Winter 2009

Winter 2009

Like many Americans, I think I will remember the night of November 4 for a very long time. My kids and I made nachos (usually reserved for Super-Bowl Sundays) and sat glued to the television from the moment the pundits began opining. When the results were called, less than a second after California’s polls closed, we heard a spontaneous roar break out along Broadway. Without thinking, my son and I dashed out the door and headed for the street. Outside the gates of Barnard, a huge crowd had already formed. People were screaming and crying, hugging strangers, and dancing along the pavement. Without a leader, without a destination or plan, an impromptu parade started marching—running, skipping, cartwheeling—south of 116th Street. Police officers entered the crowd and gave high fives to all who passed; night cleaning crews at Tom’s Restaurant and the Deluxe literally put down their brooms and started to dance along. When security crews hastily closed off patches of the street, taxi drivers got out of their cars and gleefully joined right in. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.

Debora SparThe next evening, I sat down with a group of students for my first official Town Hall. The topic was the election, and the excitement in the usually staid Sulzberger Parlor was palpable. Without exception, every woman there spoke of how the election of 2008 had changed her life. Not only because it was the first presidential election in which this generation of young women could vote, but because they all sensed that their views—whatever they were—had been expressed in an explicit, tangible way. As they sat in a circle around the parlor, the students glowed with pride in describing how it was their own work, and those of thousands of young people like them, that had led to a new president heading for Washington and to the enthusiasm that had poured itself along Broadway the night before. Some of the students had spent the summer working on the campaign; some had led political organizations in their high schools or communities. Several foreign students spoke of the frustration they felt, caring so deeply about the U.S. election results yet unable to do anything about them. Many reflected on the thrill they experienced in seeing two women—TWO!—come so close to the highest tiers of power. And all reminded me of what my own 19-year-old son had said to me that morning: “You know, Mom, “ he gushed, “I know you’re excited about this, but you can’t possibly understand how I feel. Because this whole election was about people my age. We were the ones who grew up with the world a certain way, and we were the ones who fought to make it change.”

As our students happily revealed to me that evening, they had all voted for Barack Obama, so their reflections on the election were undoubtedly tinted by their personal pleasure. But I suspect that the election of 2008 brought joy, or at least a new energy, to Americans across the political spectrum who saw it, as did my son and our students, as an ideological baptism for the next generation. In both the primaries and the general election, 18–22-year-olds voted in staggeringly large numbers. Rates were impressively high among black youths, rural youths, poor youths—across all sectors of the youth population that have historically been disaffected by and distant from the political process. From the star-driven “rock the vote” campaign to’s “Yes We Can” video and Sarah Silverman’s “Great Schlep,” young celebrities played into the energy that young non-celebrities had already been pouring into the political campaign since the earliest days of the achingly long primary season. More than 6.5 million people under the age of 30 participated in the 2008 primaries and caucuses, pushing the national youth turnout rate from nine percent, in 2000, to 17 percent.* And the candidates they helped to nominate were, by any measure, an extraordinary lot: one black man, one woman, one war hero, and one hardscrabble senator. Not one of them rose to power by birth, or marriage, or fame. Not one was born wealthy or well connected. Instead, all four of this year’s candidates rose to prominence through decidedly old-fashioned means: they worked for it. This signaling was in many ways more important than all the civics lessons our students absorb in high school, or all the times they’ve heard their parents proclaim, “Yes, of course, you can be President!” Because until the election of 2008, children who were born poor or black or female or unlucky found it hard to believe that indeed they could.

It is impossible to predict, of course, how the outcome of 2008 will go down in history. The Obama administration faces challenges that are nearly as unprecedented as the election: a crisis of credit in the financial markets, rising unemployment, and risks emanating from Russia, China, and the Middle East. The generation that cheered for Barack and identified with him could sour quickly on a President Obama whose easy confidence can’t deliver miracles in health care, education, and the environment. Like the last generation to march along Broadway, this group could also see some of their ideals crushed and their ideas watered down by time. Yet, like the students who joined me on the evening of November 5, I believe in hope. And I believe that we will once again see the students of Barnard and Columbia dancing down Broadway, reveling in their power to bring about change.

