October 16, 1964
Alan Simpson, Oxford-educated historian and former dean of the college at the University of Chicago, was inaugurated as Vassar’s 7th president. Some 4,000 alumnae, faculty, students and guests, including representatives from over 300 American and European colleges and universities and 90 representatives from Alumnae clubs, filled the Outdoor Theater on a perfect Indian summer afternoon, as Mary St. John Villard ’34, chairman of the inaugural committee, introduced the speakers.
Charles C. Griffin, professor of history, brought greetings from the faculty; Katharine E. McBride, president of Bryn Mawr, greeted the new president on behalf of the women’s colleges; Herbert G. Nicholas, professor of American history and Fellow of New College, Oxford, spoke for the European universities; W. Allen Wallis, president of the University of Rochester carried best wishes from American colleges and universities and George Wells Beadle, president of the University of Chicago, spoke on behalf of Mr. Simpson’s former institution. Also in attendance were Sarah Gibson Blanding, Simpson’s predecessor, and Henry Noble MacCracken, president of the college between 1915 and 1946.
In his remarks, President Simpson, noting Vassar’s “special duty to consider the minds, aptitudes, and goals of women in an age where women everywhere are seeking new directions for their energies,” declared that it also shared with other colleges responsibility for the grand traditions of liberal learning. “The American university,” he said, “was once a one-story building with a few graduates in the attic. Today it’s often a one-story building with a lot of undergraduates in the basement.” The best liberal arts colleges, privileged to focus on providing undergraduates with individual programs and instruction and on offering breadth of knowledge instead of pedantry, “the characteristic vice of scholarship,” bore the responsibility for defending and strengthening these traditions.
The New York Times included some personal notes on Vassar’s new president in its coverage of the event, including his fondness for composing clerihews—four-line biographical verses beginning with the subject’s name; his preference for “Mr.” instead of “Dr.,”arising from his academic upbringing in England, “where members of the faculty do not ‘Doctor’ each other;” his plan to teach an advanced history class on revolutions in 17th century England in the spring term (“I always got great pleasure out of teaching.”) and his anticipation of taking part in a residence hall reading of Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell, where he was cast as the devil. The New York Times