When new Barnard president Debora Spar is presented at today's investiture ceremony with a medal inscribed with the school's motto, "Following the way of reason," it will still be unclear exactly what that way will be for Spar.
When Judith Shapiro, Barnard's 10th president, took the stage at Riverside Church to deliver her inauguration speech 14 years ago, she laid out a plan to take Barnard into new directions—a plan for expanded fund raising, more campus space, and a revamped set of class requirements. Her ambitious inauguration speech endowed the role of the presidency with lofty expectations, and as Spar steps onto that same stage, she will have to set her own tone for the presidency.
"My leadership, it was just the right timing for me and for Barnard as well," Shapiro reflected. "Now it's time for the next president to make a new plan for the next decade."
Shapiro now recalls her first year as president as one dedicated to assessing what Barnard needed to move forward. Arriving in 1994, Shapiro, along with members of her staff and the college's faculty, engaged in a long review of the campus and curriculum to develop a plan for the college's future—a college that needed fresh fund raising ideas.
"Clearly Barnard needed to raise more money," she said. In addition, Shapiro saw a need for more space—which led to the creation of the Vagelos Center and dorm space in Cathedral Gardens. Under her leadership, the faculty also re-envisioned the college's distribution requirements, resulting in the creation of the Nine Ways of Knowing in place now.
Shapiro stresses that any legacy that she leaves behind is more than just the sum of the work she has done. "What is considered a president's legacy is nothing she did by herself," Shapiro said. "You've got to say we all did it together."
Still, many are tempted to look at Shapiro's tenure at Barnard and note the individual products of her labor. "There are a couple of tangible things that I think will certainly become part of the history of the college," Anna Quindlen, chair of the board of trustees, BC '74, said, adding, "I mean, Judith tripled the endowment, and she doubled the number of endowed chairs, so that's a really powerful thing."
Quindlen also credited Shapiro with endowing Barnard with "an increasingly strong and clear sense of place and identity ... Judith was such an ambassador for Barnard in the world ... it just made you feel that the college was in good hands, and that therefore it was doing well."
Looking forward, Spar enters into her tenure at Barnard with many lofty expectations in place. "Frankly, I've been satisfied with everything Shapiro's done, so an extension of Shapiro's presidency is something I would not be against," Eleonora Bershadskaya, BC '10, said.
Indeed, Shapiro herself predicted that her successor would have to pick up where she left off.
In her inauguration address, Shapiro commented: "historic struggles are not things you engage in on the assumption that they will soon be over, but rather on the more modest assumption that your actions will make things better, and your inaction will allow things to get worse. Nor do you retire from such a struggle because it is finished, but rather because if it someone else's turn to carry it forward."
"Fourteen years later that time has come," Shapiro said, reminiscing, "It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago."