Charles E. Shain, 1915-2003
Charles E. Shain, 1915-2003

Connecticut College President 1962-1974

Charles Shain died in Maine on April 13, 2003, at the age of 87 from complications associated with Alzheimer´s disease. He was a beloved president at Connecticut College from 1962 to 1974.

Shain, who came to Connecticut College from Carleton College, soon found himself in the upheavals of the Sixties, a time of great challenge for all college presidents as students demanded a voice in governance and became active in the urgent social and political issues of the day: the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and the crises of poverty here and abroad. This was the era of the shootings at Kent State, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., urban riots, and marches on Washington. Connecticut College students were as active as their peers elsewhere, and their activism was not limited to national and international crises. Their efforts to participate in college governance, revitalize student government, and have a role in academic planning led to a new relationship between students and faculty, with a greater degree of engagement and experimentation softening the hierarchical modus operandi.

General Education requirements were recast to “cultivate intellectual excellence and to develop persons who can live meaningfully in a world of multiple values, rapid change, and uncertainty,” and the College strove for “the means to a unified education with the student at its center and a world within its circumference.” Interdepartmental and self-designed majors were introduced, together with one of the earliest baccalaureate majors in Chinese. Important as these and other developments were, nothing influenced the future of Connecticut College more than the adoption of coeducation in 1969. Inconceivable ten or twelve years earlier, within the context of the social and political debates of the time coeducation was an idea whose time had come. The rightness of the decision has been borne out in the experience of three decades.

Like his predecessors, President Shain was a builder. In 1969 Cummings Arts Center anchored the south campus with exciting spaces for art and music, linked to Palmer Auditorium by the handsome Castle Sculpture Court. Plans for a new library were drawn up in 1973-74 in preference to a second expansion of Palmer. Ready to retire after twelve rewarding but demanding years at the helm, Charles Shain left it to his successor to make the final decision about the library. Some years later, after that library had become the heart of the campus, it was named in honor of the president who had led Connecticut College through some of its most challenging years.

— Brian Rogers, from an essay in Connecticut College: The Long View,1999