Such “life skills” do not generally fall within the purview of a traditional liberal-arts education. In another day, home economics courses in secondary schools taught elements of personal finance and household management. While weekly allowances or summer jobs can give young people rudimentary notions about money management, navigating personal finance issues has become far more complex. Witness the growth in the number of professional financial-planners, expected to increase by 37 percent in the decade between 2006 and 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Clearly, many of us feel we need help.
Providing basic financial information to women ignited the idea for Barnard’s Financial Fluency Program, which began to coalesce at the beginning of the millennium. An informal group of alumnae in finance who met occasionally for lunch or dinner explored ways to enhance financial savvy. They first directed their attention to students soon to leave the halls of academia; later the program would expand to inform and assist older alumnae. The Barnard program that emerged from these discussions is extraordinary in its comprehensiveness and because so much of the effort to establish the workshops, seminars, and special events came from volunteers—alumnae who used their expertise and gave their support to get the ball rolling. With its tag, Smart Women, Smart Money, Financial Fluency has become one of the most successful “beyond the classroom” initiatives at Barnard.
Trustee emerita Patricia Harrigan Nadosy ’68 was one of the alumnae instrumental in helping move the idea of practical financial learning forward, and ultimately would be a major force for implementing the alumnae courses. A French major with an MBA from Columbia who had worked at J.P. Morgan, Nadosy says, “We wanted to ease the transition from undergraduate life to that of the real world. We also wanted to help students prepare for a career in business and life in New York City.”
Laird Grant Groody ’67, a former trustee and concerned volunteer, had also made a career in finance. A Russian-area studies major, she entered the financial field through a position advertised by the Office of Career Development and spent most of her career at U.S. Trust. Initially, Groody was interested in promoting entrepreneurship to undergraduates. Finding entrepreneurial ideas ahead of the curve, she saw the need for more basic learning. With Groody’s support, Linda Reals ’92, an economics major, became manager of the Financial Fluency program for students in December 2003. She was “at home” in Career Development because, as Reals points out, the program was designed to help students and young alumnae with “life after college.”
One of Reals’ first priorities was to determine what exactly was needed. Various members of on-campus student-service offices—college activities, financial aid, the Furman Counseling Center, among them—reported an increasing number of questions from young adults grappling with finances and the reality of living on a budget in New York. Reals interviewed these staffers and also spoke with their counterparts at other peer institutions. She found one program at Smith, “Women and Financial Independence,” although others, like Wellesley and Mount Holyoke, were holding workshops on money topics.
The Barnard program would be unique. Reals’ curriculum separates into six workshops: basics of banking and budgets; investments and savings; credit management; protecting against identity theft; taxes; insurance; and finding affordable living space. Add-ons to the basic subject list have included such topics as having fun without going broke and evaluating a compensation package. The basics are offered twice a year, in spring and fall. Since its inception, more than 1,000 students have taken the Financial Fluency courses. Reals, who teaches all the student courses herself, has begun to tailor workshops for study-abroad students, those attending Barnard under the Higher Education Opportunity Program, and the commuter population as well. An adjunct program, “Careers in Finance,” offers students job-training with subjects like financial-statement evaluation and financial-statement modeling through Excel software. A student-orientation program for first-years deals with key topics such as managing credit cards, checking accounts, and identity theft.
Students who have taken the workshops appreciate the easy give-and-take along with the practical advice: “The program eased many anxieties about graduating—finding an apartment, examining job offers, budgeting for the next few years,” wrote one, while another noted, “it has reinforced the importance of consciously starting healthy financial habits early on.” As one older alumna notes somewhat wistfully below, students need to start early.
As interest in the student program accelerated, Nadosy and several other financially astute alumnae, through the office of Alumnae Affairs, initiated a program of mini-courses, lectures, and workshops to meet the needs of an older cohort of alumnae. Two of these women, Judith Boies ’59, a lawyer specializing in trusts and estates, and Camille Kelleher ’70, a former senior vice-president and portfolio manager at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., helped spearhead the alumnae program, which began in January 2006. Both had been members of the Alumnae Association’s Project Continuum committee, an affinity group of “women in transition” and were aware of the financial concerns—trusts and estates, wills, health-care—of middle-aged and older women. They also knew Continuum events about these subjects had always drawn crowds.
Lynn Najman ’72, a registered investment adviser and certified financial planner, who runs her own Long-Island-based firm, LRN Associates, became another participant as did two non-alumnae: Susan Cabral, of Cabral Associates, a financial consulting firm, and James Sykes, a former arbitrageur who also taught economics and art history at Manhattan’s Brearley School.
