Harry Elam named the 16th president of Occidental College

Editor’s Note: Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne sent the following email to members of the Stanford community with the news of Harry Elam’s appointment as president of Occidental College.

It is with great pride that I share the news that Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education, vice president for the arts, and senior vice provost for education, has been named the 16th president of Occidental College. Harry will remain at Stanford through the end of the academic year. He begins his new role at Occidental on July 1.

Harry Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education, has been named the 16th president of Occidental College. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

While this is bittersweet news for all of us who work closely with Harry, I am delighted for him and for the students, faculty and staff at Occidental, who will get the benefit of Harry’s wise leadership and his unwavering focus on improving education and the student experience.

I’m also pleased that we can still expect to see Harry regularly here on campus. Harry’s wife, Michele Elam, will remain on faculty as the William Robertson Coe Professor in the Humanities in the English Department and as an associate director of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. Michele is held in the highest esteem by students and colleagues alike, and I am so delighted that she will remain at Stanford.

Harry has had a remarkable impact on our university since he came to Stanford in 1990 as an associate professor in the drama department (now the department of theater and performance studies). For the last decade, he has served as Stanford’s vice provost for undergraduate education, implementing critical educational initiatives. Since 2017, Harry has also served as vice president for the arts, responsible for overseeing the strategic future of the arts programs at Stanford, and as senior vice provost for education, responsible for helping to envision and realize critical efforts in education.

Harry’s accomplishments at Stanford are too numerous to name exhaustively. But I would like to highlight a few, to give you a sense of the breadth and scope of his work:

Reimagining undergraduate education:

  • Oversaw the implementation of Thinking Matters and the creation of the Ways of Thinking, Ways of Doing education requirements;
  • Conceived and implemented the creative expression requirement for undergraduates;
  • Formed the Student Advisory Group (SAG) to advise VPUE on the direction of undergraduate education at Stanford.

Supporting diversity and inclusion:

  • Developed and launched the Leland Scholars Program to ease the transition for incoming frosh from low-income backgrounds, under-resourced high schools or who are first-generation college students;
  • Created the SU STEM program to increase the number of under-represented minorities entering PhD programs in STEM fields.

Expanding student experiences:

  • Designed Arts Intensive, a pre-term, arts-focused program for students of all majors;
  • Created Stanford in New York, an undergraduate program focused on cultural experiences and professional development.

Leading faculty outreach:

  • Initiated and developed Faculty College, where faculty across campus could incubate ideas for new and innovative courses or curricular changes;
  • Enhanced faculty engagement with the Undergraduate Advisory Committee to the vice provost for undergraduate education, as well as the Bass Council of Fellows.

Creating a home for the arts:

  • Launched the Stanford Institute for Diversity in the Arts in 1996 and was its first director;
  • Directed the Committee on Black Performing Arts;
  • Oversaw the renovation of the historic Frost Amphitheater.

Along with these and Harry’s many other accomplishments, I am deeply appreciative of his commitment to Stanford’s Long-Range Vision. Harry co-chaired the Res-X task force and served as deputy project manager for IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Community). He has also ensured that the vision includes a continuing commitment to arts practice and expression.

On a personal level, I have been profoundly grateful for Harry’s wise counsel and his quiet good-humor since I became Stanford’s president in 2016. Harry’s depth of knowledge about this community has been an incredibly valuable resource for me. He is generous with his advice, candid with input and feedback and deeply thoughtful about how to enrich and improve undergraduate education at Stanford.

Most of all, at the heart of all of Harry’s work, has been his deep and abiding care for our students. Harry’s dedication to students informs every aspect of his work – from his diversity and inclusion efforts to his vision for Stanford as a home for the arts – and he has a wonderful ability to connect with students and parents on a personal level. This is first among the many qualities that make him a wonderful choice to lead Occidental College.

While Harry’s shoes will be hard to fill, we have already begun a search for the next vice provost for undergraduate education. I am also committed to maintaining the tremendous progress that Harry has made in making Stanford a vibrant home for the arts, and we will be looking closely at how to continue this work after Harry’s departure.

For 30 years, Stanford has benefited from Harry’s wisdom, his hard work on behalf of undergraduates and his advocacy for the arts. We’ve been proud to call him one of our own, and I am proud of his many contributions to Stanford. I hope you will all join me in wishing him the very best as he embarks on his exciting next chapter at Occidental College.