*The rate is calculated for states that had both a Republican and a Democratic exit poll in 2000 and 2008. See Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), Fact Sheet: The Youth Vote in the 2008 Primaries and Caucuses, June 2008.

Photograph by Margaret Lambert

Frances SadlerI’m happy to report that this year is off to a great start. The association’s committees have convened to develop events and programs that will be enjoyable and stimulating, while providing you opportunities to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Keep watching your e-mail for the Bits and Bytes newsletter with program descriptions, dates, and times.

The current economic crisis has touched us all. It has implications for the College as well as each of us personally. The board of trustees, the president, and the administration are working to ensure that Barnard continues to provide the high quality education for young women as it has done in the past. On a more personal level, some of you have suffered serious financial reversals. Or you, your spouse or partner, or a classmate may be suddenly unemployed. As alumnae, you have the resources of the Office of Career Development at your disposal. Wherever you live and whatever your class year, OCD staff can assist you with recrafting your résumé, brushing up your interview skills, and job-searching techniques. Please take advantage of them by contacting OCD at 212.854.2033 to schedule an office or phone counseling appointment.

In difficult times, I think we should draw on the rewards of our investment in human capital. Call a friend or classmate to just talk as we did when we were students. Plan to meet friends at a Barnard event. Audit a class at the College. If you didn’t get a holiday letter from someone who always sends one, drop a line to check in with her. We are part of a powerful sisterhood of more than 30,000 women around the world. Connect with old friends and draw strength from that relationship or engage a friend who needs it. Contact your class networking chair, use the alumnae online directory or call the Alumnae Affairs office to find an old friend. I look forward to meeting you at a Barnard event. Please come say hello.

As ever,
Frances Sadler ’72
President of the Alumnae Association

Portrait by Elena Seibert

Richard PiousAs an expert on national politics and the American presidency, how do you assess the election of Barack Obama?

This is a huge historic moment. Our nation has elected a president with African ancestry. For a country with a legacy of slavery, the progress we’ve made is real, not just symbolic. And for me, the best thing about the 2008 presidential race is this: After you compare the competence and intelligence of the Obama campaign with the incompetence and stupidity that characterized the McCain-Palin campaign, the idea of white supremacy should be put to rest.

Do you consider the election historic in other ways? What about Obama’s pledge of profound change?

This was an election about change. But it’s change from a Republican administration to a Democratic one. It’s not a plebiscitary change from the politics of the past to leadership by “THE ONE.” The Democratic Party is an established, ongoing organization—not a movement—and we have government by party, not by plebiscite. If we’d elected one of the other Democrats seeking the party’s nomination, we wouldn’t have seen much of a difference in that candidate’s victory margin over the Republicans, and we wouldn’t be seeing much of a difference in the new president’s cabinet choices and policy proposals. Even before Obama and McCain were nominated, the mathematical models developed by political scientists for the November election were accurately predicting a Democratic victory, and many of them, such as Robert Erickson’s at Columbia University, accurately forecast the margin of victory. The incumbent party loses when it has a drawn-out unpopular war combined with severe recession. This isn’t rocket science.

In this election, the Democrats gained seven points over the Republicans in party identification. And those gains involved a lot of groups, including Hispanics, Asians, and young voters. The election-day turnout rates for Hispanics, young people, and African-Americans also increased greatly. But for political scientists, this wasn’t the “landslide” that journalists are proclaiming. It may yet indicate a realignment and a new period of long-term Democratic dominance. We won’t know this for another decade, after two more presidential elections and after seeing how long the Democrats hold onto their Congressional majority. After 1964 the Republicans regrouped and won the election in 1968; similarly after 1976 Republicans won the White House in 1980.

 Do you agree that the crises Obama’s inheriting and his personal strengths create an opportunity for him to become one the country’s greatest presidents—like FDR?

