Around the Institute

Welcome, Dan Porterfield

November 30, 2017  • James Schine Crown

I am delighted to announce that Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., President of Franklin & Marshall College, has been named the next President and CEO of the Aspen Institute. He will succeed Walter Isaacson, effective June 1, 2018. For the next several months, while Dan is completing the academic year at F&M, he will be attending various Aspen Institute meetings and events to get to know the Aspen Institute staff and programs. I’m very pleased and grateful to report that, in order to facilitate continuity of operations and an effective transition, Walter will remain our CEO until Dan assumes his new role.

Following an exhaustive and thorough process, Dan was unanimously recommended by the Search Committee and elected by the Institute’s Board of Trustees this morning. Dan stood out to the Search Committee as the right leader for this moment in the Institute’s history. An innovative, strategic thinker, Dan brings to the position an intellectual depth, a commitment to inclusivity and diversity, and an ability to lead a complex, mission-driven organization to create impact and make a difference in the world.

Throughout this thoughtful and deliberate search process, we were thrilled and honored to be working with so many impressive candidates. We selected Dan to lead the Aspen Institute because his career reflects lifelong impact in values-based leadership and a commitment to the open exchange of ideas – those pillars of our mission that have withstood the test of time and are poised to carry us into the future. When we began this process, we stated publicly that we were looking for a leader who could embrace our mission; elevate others; be an agent of change; preserve integrity; build bridges; reach more Americans; expect excellence; and exhibit joy. We have found the candidate who fulfills all of those criteria in Dan Porterfield.

Since 2011, Dan has led Franklin & Marshall College, a leading national liberal arts college founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1787. Under his leadership, F&M has set school records for applications, fundraising, and fellowships; developed cutting edge new centers for student wellness, career services, and faculty excellence; and constructed a new visual arts center, a testament to his commitment to the liberal arts and the humanities. A scholar of English, he also teaches literature courses dealing with human rights, education, and social justice.

Perhaps most importantly, Dan led F&M to develop the Next Generation Initiative talent strategy, through which the College strengthened its academic excellence and competitiveness by tripling the percentage of incoming low-income students and more than doubling the percentage of domestic students of color. The Washington Post described his approach as a “recruiting revolution.”

A former Rhodes Scholar and recipient of a 2016 White House Champion of Change Award, Dan is a highly visible college president who has been outspoken on education issues; a list of articles he has authored can be found here here. While dramatically enhancing the visibility of Franklin & Marshall College over the past seven years, he galvanized the creation of a national initiative of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, the American Talent Initiative. Funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the initiative has a national goal of enrolling 50,000 more high-achieving low-income students in leading institutions by 2025. In 2016, he spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival to discuss the future of higher education.

Prior to his appointment at F&M, Porterfield served as Senior Vice President for Strategic Development for his alma mater, Georgetown University. In this role, he led Georgetown’s institutional positioning, strategy formation, communications, government relations, community relations, and intercollegiate athletics, and he spearheaded the University’s relationship with DC Public Schools.

Before coming to Georgetown in 1997, Porterfield served for four years as a senior aide to then-US Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. He earned BA degrees from Georgetown and Oxford and his Ph.D. from The City University of New York Graduate Center and was awarded a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities. A native of Baltimore, Dan and his wife, attorney Karen A. Herrling, have three children.

We could not have arrived at this point without the wisdom and tireless efforts of the members of our Search Committee which included my Co-Chair, Bob Steel, and Trustees Madeleine Albright, Mark Hoplamazian, James Manyika, David McCormick, Carrie Walton Penner, Margot Pritzker and Lynda Resnick. The Committee was extremely mindful to represent the myriad interests of Aspen Institute stakeholders and staff in this important decision.  Throughout the past nine months they were steadfast in their sincere commitment to our mission. They are to be commended for their service to the Institute.

I also extend my gratitude to the members of our Staff Advisory Committee who provided us with guidance and insight on behalf of the 400+ Aspen Institute employees whose daily contributions to our mission make possible all that we do: Kitty Boone, Maureen Conway, Abigail Golden-Vasquez, Tom Loper and Jamie Miller.

I would also like to thank the executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates for their able assistance throughout this process.

And a special thanks goes to the indefatigable Eric Motley who, as Corporate Secretary, helped steer the entire process, worked to keep to our schedules and deadlines, and served a pivotal role in helping us arrive at this decision.

I cannot end this note without acknowledging the extraordinary tenure of Walter Isaacson, whose 14 years as President and CEO of the Aspen Institute have marked a second “Golden Age” for this organization.  Walter’s bold vision, creative energy, and keen intellect helped to create for the Institute a global footprint with powerful impact and the credibility to establish itself as a trusted voice. After relocating to his hometown of New Orleans, Walter will join the History Department of Tulane University and teach his first class in January 2018. He will also become an Advisory Partner focusing on technology and the new economy with the global financial services firm Perella Weinberg Partners, where he currently serves on the board. Congratulations on a job well done and thank you, Walter.

By early next year, the Aspen Institute will be on the cusp of an exciting new chapter in its 67-year history.  We will have relocated our Washington headquarters to a new building, and the renovation of important public spaces on our Aspen Meadows campus will be well underway.  As always, our impressive array of programs and initiatives will be fully engaged in tackling challenging problems and surfacing innovative ideas to resolve them. We will continue to offer something that both America and the world seem to need ever more: a forum to bring people together to share ideas and seek common ground through civil and respectful discourse. I can think of no better person to lead us at this critical moment than Dan Porterfield. Please see here for some words of endorsement from some members of the Search Committee, and from others who know him well, on why he is the right choice for us.

Please join me in welcoming Dan to the Aspen family. We are thrilled to have him on our team.

James S. Crown is Chairman of the Aspen Institute Board of Trustees