Robert A. Skotheim, former president of Whitman College and retired president of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, has been appointed president of Occidental College beginning Jan. 1, 2008.
Skotheim is a historian of national reputation who, during his 13-year tenure at Whitman (1975-1988), led the largest capital campaign ever undertaken by any college or university in the Pacific Northwest up to that time. His term at Occidental will run until June 2009, when it is anticipated that the College will announce the appointment of its 15th president.
"We had the good fortune of having a number of highly experienced senior college leaders willing to consider this opportunity, and Bob Skotheim was the unanimous choice," said Dennis A. Collins, chair of the Occidental Board of Trustees. "Bob's wisdom, brilliance, passion for the liberal arts, and his extraordinary capacity to draw the best out of people are all qualities that make him an exceptional leader. His track record as the chief executive of higher education and cultural institutions is without peer. Occidental will be in very good hands."
Skotheim’s appointment follows in the wake of last month’s announcement by President Susan Prager that she was submitting her resignation, effective Dec. 31.
During his 13 years of service (1988-2001) at the helm of the Huntington, Skotheim, 74, was instrumental in focusing that major cultural institution on a new mission – education -- and broadening its vision to better reflect the Native American, Asian, Latino, and African American cultural materials in its collections. Under his leadership, the Huntington’s endowment more than doubled, budget deficits were eliminated, membership grew sixfold, and a major building program was launched.
"My wife Nadine and I naturally have mixed feelings about leaving family and friends in the Pacific Northwest. But Occidental is an outstanding liberal arts college, and we are pleased to be asked to participate in its work for the next 18 months and re-join our many good friends in Southern California," Skotheim said.
Both institutions, Whitman and the Huntington, honored him and his wife by endowing chairs in their honor on his retirement: an endowed chair in history at the former and an endowed chair in education at the latter.
Former colleagues at the Huntington praise Skotheim as a remarkably talented, accessible, and respected leader who turned the institution around. "Bob did a marvelous job at the Huntington. He stepped right in and provided extraordinary leadership," said Robert Wycoff, former Huntington board chair and retired president of Arco.
A native of Seattle, Skotheim received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in history from the University of Washington. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and the recipient of Washington’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the Distinguished Achievement Award in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Moving through the ranks from instructor to full professor, he taught at UCLA, the University of Colorado, and Wayne State University in addition to the University of Washington, and served as provost and dean of faculty at Hobart and William Smith colleges in the 1970s. His eight honorary doctorates include one from Occidental in 1989, when he was President John Slaughter’s first commencement speaker.
Over the years he has published a number of books, articles and reviews in the field of American intellectual history and social thought, among other topics. An authority on higher education and a passionate advocate for the liberal arts, Skotheim served on Whitman’s board of overseers for a decade following his tenure as president. He has served on many other boards, including the advisory council of the National Humanities Council at Yale University.
Skotheim and his wife Nadine currently reside on Bainbridge Island on Puget Sound near Seattle. They have three grown sons and daughters and eight grandchildren.
Founded in 1887 as one of the first institutions of higher learning in Southern California, Occidental College is one of the few nationally ranked liberal arts colleges located in a major city. Its student body of 1,877 students, drawn from 45 states and 22 countries, combines a remarkable diversity – more than a third are students of color; 15 percent are the first in their family to attend college – with a traditional commitment to academic achievement. Occidental students regularly win many of the nation’s most prestigious awards. Particular strengths include its superb faculty, a top-ranked undergraduate research program, extensive opportunities for interdisciplinary, overseas and independent study, a historic commitment to community-based learning, and a beautiful 120-acre campus designed by architect Myron Hunt.