After 16 years at Barnard, Provost Elizabeth Boylan will step down on June 30 in pursuit of “new experiences” at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
“It’s hard—I have loved this place,” Boylan said on Wednesday. “This opportunity really fell into my lap not too long ago. … If I could design for myself the perfect job, this would certainly be one of three.”
As provost, Boylan secured program grants, developed a faculty mentoring system, and worked to increase tenure rates and the number of female and minority faculty members. She also serves as a tenured professor of biology.
Verna Patti, BC ’11, said she remembered meeting Boylan, her academic adviser, during the New Student Orientation Program three and a half years ago.
“It didn’t feel like she was just checking off a list of questions to ask her advisees. She was genuinely interested in what I wanted to study and what kind of activities I wanted to do,” Patti said, adding that, even though Boylan is a “behind-the-scenes” administrator, she still sought out close relationships with students.
Patti said she continues to seek Boylan’s advice and serves alongside her on the Barnard board of trustees.
Peter Connor, chair of the Barnard French department, said he has spent most of his 19 years at Barnard working with Boylan.
“Barnard seems unimaginable without Liz,” he said.
Connor added that, despite her background in the sciences, Boylan has given equal attention to all departments.
“She’s almost like Solomon in her wisdom and judgment on tricky issues,” he said. “She’s not just an administrator seeking to resolve a particular problem. She’s someone genuinely interested in college life and the way education works.”
Boylan will serve as program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides financial support for scientific and technological research. She will focus on finding grants to increase minorities’ access to graduate education in the sciences.
After Boylan steps down from her post at the end of June, Paul Hertz, who has taught biology at Barnard since 1979, will fill in as interim provost. Connor called Hertz a “terrific” and “very well respected” choice.
John Glendinning, chair of the biology department, said Boylan will be best remembered for increasing the percentage of tenured female faculty, expanding the range of technological resources, and advocating for the incorporation of active learning techniques in the sciences.
“I have never heard a single critical word spoken about her,” Glendinning wrote in an email. “We will all miss her.”
Janet Jakobsen, director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women, said Boylan has been instrumental in BCRW’s launch of an online feminist journal and archive.
“Her support has been the key to our major accomplishments,” Jakobsen said.
Boylan’s departure marks the third major administrative change at Barnard in the past three years. Debora Spar is entering her third year as president of the college, and Avis Hinkson will replace Dorothy Denburg as dean on Monday.
Patti said she was surprised at the timing of Boylan’s departure, but said it may be for the best.
“All these transitions will happen at once, and then the new administration can move forward together, and maybe that’ll be better than having a new person coming in every few years,” she said.
Boylan said she feels she will be leaving Barnard at a time when the school is well equipped to handle the transition. By June, the college will have completed its reaccreditation through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a procedure that is required every 10 years.
“I would have felt bad about leaving someone with that job in the middle of the process, so I’m glad Sloan will allow me to start after the reaccreditation will be complete,” she said.
Spar said in a press release that Barnard’s loss is Sloan’s gain.
“Liz is an extraordinary example of what it means to be both teacher and scholar,” Spar said. “Her steadfast love of academia and her passion for her work have been gifts to Barnard, and have truly shaped this institution into a place where devoted faculty can be scholars on the cutting edge.”