October 14, 2002 - Denver Post: Former Peace Corps Director Richard Celeste sworn in as Colorado College President

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By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, October 15, 2002 - 9:57 am: Edit Post

Former Peace Corps Director Richard Celeste sworn in as Colorado College President

Read and comment on this story from the Denver Post on Former Peace Corps Director Celeste who was sworn in as Colorado College President and how he has created more controversy in three months on the job than some college presidents do in a career.

"Running a small college demands consensus-building, much like running the Peace Corps or a state government," he said.

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Colorado College inaugurates plucky leader *

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Colorado College inaugurates plucky leader

By Dave Curtin

Denver Post Higher Education Writer

Monday, October 14, 2002 - COLORADO SPRINGS - New Colorado College president Richard Celeste, 64, has created more controversy in three months on the job than some college presidents do in a career.

Even before he was inaugurated Sunday as the 12th president of the private liberal arts college, the former Ohio governor and ambassador to India created an uproar when he invited Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi to speak on campus the day after the 9/11 anniversary. Ashrawi resigned as Yasser Arafat's spokeswoman in 1998.

Gov. Bill Owens called it "outrageous." Hundreds of Jews and Christians demonstrated, and 30 Colorado Springs police officers lined a campus quad to keep the peace. A trio of state lawmakers called press conferences. One likened the event to "brainwashing our children" and called for Celeste's resignation.

No stranger to contention as a two-term governor, Celeste was unfazed. He saw the event as a scholarly exchange of ideas during a three-day symposium that offered the Israeli view.

"He was able to draw on his experience as ambassador to calm the waters," said English professor Dan Tynan, who served on the search committee that recommended Celeste. "Some joked that he even knew how many Porta Pottis to put out."

Indeed the Porta Pottis were Celeste's idea.

"In my experience as a demonstrator as a young person, I knew their importance," Celeste said. "While we separated the opponents and proponents in roped-off areas, it was gratifying to see that they were using the Porta Pottis side by side."

Celeste was chosen to lead the exclusive, 1,950-student college from 300 applicants by a board of trustees that was impressed by his life of personal achievement, his presence on the world stage and his proven fundraising ability as a successful politician.

"He attracts young people like a magnet. He's a mentor," said board chairman Bill Ward, who presided over Sunday's inauguration.

That is evident during Celeste's student "office hours" at the student center three times a month for four hours. Students line up to talk to him in private, doing homework while they wait. Even admissions dean Mark Hatch had to stand in line to get 30 seconds with the president during Celeste's office hours.

"Just the fact that he's so interested in students' perspective and is reaching out to us is impressive," said junior Bill Morton of West Des Moines, Iowa. He showed up to complain about the slowness of the campus Internet bandwidth.

"He just invited us to have a class activity at his home," said sophomore class president Lucas Farnham of Bend, Ore., as he emerged from a conference. "He said up to 120 people can fit in his house. I think that's pretty hospitable."

Debater Kyle DeBeer asked Celeste if CC could recruit debaters like it does hockey players. Another student wants to start a community garden.

Sometimes the conversations go deeper.

"A junior visiting from a good liberal arts campus in the East told me it's important to explain to the students the difference between reputation and fit," Celeste said. "She said she cried herself to sleep four nights a week because the students are so competitive at her home campus. She said here there's a cooperative attitude about learning and it's a better fit for her."

When Celeste spotted one shy student hovering outside the office, he went out and pulled her in. They spent a half-hour talking.

During a lull in the office hours, Celeste took a call from former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. Celeste invited him to CC to meet with students and faculty.

"During his interviews, I asked (Celeste) what he could bring to CC and he said he could bring the world," said Professor Tynan. "I thought at the time it was an easy answer. Now, I think it may be true."

The list of campus visitors includes Ashrawi and Gideon Doron, adviser to former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the keynoters of the contentious symposium at the college last month.

Celeste never has shied away from controversy. His office is covered with editorial cartoons lampooning him from his days as Ohio's Democratic governor from 1983 to 1991.

In 1985, Celeste closed all state-chartered savings and loans after the collapse of the Cincinnati-based Home State Savings Bank. Owner Marvin Warner, a Celeste contributor who long before had been appointed by the governor to run the Ohio Building Authority, was convicted of securities violations.

"Three investigations made it clear that Warner never received any favors from my administration," Celeste said last week. "Every depositor got every penny back and the state recovered every dollar advanced to protect the other 69 S&Ls affected by the crisis."

Then Celeste's administrative services director was caught placing state-owned furniture in his home. Celeste later named him chairman of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, but he was convicted of breaking a state ethics law in 1991.

"He was charged with two technical violations but ran an honest and efficient team handling all of the state's contracting, purchasing and hiring," Celeste said.

At the end of his term, Celeste commuted prison sentences for 26 women convicted of assaulting or killing their husbands or partners after they were victims of spousal abuse.

It was that controversy that caught the eye of the board of trustees.

"That's an enlightened view today, but it was far more controversial in those days," said chairman Ward. "It demonstrated to us, he's a man of principle.

"We were aware of all those things, but that comes with public service and we tried to look at the whole person," Ward said. "We felt he was the person we wanted. He's lived a life we hope all our students aspire to."

Celeste is at least the eighth former Clinton appointee to assume a college presidency, including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers at Harvard and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala at the University of Miami.

Celeste says being a college president requires the kind of leadership required of him as Ohio governor or as Peace Corps director from 1979 to 1981. He considered seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 1988, but couldn't raise enough money.

"Running a small college demands consensus-building, much like running the Peace Corps or a state government," he said.

But more than that, Celeste enjoys being around the students, he says. As governor, he slept in a dorm room and spent 24 hours meeting with students and faculty at every state university.

"I love their energy and curiosity," he says. "I put a lot of energy into the job, but I get far more back from them."

Faculty at CC were skeptical of the college's first president from outside academia since 1955. Some remain doubtful.

It didn't help that Celeste decided to reside in the college's special event facility - informally known as the faculty's party house, where they entertained and developed camaraderie.

But the faculty is warming to him as an outsider, Tynan says, and many were impressed how he handled the Ashrawi controversy.

Campus wags now joke that if the faculty accepts Celeste moving into their house, they must hold him in high regard.


Ambassador to India - 1997-2001

Economic development consultant - 1991-97

Ohio governor - 1983-91

Peace Corps director - 1979-81

Schooling: Graduated from Yale magna cum laude and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford


The private liberal arts college of 1,952 students in Colorado Springs is known for its block plan, in which students take one intensive course at a time. It has high admission standards and annual tuition of $25,968.

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