December 8, 2002 - Colorado Springs Gazette: Former Peace Corps Director Celeste brings class, political skills to Colorado College

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Former Peace Corps Director Celeste brings class, political skills to Colorado College

Read and comment on this story from the Colorado Springs Gazette on Former Peace Corps Director Celeste who has brought class and political skills to Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO. He accepted a job offer in a field he never worked in and moved to a new place, and seven weeks later he was on CNN, being asked to explain the finer points of a national controversy. Read about the controversary and how Director Celeste handled it in the following story.

One observation: Director Celeste is a former governor of Ohio. The present governor of Ohio, Robert Taft III, is a Returned Volunteer who served in Tanzania. And RPCV Congressman Tony Hall who left his seat in Congress this term to take his appointment as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations' hunger relief agencies is also from Ohio. With two governors and a congressman, Ohio is a Peace Corps state. But be careful. California and Connecticut are close behind with two RPCV members of Congress each. Read the story at:

CC president brings class, political skills to campus*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

CC president brings class, political skills to campus


He accepted a job offer in a field he never worked in and moved to a new place, and seven weeks later he was on CNN, being asked to explain the finer points of a national controversy.

Welcome to the life and times of Dick Celeste, who this year added "Colorado College president" to a resume that includes governor of Ohio (1983-1991), Peace Corps director and ambassador to India.

Early on, Celeste is making a strong impression on the CC community as an energetic advocate for the campus whose willingness to listen is a key element of his leadership style.

Celeste, 65, faced his first test, as well as CNN's cameras, in September.

That's when CC's quiet enclave became the epicenter of a national debate about whether Palestinian spokeswoman Hannan Ashrawi should be given a forum to speak about international relations after the Sept. 11 attacks. She was to be part of a two-day symposium CC faculty organized months before Celeste was hired.

Jewish communities in Colorado Springs and Denver complained the loudest, condemning the appearance of a Palestinian advocate a day after the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

"The symposium was a test for the college, and it was a test for me that we had not anticipated," Celeste said.

The president's response was to defend the event's educational value and back his faculty. "It was Colorado College doing what we should do as a college," he said.

Celeste, CC's 12th president in 128 years, managed the Ashrawi flap by welcoming busloads of Jewish protesters to campus. CC erected a tent to keep them out of the sun, provided a podium and microphone for their speakers and rented portable toilets.

"My point to people was, `How we handle this is critically important,'" Celeste said.

In the end, he said, "The faculty were able to take a measure of me."

After taking an interest in a college president position at Cleveland State University, Celeste said his name was "in play" for some vacancies.

Not long after that, he was told his name was mentioned in connection with CC.

After being offered a job in a place he knew nothing about, Celeste had relatively little problem deciding to move to Colorado Springs. He has six grown children from his first marriage and a 5-year-old son, Sam, with his second wife, Jacqueline Lundquist.

At 65, Celeste is hardly a candidate for a gold watch and a pension check, having jetted off on several cross-country trips in his first months as president

The first three Thursdays of the term, he kept open office hours for students, and many took advantage.

"I think the students love him because he takes the time to listen to us," said Quana Rochelle, the senior class president. "He has a genuine interest in our well-being. He's a great role model. People admire him for his accomplishments. He's incredible with young people."

College presidents tend to rise from the ranks of academia and often have multiple postgraduate degrees.

Before CC, Celeste never worked for a college. He graduated magna cum laude from Yale and was a Rhodes Scholar.

Celeste, a Democrat, served a term as lieutenant governor in Ohio before losing a race for governor. In 1979, he was appointed to head the Peace Corps by President Jimmy Carter.

He got back into Ohio politics, getting elected governor in 1982 and was re-elected four years later.In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Celeste ambassador to India, a post he held until 2001.

College campuses are known as highly political environments, and having been twice elected governor of Ohio, Celeste said being a college president doesn't put him in unfamiliar territory.

Celeste prefers fund raising for CC to asking for political campaign contributions for races in which victory can't be guaranteed.

"It's an easier ask when it's not for yourself," he said, adding that when requesting donations for CC, "I offer a no-lose proposition."

Is having political savvy a plus?

"I will give you a better read after a couple of years, but I certainly think my political experience has helped," he said.

The liberal Democrat held sway in Ohio for eight years, yet Republicans seem to hold him in high esteem.

"I think he's a pretty good guy," said Ohio State Sen. Dick Finan, president of the Ohio Senate. "He was a very up-front guy, very friendly and personable, and I think he'll make a very good college president. But we disagreed on many issues."

"Dick Celeste is very competent and charismatic and always had a big interest in education," said John Green, a Republican political science professor at the University of Akron.

"He had to deal with a Republican-controlled state Senate, and he turned out to be pretty effective. People always knew where Dick Celeste stood. He was willing to take small steps towards what he wanted. People respected him. They felt he was honest and straightforward."

"It's interesting that the college chose an alternative type of leader," said Curt Steiner, chief of staff for former Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, a Republican. "He will draw a lot of national attention to the college, and he will generate a great deal of support. He is not a shy, retiring sort, and I wouldn't be surprised if there is a little controversy associated with his presidency."

Celeste said he hopes to increase minority enrollment, which stands at about 15 percent, and there are plans to increase the numbers of minorities among faculty and staff. A minority recruiting position was added this year.

"That starts at the top," he said. "I have to be willing to pick up the phone and call people."

Asked if CC will have a higher profile in Colorado Springs, Celeste said, "I hope that the answer to that is yes. We have to do a much better job of telling people who we are."

Although many of CC's 1,900 students do volunteer work, Celeste said the college has "had a one-noted signature in town, and that's ice hockey, and there's nothing wrong with that."

Wednesday, Celeste is scheduled as the keynote speaker for a luncheon sponsored by the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation and the Colorado College Business and Community Alliance. His topic: "CC, the Springs and Economic Development."

Governors and college presidents must deal with diverse, complex issues, and they're not always knowledgeable about them.

Celeste said the trick is to be a quick study "and acknowledge that you don't know everything."

An ex-governor might have an advantage over academicians when it comes to being a college president, he said.

"Collecting information is something they're very good at. Making decisions is something they're less comfortable with. ... I'm comfortable making decisions."

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Copyright 2002, The Gazette, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company. All rights reserved. Contact us.

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