President Sian Beilock comes to Barnard at the right time. She is poised to build on our successes, strengthen areas where we can improve, and focus the college around true academic excellence. And she will engage the power of the entire Barnard community—students, faculty, staff, and alumnae—to lead the college into the future.
Having served as interim president this spring, I can appreciate what it takes to lead Barnard. That experience affirmed for me what I had already seen from my narrower position as chief operating officer: that Barnard is a wonderful, complicated, energized, and important institution. I learned that being a successful leader here requires someone who can simultaneously respond to urgent challenges, establish a long-term vision, maintain a focus on academics, support vulnerable populations, and raise money, among many other things. It takes someone who can build on our many strengths and recognize our flaws. It takes someone who can make tough decisions and confront difficult choices, knowing that some will be dissatisfied. It takes someone who can listen to—and hear—what the community is saying and who understands that we all share in Barnard’s successes.
Barnard is in the midst of change—we are welcoming a new president who takes over as the campus is transforming at a time when society seems as divided as ever and rapid changes in governmental policies are causing anxiety among many in our community. But we all should remember that Barnard is always evolving, regardless of the times, and that making change is how we become a stronger institution. Rather than fear change, we should welcome it and continually strive to become better. Barnard is a different place than it was 10 years ago, and it will be different 10 years from now.
It takes great leadership to manage—and embrace—such change. It takes strength and vision. This is why I am confident that President Beilock will guide us through these times and harness what is great about Barnard. Barnard is in an enviable position. We are the most selective women’s college in the United States, and more students than ever want to come here. When new students arrive on campus, they engage in the challenging and innovative Foundations curriculum, which asks students to think theoretically, empirically, and technologically. Next fall, students will study, meet with faculty, and grab coffee in the new Cheryl and Philip Milstein Teaching and Learning Center. The college is in the midst of a successful capital campaign, The Bold Standard, that funds not only the majority of the construction of the Milstein Center, but also faculty chairs and student financial aid, all of which help the college maintain and enhance its academic excellence.
Barnard is always striving to live up to its mission and core values, working to improve diversity and inclusion among students, faculty, and staff, to divest our endowment from fossil fuel companies that deny climate science, and to develop ideas to reduce our carbon footprint and promote environmental sustainability.
Being a college president is not easy. Fortunately for us, President Beilock is up to the task, and she takes over the presidency at a good time. But why is she the right leader for us at this moment? President Beilock is a scholar, a scientist who, like our faculty, is a world-class researcher enhancing our understanding of such topics as performance anxiety and why things often go wrong when the pressure is on, particularly for girls and young women. Moreover, she is passionate about the liberal arts. Indeed, in her convocation address, she noted that she wouldn’t be a very good scientist without the liberal arts education she had received.
As a scholar, Beilock is placing academic excellence at the core of everything we do. She appreciates how important Barnard is to educating diverse young women to take on the challenges of an ever-changing and more complicated world.
President Beilock is also listening to faculty, to students, to staff, and to alumnae. She is talking to all of us to hear our perspectives. Perhaps more importantly, she is bringing fresh eyes to everything we do at the college; she is asking the right questions and forcing us to identify areas of improvement. For example, she knows how important diversity and inclusion are to fostering academic excellence, and she knows we have a lot of work to do in this area. Questioning long-standing policies and operating assumptions are not only great approaches to leadership, but they are required for us to become an even stronger institution. Finally, on an issue dear to my heart, she understands the need for Barnard to be financially strong. She understands that it takes resources for us to continue need-blind admissions, to invest in our faculty, students, and staff, to maintain and upgrade our facilities, and to, ultimately, relieve pressure on tuition. President Beilock will spend time raising money that will pay huge dividends for the community today and into the future.
As former interim president and current COO, I understand that leading the college is not a one-person operation. We all want President Beilock to succeed, and we all have a responsibility to help her do so. Her success depends on the willingness of the community to come together to solve common challenges, to meet future goals, and to respectfully voice our views on issues that matter the most to each of us. As a scholar and a leader, President Beilock is the right person to build on our accomplishments and to elevate the college even higher.
Rob Goldberg is chief operating officer of Barnard College.
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