Under the high-vaulted ceilings of a packed Riverside Church, Debora Spar officially took her place as Barnard's seventh president.
Spar's inauguration on Thursday afternoon was the culmination of a highly anticipated weekend of festivities and events to hail the new presidency. But with the style also came substance, as Spar charted the course for her presidency and Barnard's place in higher education as an all-women's institution in the coming years.
After months of being relatively quiet about her intentions for Barnard, Spar rolled out a plan to broaden Barnard's presence abroad, increase faculty research support, and further student leadership initiatives.
In her inaugural speech, which was regarded as the centerpiece of a presidential homecoming weekend, Spar highlighted what she described as the change from the idea of the oppressed "feminine mystique" to the "feminine boutique," a time when women are bombarded with choices. The biggest difference between the Barnard student of today and that of yesterday, she said, was that older alumnae came to Barnard because they had few other educational options, while current Barnard students now choose to pursue an all-women's education.
The challenge for Barnard, then, is to promote and expand the value of women's education in a time in which students have the option to attend co-ed institutions. Barnard's goal, she said, involves "probing to understand both the options that women now face and their capacity to choose and maneuver among them."
Barnard, Spar said, must expand its presence outside the United States, and she announced an "ambitious series of international programs" to send more faculty and students abroad while also bringing in more international visitors and students.
"We know that women play a critical role in political and economic development ... yet all too often women in developing nations are constrained by their lack of access to education," Spar explained. "Barnard can and should play some role in addressing this gap, bringing what we know about women's education to the women who need it most, and exposing our own students to the complex realities of the global economy."
Spar also said that Barnard would provide more research support to its professors, and she announced that Barnard now has the seed money to launch a presidential research fund over the next four years. Barnard will commit $100,000 a year to the faculty to use for research purposes, which Spar hopes will improve faculty members' efforts to receive tenure at Columbia. Barnard professors must be tenured at both Barnard and Columbia, where research accomplishments are highly considered. Barnard professors have complained that they are placed at a disadvantage as liberal arts professors at a smaller institution without the resources of a larger research university.
After months of evaluating the current Barnard Leadership Initiative—a program that combines academic and extracurricular elements to promote women's leadership—Spar unveiled her broad plans for a new "multifaceted, interdisciplinary" program. She described the program as "innovative," and said it will be devoted to the theory and practice of women's leadership.
"The goal of the Barnard Leadership Institute will be to understand women's distinctive leadership styles and to provide Barnard women with the skills and experience they need to pursue their own paths of leadership," she explained.
Spar signaled her focus on women's leadership with her first major event on campus, a press conference on pay equity featuring U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).
While the details are still unclear as to how Spar will enact the plans she announced Thursday, she has handled money management before as senior associate dean at Harvard Business School, where she oversaw a $20-million research budget.
Following the inauguration, faculty members said they were eager to work with Spar on the new initiatives. Barnard Dean Dorothy Denberg said that she was looking forward to working in Spar's administration, and that she thought the inauguration had put new energy into Barnard's prospects.
The collection of faculty, professors, former colleagues, and alumnae who introduced her seemed excited about their choice of president, reflecting on the character and experience that they believe Spar will bring to the job.
Anna Quindlen, BC '74 and chair of the Board of Trustees, described Spar as "a person who delights in satisfying her curiosity with constant inquiry. ... The question mark may well be her punctuation mark of choice."
"Debora Spar was one of those people you met at Harvard and remembered," Middlebury College professor and former colleague Allison Stanger agreed.
University President Lee Bollinger celebrated the ongoing affiliation between the two schools—which he called "inseparable separate institutions"—and recalled his own inauguration, where he was warned of the perils of assuming the presidency.
"Fortunately, of course, that prediction turned out to be false, and I've had no controversies to speak," he said to a laughing crowd. "Or let me put it this way, Debora: I wish you the same good fortune that I've had."
But, Bollinger said, the afternoon was for celebrating the academic institutions. "We take the happy occasion ... to celebrate the palpable sense of excitement and promise."
The inauguration ceremony was followed by a block party celebration on Claremont Avenue, where attendees mingled to live jazz under banners of balloons and flags, and students sold lime green inaugural "Sparkler" t-shirts with pictures of Spar on the front.