Carleton College Names Professorship for John E. Sawyer

A new endowed professorship at Carleton College, given through a generous gift by one of the College’s former trustees, Francis T. (Fay) Vincent, Jr., will be named in honor of John Sawyer, a former president of Williams College and of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

11 October 1999 Posted In:

A new endowed professorship at Carleton College, given through a generous gift by one of the College’s former trustees, Francis T. (Fay) Vincent, Jr., will be named in honor of John Sawyer, a former president of Williams College and of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The John E. Sawyer Professorship of Liberal Learning recognizes the accomplishments of Carleton President Stephen R. Lewis, Jr., by paying
tribute to Sawyer, Lewis’ personal mentor and an innovative educator who helped change the face of liberal arts education and influenced the
leaders of some of the country’s most respected institutions of higher learning.

“I wanted to acknowledge [Steve Lewis’] contributions to higher education by honoring the guy he most admired and respected,” said Vincent, a
former commissioner of Major League Baseball whose friendship with Lewis dates back to their college days together at Williams. Vincent decided the chair, though named for Sawyer, would be more appropriate at Carleton, where it could also honor Lewis. “Steve will have plenty of things named for him in his time,” Vincent said, adding that “Steve and I have wanted to honor Jack for a long time. He taught us how to lead, how to manage a complicated institution, and how to think about educational issues.”

Sawyer has been viewed as a visionary by some-“Ask any liberal arts college president to name the most notable presidents of this century, and
Jack Sawyer’s name is invariably mentioned,” said Harry C. Payne, president of Williams at the time of Sawyer’s death in 1995. After leaving
Williams, Sawyer served for 15 years as president of the Mellon Foundation, where he promoted cooperation among the nation’s libraries, and was a leader in the fields of conservation and ecology.

The professorship is designed to be held for three to five years by a member of Carleton’s faculty who has shown a high degree of skill in
mentoring colleagues in teaching, scholarship and service.

Its first holder is Perry C. Mason, a 31-year member of Carleton’s philosophy department who has a long history of providing leadership to the College. According to Lewis, Mason is “skilled in doing Carleton’s business,” serving on numerous committees and in key administrative roles, as well as being a mentor to younger faculty members.

Praising Mason for his ability to influence those around him and to guide his younger colleagues, Lewis recalled what Sawyer meant to him.

“Jack was a man who conveyed to me, and to others, the lesson that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it and your heart behind it,” Lewis said. “He was a masterful planner, he paid attention to the details involved in moving institutions forward, and he built consensus on major issues by gathering the support of all the college’s constituencies.”

Lewis observed Sawyer’s masterful planning skills in action when he was an economics professor and provost to Sawyer’s presidency at Williams
during one of the nation’s most tumultuous eras: the late 1960s and early 1970s. Vincent served on the Williams Board of Trustees at the time.

As president of Williams from 1961 to 1973, Sawyer’s boldest move was to abolish the college’s dominant fraternity system. After some initial opposition, his actions received generous alumni support, which eased the way for the college’s later transition to coeducation, restructuring of its
academic calendar, and diversification of its student body. In 1970, Williams completed a fundraising campaign $4 million ahead of its goal.
Annual giving nearly tripled under Sawyer’s leadership, as did the college’s endowment.

Such lessons were not lost on Lewis, who has been president of Carleton since 1987. According to Lewis, Sawyer was methodical in “putting
people together”-he took great pains in matching up younger faculty with appropriate mentors and was keenly aware of how the right mix of human
relationships could enable an institution to make momentous changes.

In 1998, Carleton completed its most successful fundraising campaign, raising $158.5 million, which was $18.5 million more than its goal. Lewis
attributed that success to what he coined the “transformation of stewardship”-gaining broader alumni support, and giving all of the College’s constituents a greater sense of ownership of Carleton, as well as personally engaging the people with key roles in moving the College forward.

Lewis also seems to have modeled his management style after Sawyer.

For example, Lewis learned from Sawyer the value of “blue notes,” a management tool he uses as a personal and distinctive way of communicating with faculty, staff, students and alumni. Many Carleton employees know the joy, and sometimes anxiety, associated with receiving a handwritten note jotted on blue paper from Lewis-sometimes it’s a simple thank you for a job well done, at other times, constructive criticism.

“Not a day goes by in my professional life that I don’t use something Jack taught me,” Lewis said. By establishing this professorship, both he and
Vincent hope that legacy will go on.