Obama resembles FDR in the economic conditions he faces, in the dominant position of his party in the House and Senate, and in his powers of communication and good reasoning. Many people forget that FDR didn’t campaign on what became the New Deal; he promised if elected to cut federal expenditures by 10 percent. But his mind was open, as is Obama’s. And FDR got a lot through in the first two years, when a new president with healthy margins of Congressional support has a chance to make big policy breakthroughs. Obama will be able to do the same.

Typically, after two years and a midterm election, the president’s party loses Congressional seats, and the administration moves into a new phase political scientists call “regime maintenance,” in which the White House tries to hold together a coalition in both Congress and the general electorate. For example, the 1964 Johnson landslide was followed by policy breakthroughs, but after the 1966 midterm election, a lot of LBJ’s remaining Great Society legislation stalled in Congress. In FDR’s second term, the president was weakened by the Court-Packing Crisis of 1937, which empowered a coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats to block him.

So, for even more reasons that most people realize, Obama must move quickly.

Yes, and unlike FDR, who refused to work with Hoover, Obama began to gear up before his inauguration, and although he says there is “one president” at a time, in effect there is a “co-presidency” in developing policy for the economic recovery. On January 20, after being in session for two weeks, the Democratic Congress will have a bunch of measures for the president to sign. Much of this legislation has been incubating in Congress for years.

What about executive power? Many want to see Bush’s directives overturned, but also want to see the restoration of a democratic balance of power.

Executive power is not a partisan issue. The Republicans didn’t create the imperial presidency, and Democrats have used executive power enormously. Presidents with large majorities in Congress have less need to rely on executive power, or what’s called prerogative power, in the broader sense. Those presidents use the veto less, and make less use of signing statements that reserve the president’s so-called “right” not to enforce provisions of a bill after he signs it into law that he views as unconstitutional, or to interpret it as he wishes rather than in terms of congressional intent.

As for new rules the Bush administration is creating in its final months, it will take a certain amount of time for the Democratic administration and Congress to change or get rid of them. But Congress passed a law that allows Congressional action on a lot of new regulations. And President Obama can recommend to Congress that it rescind regulations under its own mechanisms in that statute.

What about the Obama administration’s influence on the third branch of government? What changes do you expect to see on the Supreme Court?

On the Supreme Court, most of the conservative appointees are younger and the liberals are older—so how much the tenor of the court will be changed is not clear in the short term. We will see a lot of Democratic appointments on the appeals courts, which will reverse some of the conservative majorities on those courts, move them into better ideological balance, and alter the case law that moves up to the Supreme Court. Same thing with the district courts: if Obama serves two terms, he’ll be able to appoint close to half of the judges at that level, given the turnover on the bench.

-Anne Schutzberger, photograph by Brandon Schulman

This conversation took place in December 2008.

When the massive economic meltdown occurred last fall, members of the Barnard community had many questions but few answers to help them cope with the crisis. Recognizing that Barnard’s expert faculty could offer some clarity (if not exactly comfort) about the situation, President Debora Spar launched the Brown-Bag Lunch Discussions, specifically to address critical global events as they arise. The inaugural program, “Understanding the Economic Crisis: A Panel of Barnard Experts,” on October 10, drew a standing-room-only crowd to the James Room, eager to hear members of Barnard’s economics department attempt to untangle and make sense of the economic situation.

“President Spar responded quickly to the need for information about the crisis,” said Joanne Kwong, media relations director. “Barnard has such a wonderful resource in our world-renowned economists. This first program was a response to an issue of unusual urgency, and drew upon the immense intellectual power we have here.”

Provost Elizabeth Boylan, who introduced the moderator and panelists, first welcomed those in the James Room as well as those tuning into the Webcast. She underscored that this and future sessions would be streamed live on the College Web site, allowing all community members to participate in the learning session. “This new series will feature Barnard’s esteemed faculty of scholar-teachers ... and demonstrates our dedication to the imperative of lifelong learning.”

