10. Barnard Rising

  1. Barnard Rising

We aimed to save the College, and I saw the crisis as an opportunity
to highlight Barnard’s story as a high-quality undergraduate college.
— Ellen V. Futter (2015) [1]

  1. Touching Bottom — Barnard in Summer of 1980The abrupt termination of the Mattfeld presidency in June 1980 left Barnard  without administrative leadership even as the decade-long negotiations with Columbia passed into the hands of its new president. During his year as University provost and president-designate,  Michael I. Sovern had made it clear that he wanted to settle  the question of the Barnard-Columbia relationship quickly . While, as he later wrote, he hoped to avoid  being cast as “the Butcher of Barnard,” and was less committed to a merger of the Barnard faculty than Dean of Graduate Faculties George K. Fraenkel,  he  was alert to calls from College administrators and  alumni that any further delay in admitting women to Columbia College could do permanent damage to it. [2]

Meanwhile, the Barnard faculty, substantial portions of which had seen Mattfeld as a champion of the cause of faculty parity and a critic of the ad hoc system, were further unsettled by the trustees’ firing her. The absence of an explanation  only added to the disquiet.  So did the feeling among some faculty that the increasing imbalance in the flow of students across Broadway put their jobs at risk.

For their part, students  and their parents had other reasons for concern. Not least was the continuing shortage of on-campus housing, along with  the likelihood of  inflation-fueled steep hikes  in tuition and fees.  Nor did it help that New York City,  just past its brush with bankruptcy,  continued to be perceived as dangerous and uninviting to  all but the most intrepid out-of-towners. [3]

To be sure, Mattfeld had avoided the annual deficits of her predecessor, but only by increasing enrollments to levels now seen as unsustainable without additional on-campus housing. Whatever prospect of acquiring such seemed dashed when a request to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a $4.6 million dormitory loan in 1979 was rejected, HUD citing the  College’s current heavy reliance on income from tuition for over 60% of its  income. [4]

The Barnard endowment in 1980 stood at $20 million ($69 million in 2019 dollars), $3 million  less than a decade earlier.  Fundraising was hampered  by the turnover in presidents and development officers as well as the unwillingness of alumnae or foundations to give to a Barnard about to be folded into Columbia. As a modestly endowed women’s college currently  accepting 60% of its applicants in an era when women’s colleges were closing at a faster rate than at any time since they came on the scene in the 1830s, Barnard was seen  as a chancy investment.  [5]

  1. Children’s Crusade

      After their experience with  two seasoned academic administrators but strangers to New York, the Barnard trustees turned to one of their own to serve as acting president.   Doing so departed from past precedent, when gaps between chief administrators in 1894, 1900, 1967 and 1975 were filled by faculty members. The only exception was in 1946, upon Gildersleeve’s retirement, when trustee-chair-elect  Helen Rogers Reid filled in as acting dean (chairing faculty meetings in her trademark hat) . On July 10, 1980,  the trustees announced the results of their internal search. [6]

The appointment of Ellen V. Futter as acting president, two months shy of her 30th birthday,  surprised  everyone outside the  Barnard board,  and  likely some within. Faculty representatives to the board learned of her selection in The New York Times.   Futter’s youth  was only part of what made the appointment unusual.  A Barnard graduate, she had been a transfer, arriving after two years attending the Integrated Liberal Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin. (Her home in Port Washington in Nassau County had rendered her ineligible for first-year housing at Barnard.) Her professional training was in the law and her occupational experience was as an associate at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy,  one of New York’s major Wall Street law firms, where she was a corporate attorney. Whereas Barnard’s four previous heads had all been academics with  extensive administrative and/or  teaching experience, she brought neither to the job.  (The only previous non-academic was  Laura Drake Gill, not a reassuring precedent.) The post was defined as “acting,” with the explicit understanding that Futter would return to Milbank, Tweed within a year or earlier upon Barnard’s finding a permanent president. This assurance  did little to allay the immediate concern among some faculty and alumnae that the trustees  had again acted precipitately, if not in panic. The appointee later recalled  her selection being likened in some quarters to the desperate launching  of “a children’s crusade.” [7]

In hindsight, the appointment is easier to understand. The leadership  vacuum created by Mattfeld’s sudden departure could not wait on a national search; it had to be filled quickly. But who would take the job on the fly was another concern. This called for  someone  on the scene,  readily available and conversant with the issues.  Mattfeld’s dean of the faculty, Charles S. Olton, was still relatively new to the Barnard community, was not tenured, and had barely escaped being fired along with his boss.   Someone might conceivably have been drawn from the senior faculty, but no one was sufficiently  informed on the issues or had the confidence  of the board.  And because  faculty were  divided over both the firing of  Mattfeld — 70  members had signed a petition decrying it —  and the proper approach to Columbia,  the appointment of one of them might further exacerbate the faculty divisions. [8]

Thus, from the perspective of the trustees, turning to one of their own as acting president seemed a more attractive alternative. In Futter’s case, a leave of absence from Milbank, Tweed, a firm with many links to the Barnard board,  could be arranged without jeopardizing her prospects for a partnership.  At the same time, Futter’s  youth was not the liability that some outsiders saw it to be. It might make  her relations with  students easier, not an insignificant factor considering the frayed relations between Mattfeld and student leaders during her last months. That students might see her as an older sister rather than someone at one- or two- generation remove had its potential advantages. So did the newsworthiness of an elite Seven Sisters college entrusting its presidency to one of its graduates two years short of her tenth reunion.  Faculty who had taught her a decade earlier were prepared to certify both her abilities and her character as being one of the grown ups.  [9]

