Harry J. Elam Jr., vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford University for the past decade, will become the 16th president of Occidental College on July 1, the school’s board of trustees announced Tuesday.
The Occidental board unanimously selected Elam at the conclusion of a year-long national search to succeed Jonathan Veitch, who announced in January 2019 that he will step down on June 30 after an 11-year tenure.
“Harry has the proven leadership skills, profound understanding of undergraduate education and enthusiastic embrace of our commitment to access and excellence that we were looking for,” said Occidental Board Chair Steve Rountree.
“In addition to his academic credentials, Harry has a genuine ability to connect with people,” Rountree said. “From an impressive field of candidates, he emerged as the clear frontrunner and was the board’s unanimous choice.”
Elam said he was “honored to have been chosen to lead Occidental, one of the country’s top liberal arts colleges.”
“The college’s mission, founded on a commitment to excellence, equity, community and service resonates deeply with me, as do its academic strengths across disciplines, its vibrant ties to Los Angeles, a faculty equally committed to teaching and research, and talented students from all backgrounds determined to have an impact on our world,” Elam said.
“Over the past years I have, in effect, operated a liberal arts college within the structure of a research university. Occidental represents a particularly dynamic vision of the liberal arts, and the work of collaborating with faculty, students and staff to lead the college into the next phase of its evolution is a truly exciting opportunity.”
A member of the Stanford faculty since 1990, when he joined what is now the Department of Theater and Performance Studies, Elam has served in a variety of senior administrative positions. For the past 10 years, he has been responsible for nearly all policies and programs relating to Stanford’s 7,200 undergraduate students.
“While this is bittersweet news for all of us who work closely with Harry at Stanford, I am delighted for him and for the students, faculty and staff at Occidental College,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “They will get the benefit of Harry’s wise leadership and his unwavering focus on improving education and the student experience.”
Elam grew up in the turbulent era of court-ordered school desegregation in Boston and is a leader on issues of diversity and inclusion, according to Occidental officials. They noted that at Stanford, he created the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, initiated a summer bridge program for first-year students from under-resourced high schools, and designed a program to increase the number of students of color pursuing graduate degrees in STEM fields.
A graduate of Harvard College who earned his doctorate in the dramatic arts at UC Berkeley, Elam is the author and co-editor of seven books, including “The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson” and dozens of journal articles and book chapters.
In addition to his scholarly work, Elam has directed professionally for more than 25 years, including “Blues for an Alabama Sky” or Theaterworks in Palo Alto and several of August Wilson’s plays.
He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the College of Fellows of the American Theatre, and is the recipient of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education’s highest award and a career achievement award from the American Society for Theatre Research.
His wife, Michele Elam, is a humanities professor at Stanford and an associate director of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.