In her opening remarks, moderator Lynn Najman ’72, a registered investment adviser with her own firm, LRN Associates, said emphatically, “This is an issue critical to every one of you, whether you’re a student looking for a job or a loan; if you’re working and have a retirement plan in place; or you’re a retiree, living on fixed income. How much is panic? How much is real?”

Among the faculty members who shared their insights and expertise was Perry Mehrling, a professor of economics, noted expert in the area of finance and monetary economics, and author of Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance and The Money Interest and the Public Interest: American Monetary Thought 1920-1970. Congress called upon Mehrling to help develop the $700-billion bailout plan. Rather than having the government buy failing banks’ troubled assets, Mehrling believes that the government should sell credit insurance.

His colleague, David Weiman, Alena Wels Hirschorn Professor of Economics and an economic historian, offered both an analysis of how the country reached this stage, and his policy agenda of steps to be taken for recovery and reform. Mariana Colacelli, assistant professor of economics, provided perspective on other economic crises in history, indicating that these events “happen from time to time. The key is how large they go, and how to recover.”

For Marcellus Andrews, an instructor in the economics department and a commentator on economic matters for National Public Radio’s business-affairs journal, Marketplace, the crisis highlights “a system that is thoroughly broken. Recovery has happened when folks do something, and do something right. We will rebuild over the long term.”

-Merri Rosenberg '78, illustration by Tamara Shopsin

Brown-bag series video stream: You can watch this panel discussion online at

Judy ButterfieldIt’s a typical Tuesday for Judy Butterfield: Ballet class in the morning. A subway ride down to 14th Street for three hours of cabaret rehearsal with her accompanist. Then back to Barnard for an afternoon psychology class.

Butterfield happily, if sometimes frenetically, leads two lives. In one, she’s a first-year in jeans learning her way around campus. In the other, she’s a cabaret singer in a shimmering strapless gown wowing audiences around the country.

The juggling act comes easy to this San Francisco native, who’s been performing since her first year of high school. She became hooked on cabaret in eighth grade, when she researched and sang a presentation about Jerome Kern. By age 15, the soprano was starring in “Judy Sings Judy: Songs of a Young Garland” at San Francisco’s Empire Plush Room.

Butterfield, 19, savors her role as translator, interpreter, and storyteller of heartfelt lyrics. “What you want to be is a blank slate for everyone else’s images, so when you sing a song about yearning for love, the audience remembers and plays out their own little movie in their head while you take them on a journey,” she says. “Because it’s so intimate, you kind of all come together. It’s not just about a performer singing to you. We’re all in the same boat.”

In her current show, “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, she features Great American Songbook standards like Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s “Skylark” as well as a slow, almost pleading rendition of The Beatles’ “If I Fell in Love With You” and Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”

She’s been refining her act with pianist Christopher Denney, accompanist for cabaret legend Julie Wilson. “He is very attentive to the truthfulness in a song,” Butterfield says, “and that’s what I’m all about too.” Being able to hop the subway to his studio is one of the perks of living in New York.

Barnard was a logical choice for college, though Butterfield strongly considered Stanford, her parents’ alma mater. Barnard won out “because I love the small intimate community within Columbia, and New York was the only place I could continue my career. That was the kicker.”

Her location proved a plus when she landed a gig to sing Sunday brunch in January and February at the Algonquin Hotel. She was also honored last fall at the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s annual Cabaret Convention at Lincoln Center as an up-and-coming performer.

Despite her rising-star status and movie-star looks, Butterfield has no interest in recording a crossover pop hit or testing her talent on American Idol. “I don’t want to sing music I don’t love,” she says. “I don’t know what the point of that would be.”

She’s politely declined opportunities that would require her to leave school, notes her director, Clifford Bell (no relation to the writer). “She’s always making the decision to have a real life, which I’m sure will serve her well,” says Bell, a Los Angeles-based cabaret producer. “She’s not desperate at all, which I see a lot of in show business.” He explains, “A lot of people pursue show business for their ego. Judy doesn’t. She pursues show business out of creativity. That’s a good place to be.”