Futter’s youth was also misleading if it implied an absence of relevant experience. Of all her predecessors only Virginia Gildesleeve, who became  dean at 34,  brought as much local and institutional  knowledge to the job.  Like Gildersleeve,  Futter was a New Yorker, born in the City (September 21, 1949) and raised in Port Washington,  a near suburb on the North Shore of Long Island. Her father Victor was a graduate of Columbia College (1939) and Columbia Law School (1942), and counsel for Allied Chemical. He was also an active alumnus and had served as president of the Columbia College Alumni Association.  Futter’s  mother was a middle-school librarian and her grandmother had been a graduate of Teachers College and friend of Sarah Butler (BC ‘15), the only daughter of Nicholas Murray Butler.   Like Gildersleeve,  Futter was a magna cum laude graduate and student leader.   She was also a graduate of Columbia’s law school, where Michael I. Sovern, who became  Columbia’s 17th president two weeks before her appointment as Barnard’s acting president, had been her dean. [10]

Where Futter’s prior experience exceeded that of Gildersleeve was her eight years  as a member of the Barnard board of trustees. Appointed in 1972 at age 22 to fill the vacated seat of  ex-Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg,  having just served two years  as the board’s second non-voting  student representative, she soon became a junior member of the inner circle of trustees,  which consisted  of trustee veteran Eleanor Elliott, the newly appointed William Golden, Arthur Altschul  and Helene Kaplan, plus the ex-president of the University of Rhode Island Frank Newman and the banker Dale Horowitz, who joined the board in 1977. Together they shaped board policy with respect to Columbia in the late 1970s and without Futter’s involvement forced Mattfeld’s resignation. To the extent that the Board saw Barnard’s future as an autonomous college affiliated with Columbia University in its hands,  giving the ball to its youngest member  made sense.   [11]

                                                             3. Columbia Rules

For his part, the newly installed Columbia president Michael I. Sovern had made known his intention to settle  quickly the inherited coeducational issue and get on to his own agenda. Still not ready to risk the public relations fall-out from implementing the plan favored by Hamilton Hall, that Columbia immediately admit women and good luck to Barnard, he proposed to Futter a less radical alternative:  that Barnard and Columbia take steps to assure that Columbia classes have the same proportion of women students as the other Ivies, with those women being provided by Barnard. Predictably,  a plan devised by two lawyers and set to be monitored by a third, came with its own  label, “de facto coeducation.” It was to go into effect for the 1981-82 fall term. [12]

The acting president’s charge from her board was straightforward: come to an agreement with Columbia that secured Barnard’s autonomy without losing its affiliation in the University. Both the Barnard board and the acting president knew that Columbia could at any point, with a year’s notice, terminate the 1900 intercorporate agreement and begin admitting  women to the College.  This was  precisely what the Columbia College dean Arnold Collery (as had his three predecessors)  argued for, as had Columbia faculty identified with the College.  As Dean of Studies Roger Lehecka  put the situation, Columbia College was unable to compete with its Ivy peers  because of  Barnard’s  exclusive right to admit women undergraduates.  Columbia was being “held hostage.”  [13]

For his part, Sovern was alert to the possible costs of moving unilaterally. And as  with many pre-1983 Columbia professors with daughters, one of his was a loyal Barnard alumna. There was also concern that Barnard alumnae and donors would not take kindly to Columbia acting in its own self-interest by hanging Barnard out to dry. The Columbia community had its own  Barnard loyalists, ex-provost William Theodore deBary, whose wife and three daughters were Barnard alumnae, Joan Ferrante, a professor in the Columbia English department and a daughter-in-law of Millicent McIntosh, and professor of religion Gillian Lindt, among them. The wider feminist community would see the move as another instance of male chauvinism. In October, at a forum sponsored by Lesbians at Barnard (LAB),  80 Barnard students signed a petition titled “Women Against Merger.”  [14]

What “de facto coeducation” required of Barnard was a restructuring of its requirements so that Barnard students would be required to take more classes at Columbia, including those in the College’s  core curriculum, thereby assuring a level of coeducation at Columbia comparable to that of its Ivy peers. Negotiations with Co-Provost Fritz Stern during the first months of the Futter acting presidency seemed  close to achieving such an arrangement, one where Barnard’s compliance was to be overseen   by a third party, Columbia law school professor  Albert Rosenthal,  who was acceptable to both Sovern and Futter.   Other  parts of the proposed package involved Barnard faculty teaching in the Columbia core curriculum,  Barnard students becoming eligible to play on Columbia’s NCAA Title I  athletic teams, and students of both Barnard and Columbia  having the option of meeting  the major requirements of either  school. There seemed that spring a fair prospect that a deal could be reached allowing  Barnard to retain both its autonomy and its Columbia  affiliation, without Columbia College admitting women. In the spring of 1981 some Barnard faculty (the author among them) began brushing up on the western classics that were the required  fare of Columbia College’s core curriculum, in the expectation that they might be called upon to help staff it. [15]

In April 1981, the Barnard trustees announced that they had concluded their  9-month national search for a  president and  offered the job to acting president Futter. She accepted, conditioned upon the search committee securing the endorsement of Barnard’s senior faculty.  When this was immediately forthcoming,  Futter became Barnard’s 9th academic leader and 5th president,  and  at 32,  its youngest. President Sovern applauded the appointment.  Surely some of the confidence the search committee, board, senior faculty,  and the incumbent had in the appointment flowed from what appeared to be the propitious state of the inter-institutional negotiations and the prospect of a successful outcome. [16]

