The Durden Years: A-Z

President Durden reflects on the advantages of a life of "indiscriminate, yet disciplined outreach."

President Durden reflects on the advantages of a life of "indiscriminate, yet disciplined outreach."

When the editorial team sat down to plan our unofficial William G. Durden '71 special issue, we began with a timeline and some high points that we wanted to hit in a standard narrative. As the list of high points grew (and grew), we realized that no single narrative could tell the story of Dickinson's transformation during President Durden's 14-year tenure.

Rather, there were multiple narratives; we settled on 26, to be exact. And like most Dickinson projects, "The Durden Years: A-Z" is the result of imaginative collaboration: We asked students, faculty, alumni, administrators and staff to weigh in on their Durden moments. As a result, the following pages reflect a diversity of views, as well as Durden's spirit of connecting with the past while aiming for the future. And at the center is not just one man but a vital, thriving community perched on the edge of possibility.  -Michelle Simmons

P.S. This is by no means The Definitive Durden, and we invite you to send your own A-Z list to We'll add it to the full list on the magazine's Web site.

A: Adirondack Chairs

B: Biblio Cafe

C: Centennial Conference

D: D-Book

E: Elke

F: Farm

G: German, First Generation, Global

How did a German and philosophy double major and first-generation college graduate use his personal experiences and global foundation to lead Dickinson into the 21st century? In his own way. In his own words:

"I am quintessentially a Dickinsonian in my movement through space and by my conversation. I am comfortable engaging at once America and the world. For me, as for all Dickinsonians, there is little paradox and much advantage in embracing both. … I traveled and worked all over the world-touching down repeatedly and often adventuresomely in at least 60 countries from Europe to Africa to Asia to South America. It has more than once been reported to me that I was seen on several different continents having lunch at the same time. And it could have well been true." —Inauguration Speech, October 1999

"Today, perhaps more than ever before, we are cognizant and appreciative of the fact that our connection to Dickinson is a lifelong one. It is an affiliation that defines us and is key to our professional and personal fulfillment." —Alumni Weekend, June 2006

"I'm a first-generation college student. … One evening my mother and I came into Carlisle, and it was pouring, but it was one of those nights where it was steamy, so there was a haze, a fog over the entire campus. … And I saw those limestone buildings, and they were a little moist, and I saw this haze coming up, sort of like a London fog, and I just turned to my mother and said, 'That's it. This is it. I like fog.' And so I applied Early Decision, and the rest is as you see it." —Fall Open House Remarks, October 2010

"It probably comes as no surprise to learn that, as a college president, I am often asked to speak to groups of young people about what it means to be a leader and to comment on my own leadership journey. On such occasions, people often are surprised to learn that my experience raising chickens as a boy in upstate New York provided me with several life lessons that I continue to draw upon." —From These Grounds, Dickinson Magazine, Summer 2011

"Every summer my wife and I travel the world to challenge our preconceived notions, to unsettle the 'tyranny' of familiar place-no matter how appealing and comfortable that place may be-and to remain receptive to seeing what always has been in new ways. I attribute this lifelong habit of purposeful, disruptive travel to my Dickinson junior year abroad in Freiburg many decades ago-when I was about your age and in this community as a student." —Convocation Address, August 2012

"Much is at stake to define explicitly and to reassert the usefulness of a distinctively American liberal-arts education. The liberal arts are under assault by those who, under the mantle of affordability and efficiency, would reject it for the immediate, but often temporary, benefit of higher education defined as job training. My own experience offers a definition for the 21st century, in fact, for any century, where economic uncertainty prevails. I was a German and philosophy double major. At first glance, what could be more useless? And yet, my professional life has proven such a conclusion wrong." —A Useful Liberal Arts," Inside Higher Ed, November 2012

"I have been-sometimes simultaneously-a military officer, a pre-collegiate teacher, administrator and coach. I founded an athletic team, developed a major center at a prestigious research university, acted as a senior consultant to the U.S. Department of State with diplomatic status, served as a corporate officer at two publicly traded companies and now serve as president of Dickinson College. For none of these careers did I ever study formally or take a class." —A Useful Liberal Arts," Inside Higher Ed, November 2012

H: High I

I: Idea Fund

There's no dearth of great ideas on Dickinson's campus; the challenge is putting thought to action. When a group of students began kicking around the possibility of a revolving loan fund that would support sustainable entrepreneurship-and when William G. Durden '71 kickstarted that idea with seed funding -the Idea Fund was born.

