M. Lee Pelton: Focusing on Diversity

M. Lee Pelton takes a "personal interst" in diversity. As a black man in university administration, he has urged his colleagues to confront the issue.

He was appointed president of Willamette University in Salem, Ore., last year and promptly appointed a diversity task force and proposed exchange programs with historically black colleges.

"No institution of higher learning in America may confidently lay claim to greatness without diversity," he said Feb. 19, 1999, in his inaugural speech at Willamette.

But for Pelton, who got a Ph.D. in English from Harvard and served in the University administration, diversity is not the only challenge universities must face right now.

"All institutions are struggling over how to use technology for [instruction] without negatively affecting communication, without negatively affecting the face-to-face contact we so prize," Pelton says.

He says he is also interested in how universities teach ethical issues.

"I think that biology is the next great revolution of the twenty-first century," he says, "because we're not at the point where biotechnology and biogenetics are really reshaping how we think of ourselves as a species."

Pelton was a tutor in Kirkland House for four years, then senior tutor in Winthrop House .

He was also a senior administrator at Colgate University and was dean of Dartmouth College until 1998, until he was appointed president of Willamette, which has law, management and education schools in addition to its college.

"He has knowledge of the management of a number of institutions and would be very helpful to us," says John B. Fox '59, who was dean of the College when Pelton was senior tutor at Winthrop.

After receiving a BA in English and psychology from Wichita State University, Pelton earned a Ph.D. in 1984 from the Department of English and American Literature and Language.

He sits on the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences alumni council and says he has continued to take an "active interest" in undergraduate education at Harvard, serving on the Overseers' visiting committee for the College since the early 90s.

Pelton says he believes the Overseers work "effectively through visiting committees because they complete work done in partnership with deans and administrators."

Three years ago, the visiting committee looked in detail at University Health Services.

"After visiting with students, faculty and administrators, we were able to present to the provost some observations and even recommendations," Pelton says.