2014 Graduate Commencement Speaker

BreisethChristopher N. Breiseth, Ph.D

Christopher N. Breiseth, Ph.D., served as the fourth president of Wilkes University and remains President Emeritus. Prior to his arrival in 1984, he made significant contributions to the world of academia serving as assistant professor of history at Williams College in Williamston, Mass., a member of the Danforth Postdoctoral Fellowship in Black Studies at the University of Chicago, professor of history at Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois at Springfield), and serving as the president of Deep Springs College.

Breiseth’s credo was “everybody at Wilkes has a part to play in the future … beyond the ivy walls.” He believed that community involvement exceeded sports events and town meetings. He made courageous choices and served as a champion of culture. Through his leadership, Wilkes continued to be the cultural center of the county and region. Along with Congressman Paul Kanjorski, Breiseth worked to establish the Earth Conservancy, which transformed the mine-scarred lands of the Blue Coal Corporation into parks, homes, and new business ventures.

He believed that Wilkes was entwined with the city, evident by the many buildings on campus that are part of the historic register. Federal judge Max Rosenn once said, “Breiseth gave our community a sense of purpose.”

Breiseith was the organizer of the Council of Presidents (including Wilkes, King’s College, Misericordia, Luzerne County Community College and Pennsylvania State University - Wilkes-Barre) and of the Educational Leadership Council (all the college presidents and school district superintendents, Catholic diocesan principals and Wyoming Seminary president).

His legacy quickly moved the University toward the 21st century with the 1989 dedication of the Arnaud C. Marts Sports and Conference Center, honoring one of Wilkes’ founding fathers. The new complex became the centerpiece of the $25 million “Wilkes Tomorrow” capital campaign.

The Munson Fieldhouse was christened in 1993, and soon afterward the Wilkes football team, undefeated for the first time since the great teams of the 1960s, went on to the national playoffs.

Under Breiseth’s leadership, Wilkes instituted the School of Pharmacy in 1994, addressing the health care needs of the Wyoming Valley.

“Endow the Future” kicked off in 1998, with a goal of $30 million and a brand-new centerpiece: the Henry Student Center, allowing students to remain at the heart of everything happening at Wilkes.

Breiseth left Wilkes in 2001 to serve as president and CEO of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. He has served on the board of directors of the

Frances Perkins Center in Newcastle, Maine, an organization charged with preserving the legacy of Frances Perkins, who became known as “The Woman Behind the New Deal” while serving as Secretary of Labor throughout FDR’s administration. He also served as a board member and on the executive committee of the National New Deal Preservation Association, dedicated to rediscovering and preserving the many projects of the New Deal, and as board member of the Ticonderoga Kiwanis Club.

Breiseth was married to Jane Morhouse Breiseth, who died in 2012. Their three daughters remain active in the academic community: Abigail Breiseth is a grants development specialist for the Baltimore City Public Schools; Erika Brockman is the founding director of the Southwest Baltimore Charter School; and Lydia Breiseth is the director of the website, www.colorincolorado.org, for English language learners, hosted by WETA, the PBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.

Breiseth remains active with the Back Pack Program, organizing food for the weekend for undernourished school children. He is also writing a memoir.