"There are a lot of people at Dickinson concerned about sustainability, and we wanted to have a place where anyone could bring their idea and get the resources to get it up and running," explains Matt Guariglia '12, one of the fund's founding directors.

The fund provides loans for initiatives that repay the fund through the savings or profits they generate. Since its creation in 2011, the fund has helped launch several new projects, including The Handlebar bicycle co-op and The Peddler coffee cart.

The Peddler, which first rolled up to Old West in spring 2012, has become a campus fixture. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, students can count on their fair-trade coffee fix before and between classes.

More recently, the fund helped replace the tired lights in Mathers Theatre with new, eco-friendly lighting.

Now situated in a downtown office, the Idea Fund comprises an executive board of 11 student members and alumni fellow Anthony Silverman '12, the founding board chair. They hold weekly open meetings in Tome Hall, where all students are encouraged to present their ideas or to just hang out for the weekly brainstorming sessions.

"Through the Idea Fund, we hope to create a more unified, conscious community," says environmental-science major Madison Beehler '15. "The fund makes it easy for a member of the Dickinson community to engage his or her community as a proactive agent of change."

J/K: Judaic Studies/KoVe

From the 2003 opening of the Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life in a former Phi Epsilon Pi house to a six-year, $300,000 grant from the Posen Foundation Program for the Study of Secular Jewish History and Culture, Dickinson in the 21st century is enjoying a Jewish renaissance-academic and co-curricular.

Interested in Jewish intellectual history from Spinoza to Seinfeld? How about the ethnography of Jewish immigration to Latin America? Or the intersection of Judaism and Ecofeminism? There also are spring-break service trips, the Global Campus Scholarship for students from Argentina and Uruguay, a vibrant Hillel chapter, a student-led kosher cooking club and extensive participation in Birthright Israel, a subsidized program for Jewish students 18-24 who have never been to Israel.

The couple responsible for much of Dickinson's recent growth in Jewish life is the latest dynamic duo of Andrea Lieber and Ted Merwin, who are building on the legacy of Professor Emeritus of Religion and Classics Ned Rosenbaum and his wife, Mary Pottker Rosenbaum '75.

Lieber, associate professor of religion and Sophia Ava Asbell Chair in Judaic Studies, has introduced a cultural-studies approach to the curriculum while Merwin, director of the Asbell Center, has guided Jewish campus life. The Judaic studies department now also include Nitsa Kann, associate professor of religion, and a half-dozen contributing faculty from history, political science and religion.

"We have a historically rooted commitment to Judaic studies," says Provost and Dean Neil Weissman. "It's not a fad with us."


Launched in 2010 under the watchful eyes of mashgichot Louise Powers and Ricki Gold, the KoVe (for Kosher-Vegan) dining alcove quickly became a student favorite—and for obvious reasons, given the sample menu provided by Dining Services.


Kosher entree: Parmesan sundried tomato tilapia 

Vegan entree: Cajun spiced tofu burgers 

Vegetable: Baked creamed corn with red peppers and jalapenos 

Soup: Zucchini lentil


Kosher entree: Thai chicken burgers with curry mayo 

Vegan entree: Broccoli and tofu in garlic sauce and thai quinoa 

Vegetable: Broccoli with garlic sauce 

Salad: Thai cucumber and tomato

L: Lion

M: Mycenae

Legendary home of demi-god Perseus and Homer’s Agamemnon, the great citadel of Mycenae is considered to be one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. And Dickinson has exclusive, privileged access to it, thanks to an extraordinary partnership begun in 2002 with the Athens Archaeological Society and the Institute for Aegean Prehistory. 

Under the leadership and direction of Christofilis Maggidis, associate professor of archaeology and Christopher Roberts Chair in Archaeology, students and alumni participate in the archaeological investigation of Mycenae and Mycenaean citadel of Glas every year, receiving top field training and unparalleled research opportunities. 

Participants learn how to excavate, supervise fieldwork, write fieldnotes, collect and record data, conduct pottery study and cataloging, museum research, systematic archaeological and remote-sensing geophysical surveys. The program includes field trips to nearby museums and ancient sites in Athens, Argos, Corinth, Olympia, Delphi, Thebes and Glas—all designed to offer students hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of Prehistoric Aegean and Classical art, as well as familiarize them with modern Greek culture and language.