Not so fast. In 1980, the new dean of Columbia College, Arnold Collery,   commissioned a committee of College faculty to assess the situation of Columbia as the last of the all-male Ivies.  Ronald Breslow, professor of chemistry, was named  chair.  Issued in April 1981, “The Breslow Report” was not the first  to emanate from Hamilton Hall making the case for the College admitting women. Others dated back to the deanship of Carl Hovde, while a subsequent unauthorized endorsement  of the case had cost  Peter Pouncey his deanship in 1976. Reports issued in 1978 and 1980 by committees chaired  by  Professor of History Eugene Rice and Professor of Physics  Gerald Feinberg,  made much the same case. The view from Hamilton Hall summarized in the Feinberg Report reported that 82% of  Columbia College respondents found their single-sex situation depressing. “It’s not Barnard’s existence that anyone attacks; it’s the fact that the existence prevents a decent social life.” [17]

What distinguished the Breslow Report from its predecessors and helps account for its game-changing impact was the categorical answers it gave to two principal questions:
1. Q: Could Columbia College restore its place as a highly selective Ivy without moving immediately to
admit women?
A:  No.

  1. Q: Could Barnard survive were Columbia College to admit women?
    A:   Yes.

In defending the first conclusion, Breslow and his committee went  beyond earlier descriptions of the College’s slippage in student recruitment to portray it as  on the cusp of an irreversible decline.  All prospects of increasing  applications and enrollments turned on Columbia College doubling the size of  its recruitment pool by opening their doors to women. Perhaps  more revealing was the report’s tying plans to replace the bottom quarter of its recent  all-male acceptances with more qualified women by moving as quickly as possible to a student body of half women. [18]

Unstated but generally assumed was that the  “bottom quarter” of the College student body, the smallest in the Ivy League, contained a disproportionately high  percentage of recruited athletes needed  to field the  25 teams mandated by Columbia’s status as an NCAA Title I school.  A third or more of Columbia admits in 1980 were athletes. Football alone required the recruitment of 50 potential players a year. Without becoming bigger, the Breslow Report concluded the College could not get better, and both depended on recruiting their own women.  Without women,  given the projected 17%  shrinkage in the applicant pool in the 1980s, the College would be forced to become even less selective to maintain  current enrollment levels. [19]

The Breslow committee reached its second finding by taking Barnard’s own upbeat public projections at face value. Thus, when President Mattfeld assured the Barnard community in the spring of 1979 that Barnard “was without peer,” this was cited as proof of Barnard’s long-term viability. The Report’s bottom line: Columbia College needed to act in its own institutional interest , which was to admit women, leaving to Barnard to sort out its own  future. [20.]

                                                              4. The Dime Drops

Negotiations between Barnard and Columbia on how to implement de facto coeducation for the College  continued into the  late summer of 1981, but were briefly  suspended  in August when  President Futter  experienced complications with her first pregnancy. Both President Sovern and Co-Provost Stern had pressed  for a quick agreement that could be communicated at the first meeting of the University Senate in September but that deadline went unmet.  Futter took another break from the discussions in late October to give birth to her daughter Victoria. The clock kept ticking. At one point late that fall, a Columbia staffer told Barnard Dean of Studies Barbara Schmitter that Barnard had two weeks  to commit to the de facto coeducation plan or see Columbia College given the green light by its trustees  to admit women. [21]

Meanwhile, Barnard staffers, along with consultants from Peat, Marwick, and Mitchell,  developed  various models  for what achieving coeducational levels of 40% in Columbia classrooms meant for Barnard.  Those  involved concluded it would require a substantially larger number of Barnard students  taking classes at Columbia,  with a correspondingly larger share of Barnard tuition income being transferred to Columbia, than earlier thought.  But how many  more students  crossing Broadway and how much more tuition income  going with them?  One scenario, taking into account that Barnard enrolled 400 fewer students than the College: to achieve  40% coeducation at Columbia would require 79% of all Barnard registrations going to Columbia. [22]

Here the historical record is unclear and my interviews are inconclusive. But in a seven-page  letter to President Sovern  on November 16, 1981, in which she cited the 40% versus 79% numbers, President Futter signaled that adoption  of the de facto coeducation plan was unacceptable to Barnard. She called for more discussion. [23]

Time was up. At a meeting of the Columbia board of trustees in early December, President Sovern was  given authority, upon informing Barnard, to make plans to admit women to Columbia College in the fall of 1983. Co-provost  Stern was delegated to inform Futter, which he did  in late December.  “The winds have changed,” he told her. The other Columbia negotiator, co-provost Peter Likins,  slated to leave  to become president of Lehigh University, later succinctly stated in  impressively neutral language why Barnard  could not accept the de facto plan: “Because they would end up with most of their students taking courses on this side of the street most of the time.” Without disagreeing,  Futter  later put the outcome  differently.  “Columbia changed its mind,” she stated in an interview. “They walked away from a deal-well-along-in-the-making.” As for the  need to send so much of Barnard’s tuition income to Columbia: “We were prepared to figure how to do that.” [24]

Another possibility is that the Barnard negotiators realized early on that Columbia  could do what it wanted with respect to opening the College to women simply by giving Barnard  one year’s  notice and  ending the 1900 Agreement. It was only a matter of time before it would do so.  They accordingly sought to protract the negotiating period  as long as possible so as better to prepare for the inevitable by sharpening the institution’s self-identity, hoping that “when the dime dropped,” Barnard  would be ready to deal with the consequences.  Or as a Barnard staffer recalled working  at the time with Peat, Marwick developing scenarios: “What do we do if they do it? And then they did it.” [25]

