The Whitman College Board of Trustees is pleased to announce the unanimous selection of Dr. Sarah Bolton as the college’s 15th President.
Bolton, a physicist, professor and administrator with more than 25 years of experience in higher education and a long-standing commitment to the liberal arts, will succeed President Kathleen Murray upon her retirement at the end of the 2021–2022 academic year. Bolton will assume the presidency in July 2022.
“Sarah is a dynamic leader and a thoughtful listener whose values and vision mirror those of Whitman,” says Chair of the Board of Trustees Joe Davis. “She believes that student learning and growth should be at the center of every decision, that excellence requires equity and a commitment to fulfill the college’s promise for every student. She believes a great liberal arts education like Whitman’s is more important than ever—preparing students to impact the world in ways that are so greatly needed at this moment. With these guiding values, Sarah Bolton is the right president for Whitman College at this time in the college’s history."
Currently president of The College of Wooster in Ohio, Bolton earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and biophysics from Brown University in 1988, a master’s degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1991, and a doctorate in physics, also from Berkeley, in 1995. She was on the faculty at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts for 15 years, including three as Physics department chair, and then served as Dean of the College at Williams for six years until moving to Wooster in 2016 for the college presidency.
Throughout her career, Bolton has developed a deep love for the special character and potential of small liberal arts colleges like Whitman. “Great liberal arts education, like Whitman’s, is more important than ever,” says Bolton.“Through vibrant classroom and community engagement, every student finds their voice and learns from the voices of others. Students make meaning of everything from coursework to current events with peers who hold a wide range of perspectives. These experiences change lives, and they prepare students to make a difference in ways that are profoundly needed.”
Lauren Osborne, associate professor of religion, reflects on Bolton’s impressive commitment to a liberal arts education. “Sarah rose to the top of the applications for me immediately in that it was clear that she was somebody who knows and cares about what the liberal arts are. When we started speaking with her, she demonstrated that over and over again in her answers to all different kinds of questions.”
Bolton says she was drawn to pursue the presidency by what she saw at Whitman: commitment to equity and inclusion on an increasingly diverse college campus; dedication to environmental justice and sustainability; and a supportive community of learners who want to explore ideas and connect with the world around them.
During her time at Wooster, Bolton has collaborated with faculty on curriculum revisions designed to integrate the college’s discussions of diversity and equity with its educational mission and implemented the college’s first-ever diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan. These and other concrete, value-driven actions were a significant qualification cited by several members of the Presidential Search Committee in recommending Bolton.
“I really liked the way she talked about diversity, equity and inclusion issues,” says Associate Professor of Philosophy Rebecca Hanrahan, chair of the Whitman faculty and a member of the search committee. “She kept repeating that an opportunity that’s not available to everybody is just not an opportunity. She had great success at living that vision at Wooster. I was also very impressed by the work she had done to create a diverse student body at Wooster.”
The search committee, composed of a distinguished roster of trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and parents, considered many applicants from a deep and diverse pool of highly accomplished leaders before recommending Bolton, who was confirmed by the board after a nine-month, nationwide search. This is the first time that Whitman has recruited a sitting president to the job, a testimony to the strength of the college and decades of exceptional stewardship of the institution and its resources. The firm Storbeck Search provided executive search services during the process.
“Sarah definitely has her finger on the pulse of what's happening on college campuses today, not only on the administrative side of things, but with our faculty, with the students, with all of the challenges that are facing smaller liberal arts institutions,” says Claire Evans, a '96 alum, parent of a class of 2023 student and a staff member in Whitman’s Office of Development. “She also had just some really creative approaches for tackling those things, and I'm excited to see her bring those to Whitman.”