Gearan teaching

The longest serving president in the history of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Mark D. Gearan L.H.D. ’17 concluded his duties as president at the end of the 2016-17 academic year. At the time of his appointment in 1999, Gearan was one of the youngest college presidents in the nation and a ‘non-traditional’ choice given his background as Director of the Peace Corps and, during the Clinton Administration, Assistant to the President, Director of Communications and Deputy Chief of Staff. When he concluded his presidency in 2017, he served for 18 years, leading the Colleges through a period of unprecedented growth. In recognition of his service, the HWS Board of Trustees awarded Gearan an honorary degree and named him President Emeritus of the Colleges, the first time in HWS history that the board has bestowed the honor.

Following his final year at HWS, Gearan joined Harvard University as ‘President in Residence’ working on important issues facing higher education and the next generation of leaders at the Graduate School of Education. His new position at Harvard reflects Gearan’s stature in higher education where he has held leadership roles in numerous organizations including chair of National Campus Compact, chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, chair of the Annapolis Group of selective liberal arts colleges, and chair of the Talloires Network Steering Committee, an international organization of college and university presidents from six continents committed to civic engagement.

Gearan with students

Under Gearan’s leadership, Hobart and William Smith expanded its academic reach and advanced its reputation as a prominent liberal arts institution. By strengthening the Colleges’ financial resources and increasing its fundraising range, Hobart and William Smith transformed the physical campus, adding and expanding facilities while also increasing access and opportunity for students with an expansion of financial aid. Gearan made significant commitments to diversity and inclusion, propelled the Colleges' environmental efforts, and grew programming in civic engagement, career services, leadership, study abroad and student services.

Gearan also served on the boards of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, New York Council of Independent Colleges and Universities, New York State Campus Compact and The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. He is a member of the Leadership Council for The Franklin Project, a policy program at the Aspen Institute, and is the co-chair of the National Advisory Board on Public Service at Harvard College.

Gearan is an appointee of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform. The national commission focuses on policy recommendations on electoral system reform, congressional reform and encouragement of greater public service. He is a former member of the White House Council for Community Solutions, a group of cross-sector leaders appointed by President Barack Obama to recommend collaborative solutions to increase civic engagement. He was active on the advisory board of The Presidential Appointee Initiative, a project of the Brookings Institution that worked to revamp the process through which U.S. Presidential appointees are chosen.

In Geneva, Gearan was on the advisory councils of the Happiness House Foundation, Ontario ARC and the Geneva Community Center. From 2014-2015, Gearan served as chair of the New York State Gaming Commission, a volunteer assignment that provided oversight of the State's newly created agency for the lottery, horse racing and casinos.

During his tenure at HWS, Gearan stayed connected with students and the community by participating in local events and service projects. He was a member of the Political Science Department and taught courses on modern American politics. He resided on campus with his wife, Mary Herlihy Gearan L.H.D. ’17, who held weekly open house for students in their home. They have two daughters, Madeleine and Kathleen, who attended the public-school system in grades 1-12.

A native of Gardner, Mass., Gearan earned his B.A. in government cum laude from Harvard University and his law degree from Georgetown University. He is the recipient of 14 honorary degrees.


  • The former director of the Peace Corps, President Mark D. Gearan is a national expert on the service movement. He is Chair of the Talloires Network Steering Committee and former Chair of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
  • During the Clinton administration, President Gearan served in the White House as Assistant to the President and Director of Communications, as well as Deputy Chief of Staff.
  • In 2007, President Gearan signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and authorized the creation of The President's Climate Task Force, with the immediate goal of delivering Hobart and William Smith Colleges to climate neutrality.
  • The President's Forum Series brought to campus important politicians, intellectuals and social activists such as presidential candidates Alan Keyes and Michael Dukakis; journalist George Stephanopoulos; author Michael Tanner; Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathi.
  • While serving as Director of the Peace Corps, President Gearan opened programs in South Africa, Jordan, Mozambique and Bangladesh and returned volunteers to Haiti after a five-year absence. He also created the successful Crisis Corps, which sends volunteers to crisis areas to help during emergencies.