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A Year's Worth of Welcome

The weekend of June 4 dawned rainy. It rained atop the tents, rained across the lawns, and poured mercilessly into those few passageways we had left uncovered. Yet the nearly 1,300 indomitable women—strong, beautiful, and apparently waterproof Barnard women—didn’t seem to care. For two and a half days, they trooped to lectures, gathered to converse on couches, and reveled in being on campus and together again. According to Barnard College security, they were even, umm, a little rowdy.

For me, Barnard’s 112th Reunion was a wonderful way to close a jam-packed year. From the extraordinary women of the Class of 1933 who sipped sherry with me on Friday to the inspiring Joya Banerjee ’04, who received the Young Alumna Award on Saturday night, our alumnae were spirited and thoughtful, devoted and wise. It was a pleasure to meet so many new faces and reconnect with a growing number of friends.

After a tumultuous 12 months, the College is ending this fiscal and academic year in strong shape. We graduated 632 amazing young women in the Class of 2009 and enrolled 595 equally exciting women into the Class of 2013. We celebrated Hillary Clinton, Indra Nooyi, Irene Winter ’60, and Kay Murray at commencement and are eagerly awaiting the opening of the newly named Diana Center in February. In the coming year, we will launch the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, an innovative program to explore the question of women’s leadership in a liberal-arts context, and we will welcome more than two dozen visiting students from partner schools in China, Denmark, Italy, and Korea. 

Financially, like other colleges and universities, we continue to face turbulent times. Although the massive instability of last autumn seems, we hope, now behind us, credit markets remain strained, our endowment funds have suffered major losses, and many of our students’ families have been hit hard. To deal with these pressures, we implemented a series of tough measures this past year, including a freeze on faculty and staff salaries, a significant reduction in our non-personnel spending, and zero-based budgeting reviews of several administrative areas. Because the College has long been vigilant in monitoring expenses, we were fortunate to have excellent systems already in place for scrutinizing our spending and further reducing our costs. Because we have been frugal for so long, however, we also had less waste in our existing budget than many of our peers and fewer easy cuts to make. Our spending reductions have therefore been painful, and we have tried to make them as carefully as possible, preserving or even enhancing those functions that are critical to our mission: educating women who aspire to excellence.

In these tough times, we are particularly grateful to those who have stepped forward to support the College. Over the past year, our annual fund and scholarship dinner together raised $5.9 million, a remarkable commitment by past generations of alumnae to our current generation of students. Many alumnae, from those in the earliest classes to those who graduated last year, dramatically increased their gifts, eager to ensure that the economic downturn did not fall too heavily on the College or on the nearly 1,000 students currently receiving financial aid.

Personally, I want to thank you all for the warmth and excitement with which you have welcomed me to Barnard. It’s been an inspiring first year, and I look forward to many great reunions to come.

-Photograph by Margaret Lambert