A Ten-Minute Chat with the Vice-Chancellor-Elect

Meg Butler, News Editor 

and Rebecca Cole, Editor-in-Chief

The Purple met with Vice-Chancellor-Elect Robert Pearigen (C’76), alum and long-term faculty of the University, to chat about his new position at Sewanee. He and his wife Phoebe are excited to rejoin the campus community after his presidency at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. Pearigen is looking forward to his vice-chancellorship and a chance to re-connect with the faculty and student bodies. 

“Could you tell us a little about how it feels to be the vice-chancellor elect? And is there anything you would like to say specifically to students?”

Pearigen: “For the next few months, I’ve got to focus my attention on Millsaps, but Phoebe and I are really excited about coming to Sewanee. I was asked the other day by a student group what I would like to say to students, and mainly what I’d like to say is thank you. Thank you for entrusting your educational experience to Sewanee. You and your parents are making a big investment in your education, and it means a lot to be where you are, so thank you for trusting Sewanee.”

“We lived there [Sewanee] for 23 years, and that’s where we go for Christmas and Thanksgiving and sometimes summer. But as I’ve mentioned before, Sewanee is a different place than it was when I was there many years ago, and the world is a different place, and I’m a different person. I’m looking forward to bringing back to Sewanee a familiarity and love of the place, but also a recognition that we’ve got lots of work to do, progress to make, opportunities for moving the institution forward, and I’m really looking forward to that.”

“We understand that you wish to continue to teach, do you plan to teach at Sewanee in the politics department when you become acting vice-chancellor?” 

Pearigen: “Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be interested in coming to Sewanee unless I had an opportunity to teach. I teach most years [at Millsaps], I teach courses in political theory and constitutional law. For me, there are several reasons to continue to teach. For one, it keeps me connected to the core academic mission and purpose of the institution. It reminds me that this isn’t just about administration and governance and management, it’s really about the academic programs, so I’m really glad to stay connected to that. Secondly, it keeps me connected to my faculty colleagues; I’m reminded that ‘Gosh, I’ve got to grade those exams too’ and being part of that experience of being a faculty member, which is how I got started in higher education to begin with. I’m still trying to figure out this president thing; the teaching part is what got me started. And third, it connects me to a small group of students in a way that’s really meaningful. It gives me insight into their lives and their academic experience. It gives me stories to tell when I’m on the road talking with Sewanee friends and alums, to be able to relate back to students that are in my class that I’ve gotten to know well. And a lot of times, it gives me a chance to get to know not only them but their friends. I’ll often have students over to my house for dinner during the semester. It’s a great way to stay connected, and I look forward to doing that.”

*Pearigen later added “I may not be able to teach in my first year, but hopefully by the second.”