Lawrence, he was also constantly aware of Lawrence’s “circumstances in the larger context of American higher education, especially liberal education,” paying attention to “issues that are connected to Lawrence but transcend Lawrence.” He felt it was important that the purposes of a liberal education get continually articulated, because if they’re not, the “’transcending sense’ of what the larger purposes are can too easily be neglected or forgotten.”
Warch earned the faculty’s approbation for the variety of progressive steps he took. Early in his presidency he instigated a curriculum review, which resulted in a new set of general education requirements to replace the less precise divisional requirements then in place. He also reinstated Lawrence’s signature Freshman Studies program, which was started by his predecessor, Nathan Pusey, in 1945. The program was dropped for a brief period in the mid-1970s and reinstated as a one-term course in 1978. Warch persuaded the faculty to restore the program to its two-term format in 1986 by arguing that Freshman Studies provides continuity within each freshman class, with everyone reading, discussing, and writing about the same works their first year. Since 1945, the common book that Lawrence alumni share is Plato’s Republic, as it is the work that every veteran of Freshman Studies has read and parsed.
Warch also transformed the Conservatory of Music, expanding its curricular scope and establishing its place firmly in Lawrence’s broad liberal arts curriculum. In earlier years, the college and the conservatory functioned as separate entities with different students, academic requirements and expectations. Under Warch’s leadership, students in both the college and the conservatory were invited and encouraged to sample each other’s worlds. Today, Lawrence continues to offer a bachelor of music degree, but it also offers a bachelor of arts in music, allowing students to double major in subjects as disparate as physics and voice performance.
Warch cared about Lawrence and he cared for Lawrence. He greatly esteemed his predecessor, Henry Wriston, who declared: “Learning, it cannot be too often repeated, is a way of life. That being so, we must pay attention to how students live. The college home is educational, or it is not…Students should be surrounded with works of artistic merit; the landscaping of the campus should not be neglected; music, poetry, drama, religious services, leisure activities of many kinds should invite appreciation.”
Transforming the Campus
Warch embraced Wriston’s words by landscaping the Lawrence grounds, unifying signage across the campus and taking personal responsibility for trash-free lawns. Anyone engaged in conversation with him outdoors on the campus could expect to be interrupted at some point while he dashed away to retrieve a piece of trash and put it in a receptacle. At a dinner the trustees gave to celebrate his 20th year in office, one trustee turned “The Twelve Days of Christmas” into a recital of Warch’s virtues. After a couple of rounds the trustees spontaneously and heartily chimed in with “picks up campus trash” in place of “three French hens…”
He paid direct homage to Wriston’s philosophy with the construction of a new art center in 1989, which met the longtime goal of integrating studio art and art history. Aptly named the Wriston Art Center, it was to be the first of six new and eight remodeled buildings, either built or transformed during the Warch years. He also oversaw the construction of the Buchanan Kiewit Center (1986); Shattuck Hall of Music (1991); Briggs Hall (1997); Science Hall (2000) and Hiett Hall (2003); as well major renovations to Alexander Gym (1986); Main Hall (2000); Youngchild Hall (2001) and the Seeley G. Mudd Library (2001), among others.
Given the great need, capital campaigns thus became familiar and frequent fixtures during his presidency. And they were successful, always exceeding their goals. Warch covered the country soliciting funds from potential donors, usually lugging the very cumbersome equipment required in those days for showing even a brief film about Lawrence’s virtues. In addition to financing the buildings, the funds from these campaigns helped finance faculty chairs and scholarships for needy and/or worthy students. Under his leadership, Lawrence’s endowment grew from $23 million at the start of his presidency, to more than $182 million at the time of his retirement.
His crowning glory was the rebuilding and expansion of Lawrence’s presence at its beautiful northern campus, Björklunden, on Lake Michigan, south of Baileys Harbor in Door County. The transformation of Björklunden was the result of Rik’s early ability to identify the location’s potential as an integral part of the Lawrence educational experience.
In 1963, the 425-acre property was given to Lawrence by Donald and Winifred Boynton. The lodge that had been the Boynton’s summer home burned irreparably in August, 1993 and the future of the property became uncertain at best. Most Lawrentians had never been there and many trustees knew it simply as a deficit item in Lawrence’s financial statements. Its only connection to the college was the series of summer seminars – some taught by Lawrence faculty members – that small groups of alumni and friends attended beginning in 1980.
The Björklunden Experience
The trustees challenged Warch to present a vision of what Björklunden could be and “how it could fit in the overall mission of Lawrence as an undergraduate college of the liberal arts and sciences and music,” as he described his charge. What he came forth with was a masterpiece entitled “Autodidacts, Cyberspace, Students, and Björklunden.”
“As a physical setting,” Warch advocated, “Björklunden provides a place that enables and encourages people to confront themselves and others on a personal scale, one that is and will be at sharp contrast to the isolation of the autodidact of the anonymity of mass culture.” He cautioned “we should not dismiss the capacity of Björklunden to effect in us sentiments that help make us whole. I do not want to ignore the very real sense of peace and serenity that Björklunden affords, as these human needs are met with decreasing regularity in the modern, digitized, high-tech world. As what Winifred Boynton called ‘a sanctuary for all,’ ‘far removed from confusion and aggression,’ Björklunden can serve an aspect of our mission in a distinctive and important way.”
