By Aria Cummings
n April 22, 2016, The Evergreen State College celebrated the inauguration of its sixth President, George S. Bridges. The celebration began with a procession featuring dancers from the Git-Hoan tribe from Southeast Alaska, faculty members, college and university delegates, the Board of Trustees, and Bridges himself.
A welcome speech was given by Evergreen Board of Trustees Chair Fred Goldberg, who presented a medallion to Bridges. Other speakers included former Washington Governor and Evergreen President, Daniel J. Evans.
The event featured a gifting ceremony led by coordinator of the Native Programs at Evergreen, Tina Kuckkahn- Miller, in which Bridges received a bowtie hand-carved by Skokomish artist John Smith, among other gifts.
When the ceremony was complete Bridges gave his inauguration speech, which focused on thinking about the future of Evergreen and the direction he would like to see it move. He began by asking, “what has the college achieved in transforming and benefitting the lives of our students,” and “what are our hopes for Evergreen in terms of how it serves future generations of students?”
Bridges thanked Evergreen’s founders who, in his words, “encouraged a model of teaching and learning that promotes creativity and curiosity over compliance with academic requirements,” and are “committed to an educational experience that gives primacy to personal relationships between faculty and students, championing a process that inspires lives and careers.”
In his acknowledgment of the founders of The Evergreen State College, Bridges states that they were “motivated by intellectual passions rather than the necessities of employment or career trajectories; nurtured an institutional culture and mission dedicated to advancing social justice and the embetterment of the community and in our society; and recruited and retained generations of faculty to embrace and carry on this unique vision , passion and pedagogy.”
Bridges spoke about the Evergreen goal to “shape and transform the lives of our students,” highlighting programs for students to participate in community based learning and internships that allow “students to translate theory into practice,” and later said he would like to ensure “every student must have the opportunity for an internship, research assistantship, or community-based project that expands their learning beyond their academic programs and courses.” He praised students connections to Olympia and Tacoma, and wanted to strengthen these relationships that extend beyond campus.
Bridges shared lots of high praise for the institution of Evergreen and it’s history, but also said he wants to make sure the school “sizzles with new ideas and approaches to all aspects of teaching and learning.”
He stated that as president he would like to invest further in faculty development, so that professors can best meet the needs of students, while also allowing “faculty more opportunities to pursue their creative and scholarly interests with each other.”
Bridges also wants to prioritize creating new curriculum for the school, “a curriculum that is as flexible and agile as it is innovative, adapting to the backgrounds, interests, and expectations of the students we admit.” However, he then seemingly contradicted this stating that “curricular offerings must be more predictable over time.”
Bridges continued talking about his visions and what may be to come at Evergreen. He announced that in the next few years a large renovation of student housing will take place, and referred to this as an important opportunity to improve living conditions and to connect students with one another.
He continued discussing improvements saying highlighting connecting with students, “our support in advising, mentoring and tutoring must reach and meets the needs of every student.” He continued that it is the administration’s responsibility to forge these connections saying, “every student must have active, working relationships with our advisors, student mentors and the faculty and staff with whom they routinely interact. We cannot expect students to come to us—we must routinely reach out and go to them.”
Bridges also seemed to acknowledged some of the issues facing the administration, say he is creating the Equity and Diversity Standing Council, which will “will work to develop an action plan for improving the cultural climate on our campus. This plan will identify and address inequities at the college while also expanding opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups to have greater voice in major decisions that affect their experiences, education and work. Our goal is to ensure that all campus members feel welcome, empowered, safe and fully capable of succeeding.”
Bridges concluded his speech by saying that “We all have dreams that Evergreen can and will become much more than it is now. Let us have the courage to dare to make our dreams for the college and for the generations of present and future graduates a bold and everlasting reality.”
The night then concluded with the Evergreen Singers singing the Alma Mater and Evergreen fight song.
Although just inaugurated George Bridges has been our acting president since the beginning of this school year. He came to the Evergreen State College after serving 10 years as president of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and prior to that he was a dean and professor at University of Washington (UW).
Bridges’ background is not in education, but criminology. After earning his undergraduate degree in 1972 from UW, Bridges pursued his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. There he earned his M.A. in criminology and Ph.D. in sociology. Prior to pursuing an academic career, Bridges worked as a social scientist in the staff office of the Attorney General of the United States.
So far in his time as president, Bridges has hosted many student events with the clear focus of trying to engage directly with the Evergreen community. If his inauguration is any sign, we can expect these efforts will only increase.