N: Neuroscience

It's hard to imagine Dr. Benjamin Rush thinking of the impact of neural proteins on Alzheimer's disease when his quill hovered over Dickinson's charter in 1783, but embracing new fields of study like neuroscience was exactly what he had in mind.

"Dr. Rush knew this from the very beginning," says President William G. Durden '71.  "Seeking new knowledge was vital to his vision for a distinctively American form of higher education."

With the 21st century bringing plenty of new challenges, Dickinson has been particularly busy "seeking new knowledge" during the last 14 years. In addition to launching a neuroscience major in 2004, the college has embraced 16 other new majors, minors and certificate programs since 1999.

The new millennium has given us the rise of China, growing unrest in the Middle East, the mapping of the human genome, a global war on terror and a national health-care crisis. Dickinson has countered with a minor in Chinese, a Middle East studies department, an endowed faculty chair in bioinformatics and certificate programs in security studies and health studies. And in each of these fields, the liberal-arts approach has been crucial.

"The interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience at Dickinson continues to make a difference in my life," says Marianh Aman '12, a recent neuroscience major applying her study of neuro-development to teaching middle-school students through Teach for America. "I see the relevance of neuroscience everywhere now. And that openness was fostered at Dickinson. I studied autism in Developmental Psychopathology and neurodiversity in Neuroethics. My Latin professor even recognized my major and helped me delve into the relationship between Latin poets and insanity."

Similarly, Jake Sternberger '12, one of the college's first students to earn a security-studies certificate, sees the blend of innovation with the traditional liberal arts as a "distinctly Dickinson" strength.

"What stands out about security studies here is the multidisciplinary approach," says Sternberger, now in his first year at the Pennsylvania State University's Dickinson School of Law and eyeing a career in national-security law. "It allows us to blend traditional aspects—in courses like European Security, International Terrorism, and Intelligence and National Security—with new challenges, like cyber-warfare, energy security or global pandemics."

All of this is by design. With nearly half of graduating seniors majoring in interdisciplinary fields, more than 40 professors appointed to these programs and more than 80 faculty members contributing to them, Dickinson is clearly committed to crossing disciplines in its pursuit of new knowledge.

"This is something many institutions boast about, but in reality their interdisciplinary programs are treated like second-class citizens," says Neil Weissman, provost and dean of the college. "Here at Dickinson, that's not the case. We value interdisciplinary approaches—and we provide them a lot of institutional support—because fields like neuroscience engage contemporary challenges that demand insights from many different disciplines."

So maybe Rush wasn't thinking about those neural proteins—or threats from failed states, the wonders of nanotechnology and the role of new media in the Arab Spring for that matter—when he wrote in the second section of the charter that "it is the evident duty and interest of all ranks of people to promote and encourage, as much as in them lies, every attempt to disseminate and promote the growth of useful knowledge."

But he knew that new knowledge is always useful knowledge, and accordingly Dickinson's burst of curricular innovation during the last 14 years is encoded in the college's DNA—another subject Rush would be happy to know Dickinsonians are exploring today.

O: Office Hours

P: Posse

People ask what the key to becoming a diverse campus is. I tell them, first and foremost, leadership from the top.

I remember when I first came to Dickinson in 1998. People told me that the college had been working to become a more diverse, representative community for decades. They lamented that they would achieve diversity in the student body only to lose it again. Many longtime faculty expressed frustration with not being able to maintain the progress that was made. Good people who were working hard told me that "it was so hard to recruit underrepresented students to Carlisle." I even heard that from top leadership.

Then Bill Durden became president of Dickinson College. From the beginning he put in place a team that understood that, to compete for the best and brightest young people in this country, we would need to better reflect America and engage the world. So, Bill Durden said, "we will be more diverse." He didn't ask if it would be hard, nor did he believe that it would be. He said we would be, and he expected us to make it happen. And we did.

Robert Massa, vice president for enrollment and college relations at the time, introduced us to The Posse Foundation. Founded by Deborah Bial in 1989, the program has offered an alternative model for identifying promising young people from less-advantaged, urban environments and opened opportunities for these students to pursue higher education.