These six people became the core teaching group for Financial Fluency 101, a 16-hour mini-course taken over a series of days or evenings, and first offered in 2005. In August 2005, Christine Valenza Shin ’84 joined the program as coordinator, and now serves as a full-time director, working with additional volunteers and consultants.
The FF101 course has since been divided into two components. Financial Planning 101 offers instruction in day-to-day planning and retirement planning at any life stage. Included in the course are trusts and estate-planning, health-care proxies, and powers of attorney. Another attraction: the course discusses finding and working effectively with a financial planner.
Investing 101 deals with equities, the bond market, mutual funds, and asset allocation. Kelleher, who instructs alumnae about stocks, notes the range of knowledge about securities is wide. “A key point is to learn the language of finance, for personal and professional needs,” she stresses. While no advice on selecting equities for investment is offered, Kelleher instructs students what to look for when evaluating an equity and discusses the markers of financial health. All instructors urge both students and alumnae not to buy what they don’t understand, and most find that case studies are an effective means to convey key principles.
Alumnae reaction from those who have taken the course has been enthusiastic. Wrote one alumna, “My daughter, a financial-world person, was proud ... I was taking this class ... [W]hen I met with my financial advisors, they were also amazed at the ‘learning curve.’” Another alumna encouraged the College to spread the word among students: “Please encourage current students to pay attention to financial matters—they need to start early!” A third said simply, “Thank you, Barnard, you are a life-long resource.” Of course, there have been suggestions as wel, like this one, “Having material to read in advance might be helpful ...”
Potential students can take one course or both. In April 2008, a weekend intensive course with both segments drew several people outside the tri-state New York area. A recent addition to the alumnae program is the “Select Topics in Finance” seminars, designed for alumnae with more sophisticated and complex financial situations. New outreach and stand-alone events will be added to the basic program as it grows. Shin and colleagues in Alumnae Affairs have scheduled two programs with the Young Alumnae and Project Continuum: Women in Transition affinity groups.
Shin also highlights two Financial Fluency events scheduled in 2009 for regional Barnard clubs: a conference in Boston that will tackle the subject of investing in troubled times, and an event in Washington, D.C., to which potential volunteer teachers will be invited. This year, both student and alumnae programs have joined forces, with students reaping the benefits of the differing perspectives of the instructors who participate in the alumnae program. A future possibility is remote learning via webinars dealing with different topics. Expanding the Financial Fluency program to a broader constituency is a key goal as well. Exploring partnerships with Morningside Heights groups will enable the program to share basic and all-important financial knowledge and know-how with the local community beyond the College, says Shin.
-Annette Kahn, photograph by Victoria Cohen
In the late 1960s and early ’70s, a divorce revolution swept the nation. For the first time, state legislation—pioneered by California—permitted a divorce to be obtained unilaterally. Eventually, two-thirds of the United States followed suit, bringing about a mass rethinking and restructuring of the American family.
Divorce rates doubled. Families splintered. Only a few states—including New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania—retained tough barriers to the dissolution of marriage: specified grounds and a substantial burden of proof. Elsewhere, those barriers were dismantled.
Before this social revolution, a wedding was seen as entrée to a fixed, stable, and permanent set of social and economic circumstances. “Women entered marriage expecting it to define their entire lives,” says Kristin Mammen, an assistant professor of economics who graduated from Columbia, holds a PhD from Princeton, and has done extensive research on the economic well-being of women and children. At Barnard, Mammen teaches courses on statistics and the economics of gender, and advises upperclass students on their senior thesis. She continues, “The increasing divorce rates between 1965 and 1975 changed these expectations. There was a strong sense of dislocation. Older housewives had expected never to work, and were especially hard-hit.”
But widespread divorce reform was never meant to create economic parity between men and women. The new legislation came into being because, prior to liberalization, perjury ran rampant in matrimonial hearings. In many instances, law firms hired women to pose with their clients (divorce-seeking husbands) for incriminating hotel-room photos, in order to furnish courts with supposed evidence of adultery. “Husbands lied, wives lied, and judges were complicit,” Mammen says.
Widespread dishonesty made a mockery of the court system, and liberalization was needed to restore integrity. The laws weren’t intended to numerically affect divorce rates at all. But legislators grossly underestimated what the public response would be. The divorce rate doubled from 1965 to 1975, and although the rate has declined slightly since 1980, it’s projected that 40 percent of today’s marriages will end in divorce.
