Occidental College President Harry Elam on Setting the Stage for Extraordinary Changes in Higher Education
From the ArtCenter College of Design’s Bi-Weekly Podcast
ArtCenter College of Design’s bi-weekly podcast features intimate interviews with leading artists examining the ideas fueling their work and how the creative process can be a catalyst for change—personally, professionally and globally. Hosted by ArtCenter President Lorne M. Buchman, these conversations examine the many ways in which artists and designers are enriching our lives. ArtCenter College of Design is a global leader in art and design education; and our mission statement—Learn to create. Influence change—lies at the center of all we do.
Harry Elam and Lorne Buchman had only met casually before sitting down to record this episode of Change Lab podcast. Interestingly, they had spent much of our early careers as two ships passing in the San Francisco Bay. Harry pursued his PhD in theater at U.C. Berkeley while Lorne earned the same degree at Stanford. They then traded places and Harry became a theater professor at Stanford and Lorne took a faculty position in Berkeley’s Dramatic Art department.
Their mirrored movements continue to this day. They now both serve as college presidents for venerable institutions located just a few miles apart in Northeast Los Angeles: Harry at Occidental College and Lorne at ArtCenter College of Design. Their intersecting interests and career paths seem to have prepared them to meet the unique challenges facing them and, really, all of higher education, at this moment. about the unique challenges and rewards involved in leading and uniting an academic community through growth and change.
Harry has written extensively on revolutionary theater movements and their role as catalysts for social change. His insights into how diversity can be woven into the fabric of an institution model offer a compelling and strikingly relevant model for creating systemic changes to increase diversity, equity and inclusion at Occidental and beyond.
This past year, maybe more than any other, has called upon both Harry and Lorne to draw on skills they developed in the theater. They’ve had to improvise and lean into the unfolding drama, responding to challenges with “yes and” rather than “no but.” Harry, who assumed the presidency of Occidental College in February of 2020, has risen to the challenges in his new role with particular grace and equanimity.
Their conversation sheds light on the importance of communal spirit—not unlike that of a theater company—in forging the path ahead. But, in the end, they are two theater guys connecting around our shared belief in the power of creativity and education, as well as in a conviction that, above all else, the show must go on.