Discussions between the trustees of the two institutions that followed on Columbia’s announcement were remembered by one of the Barnard participants as “very difficult.” The Barnard team, sensing  they were the target of a “hostile takeover,” augmented their ranks by the inclusion of Joseph Flom, the famed mergers-and-acquisitions attorney  and subsequent trustee.  The upshot of these discussions was a two-part agreement:

— Barnard would accept a change in the intercorporate agreement  allowing Columbia College
to admit women in the fall of 1983;

— Columbia would accept an alteration in the standing  Ad Hoc faculty procedures as applied to Barnard
tenure cases by replacing one of the three Columbia faculty members of the five-member committee
with an academic drawn from outside the University. [26]

        While Columbia’s  concession on the composition of ad hoc tenure committees allowed Barnard to come away with something of importance,  particularly to its faculty, few  observers missed the asymmetry of the outcomes or its unilateral initiation. Certainly President  Futter had no illusions about the latter,  telling her faculty  on January 25, 1982, the day after the agreement was made public: “Barnard did not decide to terminate these discussions. The decision was not for Barnard to make.” [27]
                                              5. Whistling Past the Graveyard

At that same faculty meeting, President  Futter concluded her remarks with the message that Barnard was “now, more than ever, in charge of its own destiny.”  As for Barnard’s ties to Columbia: “We are more certain than ever before of a long-term stable relationship.”  For some in the audience, the author among them,  these statements, however brave, fell short of reassuring.   Barnard’s very survival as an autonomous  institution seemed in play. [28.]

    The challenge facing the Barnard community was three-fold:
1. No longer the only source of undergraduate education for college-age women on Morningside Heights, Barnard  would now be vying for qualified  students not only with its traditional competitors but with its better-known neighbor. Would Barnard be able to continue to attract bright women in sustainable numbers in this new competitive environment? And do so while entering another multi-year decline in the size of the college-age cohort, especially in the northeast, with New York City’s standing as an attractive college town questionable?

2. With the merger of the Barnard faculty with Columbia’s now off the table (Fraenkel had stepped down as dean of the graduate faculties in 1982), maintaining access  for the  30-plus Barnard faculty (out of 150) who had earlier  taught graduate courses as part of their programs became an open question. More broadly, would  Barnard under this new dispensation be able to maintain a faculty of “scholar-teachers,” or would it have to abandon its recently acquired research ethos  and revert to its earlier identity as  primarily classroom teachers?

  1. The outcome of the merger-that-wasn’t did nothing to strengthen Barnard’s fragile financial situation, except possibly to engage the active financial support of some heretofore inactive alumnae now alerted to their college’s  tenuous condition. Would Barnard have the financial-aid funds necessary to secure strong incoming classes and  support them for four years at Barnard? And what of the salaries and research equipment  necessary to attract and retain a quality faculty? [29.]

There were also the two issues tentatively agreed upon during the 1980-81 discussions between Co-provost Stern and acting president Futter —  access for Barnard athletes to Columbia teams and Columbia dorms for Barnard students. Because those discussions were preempted, they needed to be renegotiated.

No one at  Barnard could be sure that the College was up to meeting these challenges, while some at Columbia expected Barnard to be in such terminal shape by  1987, when the 1982  intercorporate agreement would be up for renegotiation, that it would then be quietly folded into Columbia and cease to be. To such prognosticators President Futter responded: “We’re here to stay.” But also: “This was not a divorce.” [30]

Futter’s first move after the announcement of the new intercorporate agreement was to initiate a  sweeping curriculum review, with an unstated goal of revamping Barnard’s academic offerings  to  distinguish them  from those of Columbia College,  and to develop new courses  that would attract Columbia students under the ongoing cross-registration arrangements.  It was the right place to start.   As then Dean of the Faculty Charles S. Olton later characterized  the Barnard curriculum of the time, which had not been reviewed in 20 years: “Nothing to write home about.”  Lawrence A. Cremin, a distinguished historian of American education and President of Teachers College, chaired the curriculum review committee. [31]

In short order (as curricular changes go), the committee produced several recommendations that went directly to the faculty for consideration.  The first to come to a full faculty vote, in May 1983, was the inclusion in the curriculum of a required  course that combined the critical consideration of major texts organized thematically with  a focus on developing critical writing skills. These courses, required of all incoming first-year students and initially called “Freshman Seminars,”  were to be taught by regular faculty drawn from throughout the College and taught in a seminar-like format with enrollment limited to sixteen students. (This would be in addition to a two-semester writing course required for first-year students and taught by members of the English Department.) The seminars were introduced  in the fall of 1984. With surprisingly little alteration, other than a change in title to “First-Year Seminar” and the inclusion in some of the seminars of a speaking component, the classes remain a feature of the Barnard curriculum today. [32]

A second curricular innovation coming out of the 1981-82 comprehensive review was another required course: “Quantitative Reasoning.”  Put in place to insure that all Barnard students had an early exposure to analytical methods making use of numbers and statistics, it in turn encouraged several departments in the sciences and social sciences to develop courses that fulfilled this requirement, as they introduced non- or prospective majors to a range of discipline-specific methodologies. [33]

A third initiative was the Centennial Scholars Program, funded by an anonymous donor and  designed to attract top applicants to Barnard, irrespective of their financial circumstances. The Program underwrote special seminars that Centennial Scholars would take alongside their regular course work and  provided stipends for summer research. Throughout its 25–year existence, the program was successively co-chaired by several of Barnard’s leading scholars and most innovative teachers, among them Barbara S.  Miller, BC ’62,  Les Lessenger and Helene Foley. In 2015 it was merged with the Athena Scholars Program, and in 2017 revived through the generosity of trustee Barbara Silver Horowitz (BC ’83) as the Scholars of Distinction Program.  [34]

