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Sortor leaving Grinnell to be Dean at St. Olaf College

By Kelsey Roebuck

Marci Sortor has been a part of the Grinnell campus community for nearly 22 years. Since coming to the College she served as a highly esteemed Professor and an accomplished Vice President of Institutional Planning. But beginning July 1, 2011, she will join the administration of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

“Grinnell is just a wonderful school,” Sortor said. “I’m leaving not because I want to be moving away from the school but rather moving forward to other good adventures and challenges. I love Grinnell.”

She is leaving to become the provost and dean at St. Olaf, a school which shares a few similarities with Grinnell.

“It belongs to the same consortium so there were ways in which I was familiar with it already,” Sortor said. “I’ve visited it a couple of different times for various reasons and thought it was doing a lot of things right and doing a lot of interesting things.”

Although the position at St. Olaf will be very familiar to Sortor due to her experience in various aspects of college administration, it will also allow her to return to her true passion, medieval history.

“This is a position that will allow me to return more fully to the academic side,” she said.

From 1989 to 2002 Sortor taught classes in Medieval and Renaissance history. She was one of the best historians in the department, according to her longtime colleague, Associate Professor of History Victoria Brown.

“The premier journal in our department is the American Historical Review,” Brown said. “Marci is the only member of the department who’s gotten an article published in the American Historical Review. She is the only member of the department who’s ever had an article picked as the best article of the year and that was in the Journal of Urban History.”

Sortor became chair of the History department shortly after receiving tenure in 1995.

“She’s a hell of a historian,” Brown said, “I sometimes wish she wasn’t as good an administrator as she is.”

In 2002, Sortor was invited to serve as Associate Dean, a position that is typically filled by faculty members. In 2005 she was offered the opportunity to fill the position of Vice President of Institutional Planning.

“It seemed like a great way to learn more about the College and serve in a new way,” Sortor said.

Brown cites Sortor’s ability to synthesize large amounts of information as the trait that made her a fantastic professor and an equally effective administrator.

“Marci’s very good at letting a lot of people talk, and even say annoying things, and not responding, just letting go,” Brown said, “and at a very crucial moment she pulls together the threads.”

Most recently, she was responsible for supervising the staff of the College and Alumni Relations office following Mickey Munley’s departure earlier this year. Sortor spends most of her time balancing the year’s budget, looking over the campus plan and working to get Grinnell’s name out to the rest of the world.

“We’ve been on the Today show twice and in the New York Times twice,” she said with a laugh, “But who’s counting?”
During her time on the administrative side of the college, Sortor continued to teach select classes, independent study and supervise MAP students. Her last student graduated last year and is now working in Medieval Studies at York University.

“I love the students. I think they’re fabulous,” she said.

Although Sortor is leaving Grinnell for now, she will be connected to the campus for at least a few more years. Her daughter, a senior in high school, plans to attend Grinnell beginning in the fall of 2011.

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