Gayle F. Robinson, BC ’75 — Interview

Bob McCaughey Interview with Gayle F. Robinson
213 LeFrak – 9:30 to 10:450 AM
February 2, 2017

BMc —  writing a history of Barnard – lots of interviews

GFR suggests Mary Louise Reid  ‘46– mother-in-law of Helen Rogers Reid
Mary Louise on Barnard in  WW II
Also Irma Moore; Gayle will call Mary Louise
GFR a Native NYer
Bronx High School of Science
Mother an administrator at Interchurch Center – American Waldsenian Assistance Society
Mother BA and MBA from Fordham
Gayle pretty limited to NYC schools – “I’m a bit of a homebody”
5 from her Bronx Science class at Barnard – and did well there
High school was a good experience – came to BC with confidence in her abilities
’68 school strike – hip Science kids coming on to Columbia campus in ‘68

Had applied only to Barnard/ NYU/Fordham/Yale – didn’t get in Yale
Thought she was coming to Columbia – Women’s college not the initial draw – appreciated later
Became aware of its advantages in business school

Commuted for three years from the Bronx – on campus as senior [620]
Here on half scholarship
As commuter, less involved with black students in residence – McIntosh thriving with activity for commuters; break with neighborhood
Black floor  an important  means for those students to relate to Barnard/to hang in

A solid B student – get by without working very hard  — worked enough to be in shape for professional school directly after graduation

Barnard 1975

Economics – Jean Gooch; Cynthia Lloyd; Marion Gillim (Kentuckian “in generational transition”)
Work study for Don Ritchie in biology
Another work study job at AMNH organizing Margaret Mead’s index cards

Barnard in early 70s – BMc – Turbulent times for students??

In ’71 – school still adjusting to having sizable cohorts of black students
Reunion of Barnard graduates meeting some who went on Freedom Rides in ’64?
Never all that aware of Barnard students being politically active at coming here

A shocker  on settling in at Barnard – Not all that many wealthy girls – much like my high school!
One Vanderbilt in the bunch….
The wealthy from Brearley/Spence who went away but transferred back to NYC – and thus Barnard

BMc: Traditionally – Barnard attracted financially-strained  commuters[“Jews from Brooklyn”]  and girls kept at home (e.g., Jewish girls from moneyed families)

GFR: Didn’t Columbia have the same problem??
BMc: Yes. CC wanted to be an Ivy; BC one of the Sisters….especially so for Gildersleeve

Gildersleeve’s pull – the most recognizable of women’s college presidents by mid-20s
Had the NYC press


Judith and the Four Quadrants??

Again, Barnard neither students nor professors all that politically engaged – not inclined to “let’s go march, girls”

By 70s, enough black students to have an identity group – black floor in place
As a commuter, not drawn in to the sorority aspect of black floor

But it provided “A major/important/amazing support system”
Administrators and faculty helpful – Inez Reid/Quandra Prettyman
Doris                  in College Activities
Barbara Schmitter – “She really tried to keep people in school.”
No sense of position of  President Peterson

BMc: Early 70s “A difficult time??
Lots of professors going through adjusting to more diverse classes;
Getting better with next students coming along
Students oblivious to much of what going on with trustees, presidents, CU – a good thing
“I knew nothing about the Martha Peterson thing….

“And by the way, we were almost bankrupt… The City being bankrupt… The weirdness  of the trustees

I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I went to B school
Why economics?  Did well in statistics
Liked science and math in high school
Pre-meds  competition — could not have a liberal arts education at that time

“I walked away from my Barnard experience as a lifelong learner…
I learned to love  learning. That’s the gift.”

BMc: Your board  years peaceful??

GFR: Yes, but board members there  who had been there back in the turbulence [Kaplan/Horowitz/Golden/Altschul] — Mindful of Columbia as a sleeping bear


Board issues

Athletic consortium
BC wanted Division I  but expensive for the few athletes we had ;  trustees accepted as a loss leader that separated us from other women’s college

Problem of board having no direct student experience with Barnard in the era of CC-with-women; no trustee having been a student in era of  Columbia women….

Financial stabilization of BC/CU arrangement

Good move to one-payment (“one bucket”) arrangement for finances
BMc: Bad old days of X-registration $$ — How crucial Dennis Dalton’s classes….