Other curricular initiatives substantially increased Barnard’s involvement in the arts. Successive  Directors of Theater, Paul  Berman and Denny Partridge,  gave Barnard’s stage presentations a more professional character, even as they expanded the non-acting components of the theater offerings. Dance was similarly strengthened by expanding its offerings and promoting one member of its staff,  Sandra Genter,  to a tenured position. In English, the appointment of the writer Mary Gordon, BC ‘71, to a chaired professorship  marked another breakthrough, both giving full recognition to writing in a department largely devoted to literary analysis, and signaling Barnard’s full embrace of the arts as an integral part of its liberal arts curriculum. These initiatives were first clustered in a composite Program in the Arts, and more recently as free-standing departments of Music, Theater and Dance. [35]

Barnard in the 1980s also took the lead on Morningside Heights  in introducing (and hosting) interdisciplinary undergraduate majors in Urban Studies, Environmental Science and Architecture. These  programs  all attracted  Columbia students, thus contributing significantly to containing  the imbalance in cross-registrations and assuring that Barnard’s role in the Barnard-Columbia curricular relationship was that of provider as well as consumer.  Each year between 1988 and 1992 the number of Columbia students taking Barnard courses rose and the imbalance narrowed , prompting Columbia in 1993 to agree to a  change in the annual cross-registration  payments from the original per capita basis to one where when registrations fell within broad bands a  pre-determined charge would be set. This both facilitated planning and allowed Barnard to predict its cross-registration costs more precisely. [36]

Back in the era of “creative retrenchment,” board chairman Eleanor Elliott was heard to complain that “Barnard keeps its light under a basket.”  In the new competitive environment in which Barnard  found itself,  it became crucial to  increase Barnard’s visibility both in the New York region and nationally. Responsibility for this challenge with respect to high schoolers and their parents fell principally to Director of Admissions Christine Royer. New publications, including a high-end slideshow, and putting more recruiters on the road visiting schools and attending college fairs all followed. The results were impressive, especially  given the national  drop in  18-24-year-olds, with  applications holding steady at around 2,000 through the 1980s. [37]

But the  job of horn-tooting fell principally  to President Futter. “I chose to use the crisis to get the Barnard quality story out,” she later said.  A good example of turning a problem into an asset: Barnard’s  public commitment to “need blind” admissions.  Even  while recognizing that such a policy put a real if unpredictable strain on the budget and complicated planning, The New York Times editorially  hailed  Barnard for remaining true to its commitment to first-generation-to-college  clientele.  A second instance of Barnard securing national attention in the 1980s was through the research and writings of M. Elizabeth Tidball on the outsized role women’s colleges, and singularly Barnard,  played in sending its graduates on to PhD studies and medical school. A third occurred in 1992, when Barnard hosted a conference of college leaders, and later published a report underwritten by the Mellon Foundation to promote the idea of college faculty having a real role in their scholarly disciplines,  and staying better teachers  for having one. Thanks to these efforts and to President Futter’s many public appearances in person and in print, Barnard caught the interest and attention of  potential students, revived alumnae support and gave physical substance to her brave assertion, “We’re here to stay.”   [38]                                                     


  1.   Betting the Ranch

Barnard’s financial situation five years into the Futter presidency remained precarious. The return to pre-Mattfeld lower enrollments meant a decline in tuition revenues, while economies expected with the cap on tenure were slow to be realized.  Student recruitment of  those not requiring financial aid remained a challenge.  The 2,000 applications received for the entering class in 1983, the first year that Columbia College admitted women, represented a 15% drop from the year before.  Early head-to-head competition with Columbia for acceptances from applicants admitted to both schools heavily favored Columbia. Of the 126 applicants accepted at both colleges, 78 enrolled at Columbia, 8 enrolled at Barnard, and the remaining 40 went elsewhere. Barnard that year also had 9 students transfer to Columbia. The cost of sustaining an academically qualified student body by maintaining its commitment to “need blind” admissions  was high. Nearly half of those  (47%) who came  to Barnard received financial assistance with their tuition and, but only if coming from outside New York City, their room and board. [39]

The admissions picture improved later in the decade,  but given the demographic headwind,  not markedly. Admit rates remained in the 60% range, with yields around 50%.  Financial aid costs were at the upper limit of Barnard’s capacity to provide and required modest departures from “need blind” in cases of transfers and wait-listed applicants. Financial necessity – and transparency – also mandated the short-term creation of a new financial-aid category for admitted students: “aid-eligible-but-not-assured”.    Even so, as a  Barnard financial staffer later described the situation,  “We were buying students more so than the other Sisters.” [40]

And unlike Columbia, which, with the opening of the South Campus dormitories, could now offer all admitted students housing, Barnard still had on-campus housing for only about half of an incoming class, with chances of those wanting but not getting housing their first year getting it as sophomores or juniors still something of a crapshoot.  When in 1980  the trustees again looked into the possibility of borrowing $20,000,000  to build a dormitory with funds from the issuance of bonds  on the commercial market backed by the federal  Housing and Urban Development  agency,  they were informed that Barnard’s long-term debt, which amounted to some $6,000,000, for a college with a modest endowment of $28,000,000, ($97 million in 2019 dollars) made  it ineligible for inclusion in the federal program.  Members of the Finance Committee  had suspected as much. [41]

