WATERVILLE — Colby College President William D. Adams announced Wednesday that he will retire June 30 next year, after 14 years as head of the liberal arts college.
Adams, now 65, came to Colby in 2000 as its 19th president.
During his tenure, he led an ambitious $376 million capital campaign — the largest ever in the state — which funded construction of several new buildings, expansion of the college on the Colby Green and other projects.
Adams also oversaw growth in programs such as environmental studies and the visual arts on the Mayflower Hill campus.
“I am honored to have had the opportunity to lead such a remarkable place,” Adams said Wednesday. “Colby is an outstanding institution — among the very finest of its kind anywhere.”
Adams said he plans to complete a book about French philosophy and art, and in doing so, will to return to Paris where he once spent time as a Fulbright Scholar.
After retirement, he and his wife, Lauren Sterling, plan to divide their time between their homes in Belgrade Lakes and Portland, he said.
“We’re going to remain residents of Maine and certainly stay involved in some ways in the Waterville community,” he said.
Bob Diamond, chairman of Colby’s Board of Trustees, called Adams an extraordinary leader, mentor and friend to many in the Colby community.
“His positive impact on our curriculum, our physical plant and Colby’s broader reputation with alumni, parents and prospective students has been enormous,” Diamond, a 1973 Colby graduate, said in a press release.
He said Adams spearheaded efforts that significantly enriched the student body at Colby, attracting a more diverse and international group. By dramatically increasing Colby’s endowment for financial aid, Adams helped expand access to Colby for all qualified students, according to Diamond.
“Because of his efforts, Colby is well prepared for the future and we owe him our most sincere gratitude,” he said.
A committee this winter will begin the search for a new president. Michael Gordon, chief operating officer of Angelo Gordon & Co., based in New York, will be chairman of the committee. Gordon is a 1966 Colby graduate.
Adams said Wednesday that the thing one notices, while living and working among students, faculty, staff and volunteer leadership at Colby, is that the college “never forgets that it is meant to grow and improve.”
“There is a hunger for excellence here and a sense of ever-expanding potential. I know that Colby’s next president will find, among these colleagues, scope and enthusiasm for pursuing whatever great things lie ahead for this college.”
Colby sits on 714 acres, has 1,825 students and with 700 employees, is the second-largest employer in the city next to MaineGeneral Health, which has 1,617 in Waterville alone.
Adams’ tenure during 13 years has been busy and active, both on campus and in the community.
Early on, he launched a strategic planning process to develop a master plan for the college.
That plan resulted in construction of the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center as well as the Diamond Building, which houses social sciences and interdisciplinary departments and programs. Adams helped found the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, which is based in that building.
The Pulver Pavilion, a student center, was built; two state-of-the-art artificial turf fields made; and a biomass steam plant constructed with a goal of replacing a million gallons of oil annually with forest byproducts.
Construction of the Colby College Museum of Art’s Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion is nearly complete and the expanded museum will house the Lunder Collection, valued at more than $100 million. A new science building, now under construction, is expected to be completed next year.
Strengthening the Colby/city bond
Beyond that, Adams has long operated under the philosophy that the college and city are valuable and important to each other, and critical to each other’s success.
In that vein, Colby has supported city projects, both financially and through community service.
Those projects include the Waterville Opera House renovation, Hathaway Creative Project, Waterville Public Library, Quarry Road Recreation Area, Railroad Square Center and the Maine Film Center.
Mayor Karen Heck on Wednesday praised Adams as “an amazing friend and partner with the city.”
“There is no question that Waterville has benefited greatly from his being president at Colby and he will be missed — no question about it,” said Heck, a 1974 Colby graduate. “He understands the importance of a strong Waterville and how that benefits Colby and also how Colby can be a partner with Waterville in so many areas. And he has worked tirelessly to strengthen that bond.”
Adams is often seen at major events in the city, including Waterville Opera House openings and the Maine International Film Festival. He also has served on boards and committees in the city.
“Colby will always be here and so it’s important that we be productively engaged,” he said. “We are particularly mindful of that now, in Colby’s bicentennial year, because so much of the history of Colby is bound up with Waterville.”
The city early on gave land to Colby so that it could move from College Avenue to Mayflower Hill, with an opportunity to grow and expand.
“The city was hugely important all along, but particularly in the early days and then with the move to Mayflower Hill,” Adams said. “It’s a deep relationship and I’m proud of the fact that it’s a pretty positive one, generally, now.”
Adams was hired at Colby after serving as president of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., for five years, but his connection to Maine began long before that.
“My father was born in Augusta and his family was from Maine,” he said. “I was familiar with Maine and I knew I would be happy here.”
Getting to know Waterville was a very important part of his experience at Colby, he said.
“I sensed that Colby would be a very good place for me but I think the quality of my experience here has exceeded any aspirations or expectations I had.”
Adams says he will continue to be busy during the next 18 months.
“We have some important financial obligations to complete in this and next year and we have some program objectives and goals too,” he said, “including work on our writing program and some additional steps to take with environmental studies and the visual arts. So we’ve got a lot to do.”
A graduate of Colorado College and University of California, Santa Cruz, Adams taught political philosophy at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Santa Clara University before working at Bucknell. He also coordinated the Great Works in Western Culture program at Stanford University and was vice president and secretary of Wesleyan University.
Amy Calder — 861-9247