-June Bell, photograph by Raquel Krelle

As a young woman growing up in the suburbs of Boston, Johanna Fishbein was privy to a very early peek at college life. In 1995, before entering the eighth grade, she attended a summer program on the campus of nearby Wellesley College. She lived on the Wellesley campus with roommates, ate in the cafeteria, and took courses in Shakespeare and acting. The program was called Exploration, and that’s exactly what it represented to Fishbein. “I remember how much fun it was,” she says.

That exploration may have started Fishbein on the path toward her latest role, as director of Pre-College Programs at Barnard. Each year, for five weeks beginning in June, Barnard welcomes high school juniors and seniors, both women and men, for a preview of campus and city life. This summer, Fishbein will oversee several pre-college initiatives. The first, Summer in New York City, consists of two separate programs: a four-week co-ed program and one-week intensive co-ed program. In the four-week session, students select two full courses—a morning class and an afternoon class—from a list of 20, such as “Psychology of Media,” “Introduction to Fiction Writing,” “New York’s Literary Imaginations,” “International Humanitarian Issues,” and “Masterpieces of Western Art.” The one-week intensive program lets students take a week long “mini” course in theatre, writing, literature, or music. The other pre-college initiative is the women-only Women’s Leadership Initiative, a program that consists of a week-long woman’s-studies class. Students participate in a group project, and the week culminates in a student-run conference. With all the programs, students enjoy the city as an extension of the classroom—a great resource as well as place to have fun.

Individuals are welcome to apply to Barnard’s pre-college programs regardless of where they will ultimately attend school. “The intent is to prepare them for college-level work anywhere,” Fishbein says. About 40 percent of the 250 students who participated in the programs last year went on to attend Barnard.

A new arrival to Barnard’s admissions team, Fishbein joined the Office of Pre-College Programs in October. An alumna of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., she worked four years in the admissions office before completing undergraduate degrees in criminal justice and psychology in 2004. She was granted a teaching fellowship from New York University. After two years teaching fifth- and sixth-grade classes in New York City schools, she earned a master’s in education. Another fellowship led her to Greece, and a year teaching English to seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade students in Athens. Fishbein most enjoyed her role as resource, helping Greek students who wanted to apply to school in the United States: “We were a connection to American culture.”

Fishbein’s experience abroad should prove useful in tackling a new priority: increasing international recruitment. Her work in Athens gave her some sense of the frustrations foreign students encounter. A new course offered in this summer’s four-week program, “Academic Writing Through International Eyes,” is designed to give international pre-college students help in preparing them for American universities.

To all applicants, Fishbein recommends authenticity: Choose a college that fits. Represent yourself accurately on the application. Say what you mean, not what you think you’re supposed to say. Fishbein says, “I see students sitting with their parents, they look so stressed out and anxious. I remember that, the constant pressure. It will be worth it in the end.”

-Melissa Phipps, photograph by Asiya Khaki

As the economy nose-dived and unemployment skyrocketed, Robert Earl arrived as the College’s new director of the Office of Career Development (OCD). He brought with him uncommon experience in guiding people through a tough job market, along with ambitious ideas about expanding services for job-seeking Barnard students and alumnae. As the recipient of a master’s of divinity degree—earned years after he received the more earthbound bachelor’s and master’s degrees held by others in his field—he also brought Barnard his extraordinary powers of oratory, persuasion, and inspiration.Robert Earl

Earl is from upstate New York, where cities and campuses faced decades of economic decline while other regions were still enjoying booms and bubbles. At Erie Community College, he helped not only young adults, but also an older population that included laid-off factory workers and mothers re-entering the workforce. In that diverse community, and then on the more traditional campus of Ithaca College, he honed his skills at moving all kinds of people from an unproductive state he calls “the reflective abyss” to a concrete course of action.

Nothing could be more concrete than the programs Earl has initiated at Barnard. This semester, he and his staff are surveying Barnard’s 600-plus seniors and identifying those who want to find paying work immediately after graduation. All job seekers are being invited to participate in an intensive assessment and coaching program that begins with testing by such established guides as Meyer-Briggs, Strong Interest Inventory, and SixFigureStart. “For the liberal arts student unsure of how to promote herself and apply her degree to the work world,” he says, “it’s critical to engage in the process of assessing one’s strengths and interests, creating a polished and persuasive résumé, exploring both the hidden and open job markets, and creating a unique marketing plan.”

