David R. Anderson ’74 became president of St. Olaf College on July 1, 2006, the 11th president of the College since it was founded in 1874. He previously served as provost and professor of English at Denison University.
In his inauguration address, “Honor the Past, Celebrate Today, Embrace the Future,” President Anderson shared his understanding of and vision for St. Olaf. Excerpted below are some of his remarks.
Our college is a complex institution even among liberal arts colleges, and our complexity derives from our history and our identity. Well over a century ago, Norwegian-American immigrants who had settled in this part of the Midwest aspired both to provide a superior education to their own children and to educate and nurture them in the faith they had brought with them from their homeland. From our earliest days we have been more than just another institution of learning … we have been committed to providing as good an education as could be had, to honoring our roots, to providing opportunities for students to grow in their faith and, inseparably from that growth in faith, to helping each student understand how he or she is called upon to serve others, especially those in need.
St. Olaf has defined the best education that can be had as a residential liberal arts education. We bring students together to this campus on a hill, place them in community with one another, and open to them the faculty and the curriculum of the college. We do this not to prepare them for any particular occupation but rather to provide them with the base of knowledge, the skills and proficiencies, the experiences, and the habits of mind and heart that will enable them to flourish in whatever future awaits them. And we do this in the most rigorous fashion. It has never been part of the purpose of St. Olaf College to settle for less than the academic best, nor should it ever be. Academic excellence informs our identity and characterizes our history.
Our academic excellence is totally consistent withindeed derives from and exists in unison withthe profound faith commitments which define the nature of our college and inform the lives of many of the people who study and work here. St. Olaf was founded as college of faithful Christians, and it is one today. Not every student or faculty or staff member is a Lutheran, nor must they, nor should they be. Not every student or faculty or staff member is a Christian, nor must they, nor should they be. But the center of gravity of the college rests on the notion that we teach and learn for a purpose greater than knowledge for its own sake and greater than for ourselves. It rests on the robust worship life of the college. It rests on the joyful noise this college makes to God in the extraordinary music of this place. It rests upon the countless opportunities all of us in this place have through reading and study, our experience of the arts, fellowship and service to deepen our faith and to become more fully human. This is a distinguishing characteristic of our college, and it sets us apart from most of the other excellent colleges in America today.