This story has been modified since its initial publication to reflect a clarification.
Sarah Bolton has been named the new president of Whitman College.
Bolton, currently president of The College of Wooster in Ohio, will begin her new job in Walla Walla when current President Kathleen Murray retires in July.
Murray took the Whitman helm in 2015 and hoped to build close connections with the entire community, according to her bio.
She is exiting the school, however, as the institution weathers some cloudy skies.
Those include a severed relationship with the Walla Walla Police Department in response to controversy in 2020 regarding an officer’s double lightning bolt “SS” tattoo and, more recently, a dispute arising from staff and program cuts that garnered protest in 2021.
An independent investigation, funded through a Whitman professor’s crowdsourcing campaign, is in the works to review the school’s endowment activity, enrollment trends and other fiscal metrics as part of a complaint by some regarding budget transparency.
Bolton, however, said the recent issues at the college and protests by students and faculty were not daunting.
“I think having students and faculty that are passionate about the liberal arts and passionate about their college and about teaching and learning is a really good thing,” she said.
“Whitman clearly has that. People are proud of the work they have done, and they care about the work that they do. I don’t think that’s intimidating, I think that’s a strength. I don’t want to be at a college where people aren’t passionate.”
Bolton holds a doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. She also earned a bachelor of science in physics and biophysics from Brown University.
Before Wooster, Bolton worked at Williams College in Massachusetts for 25 years as a professor and dean.
She said she hadn’t planned on leaving Wooster until she heard of the opening at Whitman.
“I knew about Whitman long before I heard about this particular (job opening),” Bolton said.
“When I became aware of this search, it caught my eye … I love being at Wooster. It’s a wonderful institution also … It really was that the Whitman opportunity was presented to me and was really interesting to me for a lot of reasons.”
Bolton said that despite her own background in the sciences, Whitman is, and will remain, a liberal arts college.
“The liberal arts, that broad learning and exploration of every field of study, is really, really important,” Bolton said. “It’s timeless, but it’s also really important right now … What did we learn from the pandemic? We learned just having the science isn’t going to solve it. You need to understand how societies work.”
She and her husband will be relocating to Walla Walla this summer, the educator said.
“I love to hike and walk and be outdoors,” Bolton said. “We really look forward to exploring some of the trails in the area. We know it’s an area that has a lot of beautiful outdoor space where people can be in nature.”