Students will be tutored in dressing for success, and videotaped and critiqued as they participate in mock job interviews. OCD will also guide each participant in developing an individual portfolio and an aggressive, comprehensive job-search plan. Further, in an unprecedented commitment to its advisees, OCD will serve as a job-search agent—calling prospective employers, tapping alumnae networks, sending out résumés, and teaching applicants how to effectively follow up by mail and phone.

Similar services will be offered to job-seeking alumnae of all ages, talents, and professional inclinations. Reflecting a rapidly changing world—where industries and technologies rise and recede at an unprecedented pace—OCD will work with Alumnae Affairs to assist any alumna who seeks help in deciding whether to stay in a familiar field or move to a new one.

For all Barnard women looking for jobs—students and graduates alike—the alumnae network is what Earl calls “the biggest tool we have.” Referring to every Barnard alumna as a potential “ambassador” to businesses and organizations, he says, “An alumna working at a company is a clear example of the creative, highly educated woman Barnard produces.” Earl adds that employers who fill one or more internships with Barnard undergraduates also learn how much Barnard women can contribute to their organization. “I take my hat off to Jane Celwyn for having the foresight and wisdom to develop a strong internship program,” he says of his predecessor, and of a program that brings eager first-year students through the doors of his office. “I love to work with first-years,” he says, “because by the time they’re seniors, they’re fully empowered.”

-Anne Schutzberger, photograph by Asiya Khaki

Most colleges teach introductory economics in the dry traditional way, using an approach that was first adopted in the 1950s and has changed little since then. “The conventional course begins with abstraction,” says Alan Dye, associate professor of economics and the department chair at Barnard. “It looks at things like supply and demand curves, and introduces students to the tools they’ll need to proceed to intermediate courses. But it’s light on the institutions and relationships of the actual economy, and on a connection to the real issues of the day.”

Why is that approach still nearly ubiquitous on college campuses? “In economics, we use more mathematical models than the other social sciences, and we tend to think more abstractly,” explains Barnard’s David Weiman, the Alena Wels Hirschorn ’58 Professor of Economics.

Until the fall of 2007, Barnard’s two entry-level courses, “Introduction to Macroeconomics” and “Introduction to Microeconomics,” followed that abstract approach. But, for years both Weiman and Dye, as well as other members of the Barnard economics faculty, talked about their increasing unhappiness with the abstract introduction to their field. Barnard’s two entry-level courses succeeded in giving students a general knowledge of theories and tools basic to the discipline. But students were left with what Weiman describes as “only a tenuous, casual notion of what a corporation is, what a bank is, how money functions, and how federal and state governments regulate the economy.”

Further, the department came to realize, for students not planning to major in economics, it would be preferable to offer a single course that in one semester covered the basics of both the broad “macro” and specific “micro” aspects of the economy. Jumping off from issues of wide student interest—like health care, the environment, and labor relations—such a course would also explain how economists think about such issues. For students planning an economics major, the department envisioned a second introductory course teaching the mathematical tools needed for higher theoretical study.

Following procedures for curriculum change, the department developed and approved those two new courses, and then submitted them to the faculty’s College-wide committee on instruction. Once the committee endorsed the proposal, its positive recommendation went to a meeting of the entire faculty, where both courses won a final vote.

Today, the study of economics at Barnard starts with a lively course boasting the more friendly name “Introduction to Economic Reasoning” (ECON BC 1003).” Student enrollment has gone way up, and to accommodate rising demand, the department added more course sections for the 2008-2009 academic year. One section is taught by Weiman, another by Marcellus Andrews, term professor of economics and author of The Political Economy of Hope and Fear: Capitalism and the Black Condition in America, about free markets and technology, and their relationship to poverty and inequality.

