Photo of Dr. John Strassburger and students

Dr. John Strassburger

In January 1995, Dr. John Strassburger was inaugurated as the 11h President of Ursinus College. During his 15-year presidency, Strassburger led the college through a liberal arts renaissance focused on student scholarship and opportunity, as well as global citizenship.

Physical changes to campus included the new Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center, the Floy Lewis Bakes Field House, and extensive renovations to existing buildings and campus spaces. Strassburger focused on the student academic experience with special attention to student-led research and study abroad experiences. And, perhaps most importantly, the college’s Common Intellectual Experience (CIE) program is another part of Dr. Strassburger’s legacy as a leader dedicated to Ursinus and its strong liberal arts tradition. The program recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of its establishment.

Faculty Reflections

During his presidency, John Strassburger brought a new vibrancy to liberal arts at Ursinus College by his support of CIE and what it stands for. That is, that the college is a community of scholars united by a love of all aspects of human knowledge that is shared through CIE for the students and for the faculty who teach it. I remember those first years of organizing CIE as time when a group of faculty members sat around a big table and hashed out what should be included in CIE and how to teach it. I loved being able to step outside my discipline (Biology) and participate in those rousing discussions and be part of the entire faculty, not just Biology. And those discussions continue to this day in the CIE training for faculty before the semesters start. I try to bring the spirit of those discussions to my CIE class each time I teach it; I have continued to teach CIE 1 and 2 nearly every other semester and often reference its readings in my Biology courses. In this way I attempt to bring liberal arts to a full circle to include their major.

Dr. Ellen Dawley, Professor of Biology


Late on a November afternoon in 1997, a few faculty members sat in Olin Lounge discussing the college core. We had been appointed to the college’s Middle States committee, and the core was our assigned focus. To liven up this sleepy group, someone said: “Ok, let’s say we have just one course where students have to confront what we think are the essential human questions.” In the spirit of “let’s put on a show,” Robert Dawley, Dallett Hemphill, and Steve Hood enthusiastically signed on. They suggested we present this proposal at the fall faculty conference. The subsequent “breakout session” generated much excitement. It also deepened our sense of the daunting obstacles any such proposal would face. Who, other than a very few, would endorse a course that’s mandatory for every Ursinus student, lasts four-semesters (yes, four), and is to be taught by faculty from every discipline? Beyond the sheer logistical difficulties it would present, could faculty be persuaded to embrace something so disruptive to long-standing practice? There are very good reasons that so few institutions have a course like The Common Intellectual Experience.

After that initial flurry of excitement, the idea seemed destined for burial where faculty enthusiasms are laid to rest. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, it lived on. It did so only because of the encouragement and support of John Strassburger. Having been a dean at Knox College, he knew all too well the magnitude of the changes such a program would entail and the friction they would cause. But President Strassburger also knew, in a way that is rare among college presidents, the meaning and worth of liberal education. He understood how beneficial the Common Intellectual Experience, as the portal to this education, could be for our students. That benefit was the touchstone that guided every moment of his presidency. Without that understanding, without the unstinting support to which it led, CIE would never have seen the light of day much less thrive for over two decades. Its existence testifies to how very fortunate Ursinus was to have John Strassburger as its president.

Dr. Paul Stern, Professor of Politics