For decades, scholars have studied divorce’s impact on women, children, and families. Today it is common wisdom that women’s financial resources decrease about 30 percent after divorce, whereas men’s increase about 10 percent. Less recognized is how this massive social revolution affected the attitudes and circumstances of those who were launching their careers when the divorce laws were changing—even if they weren’t themselves members of divorcing households.
In 2006, seeing that no one else had focused on the long-term effects of the divorce law liberalizatoin on those who were young adults in the late 1960s, Mammen set out to analyze the data and to discuss what the research revealed about contemporary society. “I’ve always been interested in how women’s economic well-being is affected by their biological and traditional roles in childrearing and homemaking,” she says.
Mammen isolated data for people who, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, were between 16 and 25 years old—the years when people traditionally enter the workforce. She compared the residents of the reform states to those in states that hadn’t changed their divorce laws.
She found that, as divorce rates climbed in the reform states, something fascinating happened among older teenagers and young adults. Her evidence suggests that around the time of the legislative change, young women in the reform states began entering the labor force in greater numbers. And today, those same women are more likely than other women to still be working. They also continue to earn more, and to be more financially secure.
Mammen says that even if a woman’s own marriage lasted, because that woman perceived an increase in the overall risk of divorce, she would likely adjust her family and career decisions. She might especially choose to spend less time at home and more time in the workforce, in order to protect herself in case her marriage did end. As a result, American women entered a new age of autonomy.
But with autonomy came tradeoffs. On average, wealthier people are thinner, eat better, and receive better medical care. Yet, while Mammen’s reform-state subjects—male and female—are by and large wealthier than their counterparts, they suffer from poorer health. The reason, Mammen speculates, is that when two people specialize—one in the labor market, the other in home production—both may be better off, health-wise. One person has a high-powered career, walks in the door and gets a hot dinner. The other can schedule doctor’s appointments and cook healthy meals. Both get more sleep. But Mammen believes that with more women entering the labor market, this division of labor diminishes, possibly explaining the negative health effects in her subjects. Especially in the past, there was little social support for women taking on the dual roles of breadwinner and homemaker. And even today, although men increasingly take part, many women struggle to fit these two full-time jobs into a 24-hour day.
When couples do divorce, Mammen says, the financial hit is “greatest for middle-class women and women in older marriages.” But, she adds, their “identities are not as tied to being married as they used to be, [and they] are better prepared to support themselves and their children.”
More recently, Mammen researched the impact of children’s gender on the probability of divorce and child support. “Previous research indicates that having boys in a marriage has a small but measurable affect in keeping marriages from ending,” she says. Mammen decided to go a step further and study the impact of a child’s gender on child-support payments. She found no impact, and last year published her first paper on those findings.
Mammen, who is herself happily married with two daughters, 17 and 10, and who rejoices in the rise of women’s independence, also waxes philosophical about the persistence of traditional roles amid immense social change: “There’s been a lot of progress for women. The gender wage gap has decreased. More women than men graduate from college these days,” she acknowledges. “But family responsibilities do appear to hold women back in earnings. Women with kids earn less than those without, while having children makes no difference to men’s wages.” She further notes the irony of women being the economic lifeline for children: “Often, the ultimate responsibility for kids is pushed onto the people who are least able to provide.”
-Jean Tang, illustration by Chris Silas Neal
Maryam Banikarim’s job history over the years has been that of a fearless risktaker. She has been, among other things, a film production assistant in Argentina, an intern in the British Parliament, and a one-time Thanksgiving-party helper for the late New York literary maven Diana Trilling. She also founded and ran her own handbag company and was an early Internet start-up pioneer. And, oh yes, she even spent some time working at a Manhattan-based dating service for Jewish singles.
Given all that (and given Banikarim’s lifelong love of adventure) it wouldn’t have been easy to predict that the Barnard alumna (Class of ’89) would end up in a high-powered executive-level job at a multibillion-dollar media conglomerate. But things have an unexpected way of turning out: The distinctly unbuttoned-down Banikarim is now chief marketing officer at New York-based Univision Communications, a Spanish-language media giant with an audience of tens of millions of Hispanic television viewers and radio-listeners and which has fast become one of the powerful media corporations in the country.
Since joining Univision in 2002, the Iranian-born Banikarim has not only managed to fit in, she’s thrived and in the process has garnered all kinds of glowing reviews. She’s a frequent name on media lists of up-and-coming business leaders. In 2006, Advertising Age named the then 37-year-old Banikarim as one of “40 Under 40” rising stars in the advertising and marketing world, while the business monthly Fast Company selected her to join the “Fast Fifty,” its grouping of the top corporate trailblazers and trendsetters.
