Timothy Light was the fourteenth president of Middlebury College. Born in 1939 and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Light graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University in 1960. Enrolling then in a Yale study abroad program in China, Light met his wife, Joy. They moved to New York City, where he entered Union Theological Seminary and then Columbia University. The Lights then went back to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where Light held several teaching and administrative posts, and where they had two daughters. In 1971, Light entered the doctoral program in linguistics at Cornell University. He received his PhD in 1974. Then he taught Chinese at the University of Arizona for six years and also chairing the university’s East Asia Center. In 1980 he moved to Ohio State University as professor and chair of the department of East Asian languages and literature.
In 1986, when Light moved from Ohio back home, he not only took the post of professor of linguistics and Asian studies but also that of provost of Kalamazoo College.
In the spring of 1990, in the second semester of his acting presidency, Light was contacted by the Middlebury College recruiting committee, and he accepted the call to Vermont. He became president of an institution coming down after of a prolonged period of prosperity. In President Olin Robison’s latter years, debt on the improvements, combined with a disappointing market, hit Middlebury hard. Tuition hikes provoked a previously quiet student body to strike and demonstrate; the faculty complained about the derailment of the college mission and about a six percent cutback in departmental budgets.
At his inauguration on October 13, 1990, Light pledged to work toward further expanding the college’s international presence and opening the way for increased numbers of minorities among the students and faculty. But he also acknowledged–as he had in interviews–that “choices will have to be made.” It’s unclear how long Light enjoyed good relations with trustees or his administrators, but in many individual meetings with departments, his personal style seemed discomfiting.
Because of a budgetary shortfall of $2.8 million projected for the 1991–1992 academic year, Light determined to reduce the size of the college staff. And by the end of April of 1991, he’d announced that his budget and personnel committee had made the “agonizing and wrenching” decision to eliminate twenty to thirty non-faculty positions from an overall staff of 700. Much negative publicity came of this. Light also struggled to work well with much of the faculty and staff. By September of 1991, Light was asked to resign, which he did, announcing it September 14th of that year.
Light and his wife returned to Light’s native Kalamazoo. He became distinguished visiting professor at Western Michigan University (WMU), being granted tenure as professor of religion in 1992.