(AMHERST, Mass., June 1, 2022) — Amherst College announced today that Michael A. Elliott ’92, a professor of English and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Emory University, has been named its 20th president. Elliott will begin his tenure at Amherst on Aug. 1. He succeeds Biddy Martin, who has served as Amherst’s president since 2011 and who announced last year that she would conclude her term in 2022.
The announcement was made in an email to the College community by Andrew J. Nussbaum ’85, chair of the Board of Trustees and of the Presidential Search Committee, which included faculty, students, staff, and trustees. The committee recommended and the board approved, both unanimously, Elliott’s appointment.
“Michael impressed the search committee and the board with the breadth and depth of his scholarly work, joined with a proven record of excellence in leadership at Emory across a wide range of strategic initiatives,” said Nussbaum. “And, like Biddy, he is as kind as he is smart, someone whose own story, beginning with his education at Amherst, echoes the importance of the liberal arts experience in building a life of contribution and consequence. I am thrilled to welcome him back to Amherst.”
“As an undergraduate at Amherst College, I encountered the power of a liberal arts education to transform the lives of its students and to shape the world far beyond the campus,” said Elliott. “I am elated to have the opportunity to work with Amherst’s exceptional faculty, staff, and alumni in pursuit of this mission, and I can’t wait to meet the extraordinary students of Amherst this fall. Under Biddy’s leadership, Amherst has recruited a new generation of faculty whose scholarship demonstrates the value of the liberal arts—and the College has made impressive advances to ensure that students of all socioeconomic backgrounds have access to its transformative educational experience. At this moment in our history, what Amherst does to prepare its diverse body of students to provide leadership in a complex, rapidly changing world has become more urgent and critical than ever. I feel incredibly fortunate to be returning to this remarkable academic community.”
Elliott has served as the chief academic and executive officer of Emory’s College of Arts and Sciences, the university’s core undergraduate division and home of the liberal arts, since May 2016. The college comprises more than 35 academic departments, 570 full-time faculty, and approximately 5,500 students.
The Charles Howard Candler Professor of English at Emory, Elliott is a scholar of American literature and culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to authoring two books related to American literary and intellectual history, he has received several prestigious research fellowships. His acclaimed Custerology (University of Chicago Press, 2007) explores how Custer and the Indian Wars continue to be both a powerful symbol of America’s violent past and a crucial key to understanding the nation’s multicultural present. The late Larry McMurtry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, called Custerology “vivid, trenchant, engrossing, and important.” Elliott also serves on the editorial board of The Norton Anthology of American Literature and has co-edited two other books, as well as numerous articles and book chapters in scholarly publications.
He has held fellowships at Yale’s Beinecke Library, Harvard’s Warren Center for Studies in American History, and the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. He has also advanced research in the humanities through a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the development and publication of digital monographs.
“Michael’s notable scholarly work and prize-winning teaching, his impressive accomplishments as the dean of Emory’s College of Arts and Sciences, and his articulation of the importance of the liberal arts to democracy combine with his deep commitment to educational opportunity, equity, and inclusion to make him a superb choice to lead our beloved Amherst as its 20th president,” said Martin. “His demonstrated priorities and contagious enthusiasm for the work ahead will make Amherst an even greater Amherst under his leadership.”
Lisa Brooks, a member of the search committee and the Henry S. Poler '59 Presidential Teaching Professor of English and American Studies at Amherst, stated: “Michael Elliott has demonstrated a strong, enduring capacity for building an innovative, inclusive curriculum and understands the ways in which student mental health is intertwined with curricular balance and invention. As a scholar, he exemplifies interdisciplinary inquiry, inviting wide audiences to consider storied places of memory, such as Greasy Grass/Little Big Horn, from multiple prisms and perspectives, embracing curiosity and critical thinking as drivers of research and public dialogue. He is a highly respected and accomplished scholar of American literature and culture and Native American literature. Michael’s vision for liberal arts leadership in the world is both inspiring and inclusive. Most important, Michael seems ready and eager to listen.”
As dean since 2017, and interim dean during the prior year, Elliott has a remarkable record of successful strategic initiatives at Emory. He spearheaded the college’s critical work to establish race and inequality as one of the signature research and teaching strengths of the college. Working with Emory faculty, he actively led the development of a new doctoral program in African American studies and has supported faculty hiring in both Latinx studies and Native and Indigenous studies. Elliott has overseen the hiring of large cohorts of faculty over the past four years and initiated several strategies to increase faculty diversity. During his tenure as dean, more than half of the college’s new faculty have identified as either underrepresented minorities or as women in STEM disciplines, or both, doubling that overall percentage in the process.
“I am so sorry to see Michael leave and so happy for him,” said Carol Anderson, professor and chair of African American studies at Emory and author of The New York Times best-seller White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. “He has been a tremendous leader, visionary, and partner in helping to build African American studies and in sending an incredible signal throughout the college that diversity is excellence. And he did this well before the social justice uprising of 2020, not in response to it. He is smart, kind and transparent. When he tells me ‘no,’ I always know why and understand the thought process behind the decision -- that is priceless.”
Elliott has advanced Emory’s commitment to need-based financial aid by leading a fundraising initiative that created 165 new scholarship endowments. His support of student success has taken many forms, including a one-credit course, “The Liberal Arts Edge,” that helps students articulate the value of their liberal arts experiences and connects them to resources such as internships and undergraduate research opportunities. With a substantial grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Elliott, in partnership with another Emory dean, created Humanities Pathways, a program that comprehensively embeds post-college career planning into the curriculum and supports faculty who develop courses that connect humanistic disciplines to career exploration so that all students feel prepared for professional success. His sharp focus on student engagement and development was recognized in 2020 when the graduating class awarded him the Brit Katz Senior Appreciation Award, given annually to a staff member, administrator or member of the faculty selected by seniors for service as a role model and friend to the senior class. Elliott has also received the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award and the University Research Council Award from the university.
He earned a B.A., summa cum laude, from Amherst College in 1992 with a dual major in English and Russian. Elliott completed his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1998 with distinction in English and comparative literature. After joining Emory as assistant professor of English and director of graduate studies in the English department in 2004, he rose to professor of English and American studies in 2009. At Emory, Elliott has served in several other key administrative roles, including as faculty associate in the School of Graduate Studies (2007-09), followed by senior associate dean of faculty (2009-14), and executive associate dean (2014-15) and interim dean (2016-17) in the College of Arts and Sciences. He was then named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences after a national search.
Elliott met his wife, Jennifer W. Mathews ‘91, at Amherst, and they have two children.
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Amherst College prepares students to use ideas to make a difference in the world. Since its founding, in 1821, in Western Massachusetts, Amherst has demonstrated steadfast confidence in the value of the liberal arts and the importance of critical thinking. Today, its financial aid program is among the most substantial in the nation, and its student body is among the most diverse. Small classes, an open curriculum and a singular focus on undergraduate education ensure that leading scholars engage daily with talented, curious students, equipping them for leadership in an increasingly global and complex world. The College celebrated its bicentennial in 2021.