We enrolled our first posse (a cohort of high-achieving students) from New York City in fall 2001. I'm proud to say that today Dickinson is a dual-city Posse partner, recruiting students from New York City and Los Angeles. To date we have enrolled 223 Posse Scholars at Dickinson. Of those eligible for graduation the current graduation rate is 89 percent. Our retention rate for all cohorts is 94.5 percent.

Posse has amplified our recruitment and retention of under-represented students by introducing Dickinson to schools and community groups that did not know us before. Because of our success-and the amazing success of our Posse/Dickinson alumni-more and more students have heard about Dickinson. Posse helped us to achieve critical mass: that all-important and necessary component of recruitment and retention of a diverse student body.

Students have been attracted by our broadened diversity, our strong programs and our reputation as a mentoring community. Our Posse/Dickinson alumni have gone on to careers of distinction, graduate programs and service to their communities including the military. For all these Posse/Dickinson alumni who are teachers, doctors, lawyers, climate-change administrators, nurses, human-rights advocates, college administrators, theologians and amazing citizens and contributors, we are enriched as a community. I will be forever grateful for a leader who said, "We will be more diverse!"  

—Joyce Bylander, special assistant to the president for institutional and diversity initiatives

Q: Quiz Bowl


S: Statue

T: Treehouse

"No, it's not an actual tree house. The kind you built out of lumber scraps and rusty nails when you were a kid."

"OK. Um, do you really have to pedal a bike hooked up to a crank-driven generator to watch TV?"

"Not anymore. Long story. Next."

"What about the three-minute showers?"

"That one's true. Each treekid, as we call ourselves, limits shower time to three-minute sessions. You don't have to have the water running to lather yourself into a lather, so it's probably something everyone could do. Last question."

"I heard there's no electricity, and they live by candlelight and wash their clothes in the river with a washboard and …"

"The residents are concerned citizens living a sustainable lifestyle, not Luddites. Please see below for further information." *

So here's what's true about the Treehouse: It was founded as the Center for Sustainable Living in the early 1990s, instantly renamed the Treehouse by students and moved to its current location in 2006. It's a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold-certified building (the first of its kind in Pennsylvania) created by merging three row houses on the fringe of campus. The 14 student residents live the life of environmental forward thinking and use as little electricity as possible: Everyone's clothes are line dried, air conditioning isn't an option and the house is kept at a nippy 58 degrees during the winter. (As treekid Annaliese Ramthun '13 puts it, "Living in the Treehouse makes you get resourceful.") They come from a variety of majors to form a close-knit community, experiencing an immersive, sustainable-living environment together. 

With its solar panels, composting station and corn-fired stove, it's the embodiment of sustainability on campus. Of course, the Dickinson sustainability puzzle has many pieces of varying sizes, so this might be a small one. But they all click together to form an astonishingly green portrait-from small pieces like the Treehouse to big pieces like Dickinson's strategic plans.

When William G. Durden '71 became president in 1999, his administration drafted Strategic Plan I, which outlined Dickinson's overarching goals for 2001-05. Listed under Defining Characteristic IV was this: "Create a campus culture that is committed to environmental sustainability at all levels." Strategic Plan II (2005) put forth that "Educating for sustainability requires a holistic approach … that embodies liberal-arts education and promotes an engaged community. The college must serve as a living example of sustainability in all arenas." Strategic Plan III (2011) affirmed sustainability as a defining characteristic of the college, confirmed Dickinson's commitment to becoming climate neutral and put forth sustainability as an area of study for special emphasis in the curriculum.

Sustainability isn't an afterthought at Dickinson. It's not an add-on. It's not here to be cool, to be trendy, to get the stamp of approval from the Sierra Club (although Dickinson has gotten that, of course). It swims in the lifeblood of its students and its community and circulates through the institution.

Still not convinced? How about taking a look at the college's 2008 Master Plan. Outlining the campus, its structures and their functions and future, the plan insists that Dickinson must "create a campus culture that is committed to ecological sustainability, both operationally and academically" and "instill a culture of prudent use of resources and respect for the natural world that supports civilized society." Or how about Dickinson's LEED Building Policy, which dictates that construction of all new buildings and major renovations must meet a minimum standard for LEED silver certification (all buildings erected since have been certified gold). Dickinson also has signed the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future's Talloires Declaration and the Rio+20 Declaration of Higher Education, both of which drive institutions of higher learning onto ground already firmly occupied by Dickinson.