In 1983 Arthur Altschul stepped down as board chairman, a post he had held for  seven years. He was succeeded by Helene L. Kaplan, BC ’53, who had joined the board a decade earlier. The following year the continuing need for a new dormitory again became priority number one, and one on which at least one trustee was prepared “to bet the ranch.” Another later recalled the prevailing sentiment to go ahead with the dorm without the funds to pay for it less apocalyptically: “We thought it essential.” [42]

The opportunity to do so came in the form of a last call to apply to a program managed by the New York State Dormitory Authority, which was prepared to put its “full moral authority” – as opposed to its more binding “full legal authority” — behind bonds that private “distressed” New York colleges could issue to underwrite dormitory construction. Such bonds were a device designed by  bond lawyer (and later Nixon Attorney General) John Mitchell in 1960s to circumvent the constitutional requirement that  all New York State “legal obligation” bond issues secure two successive referenda approvals before issuance. “Full moral authority” bonds could be bought by investors for less than “full legal authority” bonds because they were a riskier investment. [43]

In  1986 Barnard requested  and secured permission to issue $40 million of these bonds to underwrite construction of what came to be called, awaiting a naming gift, “Centennial Hall.” Barnard’s bonds found a sufficiency of ready buyers, some possibly operating under the assumption that they were getting Columbia quality bonds, which by the late 1980s after its sale of the land under Rockefeller Center in 1986 for $500 million earned the University an AAA bond rating, on the cheap. The two other New York colleges who issued bonds under this same “distressed colleges” program, subsequently closed before paying off their bondholders, leaving it to the state of New York to do so. [44]

On  May xx, 1985, the trustees announced plans for the new  dorm as part of a three-year  $100 million capital campaign to mark the College’s centenary in 1989.  Unlike Barnard fundraising campaigns before and since,  and accepted fundraising practice, this campaign was launched backwards, that is  without the usual pre-campaign gifts in hand to assure  future would-be donors that the campaign was already well along to its goal. Rather, more like the land speculators of the trans-Mississippi arid west after the Civil War, they hoped with the settlers would come the rain.  [45]

And rain it did. Centennial Hall opened in the fall of 1988, allowing the College to make good on its promise to provide housing for every  incoming student seeking it. Meanwhile, the Centennial campaign, highlighted by a series of events spanning eighteen months marking the College’s founding in 1889,  met its goal on schedule.  In 1991 a combined gift of $5 million from members of the Sulzberger family designated to help pay for the new dormitory by covering its carrying costs for the first five years and led to the building being named in honor of Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, ‘14. [46]

  1. Faculty Empowered
    Any curricular reform effort undertaken was constrained by the financial uncertainties  under which Barnard existed in the first years following coeducation at Columbia. President Futter’s first two budgets imposed  cuts in virtually every expense area except student recruitment and communications.  In 1984 the board directed the president to develop a faculty planning profile that limited the proportion of tenured faculty to 50%  of the full-time faculty. When applied on a department-to-department basis, the profile proved even more restrictive and brought the proportion of tenured faculty below 40%. The proportion of tenured faculty at most of Barnard’s peers at the time was 60%, with some as high as 70%. [47]

Some of this trimming was  accomplished through attrition, leaving empty positions vacated by retirement. But it also required informing  assistant professors upon hiring that in the absence of demonstrated institutional need,  even well-received publications  and effective teaching  would not secure them tenure. Of the 48 assistant professors on the Barnard faculty in 1980, 33 (69%) left without receiving tenure. The short-term effect of this policy was to make tenure at Barnard seem to faculty, tenured and untenured alike, subject to the law of infinite regression.  [48]

The 1982 modification of the composition of ad hoc committees that  substituted an outside scholar in the candidate’s field for one of the three Columbia members, however welcomed,  did not alter the heightened expectations for scholarly production. The Barnard Faculty Planning Committee accordingly introduced a mandatory 3rd-year review for all assistant professors eligible for tenure which, along with reviewing the candidate’s teaching effectiveness, focused on her post-dissertation scholarly activities.

To make clear that the expectation of continued publication did not end at tenure, but applied to senior faculty as well, three other reforms were introduced.  Salary increases for faculty continuing in rank would no longer be automatic and across-the-board, but would have some portion of any increase  based on merit. Promotion from associate professor to full professor would no longer be as it had been in the past, mostly a matter of time served in rank, but would now be accelerated or delayed and even withheld as determined by a review of the associate professor’s teaching and ongoing scholarship. And third, in the absence of a sufficiency of fully endowed permanent professorships (there were only four in 1990), a series of 3-year rotating Ann Whitney Olin Professorships (later extended to 5 years) were established to recognize particularly productive senior faculty. [49]

Other related changes confirmed the thrust of the College’s new “scholar-teacher” ethos. The dean of the faculty was authorized to respond to outside offers with counter offers that typically involved adjustments in  salary and sometimes teaching programs. In 1989, the trustees approved a Senior Faculty Research Program, which  allowed senior faculty to apply for a paid semester’s leave in between  their guaranteed 7th-year sabbatical leaves.  And finally, select departments were encouraged to consider filling leadership positions, as they opened up,  with outside appointments. During the Futter presidency this led to the appointments of Mary Gordon in English, John Hawley in religion, Irene Bloom in Asian Studies, and Jonathan Reider in sociology.  Other  senior hires who came and  then left for university appointments elsewhere included Nancy K. Miller in women’s studies, Benjamin Buchloh in art history,and  Caryl Phillips and Robert O’Meally in English. Still subject to periodic raiding, from both Columbia and other Ivies, Barnard was now doing a little raiding of its own. [50]

