Lee Pelton – 20/20 Visionary


Emerson College
Lee Pelton is the 12th president of Emerson College in Boston. He is a nationally and internationally known speaker and writer on the value of a liberal education and the importance of leadership development, civic engagement, and diversity in higher education. He came to Emerson on July 1, 2011, after serving for 13 years as the president of Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

Since arriving at Emerson, Pelton has outlined an exciting vision for the College. In particular, he has focused on increasing Emerson’s institutional capacity and effectiveness, while deepening community engagement. He has created new incentives and resources for faculty development, interdisciplinarity, global engagement, and innovation; promoted and renewed the College’s civic leadership; and improved financial planning and operations.

He has overseen the creation of several new programs and departments, including Emerson Launch, an accelerator program that provides opportunities for students to launch new businesses before graduation; the creation of a business of creative enterprises major and program; the first of its kind comedic arts major and program; the Office of Research and Creative Scholarship, which set records for the number of grants and grant funds awarded to the College for innovative scholarly pursuits; the Office of Internationalization and Global Engagement, which supports faculty and research exchanges and strategic partnerships with universities abroad; HowlRound, an international center of online communication and collaboration tools for researching processes, opportunities, and best practices for developing new theatrical work; the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research, further establishing the College’s commitment to neighboring communities and addressing a variety of issues of societal importance; and in January 2014, the opening of Emerson College Los Angeles, an architecturally stunning 107,000-square-foot living-learning facility in the heart of Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard, which dramatically advances Emerson’s rapid growth as the world’s hub for the arts, communication, and liberal arts disciplines in higher education.

Pelton began his academic career at Harvard University, where he earned a PhD in English literature with an academic focus on 19th-century British prose and poetry. He taught English and American literature at Harvard and served as senior tutor at Winthrop House. He later served on the Harvard Board of Overseers and as a vice-chair of its executive committee. After Harvard, Pelton served as dean of the college at Colgate University and Dartmouth College.

He was recognized as a thought and innovation leader in Boston magazine’s May 2014 issue: The Power of Ideas: 75 Bold Thinkers Who Are Shaping Our City and the World and Boston 50 on Fire, recognizing 50 leading innovators in Boston, (November 2014) He has received numerous awards, including the Boston’s 100 Most Influential People, Get Konnected (April 2015) Diversity Leadership Award (The National Diversity Council, October 2015), the Sabra Award (Israeli Stage, November 2014), Speak the Truth Award (Student Immigrant Movement, December 2014) and the Champion of Freedom Award (Freedom House, March 2012. He has also been featured in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Presidency Magazine, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Color Magazine, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Diversity Journal, the Oregonian, Oregon Business Journal, and the Seattle Times, and he has been a guest on NPR affiliate station WBUR. He has received honorary degrees from the Boston Urban College and Tokyo International University.

Over the years, Pelton has been active in several higher education associations and cultural organizations including the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education (past chair), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the Association of American Colleges & Universities. In addition to his service as a Harvard Overseer, he has served as a member of the Harvard University Graduate School Alumni Council, the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, Harvard Magazine, Board of Incorporators and several Harvard Visiting Committees.

He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Boston Chamber of Commerce, Museum of African American History (Boston), Boston Arts Academy (Chair), the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, Pro Arts Consortium (President), the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, and the Council of Independent Colleges, as well as the advisory board of Israeli Stage. He is a member of the Board of Trustees at Trinity College (CT), WGBH, and the Museum of Fine Arts.