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Emerson President Lee Pelton Balances Arts With Liberal Arts

Gov. Patrick offers remarks at the installation ceremony for Dr. Lee Pelton as the 12th President of Emerson College at the Cutler Majestic Theater in downtown Boston. (Eric Haynes/Flickr)

Gov. Patrick offers remarks at the installation ceremony for Dr. Lee Pelton as the 12th President of Emerson College at the Cutler Majestic Theater in downtown Boston. (Eric Haynes/Flickr)

If you or your child are looking at colleges, there’s a pretty long checklist to consider.

Can you specialize in your chosen field? Does it offer a balanced education? Will the school really launch you into the job of your dreams? What are the dorms like? Are there study abroad options? And how much debt will you end up with on graduation day?

These are challenges not only for students and parents, but also for college presidents who work to balance the many demands of students, faculty and trustees — all while keeping applications rolling in year after year.

President Lee Pelton of Emerson College is one of those presidents. Emerson is located in the heart of Boston and defines itself as a school “devoted to communication and the arts in a liberal arts context.” It can be a tough balance to strike when 18-year-olds are arriving on-campus with dreams of Hollywood and Broadway.

But Pelton is working on initiatives he hopes will attract both passionate artists and students seeking a strong liberal arts education.

Emerson just opened a sensational $85 million campus in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood — it’s the first of its kind for an East Coast school

But Pelton also recently launched the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, the College Presidents’ Gun Violence Resource Center and the Presidential Fund for Curricular Innovation.


Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College.


Boston Magazine: The Power Of Ideas

  • “In a town where there’s no shortage of exceptional educational leadership, Pelton makes no small plans. In the past year alone, he unveiled Emerson’s stunning new $85 million dollar campus in L.A.”

WBUR: Emerson College Debuts New Hollywood Facility

  • “Boston’s Emerson College this weekend opens its new $110 million complex for television, film and advertising students looking to learn the ropes in Hollywood.”

The Boston Globe: Emerson Game Lab Aims To Fix Local, Global Problems

  • “The game used by the international organization is a product of the Engagement Game Lab at Emerson College, a group of play-oriented programmers, designers, and researchers who see video and computer games as a promising medium for promoting civic involvement and solving problems from neighborhood planning to global warming.”

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  • Mark Hays

    The Old is New Again

    Lee Pelton’s approach with Emerson is similar to changes that swept colleges and universities 50 years ago. UMass Dartmouth, for example, was based on the 1960 merger of the New Bedford Institute of Technology and Bradford Durfee College of Technology — lifted to ‘university’ status with the addition of a liberal arts curriculum. Today, UMass Dartmouth retains a strong engineering and science program, along with a newer nursing program, linked to a liberal arts foundation.

    My father attended a similar college after World War 2, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Based on a very practical school for mining engineers, they added “technology” during WW2 — along with general education requirements.

    Then as now, students needed a solid and practical degree that would lead to a good job — along with the knowledge and perspective that a liberal arts foundation provides.

    Mark Hays

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