Safa Zaki laughs while greeting people after speaking to a large audience at Morrell Lounge on Thursday afternoon. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Bowdoin College’s new president, who was born in Egypt and grew up in countries around the world, spoke passionately Thursday about the importance of facing enormous global challenges with a diversity of perspectives and disciplines.

Safa Zaki Courtesy Bowdoin College

“I’m deeply committed to this model, especially in this moment with the challenges that face us today, with the racism and structural inequality, with climate change, with emerging technologies that will change how we interact with each other,” Safa Zaki told a group of students, faculty and alumni gathered at the college to meet her. “This is the time to lean in on the liberal arts because progress on these issues and many others isn’t going to come from a single discipline, but from the varied approaches reflected in our curriculum.”

Zaki, a psychology professor and the dean of faculty at Williams College in Massachusetts, will become the sixteenth person – and first woman – to lead the 229-year-old college. She succeeds Clayton Rose, who announced last April he was stepping down after eight years.

Bowdoin’s announcement Thursday came after a 19-member search committee conducted a nine-month search.

Sydney Asbury, a Bowdoin trustee and co-chair of the search committee, said it was clear from the moment they met Zaki that she was “a special person with the leadership experience and values to make a profound impact on the Bowdoin community.”

Siena Harrigan of Hopkinton, Mass., laughs while speaking to Safa Zaki, Bowdoin College’s new president, at an event at the college on Thursday. Harrigan gave a tour to Zaki a few weeks ago, but did not know that she would be the new president at the time. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Zaki told those who came out to meet her that she was drawn to Bowdoin’s unique sense of community and its commitment to the common good.


She praised Rose’s commitment during his tenure to making Bowdoin more accessible and affordable to students and said “it is imperative to keep opening doors.”

Zaki joined the faculty at Williams in 2002 and became known as an advocate for faculty and staff, according to Scott Perper, chair of the Bowdoin’s board of trustees. Her academic research focuses on how people divide the world into categories – and she loves exposing students to new thinking that might get them to question their assumptions, Perper said in a statement announcing her appointment.

She moved around growing up, and lived in Tanzania, Syria, Jordan and Trinidad and Tobago. She earned her undergraduate degree at American University in Cairo, then moved to the United States in 1990 to pursue her master’s degree and doctorate at Arizona State University.

“In Safa Zaki, Bowdoin has found a distinguished scholar and leader with a global perspective who believes deeply in the transformative power of a liberal arts education,” Perper said. “Her exceptional career in the academy, her appreciation for the humanities as well as science and technology, and her commitment to the imperatives of diversity, equity and inclusion, coupled with an authentic and engaging approach to leadership and team building, make Safa the right choice for Bowdoin.”

Safa Zaki, Bowdoin College’s new president, greets students including Mira Karande, a first-year student from Concord, Mass., after speaking at Morrell Lounge on Thursday afternoon. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

After her official introduction to the college Thursday, Zaki lingered in the Smith Union to meet students and faculty. Thetis Fourli and Selima Terras, both international students, waited in the long line to welcome her.

“As an international student from Greece, I’m excited to have someone with such a diverse background,” Fourli said. “She is going to inspire a lot of people on campus.”


Terras, who is from Tunisia, said she introduced herself to Zaki because she wanted the incoming president to feel like part of the community.

“I really hope she thrives at Bowdoin and feels welcome here,” she said.

Rose, whose time at Bowdoin ends after this academic year, said he is thrilled Zaki will lead the college.

Safa Zaki, Bowdoin College’s first female president, speaks to a large audience at Morrell Lounge on Thursday afternoon. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Safa’s character, exemplary scholarship and teaching, dedication to students, and deep experience as an administrator and colleague to faculty and staff make her the perfect leader for Bowdoin,” he said.

Bertrand Garcia-Moreno, a trustee and co-chair of the search committee, said among Zaki’s strengths are her ability to transcend borders and disciplines and her deep understanding of the inner workings of the liberal arts.

“She is a citizen of the world and she is about to find out Maine is the best place in the world,” he said.

Zaki and her husband, Huff Templeton, plan to move to Brunswick by July. She said she grew up near the water and is looking forward to being on the coast of Maine.

“This feels a bit like coming home,” she said.

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