Last year she earned a spot on the New York Post’s list of “The 50 Most Powerful Women in NYC. And Crain’s New York Business included her in its own picks of “40 under 40” high-achievers, citing among other things, the fact that in her first two years at Univision, Banikarim helped bring in major new advertisers such as Target and Nike and boosted the company’s sales revenue by well over $33 million in her first year, and $75 million in her second. By way of explaining Banikarim’s success, Ray Rodriguez, Univision’s president and chief operating officer, told Crain’s, “She has a ton of smart, focused energy. And she puts all the pieces together.”
Putting those pieces together is no easy task. As chief marketing officer, Banikarim oversees all aspects of Univision’s marketing and corporate communications efforts—a position that includes everything from big-picture strategizing on the company’s branding efforts to beefing up research on audience demographics and staging major sales and marketing events for prospective advertisers. The job regularly involves travel as well as 10- and 12-hour days, which can be a real challenge, she admits, considering that she also has two young children, a 10-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, to care for at home. “It’s obviously not easy,” she said, in a recent interview in her office at Univision’s midtown Manhattan headquarters. “There are a lot of things to juggle.”
Then again, Banikarim has always liked a good challenge. Despite her demanding schedule, she thoroughly enjoys her job, and likes being part of a company that’s still considered somewhat of an up and comer in the major-media world—even though it has one of the fastest-growing audiences in the country, along with many of the highest-rated programs.
“It’s an incredibly important market,” says Banikarim, who notes that the total Hispanic population in the United States now numbers more than 45 million.
As a relative newcomer herself, she likes the fact that Univision is so attuned to immigrant concerns. Her parents fled Tehran at the start of the Iranian revolution after her father, who worked for a local bank set up by Chase Manhattan (now J. P. Morgan Chase), got word that he was about to be arrested. The family initially spent a year in Paris, and moved to northern California when she was 12.
The multilingual executive, who speaks Spanish, French, and Farsi, had originally thought she might pursue a career in journalism. At Barnard, she majored in political science, and even while getting her MBA in addition to a master’s in international affairs at Columbia, she wasn’t certain what she wanted to do. “I wasn’t sure the corporate thing was right for me,” she recalls.
While Banikarim has worked for several major-media companies, including Turner Broadcasting and the publishing company Macmillan, she says that at heart she’s really an entrepreneur. Besides launching her own handbag company, she also built a thriving marketing-consulting business, Maryam B. Enterprises, with a client list that included Time Warner, Deutsche Bank, and Bacardi Limited.
Though now back in the corporate world, she seems in no danger of losing her entrepreneurial instincts and drive. She still has a knack for coming up with fresh ideas—something, she’s glad to say, Univision execs have welcomed. “I think of myself as an entrepreneur in a big organization,” says Banikarim, who adds that much of her career has been about finding ways to do things smarter and better, and not being afraid to take risks. In 2007, for instance, she and her team devised a whole new approach in preparation for the annual high-stakes spring “upfront” event with major advertisers, where television networks unveil their upcoming fall lineups and bid to sign up sponsors for their programs.
Instead of going with a more conventional presentation, Banikarim staged something akin to a Broadway show, replete with a heart-stopping performance by the pop-singer Marc Anthony and poignant video testimonials from some of Univision’s most loyal viewers. The media industry analyst Jack Myer’s influential Jack Myers Media Business Report, in its Survey of Advertising Executives on Upfront Presentations, later ranked Univision’s effort the best presentation by any network at the event.
It’s not clear exactly where Banikarim gets her drive, though according to her younger sister, Susie, she’s always had a profound curiosity about the world, and a passion for getting involved. “She’s always doing something,” says Susie Banikarim ’97. “She’s in constant motion.”
That was definitely the case at Barnard, where Maryam worked for the student-run Barnard Bulletin, got elected president of her first-year class, and went on to win the prestigious Truman Scholarship. She also served as a student representative to Barnard’s board of trustees, and worked closely with then-president Ellen Futter, who became a mentor and still counts as one of her most important role models.
Coming from a relatively homogenous San Francisco suburb and high school, Banikarim remembers being thrilled by the diverse mix of students on campus, and all the interesting classes and things to do. “I was like a kid in a candy store. I absolutely loved it,” she recalls, remembering how liberating it was not to feel like the immigrant-outsider. “You could basically be yourself at Barnard. It’s really where I came into myself.”
