President’s Pen: Winter 2016
I write to announce that I will be assuming a new leadership role as president of the Association ofAmerican Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), beginning on July 1, 2016. It has been an extraordinary honor and privilege for me to serve as Mount Holyoke College’s eighteenth president, and I will be forever grateful for the many ways in which the members of this community have shaped both my life and my career.
It is painful to leave a place so close to my heart, but I prepare to do so knowing that the College will welcome its next leader from a position of historic strength. During the six years of my presidency, we have worked together to complete a $305-million comprehensive campaign, accompanied by an increase in the endowment from $520 million to $717 million. Externally, our visibility in the admission marketplace has been tangibly enhanced through a successful branding and marketing campaign and the establishment of an Office for Professional and Graduate Education.
Internally, the stability of our long-term future has been addressed by instituting robust processes for strategic, budget, and master planning as well as by establishing an Office of Planning and Programming. We have enhanced the quality of contemporary campus life through mounting Presidential Commissions on Work-Life-Family as well as Diversity and Inclusion, the creation of staff excellence awards to parallel faculty excellence awards, and the founding of a campus-wide Sustainability Week. Finally, we have sought to connect Mount Holyoke’s mission with concerns of the larger world, partnering with the US Department of State in the development of the Women in Public Service Project, integrating the liberal arts and sciences to careers through the Lynk initiative, and giving the College a public intellectual presence through contributions to local and national current affairs programming.
I arrived at Mount Holyoke in 2010 with a platform of championing the centrality of liberal education, aligning liberal learning with twenty-first-century skills, promoting access to excellence for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and encouraging the notion of colleges and universities as civic missions. Because of Mount Holyoke’s position as a leader in higher education, I have had the honor of speaking to these values at the national level through leadership on many regional and national boards, demonstrating the importance of bringing women’s voices and decision making to the table. Indeed, it is through this engagement with educational policy debates as the president of Mount Holyoke that I have come to understand the urgent need to respond to challenges facing higher education in general, and liberal education in particular.
I fervently believe that the value of a liberal education is reflected in the illumination of consciousness through literature, philosophy, science, languages, music, and the arts, and that this illumination allows us to flourish fully as human beings. In this spirit, Mount Holyoke’s mission is enfolded within that of AAC&U, which strives to make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for educational purpose and institutional practice. Yet, the values at the center of both missions are being called into question by a prevailing national discourse that privileges earning power as the most legitimate reason for pursuing a college degree. Such thinking contravenes the notion that all students are entitled to the full promise of American higher education and damages the perception of higher education by turning the pursuit of a college degree into a private commodity rather than a public good. In the process, our nation’s historic mission of educating for democracy is undermined.
Thus, in departing from Mount Holyoke, I take up the broader challenge facing liberal education in all its manifestations, one that remains at the very core of what it is we do here and will continue to do with concerted, collaborative effort. While I may be physically separated from our extraordinary campus, I can never leave behind the community that inspired this call to conscience—the remarkable students, unparalleled faculty, talented staff, dedicated board members, and accomplished alumnae. Most crucially, as an alumna of the College I promise, throughout my life, to be a zealous advocate for Mount Holyoke’s mission of directing liberal learning toward purposeful engagement in the world while fostering the next generation of women leaders.
This article appeared in the winter 2016 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
January 15, 2016