When Steven Tepper stood behind the Hamilton podium for the first time since being announced as the College’s next president, he admitted that the view took him a bit by surprise.
Tepper walks through the snow next to Molly Root House
Steven Tepper (center) and his wife Dana (right) toured campus with Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Ngoni Munemo (left). (See photos and read more from Tepper’s remarks below.)

Many of the students, faculty, and staff who filled the Chapel on February 29 for Tepper’s first in-person remarks to the community were sporting colorful cardstock bow ties — an homage to the incoming leader’s favorite accessory, which he mentioned in a video announcing his appointment. It was an idea that Professor of History and College Marshal Lisa Trivedi had to “mark the occasion in a welcoming and warm-hearted way” and to ensure he felt at home in his new community. 

“To look out and see all of these bow ties, I’m really speechless, which is not a good thing to be before you’re supposed to give a speech,” he said. “I have felt the warm reception, so thank you for making today an incredible day.”

The 35-minute event in the Chapel followed a busy day for Tepper and his wife, Dana, that included tours of academic facilities and spaces, conversations with faculty and staff, and a reception with student leaders. President David Wippman began the program with brief reflections on his eight years at the helm and his endorsement of the College’s next leader.

“When I leave Hamilton at the end of June, I know I will miss it greatly. I will miss the beauty of the campus, the rhythm of academic life, and, most especially, the people,” he said. “But I take great comfort in knowing that Hamilton has found the perfect leader to take it into the years ahead.”

After commending the search committee on doing a “fantastic job,” Wippman invited the two student members of the committee, Sophie Thompson ’24 and Quentin Messer ’26, to speak about what excites them about Hamilton’s 21st president.

“Dean Tepper has a vibrant and joyful spirit that is contagious when he walks into the room,” Thompson said. Messer added, “[Steven] is a creative, observant, and enthusiastic administrator who acts in the best interest of the students and the College.”

The duo then introduced the search committee co-chairs, trustees Linda Johnson ’80 and Bob Delaney ’79. Johnson offered her sincere thanks to the search committee, shared her deep admiration of Wippman, who will step down on June 30, 2024, and her enthusiasm for Tepper. “Fortunately, we have found a new president who exemplifies the values of the College; he is smart, creative, and believes deeply in the liberal arts.”

Steven Tepper

President-elect, Hamilton College

Current Dean, the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University

Ph.D., Princeton University
M.P.P., Harvard University
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Bio & CV

Delaney acknowledged Tepper’s “impressive resume [and] scholarly accolades” before sharing insights from the committee’s unanimous decision to choose Tepper, noting that members found him to be “a tested and experienced leader” with an “inspired communication style,” who listens “with care and attention” and “makes [people] feel as if [they] are only one in the room.”

“In Steven, we have found someone whose belief in the liberal arts matches Hamilton’s commitment to this extraordinary form of education,” Delaney said.

He then turned the microphone over to Tepper, who brought humility, humor, and energy with him to center stage. Hamilton’s future president spoke for nearly 20 minutes on topics spanning his entire life to date, including his upbringing just outside of Washington, D.C., and being what he described as “Smithsonian baby,” to the moment he realized, at age 17, that he “wasn’t creative,” which served as the seed for what became his life’s work.

“I’ve spent the rest of my life as a sociologist and a scholar trying to understand creativity in a context where forces are trying to restrict and contain it; asking how we place it at the center of education, of community building, of democracy, of work,” he said. “I want to make sure that our social institutions, which include our colleges and our universities, and all of our collective stories of ourselves and of our potential as a species, are not unduly restricted by this narrow view of creativity.”

Dean Tepper has a vibrant and joyful spirit that is contagious when he walks into the room,” Sophie Thompson ’24 said. Quentin Messer ’26 added, “[Steven] is a creative, observant, and enthusiastic administrator who acts in the best interest of the students and the College.”

Quentin Messer ’26 and Sophie Thompson ’24 Members of the search committee Quentin Messer ’26 and Sophie Thompson ’24.

Snippets from Tepper’s Remarks

“I’ve seen and visited many, many universities campus across country, and Hamilton is a creative campus. Its commitment to an open curriculum, its commitment to original research and discovery — and especially the opportunity for students to participate in that original research and discovery — its ability to connect what’s happening inside the classroom and what’s happening outside the classroom; its embrace of free inquiry and the exchange of ideas, and its openness to asking those sort of ‘What if?’ questions, and to continuously evolve the technology, the spaces, our teaching styles, our ideas, so that this liberal arts college remains the most relevant in the world and among the best, always and forever. That requires a constant evolution of who we are and how we work.”

“I have ideas. You have ideas. But ideas that exist in our head are not what visions are made from, right? Visions are built from the exchange of those ideas, the refinement of those ideas, the prioritization of ideas, the testing of those ideas. And so that vision of Hamilton will come from the work that we all do together over the next months and years.”

“I […] want to acknowledge how generous and gracious President Wippman has been to me, and how much I’ve already learned from him. He has been such an extraordinarily dedicated and exceptional leader who has prepared this College for so much ahead. Thank you, David.”

Tepper told attendees that his favorite expressions are “What if?” and “Onward.” He posed a series of “What if?” questions for attendees to ponder. Here’s a sampling:

  • “What if we make Hamilton a democracy makerspace where we actively practice and build the muscle necessary for renewing our civic life, where we approach the most contentious issues of our time, not primarily from a position of outrage, but from a place of inquiry and learning?”
  • “What if we are known for preparing the most resilient and optimistic graduates on the planet?”
  • “What if Hamilton, already known for developing incredibly powerful and strong communication skills — written and oral — what if we aspire to go beyond fluency and to prepare master communicators?”
  • “What if every single member of this community could show up in every space in their full humanity? Where they’re seen and they’re recognized and they’re honored and they’re embraced for their distinctive perspective and their experience and their creativity? Where there could be critique without judgment and failure without fear?”

“Hamilton’s known for preparing leaders, but the leadership skills necessary for the fourth industrial revolution have evolved. How do we work with intelligent machines? How do we lead teams who might be collaborating across the planet in virtual spaces? How do we center ethics and privacy and human needs in the face of ubiquitous computing and big data? And how do we learn to embrace complexity and pluralism? And how do we accept information in a world of deep fakes and all of the information echo chambers?

“The leadership still needed to confront those challenges are likely not to come from our world's best business schools. They’re going to come from our world’s best liberal arts colleges. Maybe Hamilton can redesign the relationship between liberal arts and leadership for the next 50 years.”

“To be honest, I really couldn’t take the relentlessly good weather and sunshine of Phoenix, Arizona, anymore,” he joked. “We actually had a doctor tell me that you can get too much vitamin D. I think we're just on the cusp of having too much of it. So, this is perfect timing.”

“And there’s also lots of scorpions. They’ve crawled around our house for many years. And I just want to acknowledge that I am actually not the courageous one in our family. That’s Dana. Dana was the CSR, the Chief Scorpion Remover, by default because I couldn’t get near them. So, the snow — the winter wonderland here today — is going to be a great change for us. We're looking forward to it.”

“Today, and in the years ahead, I’m ready to learn. I am so open to your ideas. […] I am thrilled by what we will continue to build together, and I will take it seriously. Dana and I will show up and give you everything we’ve got and we will be ready to learn, and to take your energy in and hopefully return it with equal, if not more, energy.”

Meet Steven Tepper

A sociologist and the current dean and director of Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Tepper brings a visionary approach to making creativity and human expression central to learning, discovery, and civic engagement.

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