Faculty housing problem à 110th Street deal with CU
Still a recruiting tool

Rupp’s  “‘puzzlement” with BC’s existence

What’s not to like?
Columbia’s sailing along with their own women
We delivered on Athletics agreement
NYC getting better – economy doing well
Getting the students we wanted – brand was “tough to get in — place to be”

Still without money

But tenure –case tensions// but faculty also getting the Columbia cachet…

Tenure controversies — but

GFR: “I had the feeling that BC faculty liked the CU connection (except at tenure time)”
Problem with faculty in interdisciplinary fields getting tenure
BMc: Tenure issues settling during GR chairmanship

JS usually willing to see the marginal character of disputed tenure cases

BC absolutely needed the CU connection/relationship
“Judith was the perfect president at the time”
Judith was a faculty person – especially right coming after Ellen who as a non-academic couldn’t
Knew the boy/girl thing from Bryn Mawr/Haverford
Had Rupp’s respect and Cole’s friendship
Cole to JRS: “This isn’t Bryn Mawr/Haverford”
JRS; “Of, course, Jonathan….”

GFR on JRS: “Had real Jewish cred without having to be Jewish” From Queens/father not college guy
Ellen from the suburbs

Trying on GR:  Judith’s “I wouldn’t trade Barnard’s location for Wellesley’s endowment”

GFR: Judith and me – “City girls” – Not all girls belong at Barnard – needed grit….

“It’s not a party school”

College president a tough job: serving three sets of folks: Faculty/Students-Parents/Trustees

GR: Liz Boylan hiring faculty who could get through the BC/CU pipeline
Senior faculty alert to preparing juniors for tenure review….
Rewards system in synch with reality of scholarly expectation

Judith wanted to build a building but focused on chairs for faculty….

GR: “I seem to think the faculty were pretty happy.”

Lingering problem with students:  Dissing treatment by Columbia women….

Judith recognizing the problem as an anthropologist

How much of your chairmanship/Judith’s presidency a matter of good timing/luck??
Or something more?

Used the good times to tie down some still unsettled matters with CU – and got on to the task of raising money to pay for what now Barnard could do/be

Athletic/tenure issues – last details in establishing basis for long-term marriage

GKR:  A student issue settled: Board  being OK with Barnard women  joining CC sororities

BMc: More turnover on board?? Any problems with this in terms of continuity

Anna Quindlen as chair – better name for fundraising with public
New initiative – started with JS n– looking to parents as trustees
Wealthy families more likely to consider Barnard for daughter and for their philanthropic outreach

GR: Barnard lucky with husbands ready to have their Barnard wives as BC graduates give $$

Today, more women with their own money – much of it earned
Need to encourage estate planning/giving from them


“Shopping bag-security” especially a concern for single women of means à Barnard need for attending to planned giving


Two other issues  durijg chairmanship
How do we deal with need-blind??  Willing to take a peek with waiting list. Otherwise, too costly to sustain policy for regular accepatnces

Also changed the tuition arrangements for study abroad
Now pay Barnard tuition to Barnard not the sponsoring college but make financial-aid applicable
So, a few more $$ for the full-ticket payer but making travel more affordable for financial aid kids

Recent change in financial aid as applied to NYC resident –not eligible – Dale Horowitzbig on  insisting on this change. Not that expensive
Barnard had been losing out on “people like me” because Wellesley more generous

Acknowledging past dealings with black students/applicants

Jean Hutson – Schomberg director – Michigan transfer – denied dorm room and  finished up as commuter
Dorothy Height – did not graduate but Barnard acknowledged mistreatment during Judith’s presidency

[BMc will get more of the facts on both]

Case of Zora Neale Hurston

Part of a reconciliation process?
GFR:  She and Judith my not have  thought of it that way but fits with
“Who do we really want to be and how do they pay for it?”
Contingent faculty issue today – Doing a big chunk  of the teaching these days.

BMc – One of the downsides of making full-time faculty able to be university-like scholars….


Another issue:  How to compete with the Columbia core?
GKR’s brother a loyal CC core guy

GR took Elaine Pagels course on the New Testament
Now a friend
Also  sociology with Mirra Komarovsky…

GFR  years as chair: Tying up the remaining  issues with Columbia and positioning the College  for the future.

GFR:  What about the present president?
BMc – Seen as having raised money – had her student admirers
Did the course-reduction deal that played to faculty wants if not absolute needs
Male faculty less bothered by her than some women faculty – clothes/Goldman Sachs….
Seen in some quarters as “corporate feminist”

For faculty: Debra’s an unexpected but manageable departure….

Possible swap of interview transcripts with Judith?  I’ll propose to Judith

BMc: Will get transcript to GFR  next week for her edit/supplement/ciorection…..