Connecticut College selects Les Wong as interim president
The Connecticut College Board of Trustees has unanimously elected Leslie E. Wong, Ph.D., a nationally respected leader in higher education, to become interim president of Conn, effective July 1, 2023.
Wong will succeed Katherine Bergeron, whose nearly decade-long tenure as Conn’s 11th president concludes June 30. He will serve until the College’s 12th president is selected and assumes office.
Wong, a former president of San Francisco State University and Northern Michigan University and a former interim president of the University of Southern Colorado, has been a member of Conn’s Board of Trustees since 2019. He will resign his role as a recently re-elected trustee and serve on the Board in an ex officio capacity, as is customary, until the 12th president is appointed.
In his announcement to the Conn community, Debo P. Adegbile ’91, chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, said, “Les has deep experience in higher education leadership and a strong understanding of Connecticut College through his Board of Trustees service and committee-related work. As a member of the Board of Trustees since 2019, Les is well known to many in the Conn community. His commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has been evident throughout his academic career. Due to his extensive presidential leadership experience and knowledge of Connecticut College, Les is uniquely positioned to assume this important role.”
In his initial message to the Conn community, Wong said, “It is such an honor to be named interim president of Connecticut College. Since I joined the Board in 2019, the faculty, staff, students, administrators and alumni have shown me the resolve, the persistence and the spirit that are needed for a great college to confront whatever comes before it.”
He added, “As a steward of this institution, I believe we have a tremendous opportunity at hand, particularly in executing our strategic plan, Building on Strength, which will guide me during my role as interim president. This role requires considerable listening and dialogue as well as a willingness to engage ideas and aspirations of everyone at Conn.”
As a member of the Board of Trustees since 2019, Wong has served on the Executive Committee, chaired the Faculty-Trustee Liaison Committee and served as vice chair of the Committee on Academic Affairs. He received his Ph.D. in educational psychology from Washington State University and previously served as president of San Francisco State University and Northern Michigan University for a combined total of 15 years. Before these roles, he served as vice president of Academic Affairs of Valley City State University and as interim president, provost and academic vice president of the University of Southern Colorado. He is married to Phyllis Michael Wong, who is the author of the award-winning non-fiction book We Kept Our Towns Going.
Wong, who identifies as a person of Mexican and Chinese ancestry, has served on the NCAA’s Task Force on Equity and Inclusion. He led a national effort to admit Mexican universities into Division II of the NCAA and since 1985 has worked closely with the State Department to promote U.S.-China relations as well as the well-being of Chinese Americans. He also led California’s statewide effort to expand Project Rebound, a social justice initiative that helps formerly incarcerated students to earn college degrees.
With Conn’s interim president position now filled, the Board of Trustees will turn its full attention to the search for the College’s 12th president. A 15-member search committee of trustees, faculty, staff and students plans by late June to select a national executive search firm that specializes in higher education. The firm’s first steps will include seeking input from a cross-section of senior administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents and other friends and supporters of the College.
Connecticut College Art Department Presents: “Revisiting the Nut Museum”
The Connecticut College Art Department will present a retrospective of artist Elizabeth Tashjian’s paintings, drawings and sculptures from the 1930s through the late 1990s. “Revisiting the Nut Museum: Visionary Art of Elizabeth Tashjian” opens on Oct. 21, and runs through Dec. 6 at Cummings Art Galleries.
The exhibition recreates the Nut Museum’s main exhibition gallery, with all of its original furnishings, art and displays. It also features a compilation of the “Nut Lady’s” media appearances on national television. Organized and curated by Professor Christopher Steiner and students from his advanced seminar, the exhibition features a comprehensive view of Elizabeth Tashjian’s artistic vision over the course of her nearly 70-year career.
Born in 1912 in New York City, Tashjian’s artistic interest in nuts began shortly after her arrival at the National Academy of Design, where she painted both nut still-lifes and highly magnified cross-sections of nuts. After moving to Old Lyme, Connecticut, with her mother in 1950, Tashjian became active in the Lyme Art Association, where she often exhibited her work. On a whim in April 1972, Tashjian opened the Nut Museum. The museum was housed on the ground floor of her sprawling 19th-century Victorian mansion on Ferry Road. The home’s dining room served as the main exhibition gallery and featured Tashjian’s nut paintings, as well as a collection of nuts, nutcrackers and nut-related memorabilia.
Although the Nut Museum’s original mission was to highlight the beauty of nuts as depicted in Tashjian’s art, the museum’s scope soon expanded. “As creator and curator of the Nut Museum, I became aware that some people have a load considering themselves to be a nut,” said Tashjian. “So, my motives changed. I set out to remove the demerit marks from the word ‘nut’. My painting then used the power of art to make social commentary.”
In 1981, Tashjian appeared on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Her success with Carson led to scores of other talk show appearances, including interviews with David Letterman, Jay Leno, Howie Mandel, Roseanne Barr, and Howard Stern. Tashjian’s television performances generally included a rendition of one of her songs: Nuts Are Beautiful (1973) or the March of the Nuts (1978).
Under Professor Steiner’s stewardship, Connecticut College was entrusted to preserve approximately 150 paintings, 200 drawings, 20 sculptures, 100 boxes of documents and photographs, and all furniture and displays from the museum portion of the house.
A curator’s talk is scheduled at 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30 in Cummings Room 308, followed by an opening reception in the galleries at 5 p.m. Gallery hours for the fall are Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1–4 p.m. Galleries are not open to the public during breaks (Sept. 29–Oct 1; Oct. 9, and Nov. 26–Dec. 1).