Harry J. Elam, Jr. named Occidental College’s 16th president

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Harry J. Elam Jr, will begin his term at Occidental July 1. Photo Courtesy of Occidental College

The Occidental board of trustees sent a campus-wide email Feb. 11 announcing Harry J. Elam, Jr. as Occidental College’s 16th president. Elam is currently Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Senior Vice Provost for Education and Vice President for the Arts at Stanford University and was a unanimous selection of the board. He will begin his term at Occidental July 1, taking over from Jonathan Veitch, who announced Jan. 27, 2019 that he will not renew his contract at the end of his term in 2020.

Alejo Maggini (sophomore) and Dafna Erana (junior) were the two student representatives on the presidential search committee, which was comprised of faculty, staff, current students, alumni and trustees. According to Maggini, the two were excited when Elam’s appointment was announced.

“This candidate — since the very beginning of the process, in his approaches to social justice, community engagement, active listening and presence and transparency in the community — were something completely within what Oxy needs in this moment, and what students, staff and faculty were also looking for,” Maggini said.

Librarian and Secretary of the College Marsha Schnirring was as an ex-officio member of the presidential search committee. Schnirring said she was excited about the announcement and the college’s next president.

“I believe President Elam is going to be a transformative leader and that our community — students, staff, faculty, Eagle Rock neighbors, community partners, alums, and administrators — will find him to be warm and approachable, thoughtful and challenging, grounded and visionary,” Schnirring said via email.

According to Steve Rountree ’71, chair of the board of trustees, Elam is well equipped to handle the fundraising and student involvement aspects of the position.

“Dr. Elam has an excellent track record at Stanford of being open, accessible, transparent, and visible on campus, and being able to manage other aspects of the institution,” Rountree said via email. “I’m confident he’ll do the same here at Oxy.”

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Wendy Sternberg was a co-chair of the presidential search committee and said Elam’s experience in undergraduate education was an important factor in the decision to hire him.

“We were compelled by his leadership of undergraduate education at one of the nation’s most prestigious research universities, his deep understanding of the values of a liberal arts education, his belief in the college’s mission, and his leadership and achievements around diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives,” Sternberg said via email.

Associated Students of Occidental College President Nina Srdić Hadži-Nešić said she was compelled by Elam’s experience as an award-winning theater director, as well as his goals for increasing the college’s connection to Los Angeles.

“I am excited to see what his presidency will mean for the lives of students, faculty, staff, administrators, as well as our broader community, given that he envisions Oxy as a place that not only benefits from being situated in Los Angeles but also gives back more to our local community,” Srdić Hadži-Nešić said via email. “I also find Dr. Elam’s commitment to arts as a ‘mechanism of change’ inspiring and I am very excited to see all the ways Oxy will grow under his direction.”

Maggini said he was excited about Elam’s involvement in social justice.

“Protests, manifestations [and] institutional memory are critical cornerstones that we need to focus on to build our future,” Maggini said. “I think he sees that as an educational experience that is needed.”

The board of trustees’ email states Elam will begin his role in July. He and his wife Dr. Michele Elam, Stanford’s William Robertson Coe Professor of Humanities, plan to move into the Annenberg President’s House this summer. According to the board of trustees’ email, Elam will schedule a campus visit to meet students, faculty, staff and community members this spring.