Yet, when he retired this spring as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), Carson was hailed as “the czar of the arts” by colleagues who threw him an unorthodox surprise party that embodied the artfulness, creativity, and intellectual vitality that characterizes his college.
The heartfelt tribute underscored how deftly Carson balanced the two diverse worlds of arts and sciences in the university’s largest college.
"The College of Arts and Sciences, no matter where you are, is a challenging college," remarked Jean Farrington, senior development officer for Lehigh. “And on top of that, he enjoyed good working partnerships with the deans of the other colleges. Carson's shoes will be tough ones to fill."
Carl Moses, associate dean, has been named interim dean for the coming academic year while a national search is conducted. “We have asked him to lead the college during the coming year, not be a caretaker,” Gregory Farrington, university president, and Ron Yoshida, provost, said in a joint statement announcing Moses’ selection. “There's lots to do.”
The surprise tribute for Carson, held April 25 at Zoellner Arts Center, drew more than 200 friends and supporters.
"In the spirit of Bobb, we wanted to do something lighthearted and fun," said Norman Girardot, professor of religious studies, who helped organize the event.
Lighthearted and fun it was, and Carson appeared genuinely surprised and touched by the personal tribute. The event consisted of a Garrison Keillor-style, Lake Wobegone slide presentation to honor Carson, from his days bundled in a snowsuit in the town of Edina, Minn., to his years as a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Lehigh, to the time he spent as CAS dean.
There was an entertaining video about the “mighty midget motor car” called the "Bobbsel" that Carson built at age 12 and which has been on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. since 1995. The presentation was scored by piano medleys played by Justin Solonynka '96, a former math major.
To help guide Carson down memory lane, Amy Forsyth, an associate professor of art and architecture, presented him with a collection of written sentiments from his friends and family, bound in a leather volume she created with the help of senior Hayley Burns.
Scanned by Burns and printed on heavy cream stock, the book was stitched together with waxed linen bookbinding thread, and bound in rich brown leather. A light blue satin ribbon bound into the book serves as a page marker.
The collective college-wide effort resulted in a one-of-a-kind keepsake that Forsyth is certain Carson will cherish.
“A book like this, a singular object that pulls all these disparate threads together in one collection, is something invaluable to the recipient,” Forsyth said. “The sentiments expressed by his colleagues and contained in this book are a true reflection of our respect and admiration for Bobb.”
Marvin Simmons, design director in university relations, presented Carson with a poster he created in Carson’s honor that celebrates the retiring dean's Swedish-American heritage and broadly illustrates the various principles that have characterized Carson's career at Lehigh: research, teaching, scholarship, humanity, academics, and administration.
"I designed the poster for someone I care about and respect very much," Simmons said.
Following the presentation, CAS faculty members paraded through the crowd dressed in robes, kilts, and Mardi Gras masks. Ricardo Viera, professor of art, carried a Snoopy doll, which he presented to Carson as a token of his appreciation to "the czar of the arts."
Other organizers from the CAS included Moses, Hannah Stewart-Gambino, associate dean and professor of political science, Ingrid Parson, associate dean of the graduate research program; Phil Clauser, director of administration; Gordon Bearn, professor of humanities; and Doug Mason, professor of practice in art and architecture.
To lure Carson to the surprise reception and tribute, Clauser concocted what he referred to as a "crisis situation."
"But as soon as we got close and he heard the crowd, Carson said, 'You're not taking me to a crisis--you're taking me to a reception!'" Clauser said. As he entered, a shocked Carson was greeted with cheers and applause.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Carson took the stage and thanked his colleagues at Lehigh. "It's been my pleasure to work with all of you, and I want to thank you all," he said.
He ended with a vow to spend his newfound leisure hours working on his house in Coopersburg and "getting a life."
Guests at the reception following the tribute, including fellow deans, faculty members, and administrators, generously praised Carson.
Jack Lule, professor of journalism and communications, credited Carson with the expansion of the journalism department. "Before he was dean, we were in the basement of the University Center, and now we have our space at Coppee Hall. Bobb has been extremely supportive of our department," he said.
"Bobb was always practical and straightforward—you always knew where you stood with him, which was very refreshing," said Anne Meltzer, professor of earth and environmental science. "He had a lot of vision for the College of Arts and Sciences."
When asked what qualities the new dean will need to follow in Carson's footsteps, Meltzer replied, "A lot of stamina."
-By Elizabeth Shimer and Linda Harbrecht
Posted on Tuesday, April 29, 2003