Weiman says that while he and Andrews differ slightly in how they organize the course, as they continue to experiment they’re adopting each other’s ideas and “moving toward a common platform.” For example, Andrews recommended the book that Weiman decided to use as the first reading of the semester, The Market System by Yale economist Charles Lindblom, which in very accessible language explains not only the economic realities of today’s global marketplace, but the political and social realities as well. Such books are hard to find, Dye says, because most cogent economic texts are “written in ways hard for introductory-level students to understand.”

Whatever their level of understanding, students are like everyone else these days in wanting to know what can be done to stabilize the economy. “This crisis is a laboratory for us,” Dye says.

Indeed, during one class last fall, Weiman presented a May 2008 Lehman Brothers balance sheet revealing a company whose reported net worth was grossly overstated, being based on the company’s holdings of $40 billion in “toxic” mortgage-backed securities. Students were assigned the task of explaining the profit incentive that led Lehman Brothers and other companies to become so highly leveraged.

Other discussions and assignments have focused on such matters as the volatility in oil prices, government regulation of the fi nancial and manufacturing sectors, the internal rules of stock and commodity exchanges, and the relationship of the current crisis to tax rates, interest rates and monetary supply. Whatever the focus, students learn to make sense of and create diagrammatic presentations of the facts, figures, and trends. “I feel very strongly about making sure students have the capacity to digest quantitative empirical information,” Weiman says.

For those pursuing an economics major, Barnard’s second introductory course follows the math to a much higher level. “Mathematical Methods for Economics” (ECON BC 1007) starts with the basics—algebra, solving equations, and graphing—and moves on to calculus and its application to economic problems and policies. “Why should students care about solving simultaneous equations?” asks Sharon Harrison, associate professor of economics and the course instructor. “One example of their relevance is the models economists use to understand the behavior of businesses and consumers.”

In a class about supply and demand, students learn how Starbucks decides on the price of a latte and on how many lattes—at what price—it’s most profitable to sell. Says Harrison, “The higher the price, the more Starbucks wants to sell. But on the demand side, when something costs more, people want less of it. Simultaneous equations put the two together, and show when they match up, or what we call the equilibrium. So, in order to understand the implications of this behavior, you have to know how to do the math.”

Harrison has won a Gladys Brooks Foundation Excellence in Teaching Award for her success in instilling students with a passion for challenging subjects. “I’ve always been excited about how you can take something abstract and learn about the real world. It’s great to show students that,” she says. “For every single math lesson you see in my syllabus, there are real-life applications.”

In today’s world, perhaps it’s not just Barnard’s economic majors, but everyone—of every age, profession and economic station—who may need two semesters of introductory economics, and a working knowledge of calculus, just to get by.

-Anne Schutzberger, illustration by Jennifer Daniel

April Lane BensonMore than 17 million Americans, according to a recent study, are overshoppers. April Lane Benson, PhD, wrote her “interactive guidebook” to help compulsive shoppers break the habit of overspending. A nationally known psychologist who specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying, Dr. Benson is the creator of the Stopping Overshopping program and the editor of I Shop Therefore I Am (2000). Although there are programs for people with financial problems, Benson realized, through her research, that there are limited resources for those with buying problems. To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop challenges compulsive shoppers to probe the depths of their emotional and psychological experiences to understand their behavior and to help them cultivate new habits for a better life.

Overshopping is often described as an attempt to fulfill emotional needs with material things. “The underlying premise about my work and my thinking about this problem is you never get enough of what you don’t really need,” she tells Barnard. “You need to meet authentic, real, legit needs and this will improve your life.” Benson’s skillfully written book guides readers on a soul-searching journey before inviting them to make the decision to change. She directs overshoppers in identifying the triggers, actions, and consequences of overshopping, while engaging readers in self-reflection, teaching “mindful shopping” and “skillful living,” and providing additional sources of psychological support. Her program is not only about shopping; it’s about getting to know who you are. Benson fills her book with skills, tools, and advice that anyone in a problematic relationship with anything from shopping to food (or any addiction) will find in it an invaluable resource.

