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Annapolis President, 1991 to 2017

Christopher B. Nelson

Christopher B. Nelson was the 23rd president of St. John’s College in Annapolis.

Christopher B. Nelson was president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, from June 1991 to June 2017. Panayiotis (Peter) Kanelos succeeded him as the 24th president of the Annapolis campus.

Nelson is an alumnus of St. John’s (SF70) and a graduate of the University of Utah College of Law (JD 1973), where he founded and directed the university’s student legal services program. He practiced law in Chicago for 18 years and was chairman of his law firm when he left the practice to become president of St. John’s College. Nelson retired at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

Nelson is a national spokesperson for the liberal arts, participating actively in the national conversation about higher education. Frequently a panelist and speaker on state, regional, and national programs, he has addressed issues of institutional autonomy in the face of government regulatory intrusion and changes proposed in the accrediting system. His current focus is making clear the value of liberal education in providing excellent grounding for career and professional development and, most importantly, for an open-minded pursuit of lifelong learning. 

Nelson is serving or has served on a number of boards and committees related to education. He has twice been elected to the Board of Directors of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (2014-17 and 1996-99) and serves as its Vice Chair (2016-17) and it's Chair-Elect for 2017-18). He has served as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Maryland Independent Colleges and Universities Association (2003-06). He is past chair (2005-07) and a founding member of the Annapolis Group, a consortium of over 120 of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. He was elected to Board of the Aspen Wye Seminars in January 2014. He served on the board for the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) (2010-13). He has been a member of the Board of Directors of the AFS-USA (formerly the American Field Service) (1993-2003, and 2007-10) and served as board chair (2001-03) and vice chair (1998-2001). He was chair of the Board of Trustees of Shimer College (2007-11), and has served as vice chair (2006-07) and as chair of the Academic Affairs Committee (2005-07). He received the Honorary Doctor of Letters from Shimer College on May 5, 2012.

Nelson was the 2014 recipient of the Henry Paley Award, awarded by the National Association of Colleges and Universities. The award “recognizes an individual who, throughout his or her career, has unfailingly served the students and faculty of independent higher education. The recipients of this award have set an example for all who would seek to advance educational opportunity in the United States.”

Locally, Nelson’s interests include government, the arts, and historic preservation. He was a member of the Board of the Historic Annapolis Foundation from 1999-2012 and served as its Vice-Chair, Treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee. He served on the Maryland State Archives Commission and is an honorary board member of the Annapolis Opera. He has served on the Board of Trustees, Severn School (Maryland) (1995-2004); chair, County Executive’s Special Committee on Impact Fees for Anne Arundel County (1999-2000); chair, County Executive’s Special Committee on Anne Arundel Community College (1994-95); and chair of the Annapolis Mayor’s Task Force on the Arts and Humanities in Annapolis (2008-09). Nelson served on the Maryland Federation of Art’s Honorary Committee for their 50th Anniversary (2013).

Prior to 1991, Nelson served on numerous national, state and local Bar Association committees and published articles in the field of labor and employee benefits law. He served on boards and committees for the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry (for business and public school partnerships), St. John’s College, and St. Joseph’s College (Indiana).

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