Faculty and students at Barnard have expressed enthusiasm for President Sian Beilock as she begins her tenure at Barnard, despite some lingering concerns about the search process.
Beilock, an accomplished researcher specializing in cognitive psychology, came to Barnard after serving as the executive vice provost of the University of Chicago. She was well-received by her colleagues there, several of whom told Spectator they believe she will be successful in her new role at Barnard.
In her first address to the college at Tuesday’s convocation, Beilock credited the liberal arts for her own success in science. However, she did not outline her vision for the college—something the community is still waiting to hear.
Beilock also noted that Barnard has historically been an institution that has encouraged young women to stand up for what they believe in and to succeed.
“What I already know about you is this: You are motivated and curious, and you have come to Barnard to make the most of what you already possess and to build a life that matters,” she said.
Student Government Association President Angela Beam, BC ’18, who also served on the presidential search committee, said that she appreciated Beilock’s enthusiasm and interest in the students.
“I just feel like she has such a genuine excitement to interact with students and to be a part of Barnard, and the fact that she appreciates Barnard so much is really important,” she said.
But as students welcome Beilock to campus, some have reflected on the search process that occurred last year after former President Debora Spar’s departure. In particular, some students had hoped to see a woman of color lead the college, as Spar had been viewed by some students as a “white corporate feminist.”
Barnard Organization of Soul Sisters President Angela Rose Myers, BC ’18, said that she and the BOSS executive board are hopeful that Beilock will continue supporting students of color, even though she is disappointed that the college didn’t hire a woman of color to serve as president.
“I feel like we did miss an opportunity to give a position of power to a woman of color. I believe that there are many qualified women,” she said. “[But] what I’ve seen from this new president Beilock, I’ve been impressed with.”
Aashna Singh, BC ’19, said that although her overall first impression of Beilock as an academic has been positive, she said that she also had hoped that the college would be led by a woman of color.
“I think Barnard would have really appreciated a woman of color, and I think that there was some disappointment in that,” Singh said. “I think with the current outside climate, Barnard as a whole really would have appreciated that.”
Singh also said that she was aware of concerns related to Beilock’s involvement in an activity that some at the University of Chicago perceived as anti-union, which had been highlighted in an open letter circulated by several student groups. Beilock was also criticized for what some believed was a weak initial response to the fatal attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But adjunct dance lecturer and member of the Barnard contingent faculty union Siobhan Burke, BC ’08, said at a protest yesterday that she is optimistic that the union can develop a positive relationship with the new president. Spar and the union had a contentious relationship until her resignation, with the union criticizing her for failing to engage with “issues that matter” last year.
“It’s a new opportunity with a new president to turn over a new leaf,” Burke said.
Beilock has already taken a particular interest in the psychology department, presenting research of hers at the college’s summer research institute and providing psychology majors with a year-long membership to the Association of Psychological Science. She also gave a lecture to psychology majors about her research on Wednesday.
Psychology is currently one of Barnard’s most popular majors, and it’s the most popular major in the sciences.
Psychology majors Letty DiLeo and Rebecca Furth, both BC ’18, said that they already see Beilock as an important role model, and are looking forward to having a new president with whom they can identify.
“I never really had any interactions with Debora Spar except for midnight breakfast when she would hand me pancakes,” DiLeo said. “Spar’s departure gave us a new take on who the president can be, and I’m really excited to be able to see what someone with a psychology degree does.”
Psychology professor Robert Remez said that he enjoyed meeting Beilock and discussing their research, and said that he found her to be both “engaging and engaged.”
“To have someone with that kind of intellectual focus is a wonderful thing,” he said. “[Her research] is another dimension of her great fit here, not just with the institution but with my department.”
Beilock has already reached out to students majoring in psychology.
This emphasis on students made Louise Levathes, BC ’70, feel more comfortable with the college having a president as young as 41-year-old Beilock.
“I think it’s a good turn for Barnard into a more academic, student-focused president. President Spar, I think, was more focused on women’s leadership,” she said. “[Beilock] is here for the students. It’s a sigh of relief that Barnard has returned to a president who is fully committed to the students.”
Remez said that he felt that her drive to succeed as a woman in science would make her a positive role model for all students at Barnard, math and science students in particular.
“Meeting her, I can tell that she has a kind of personal force, and you see that in all people who have done difficult things,” he said. “She is someone who is not held back by the challenges of doing difficult work or the challenges of doing scientific work as a woman.”