Opening Thoughts on Barnard in the 1980s
The 1970s the crucial decade for CU – could it put its finances in order, while staying among the major universities in terms of its scholarly standing and remaining attractive to undergraduates and professional students? By the end of the decade, reasons for cautious optimism.
For Barnard, the crucial decade was the 1980s – could it sustain/generate a raison d’etre after the co-education surge of the 1970s, wherein Ivies and heretofore male-only select liberal arts colleges opened their doors to women, including Columbia College in the early 1980s? Could it expect any help from the University?
Would academically ambitious young women of the sort who earlier came to Barnard continue to do so now with more places to choose from, including Columbia College?
Was there still a case for women’s colleges more generally and one for Barnard more particularly?
Could that case be made to would-be students, their parents and would-be benefactors (foundations, alumnae)?
Who were the decisive players?
Students – Came in sufficient numbers/quality and for the most part stayed and had
successful educational experiences; no mad dash to pass as Columbia co-eds;
Faculty – Responsive to the situation – “the prospect of being hanged focused the mind….”
Open to curricular adaptation, responsive to realities of X-registration costs; accepting of
large classes (with big CC enrollments), accepting of faculty retrenchment, to reductions
in overall compensation
President Ellen V. Futter – leadership crucial to weathering the decade; fully committed
to keeping Barnard autonomous; , developed a skilful, loyal administrative team;
working well with senior faculty, relating to students and dealing with CU administrators;
But as young trustee-installed non-academic receiving more guidance and taking more direction
from trustees than earlier presidents or recent CU presidents (McGill/Sovern)
Key Trustees – Helene Kaplan/Bill Golden/Dale Horowitz….
Crucial calls of the decade by trustees
1. Sacking JAM and installing EVF as acting president (6/1980); and then president (5/1981)
2. Sucking it up when CU moved to admit women (1/1982)
3. Risking faculty deterioration by placing severe limits on tenuring of promising faculty (1984);
4. Going ahead with new dorm on borrowed state funding (1986)
Positive external factors:
1. Feminist movement largely supportive of continuing value of women’s colleges;
2. Slack academic market limiting faculty defections (although some to CU; and problem retaining black faculty)
3. Revival of NYC financially and as a college destination
4. Mellon Foundation’s including Barnard among its favored benefices
With occasional exceptions (CC Dean Pollack and Provost Cole), a recovered CU not disposed to make life harder of Barnard than it was. Sovern OK with EVF; return to “benign neglect” of old….
Instances of BC/CC cooperation:
1. Athletic consortium;
2. Barnard taking curricular lead in architecture, dance, theatre, urban studies;
3. Cooperation in women’s studies development on both sides of Broadway
Big change on campus – opening of Centennial/Sulzberger that allowed College to offer housing to all admits for the first time
An endowment too small (and not growing) to cover anything but a small part of operating expenses; continued condition of tuition-dependency;
Presidential succession quite smooth;
EVF’s announcement in spring 1993 likely not a surprise to trustees (Bill Golden on AMNH board?)had trustee OK); Kathy Rodgers an effective acting president (7/93-6/94); Judith Shapiro a popular choice with faculty and CU
Barnard’s future considerably more secure/less problematic in 1994 than it had been in 1980….
Last updated: June 7, 2014