Other gender-specific demographic changes were underway in the composition of the Barnard faculty. Mobility out of Barnard was no longer a characteristic possessed exclusively or even primarily by male faculty; women faculty were now as likely or even more likely to receive and accept outside offers. The loss of two recently tenured black women faculty, the economists Cecelia Conrad in 1989, and Maria Crummett in 1993, spoke both to this generational shift and to the marketability of Barnard faculty. Into the 1970s most women hired by Barnard were the products of women’s colleges; by the late 1980s they were more likely to come from Ivy or other once-men’s colleges. And as with their male colleagues,  women new to the Barnard faculty were less likely to have received their graduate training at Columbia than  had faculty in the past. Fewer native New Yorkers, too.  We had become a national meritocracy. [51]

A faculty now composed of men and women self-identifying as scholar-teachers and accepting of the institutional actions that over the preceding two decades have made it so. Some of these actions were brought about by trustee fiat, others by the repeated judgments of faculty until the ethos had been thoroughly internalized. With a heightened attentiveness to and expectation of scholarly productivity, teaching effectiveness did not cease to matter. Classroom prowess as directly observed by colleagues remained a necessary condition for promotion, but absent an impressive scholarly record, no longer sufficient. In 1989 the Barnard Faculty adopted a standardized course-evaluation system based on that pioneered by the First-Year Seminar Program. Since then all considerations of promotion and merit increases include a consideration of  teaching effectiveness as assessed by our students.. [52.]

Differences remained between the work life of a Barnard College professor and a Columbia University professor, but less by gender than by field. Columbia faculty teach fewer courses than Barnard faculty and more frequently interact with graduate students. But  otherwise the life of a Barnard anthropologist or classicist was/is of a piece with their Columbia counterparts, while differences persist in the sciences. There the access of the Columbia scientist to graduate students and post-docs, as well as to more extensive laboratory facilities, while the Barnard scientist relies primarily upon undergraduates, differentiated their research agendas and the frequency with which results reach print. But even among Barnard’s relatively encumbered science faculty,  the research ethos, once regularly disdained by faculty at even the best undergraduate colleges, and  suspect in some  quarters at Barnard within living memory, by the early 1990s had taken up here what a generation  later looks very much like permanent residence.  [53.]

  1.    A Trans-Broadway Thaw

The  relations between Barnard and Columbia throughout the 1970s had been strained, in some departments where open and mutual hostility became the norm.  The 1982 agreement did not immediately  set matters right; it took work on both sides of Broadway to effect the discernible thaw in cross-Broadway relations  that occurred in the 1980s and that has persisted since. For Columbia officials, from President Sovern down through the administrative ranks,  this largely meant  focusing on  improving the  University’s  intellectual and financial standing  among the other of the nation’s leading research universities,  with occasional gestures of good will and cooperation addressed  Barnard’s way. Columbia’s return to prosperity took Barnard off its action agenda. But for Barnard,  putting matters right with Columbia remained an important order of business for  trustees, administrators, faculty and students alike. [54]

An anecdote suggestive of   where this reconciliation effort emanated  occurred on the third day of Futter’s acting presidency.   A letter from the Columbia Dean of the Graduate Faculties George Fraenkel to Barnard Dean of the Faculty Charles Olton complaining about some matter  had just arrived. Like others from  the Columbia official, it was taken to be “snarky” in its language and tone,  and was accordingly seen to require a response in kind.  When  Futter meeting with her dean was shown the proposed rejoinder, the following exchange ensued:
EVF: “What is this?”
CSO:  “This is what George and I regularly do.”
EVF: “Not anymore.”
The dean’s take away from this exchange,  “Wow, a new style being enforced,”  prompted him to get a meeting with Fraenkel  “to let him know the world had turned….”  [55]

Other members of the Barnard administration have since described the new relationship in less Paul-on-the-road-to Damascus terms. College counsel Kathryn Rodgers described the “new ethos” of  dealings with University Counsel Mason Harding and his staff once well into the Futter presidency as one “where we were no longer focused on prevailing in every disagreement, no matter how insignificant, but on finding mutually acceptable resolutions.”    Director of Finance  Lewis Wyman remembers the period as one where “we moved from a complicated set of considerations to a series of cooperative understandings with less unpredictability, allowing for more confident planning.” [56]

Much of the actual cooperation that led to the relationship coming to be seen as mutually beneficial occurred at the curricular and student-services level.  As a large research university, Columbia had been traditionally slow to engage in novel or experimental curricular undertakings.  The  Columbia College curriculum was seen as particularly resistant to change  by admirers and critics alike, with the latter dismissively referring to its hallmark core as  the study “of dead white men.”  Less bound by tradition, Barnard had always been more ready to experiment with new curricular offerings, such as in  the late 1930s interdisciplinary programs  in American  and Medieval Studies and even earlier  with offerings in the performing arts that into the early 1980s still had no place in the Columbia College curriculum. Thus Barnard could – and did—become the first Morningside home for an undergraduate theatre program, an undergraduate urban studies major, an undergraduate architecture program, all of which became occasions for Columbia College students making their way across Broadway. A similar migration occurred as Barnard pioneered in two other interdisciplinary majors that have since become Barnard mainstays, environmental studies and women’s studies, since broadened to  women’s and gender studies.  Such programs lessened the cross-registration  imbalance, demonstrated Barnard’s openness to serving as a “black box” for curricular innovation, and created opportunities  of institutional  cooperation wherein Barnard faculty took the role of providers as well as receivers. [57]

