NAICU Presents 29th Annual Henry Paley Memorial Award to St. John’s College (MD) President Christopher B. Nelson

February 04, 2015

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) presented the 29th Annual Henry Paley Memorial Award to Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, for his tireless work on behalf of the liberal arts and private higher education, and for setting an example for all who would seek to advance educational opportunity in the United States.  The award was presented today during NAICU’s 2015 Annual Meeting currently underway at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

Named for Henry Paley, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities of New York from 1975 until 1984, the Paley Memorial Award recognizes an individual who embodies his spirit of unfailing service toward the students and faculty of independent higher education.

“For nearly 25 years, Chris Nelson has been an articulate and outspoken advocate for a liberal arts education,” said NAICU President David L. Warren, Ph.D.  “From Congressional testimony and speaking engagements to newspaper opinion essays and blog posts, Chris regularly engages in the national conversation, sometimes actually leading the conversation, about higher education and has been prolific in advancing the mission and values of America’s private colleges and universities.”

“This is an extraordinary and unforeseen honor,” said Nelson.  “I am grateful to my colleagues who share with me the privilege and responsibility of helping to raise and educate the next generation.  Their friendship, support and wisdom have helped me immensely in my own work on behalf of higher education.”  [Read complete text of Nelson's comments]  [Read complete award citation]

Among a distinguished set of voices for the value of the liberal arts, Nelson is one of the most articulate and better known nationally. The Washington Post cited Nelson as one of the most influential college presidents in the country in a profile marking his 20th anniversary at St. John’s College in 2011.

Recently, he has addressed issues of institutional autonomy in the face of government regulatory intrusion, changes proposed to the accrediting system, defining the role of liberal education as an excellent grounding for career and professional development and, most importantly, for an open-minded pursuit of lifelong learning. He is a regular contributor to the opinion pages of The Washington Post and The Huffington Post as well as a prolific writer of the blog Sign Post for Liberal Education (

Before accountability was a national buzzword, Nelson was a key member of NAICU’s 1994 Task Force on Appropriate Accountability, helping to frame the language still used in the higher education sector about the importance of self-regulation to preserving the core quality and diversity of American higher education.

St. John’s is devoted to the most liberal of liberal education. Its richly varied curriculum focuses on an integrated study of philosophy, literature, history, theology, political science, mathematics, music, and science. Students and faculty engage directly—not through textbooks and lectures but through study and discussion—with original texts and ideas that are at the foundations of Western thought.

A 1970 alumnus of St. John’s College, and a graduate of the University of Utah College of Law, Nelson practiced law in Chicago for 18 years, and was chairman of his law firm when he left the practice for the top leadership post at St. John’s College.

Nelson is a former chair of the Board of Directors of the Maryland Independent Colleges and Universities Association and a past chair and a founding member of the Annapolis Group, a consortium of over 120 of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. He also served on the board for the Council of Independent Colleges and as chair of the Board of Trustees of Shimer College. He is currently serving a second three-year term on the NAICU Board of Directors.

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