Ellen V. Futter, BC ’71 — Interview

Ellen V. Futter Interview
American Museum of Natural History
15 W. 77th St.
Mary Foster – 212 769 5984
3:30 PM — June  25, 2015

Interview commenced at 3:30 PM, EVF’s office at AMNH

EVF corrections to my earlier-provided outline:
Father at Sullivan and Cromwell à Allied Chemical/Signal
Mom a junior high school librarian
Not all that “serious”  a tennis player – just a lifelong player
EVF not SGA à head of McAc
Elected a voting member of Board in 1982 (after 2 years as student rep.)
– not an alumnae member (took Arthur Goldberg slot)

EVF not involved in 1975 selection of Jacquelyn Mattfeld – except for all-trustee vote

Different memory of  circumstances of JAM termination –  Board  dissatisfaction was primarily JAM’s difficulties relating to Columbia
“Board concern with JAM  was fundamentally her handling of Barnard-Columbia relations”

JAM lost students with energy surcharge on students;  had mixed standing among faculty

Named acting president in July 1980 – two weeks short of 30th birthday
The BC/CU dealings of her first two years:
The #1 departure from my notes:  on what happened in 1981  à “Columbia changed its mind”  They walked away from a deal-well-along-in-the-making.

Discussions going “swimmingly” between BC  (EVF) and CU (Fritz Stern)
Breslow report  released in spring 1981 begins to turn the tide against the deal-in-the-making and toward CU unilateral action in face of Columbia College’s self-described desperate condition

Breslow conclusions:
1. Can BC survive a co-ed CC?  Yes.
2. Can CC prosper without going co-ed?  No.

Drivers behind Breslow Report;
1. Post ’68 admissions recruitment problems for CC in general – bottom of otherwise all coed  Ivies
2. A third or more CC admits were athletes – “This was killing them.”
[College too small to field Ivy complement of teams without focusing on jocks.]


Hamilton Hall/Low Library world views different  — recognition by LL in 1981 that HH had to be reckoned with; earlier, Peterson had worked effectively with McGill and the CC view not allowed to prevail


The nature of the negotiations that were scuttled by Breslow Report
Change in Ad Hoc arrangements – more than “modest” (my phrase)
CC would not set up separate teams
BC would buy in to Core Curriculum with faculty and dtudents
An upper-level /cross-University interdisciplinary course

December  1981 – “We’re still working on the deal… but noise slowing progress”

BMc—What about idea that BC dragging its heels in fall 1981 because it rcognized it couldn’t handle the X-registration costs…
EVF: “We were prepared to figure how to manage that”
“remember, there were costs involved in not making a deal, too….”

“In the end, Columbia College admissions won.”
Some real CC anxiety about its place in the Ivies… never ready to strike a distinctive stance
Columbia College not willing to see BC/CC/SEAS  as a coherent – and marketable — whole

Statement at the time holds:
“Barnard did not decide to terminate these discussions.  The decision was not for Barnard to make.”

BC’s situation not pretty: Lose two presidents in 4 years and now going with “a child.’

My remark about BC accepting 60% of its applicants in 1980
EVF not persuaded that the number is right.  “Much too high.” [I will check.]

Apps. Accepts                                %


1976 1565 945 60%
1977 1546 729 47%
1978 1816 808 44%
1979 2132 941 44%
1980 2333
1982 2300 1100 47%
1983 2000 526 57%

OK with 60% of BC students on financial aid.
EVF – contra BMc — No trustee-mandated reduction of faculty – as my notes have it.
“It [size of faculty] may have gone down, but no because of a ‘mandate’
EVF — Maybe how Chuck dealt with faculty in balancing the budget

Board’s involvement in 1970s greater than before or since
Big calls being made with some frequency
Blauer/Alexander take on situation – they focus on some trustees ready to fold – EVF not buying it.
EVF has board on the same page by her  appointment as acting president

Board liked the negotiated deal  (“Plan A”)– and then, when CU did an about-face,  ready to go with Plan B