A specific instance of mutually-but-differently beneficial institutional cooperation  inolved intercollegiate athletics.  With the admission of women in 1983 Columbia College found itself needing to field upwards of a dozen women’s teams (with more to follow) if it were to comply with Title IX as well as the requirements of the NCAA and the Ivy League.  Meanwhile,  Barnard had been since the 1960s fielding several teams that participated in the Woman’s Intercollegiate League. Both schools were alert to the admissions aspects of fielding  credible NCAA-member teams to attract student-athlete  applicants – and both to the expenses involved in doing so.[58]

Barnard and Columbia senior administrators, with the active involvement of their respective athletic directors, proceeded in 1985 to create the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium, by which   Barnard student-athletes would be eligible to play on  NCAA Division I Columbia teams.  Some  Barnard alumnae at the time  lamented the end of a distinct Barnard presence in intercollegiate athletics —  the uniforms would bear the name  “Columbia” and the “Barnard Bears” would be no more —  but incoming Barnard student athletes have by and large benefitted from access to Columbia’s athletic facilities, full-time coaches  and the opportunity to compete at a national level  than when the old Bears earlier took to the field, track, court or pool.  [59]

The new state of  Barnard-Columbia  relations achieved during the Futter presidency fell short of a peaceable kingdom.  The tenuring of Barnard faculty under the in-place ad hoc system remained  a source of  tension, particularly in the rare instances where the university provost, Jonathan Cole,  exercised his authority to disregard a positive recommendation of his ad hoc committee  and blocked the tenuring of a Barnard nominee. Barnard in turn was accused  of rigging  the cross-registration agreement by mounting new courses with exciting teachers designed to attract Columbia crossovers.   Columbia College Dean Robert Pollack was sometimes seen from the Barnard side of Broadway to make too much of Columbia’s success in competing with Barnard  applicants admitted to both schools, or in allowing the incorrect  inference that Barnard admits did less well  academically than did Columbia’s.  And at the student-student level there persisted a sense on the part of some Barnard students that  their Columbia sisters took their acceptances as conferring local bragging rights.  [60]

Both Barnard and Columbia benefitted significantly from the upswing in the fortunes of New  York City. Widely deemed in the 1970s as politically ungovernable,   financially bankrupt, and physically dangerous , the City a decade later showed signs of recovery on all three fronts. Perhaps of equal importance for Barnard’s place in the City was to have a president who recognized its importance. Asked later about the New York connection, Futter declared, “We are absolutely tied to the City.” And about the impact of its ongoing recovery: “It gave us wind at our back.” [61]

                                                              10.  Exit Ellen  — Apologia Pro Vita Sua

In May 1993, President Futter announced   plans to leave at the end of the academic year to become president of the American Museum of Natural History. Barnard trustee William Golden, who was also on the AMNH board, had recommended her for the position. (She was also a leading candidate that spring for the then-vacant presidency of the New York Public Library.)   Plans for a smooth transition seem to have been underway for some time but closely guarded.  Kathryn Rodgers, by virtue of her functioning first as College Counsel, which had her as a principal negotiator with Columbia officials, and later as vice president for student affairs, which put her into direct contact with students, was a logical choice for acting president.  Sigmund Ginsberg, vice president for finance, left to join Futter at AMNH a month later. [62]

Otherwise, Futter left  behind  a stable senior administrative staff, including Robert McCaughey, dean of the faculty, who stayed on through the transition and then returned to the History Department in 1994. Others, Dorothy Denburg, Dean of the College,  Carol Herring, vice president for development, and   Doris Davis,  director of admissions, stayed on well into the next administration.  While some Barnard observers expressed surprise and disappointment at Futter’s  announcement, most agreed the time was propitious and some, sensing the formidable challenges of her new job as head of another venerable but troubled West Side institution, understood her decision. As the Lyle Lovett lyric  song  at one of Ellen’s student sendoffs had it, “She really wants to go.” [63]

While taking a rightful measure of personal pride in her administration,  Futter  credited the Barnard board of trustees and singularly its chairman Helene L. Kaplan with providing the support that made her own accomplishments possible. As for the board collectively, she has spoken of  ”íts divisions aside,its ability to make tough decisions” – which I take chief among them  to accede to Columbia’s decision  to admit women and to go ahead without funding to hand with the new dormitory – that have proved crucial to Barnard’s future. As for  Kaplan,  Futter credits her with several crucial roles in the College’s resurgence. Included were her  active participation in the stressful negotiations with Columbia throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, her success throughout as a  fundraiser, and in leading the search for Barnard’s next president. But even more singular was her managing a hyperactive board during the merger crisis and then easing it back into its traditional advisory role with the day-to-day operation of the College left to the president and to the trusted staff she had put together. Here Kaplan’s vast professional experience advising non-profit boards proved invaluable. Not since Helen Rogers Reid had Barnard been so well served by its board and board chair. [64]

And what by way of assessment of the Futter presidency?  She had led Barnard for thirteen years, longer than her two predecessors combined, and unlike them departed under her own steam to take up another prestigious position in New York City. She left behind  a decade of balanced budgets, an endowment twice the size of that she inherited,  and a second major campaign well underway. Problems remained, including a substantial debt burden incurred with the construction of Sulzberger Hall. Her success winning the hearts of initially skeptical constituencies was more complete with some than others, but even those few faculty still who pined for a scholar-president  and had endured a decade of belt-tightening acknowledged that their lawyer-president  in just about every way  left the College in better shape than she found it. Back in 1980 some of these same skeptics rightly  worried whether  Barnard would survive the coming decade; in 1993 there was every confidence that what Ellen V. Futter  held out in 1982 as a doable proposition – an act of faith – thanks in substantial part to her efforts Barnard had become, ”now,  more than ever, in charge of its own destiny.”