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Change is a Constant

I was initially pleased when the committee planning the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Diana Center asked me to be one of a handful of speakers at the noontime celebration in early February. President Spar would host and speak, followed by Board Chair Anna Quindlen, the “real Diana,” Diana Touliatou Vagelos ’55, me, and student government President Katie Palillo ’10. It wasn’t until after I said “yes” that the full significance of the invitation became clear. I was included not because of my professional role as dean of the College, but rather because the committee members were charmed by symmetry. In fall 1969, as the president of the student body, I was the speaker at the dedication of McIntosh College Center, the two-story 1960s concrete building that had been torn down to make room for the Diana. I was being asked to speak because I managed to outlive a building that I helped to open ceremonially. I was being publicly “outed” as a senior citizen. As the date of the ribbon cutting approached, I began to worry about what I could say that didn’t throw a spotlight on the passage of 40 years.

So this is where I landed: these 40 years have been outstanding years for Barnard. Although I began my remarks with a self-deprecating mention that I was participating as the “ghost of buildings past,” I was happy to be able to note several significant indicators of just how much things have changed for the better since the 1969-70 academic year. First, the College has grown: 1,958 students then to 2,350 in 2009-10. The growth means that we have been able to extend our reach; it has been and remains our mission “to provide the highest quality liberal-arts education to promising and high-achieving young women.” We continue to attract and graduate young women “prepared to lead lives that are professionally satisfying and successful, personally fulfilling, and enriched by love of learning,” and we continue to do so regardless of their ability to pay. In 1969, the College received 1,955 applications for admission for a first-year class of 467; in 2009-10, we had 4,599 applicants and will enroll 580 first-years in fall 2010. Our admit rate has dropped from 59 percent to approximately 27 percent. In fall 1969, approximately two-thirds of our students were residents and fully one-third were commuters; in fall 2009, 99 percent of our students lived on campus. In 1969, Wallace Jones spoke at the opening of McIntosh in his capacity as chair of the Barnard Board of Trustees, which at the time comprised 50 percent women. On February 3, Anna Quindlen spoke as chair of a board in which women now comprise 83 percent. Since the late Elly Thomas Elliott ’48 became the chair of the board in 1974, all but one of its chairs has been women and alumnae.

While we have added four residence halls since 1969, we added no new academic space despite the growth in the student body and in the number of academic programs. The Diana Center has added classrooms, art studios, architecture studios and digital labs, gallery space, a large, bright reading room, computer labs, and the fully equipped, state-of-the-art Glicker-Milstein black box theatre to enrich the academic experience of students.

Especially important is the way in which the Diana has already enriched the social and cultural lives of our students. By the end of its lifespan, McIntosh had evolved into a much loved and cozy student center; the upper level was a lively gathering space day and night. But its footprint and two-story height severely limited its uses. The six-story building that stands in its place, joined to Altschul by the renamed McIntosh Plaza, is a multi-use building that has already become a vibrant center for campus life. In a few short months, the Diana has become, as intended, the center of campus, a building that never sleeps. Barnard students finally have a building that is worthy of them.

As those of you who attended reunion 2010 in early June know, tours of the Diana’s facilities were among the most popular events of that weekend. Which brings me to my last words—June 2010 was in fact my 40th reunion. for almost 39 of those 40 years, I have been privileged to work at the College, to witness the many positive and exciting changes that these years have brought, and also to enjoy the things that have remained the same. In her address to graduates at the May 2010 Commencement, Meryl Streep said, “there’s no normal. There’s only change, and resistance to it, and then more change.” As changes go, the Diana Center is transformational for the Barnard campus. It brings new light to the north end of campus, opens up our treasured lawn space, and draws the eye from the main gate to Milbank, the historic anchor of the campus. The people who make the College also change. I have been a student, an alumna, an admissions officer, a class dean, and for the past 17 years, dean of the College. As I move into a new role as vice president for college relations, I hope to extend my relationships with the vast network of alumnae I’ve known over the years and to build connections between students and alumnae. I can’t wait to see what changes the coming years bring!

-by Dorothy Urman Denburg '70, illustration by Jennifer Daniel