Clear, caring, and direct, To Buy or Not to Buy immediately puts the reader to work. Benson lays out the goals at the beginning of each section. In Chapter 1 she introduces the Shopping Journal that readers will keep throughout the program. Scattered throughout the book are writing assignments and exercises such as creating a shopping “portrait,” recording shopping urges, and identifying signature strengths and how to put them to work. Benson’s diverse approach draws on theories and tools from a number of therapies, ideas from Buddhism, even motivational interviewing. She includes steps for challenging distorted thinking, conducting a “body scan ... to overcome escapist mechanisms,” as well as performing visualization exercises. Benson believes that “the eclectic approach is so useful because it is more interesting to engage with the material; it enhances the work.”

What does she propose we acquire in lieu of material things? “Experiences,” says Benson, who describes them as “heartsongs.” These can be acts of self-kindness and self-care, or participation in much loved activities and hobbies. They are “special investments in your joy of living,” and give you more satisfaction. We tend to revisit our memories of experiences while we discard objects. Benson says that “most of the experiences that we go through are social. They bring us into the community more. Memories and feelings improve over time and we cherish them.”

To Buy or Not to Buy will likely appeal to a spectrum of consumers, from the compulsive shopper to the individual hoping to gain awareness about her (or his) shopping habits. The book is geared for all people; as Benson notes, overshopping is everyone’s problem, not just a female thing. Men may be less recreational in how they shop, but they are equal in their pursuit of goods, usually big tickets items, and are more apt to call themselves “collectors.”

By journey’s end, Benson’s plan to stop overshopping instructs us in knowing the “languages of our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls.” What is at stake with overconsumption is not only environmental harm; it is the extinction of the best of who we are—our relationships to ourselves, to others, and to the earth. Benson understands the immediacy of the problem: “The time is right for the ideas in this book. We need to be changing our mindset.”

-Stephanie Shestakow, photograph by Debra Greenfield

New York NocturneWell into the twenty-first century, it is hard to imagine New York City as a dark place. Electric lights against the night sky have come to define New York as the ultimate modern city, with its locus as the Great White Way, Broadway, with thousands of lights shimmering in its skyscrapers and on the neon billboards crowding Times Square.

Artificial lighting changed city life—even the notion of nightlife is a fairly recent invention—and it changed various art forms, argues William Sharpe, professor of English at Barnard and author of New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950.

Prof. Sharpe spent a few moments with Barnard Magazine to discuss how lighting changed the artistic world.

What defines the nocturne?

The word “nocturne” has evolved. (James McNeill) Whistler was the first to use nocturne to refer to painting and he took it from music, namely (Frédéric) Chopin. Nocturne gives you the feeling of relaxing at night. Whistler wanted to create a painting that was as emotionally sensitive, and as nuanced as music.

As soon as the urban landscape became more brightly lit with electrical lights, artists became more interested in the relationship of light with nighttime activity. You get members of the Ashcan school of painting like John Sloan and Everett Shinn who are interested less in the idea of “nocturne” as a dreamy phase of mental activity and more in the vibrant side of night life.

How were photography and literature changed?

Photography was the most directly impacted by the need to capture artificial light. Film speeds weren’t fast enough and cameras weren’t ready to deal with nighttime situations until the late 1890s. Many people were tricked by the nocturnal pictures from the 1850s and ’60s, because they were faked moonlight shots, done with a filter.

The impact on literature has more to do with psychology and subject matter. The writers were very interested in the kinds of things people do at night, and their accompanying emotional states.

Some of those things are fairly risqué.

That’s right. On the one hand, light reveals dark deeds, but on the other hand, light can lead people to dark deeds.

Trying to deal with nighttime led writers, artists, and photographers to depict things they would not have dared to do before. It released them from some of the taboos on depicting risqué behaviors. So after [electrical] lighting, you have a greater emphasis in art on prostitution, homelessness, poverty, and certain types of violence. Our interest in the sensational and the lurid was fed by images of the city at night.

-Ilana Polyak