A lot of fine rhetoric, you say. Something for the newspapers, for admissions to put on postcards to send prospective students. Ah, but what if it's working? And what if organizations around the world are taking notice? Let's start with the Association of Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) slapping a Gold rating on Dickinson, one of only a few institutions to receive this distinction. We've also earned straight As from the Sustainable Endowments Institute on their College Sustainability Report Card, and the Princeton Review has named the college to its Green Honor Roll (one of only 16 schools in the nation to receive a 99 Green Rating). We also received a Climate Leadership Award from Second Nature in 2010, the award's inaugural year.

In short, we're Red Devils with green blood, and some of us live in a Treehouse. The world we inhabit is sustainable, and sustainability inhabits us as well. 

*No treekids were harmed in the crafting of this imagined dialogue.

U: Unity Rally

V: View from Old West


X and Y: Xenophilia and Younde, Cameroon

"Where do you want to go?"

When a student walks through his office door for the first time, Brian Brubaker '95, interim executive director of the Center for Global Study & Engagement and director of education abroad, might begin a conversation with that question.

"Hyderabad, India? Sure. And you want to study theatre there? No problem. Economics in Amman, Jordan? Done. How about creative writing at Oxford? Philosophy in São Paulo, Brazil? Where else?"

With nearly 60 percent of each graduating class studying abroad, Brubaker could be pretty busy with conversations such as this. And these students don't leave it all behind when they graduate: Coming from global majors such as international business & management, environmental studies and international studies, Dickinsonians find themselves in every corner of the globe once they leave the limestone walls for the last time.

"Students coming to Dickinson are looking not just to travel abroad but to actually immerse themselves, to get involved," Brubaker says, noting that Dickinson's programs span more than 50 locations worldwide and 50 areas of study. "And we're leading the charge with that."

He mentions Dickinson's standing among other liberal-arts institutions to extend his point: "Some schools will say, 'We have a program in London.' And that's great. London's great. But we're talking Norwich, Brisbane, Málaga, Bologna. Nobody has our scope."

The idea of Dickinson as a global campus, or a xenophilic institution, doesn't end with each pin pushed into a world map. Right on campus, 48 countries are represented in the student body, and Dickinson also is one of the nation's top institutions for foreign-language study (13 languages are offered).

In short, if you love studying language, hearing diverse perspectives and delving into foreign environments, Dickinson has you covered.

Here's a good example: Last summer, Associate Professor of French Lucile Duperron took a group of students to France for what could be the quintessential Dickinson study-abroad experience: La ville rose est-elle verte? ("Is the Pink City Green?"). It was an academic program designed to exponentially develop language skills and encourage cross-cultural explorations through immersion in the Toulouse region—with one of Dickinson's core values at the heart of it all.

"We approached language and culture through the sustainability lens," Duperron says. "That helps everyone understand that when we're talking about sustainability, we're talking about geography, politics and people's values, so it's really a humanities perspective that informed the shape of the project."

Students spoke French exclusively during the five-week course, focusing on topics and issues related to sustainability in France, with both local and international impacts.

"We're trying to bridge those two dimensions: the international part—what can we do as informed, concerned citizens in the global world in which we live—but also, how can we improve things locally?" says Duperron. "If you're really going to reach out in terms of sustainability initiatives, you have to be able to communicate with the people you're reaching out to. Therefore, knowing their language will be the most obvious way to make yourself understood and understand what's going on."

Brubaker says Dickinson is pursuing partnerships with other schools to study broad issues like global health. "That's where we see things going," he says. "Study abroad is not just about learning Spanish in Spain or French in France. Now, we're saying, 'That's great, but also what are the current challenges with immigration and other related issues?' "

These other related issues will likely be explored through several global programs introduced over the last decade, such as those in Australia, New York City, the United Kingdom and South America, the last of which has two home bases: in Cuenca, Ecuador, and Mendoza, Argentina. New partner programs also are in place, such as at Hebrew and Ben Gurion universities (Israel), Akita International University (Japan), Durham University (UK) and AMIDEAST (Morocco and Jordan).

"We've got faculty and students out there across the world," Brubaker says. "Is it common for schools to run their own programs? Yes. Is it common for schools the size of Dickinson to run the longer-term programs—full-semester and yearlong? Absolutely uncommon."

Z: Zeitgeist

Published April 11, 2013