Warch acknowledged that in 1995 faculty members were already proposing “some very promising uses of the place for the teaching and learning mission of the college” and were “certain to devise many other creative proposals….” “But,” he continued, “my vision for Björklunden takes a different and more ambitious tack. I propose that Lawrence commit itself to a program that would guarantee every student an opportunity for a Björklunden experience at some point in his or her undergraduate career. Rather than leave it to the initiative of individuals or groups to go to Björklunden or to the happenstance of which faculty have integrated activities at Björklunden into their own courses in which term, I urge us to explore and create ways to make Björklunden a part of what it means to be a Lawrence student and to participate in our brand of liberal education.”
He called for “broad participation of students and faculty in determining the content and contours of what [he] called a Björklunden experience and in devising the program to deliver it.” He posited “the universality of a Björklunden experience would be a common bond shared by all Lawrentians, a memorable, even a pivotal moment in their undergraduate years.” He felt this experience at Björklunden would be unique to the Lawrence brand of liberal education; no other liberal arts college would be offering anything quite like it.
Warch worked tirelessly on steering Björklunden’s growth and promise, and on securing the resources to make that possible. For many years he chaired the Björklunden Advisory Committee, and at the annual gathering of the Boynton Society at Björklunden he was often the speaker, extolling the value Björklunden had added to a Lawrence undergraduate liberal arts education and to the lives of countless graduates and friends in the broader community.
The trustees unanimously embraced his vision. Near the site of the burned lodge, the college built a new lodge equipped to house large groups of students and faculty during the school year, and almost immediately following its construction, had to start planning for an addition. Warch’s vision quickly caught on, and the summer seminars for adult education that had started in 1985 on a small scale, limited by the lack of housing and classroom space, expanded to meet the new and increasing interest and demand.
“The revival and extension of Björklunden is … one thing I really care about,” Warch told Lawrence Today on the eve of his retirement. His vision of resurrecting the “Björklunden experience” and “opening it up to students and faculty for experiences and engagements beyond the classrooms, studios and laboratories of the Appleton campus” is now a reality.
English professor Timothy Spurgin, who has taught many summer seminars and led students to Björklunden during the academic year as well, admonished his pupils last summer that, “every time you experience this wonderful place and savor its offerings, you should bow down and thank Rik Warch!” Since its relaunch, Björklunden has expanded steadily. It provided 112 seminars for nearly 1,600 students during the 2012-13 academic year.
Warch unfailingly included the importance of personal interaction outside of the classroom in his view of liberal education. He enjoyed casual campus conversations with faculty and students, and looked forward to their concerts and athletic events. His regular attendance at conservatory concerts and recitals demonstrated his eclectic taste in music; he was as enthralled by a Lawrence Symphony concert as with the jazz improvisations. His favorite group of all time was the Sambistas.
Warch was also an avid fan of Lawrence athletics and attended as many games, meets and races as he could, cheering on the Lawrence teams with gusto. He took pleasure in recognizing student athletes when he ran into them on campus and would take these opportunities to comment on a play that interested him or a skill he admired. Perhaps his greatest pleasure was reading bedtime stories to students in their residence halls, which he happily undertook as an integral part of his unofficial job description – “other duties as assigned,” as he put it.
Campus Center Honors his Legacy
Several years after he retired, Lawrence secured the funds to build a version of the dream Warch had had decades earlier, a campus center where the college’s constituents could gather and engage in various activities, a crossroads of the campus. The major donor, who remains anonymous, asked that the building be named the Richard and Margot Warch Campus Center, in honor not only of Rik, but of his wife Margot, who also played a vital role in the life of the Lawrence community.
He was born August 4, 1939, in Hackensack, N.J., the son of George and Helen Warch. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Williams College in 1961 and then enrolled at Yale University, where he earned a bachelor of divinity degree in 1964 and a Ph.D. in American studies in 1968. In 1962 he and Margot were married. They traveled to Scotland where he spent his second year of divinity school at The University of Edinburgh. He was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church in 1964.
Rik’s distinguished career in higher education began at Yale, where he taught history and American studies for nine years. While at Yale, he also directed its National Humanities Institute for two years and spent a year as associate dean of Yale College and director of the Visiting Faculty Program.
In addition to A Matter of Style, he published School of the Prophets: Yale College, 1701-1740 and co-edited the book John Brown, from the Great Lives Observed Series. He also published numerous articles in scholarly publications on American religious history, U.S. history, and liberal education.
He served as chair or director on numerous boards during his career, among them Competitive Wisconsin Inc., Wausau Insurance Company, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, the Wisconsin Ethics Board, the Appleton Development Council, the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, and the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. By virtue of his office, Warch also was a trustee of Lawrence University.
In 1987, Warch was cited as one of the country’s top 100 college presidents in the two-year study, “The Effective College President,” which was funded by the Exxon Education Foundation.
Following Rik’s retirement, Lawrence recognized him with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the college’s 2005 commencement. Ripon College presented him with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in 1980.
During his retirement in Door County, Warch appreciated opportunities to travel with Margot and enjoyed extended visits with his children, grandchildren and friends. He was a member of the Peninsula Players Board of Directors, active at the UUFellowship and was a student as well as a teacher in seminars at Bjorklunden, where he was head of the advisory committee.
He is survived by his wife Margot; his two sons and their families, who live in St. Paul, Minn.: Stephen, his wife Alexandra Klass, and their daughters Helen and Zoe; and David, his wife Sarah, and their daughters Sydney and Georgie; and his daughter Karin, a Ph.D. candidate who studies and teaches in London, England. He is also survived by his sister Linda Fenton, his aunt Betty Hansen, his brothers-in-law Peter Fenton and Bob Moses, his sisters-in-law Lois Moses, Marilyn Moses, Marysue Moses, and their families.
A memorial service will be held at Lawrence on a day and time still to be determined.