EVF familiarity with BC trustees – both on her own for a decade as board member and through her father’s dealings as CC alum leader – Knew others at CU (Sovern)

Her attractiveness as a lawyer  for a job that would involve negotiations

Board approached EVF during search committee – just pregnant
Ready to take job but only after Board meeting with department chairs to get their support.
Search committee members Barbara Miller/Duncan Foley/Kathryn Yatrakis on search committee also supportive/endorsing

BC contingency planning before the dime dropped

What to do?
1. Curriculum —  had not been reviewed in 20 years;  had been obliged to think about differences between the curricula of CC and BC; could take advantage of CC’s conservatism. Interdisciplinary developments

2.  More involvement in the arts – Theater/beefed up dance/turn toward architecture – double-downed on writing (Mary Gordon appointment)

3. Housing —  A new dorm  — “We thought it essential – not “betting the ranch” (my phrase)
BC was in a “fragile” financial condition  — but true of most colleges most of the time….
Board decision the night before EVF had second child

  1. Launch BC’s first (?) capital campaign of $40 million; (The 1979  JAM $20 million campaign never formally launched);
    Most campaigns start with big gifts, then announcement – BC in this instance
    “backwards campaign”  — collect the small donations first because  large ones not as yet identified
  2. Centennial Scholar – That the school stood for the best – another instance of the commitment to maintain the quality of students and faculty (EVF and board as one on this.)

All these initiatives  intended to say to the world: “We’re here to stay.”
Rethinking the BC message:
EVF view: BC should not deny CU link – keep the bridge – even while showcasing its distinctive features
“Where else in America can a young woman attend a liberal arts college in NYC affiliated with a great university?”

EVF:  We did not try to get rid of Ad Hoc mechanism; used Faculty Planning Committee to reallocate tenure lines where new need, not just replacing retired faculty in the same departments. All to the end of assuring a faculty of quality.


BMc to EVF:  What’s the role of the City’s changing fortunes?
“We are absolutely tied to the City.”
City changed, but so did the demography change – from too few of college age to numbers in the 1990s more favorable to higher education
Elly Elliott – “Barnard keeps its light under a basket.” EVF determined not to do so. Great data to work with to make the case for Barnard.  [Tidball report found in a desk drawer…]


“You need it all. [City and demography]Gave us wind at our back.’
NYC by the end of 1980s trying to present itself as attractive college town…


BMC graph line:
EVF on Martha Peterson – Has both CU and Vietnam to deal with. Downward slope despite her  day-to-day successes.
EVF on Peterson: “She had a tough hand to play.”

1980 – BMc : “Hit bottom?”  EVF: A fair statement.
Followed by your 13-year  “Turnaround”
EVF: “I chose to use the crisis to get the Barnard quality story out;

“We wanted to be sure that Barnard faculty and students remained very much a part of the community.”
Assuring access to teams  and dorms for BC students
Assuring access to Butler and graduate teaching  from BC faculty
“This was not a divorce.”

Both BC and CU getting beyond the George Fraenkel interpretation  of CU’s problems  à that  BC had to be financially squeezed  to save CU – puts too much on BC’s  capacities to solve CU problem

What’s missing here [in my questions] ?
EVF: BC’s commitment to “need blind” in 1980s – though it was killing us financially
NY Times editorial applauding BC for remaining true to its commitment to first-generation clientele.

Decade-long negotiations prompted  self-examination on several fronts  and led to sharpening of the institution’s self-identity.  “We were ready to go when we were called upon to do so.”


BMc final question;
Why Wisconsin??  [EVF:” Not that good a high school student….”
The Meiklejohn school for two years – a small college, positive  experience ; but homesick and COLD….
Barnard so open to transfer students – accepting into places of student leadership
Deep ties to BC and CU – home
EVF’s grandmother a TC grad/friend of Sarah Butler

EVF final thought:
Remains impressed a quarter-century later with the BC board’s united  effectiveness in 1980s and, divisions aside, its ability to make tough decisions in the 1970s.

Interview ended at 4:45 PM
Rough transcript sent to EVF for her edits, comment, 6/26/ 2015