Remembering Wesleyan University President Emeritus Colin G. Campbell

Editorial StaffJune 22, 20245min

President Michael S. Roth ’78 sent the following message to the Wesleyan campus community on June 22, 2024:

I am saddened to report the death of President Emeritus Colin G. Campbell, MA ’71, Hon. ’89 on Friday at the age of 88.

Colin guided Wesleyan through an exceedingly challenging time with great skill and fortitude. When he became president in 1970 at the age of 34, Wesleyan was adapting to profound social changes at the very moment when financial instability threatened to jeopardize the University’s future. He had the unenviable task of managing retrenchment in order to align Wesleyan’s high aspirations with constrained resources, all the while keeping vocal constituencies in productive dialogue. His ability to manage this daunting task while eliciting universal respect was nothing short of remarkable.

Colin believed deeply that the only way to reach a sound decision was through a sound process in which all parties had an opportunity to participate and be heard. He exuded civility and mostly, though not always, received it. His patience for process, for digging down to the nugget of a hard problem, was legendary. He dealt with campus controversies, such as divestment from U.S. firms in South Africa, by insisting that students immerse themselves in issues and learn from them. He rarely showed impatience, and if he needed relief from the demands of a turbulent campus, he found it on the water at his beloved Black Point home on the Connecticut shore.

A full list of Colin’s accomplishments during the 18 years of his presidency would be lengthy indeed. He oversaw Wesleyan’s transition to a fully co-educational campus while the University also sought to be more open and welcoming to students of color, a task that began a decades-long effort to address the persistence of racism in higher education. He worked with the faculty to bring more coherence to the curriculum, led Wesleyan’s first successful capital campaign, and oversaw numerous improvements to the physical campus, ranging from the opening of the Center for the Arts to the expansion of Olin Library.

He had a prodigious memory for the names of people, their children, and their concerns. His personal warmth, his rapport with students, and his devotion to Wesleyan were evident in all he did. He and his gracious wife, Nancy, were a welcoming presence at innumerable campus and alumni events. Wesleyan honored them with the Colin Goetze Campbell and Nancy Nash Campbell Reference Center overlooking Andrus Field and the Colin and Nancy Campbell Chair for Global Issues and Democratic Thought. The couple was instrumental in preserving Wesleyan’s history even as they steered the University into the future.

Colin was my Wesleyan president. I shook his hand when I crossed Denison Terrace in 1978, and he was among the first to call me with congratulations when I was appointed president in 2007. For his many contributions to Wesleyan’s growth as a leading liberal arts institution, we acknowledge his passing with gratitude, admiration, and deep respect. May his memory be a blessing.

He is survived by Nancy, chair emerita of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; four children, Betsy Campbell, Jennifer Celata, Colin M. Campbell, and Blair Campbell; as well as son- and daughters-in-law Robert Celata and Liz Campbell; and eight grandchildren.

A service will be held at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, at 2 p.m. on Monday, July 8, 2024. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and Hospice of the Lowcountry in Bluffton, South Carolina.