Political-science department professor of American studies Richard Pious, one of her advisors, says her enthusiasm and consistently upbeat attitude definitely stood out. “She would always come in my office and have a big smile on her face, and talk about things going well,” says Pious. His clearest memory, though, is of the day the soon-to-be graduating Banikarim came to see him, and told him she was heading down to Argentina to learn the tango. “This was pure Maryam deciding, ‘I’m going to do something interesting,’” says Pious.
She did in fact proceed to Argentina and did get in some tango lessons. But via a few twists of fates, she also got wind that an American movie crew was in the country shooting Highlander II, an action-adventure film starring Sean Connery, and she wound up working as a production assistant on the set.
From there, Banikarim returned to New York and began working on her joint master’s degree in business administration and international affairs at Columbia. As part of a class project, she refined an idea she had for a series of insider city travel guides and pitched the project to the Gap, receiving a personal phone call from company’s then-CEO, legendary entrepreneur Millard “Mickey” Drexler. Though the company ultimately didn’t bite, Banikarim says the experience convinced her that marketing and advertising, which at heart involve communicating a compelling story, was what she’d be best at.
So, fresh out of business school in 1993, she took a job at advertising giant Young & Rubicam, and from there joined the advertising sales and marketing team at Turner Broadcasting. Banikarim loved the television business and enjoyed her Turner colleagues. But the Internet was starting to take off, and she received an offer to be marketing director of Citysearch.com a new online guide to New York. She jumped at the chance and later became its general manager. “People thought I was crazy to leave Turner.” But to her, the prospect of being an Internet pioneer was exhilarating. “It was like the wild, wild West,” says Banikarim. “People were there for the excitement of inventing things.”
If she has never been afraid to take risks, she’s also proven to be resourceful. Indeed, she believes one of her greatest strengths is figuring out how to get around obstacles. “I’m a natural problem-solver,” says Banikarim. If she’s working on a difficult project, she’s constantly strategizing about “how we’ve got to go from A to B, and this is how we get there.”
Monica Woo, a former marketing executive at Deutsche Bank, recalls seeing those problem-solving skills in action when she hired Banikarim (who by then had started her own consulting business) to help the company launch an online personal investment service in Brazil. “She has a way of getting people to rally behind her,” says Woo. “And she always figures out how to get things done.”
As much as she liked running her own business, Banikarim didn’t want to miss a good opportunity, and in 2002, when Univision offered her a position as senior vice president of strategic marketing, she decided to take it. Promoted to chief marketing officer two years later, she hasn’t had any regrets. She appreciates the fact that Univision execs, as promised, have been so open to new initiatives and ideas, as well as the fact, that Univision, contrary to what might be expected from a company with a largely Latin-American culture, has tapped a number of women, including Alina Falcon, the network’s executive vice president and operating manager.
In her experience, being a woman in the still largely male corporate business world hasn’t been a problem. In fact, Banikarim adds, it can actually be an advantage when, for instance, the account manager for a major advertiser is also a woman. “Maybe you can’t be in the boys’ club, but there are women clients,” she notes.
Even so, she’s still sometimes struck by how few fellow females there actually are in top corporate-management slots. “When you sit in business class on the plane and look around there aren’t too many women,” she says, adding that there are even fewer in first class.
Banikarim definitely understands why that might be the case, and why up-and-coming women business executives might decide the constant travel and demanding hours are not worth it, especially once they decide to start having children. She adds that she’s been lucky, since her husband, who has his own Internet consulting business, has a flexible schedule and has been a big help with their two children. Plus, the couple has a full-time nanny. But even with that kind of support Banikarim says trying to balance the demands of work and family is an ongoing struggle and she frequently feels torn: “I get a lot of ‘Mom, can you get off the BlackBerry?’”
On the other hand, she believes she’s offering her children a positive role model. Plus, she notes, they occasionally get great perks from her job. For instance, a couple of years ago her daughter, Natasha, went with her to watch Shakira rehearse for the Latin Grammy awards and Banikarim also regularly gets CDs of hot new Latin bands.
In spite of her schedule, Banikarim managed to fit in time to work on Barnard’s reunion committee in 2004. She also volunteers on the board of a handful of nonprofits, including the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center and Prep for Prep, a group that tries to expand educational opportunities for disadvantaged kids. Banikarim thinks at some point she actually might like to do nonprofit work full time because it’s definitely something she’s passionate about.
For now, though, she’s happy plying her entrepreneurial skills at Univision—and happy to be an agent for corporate change. “I’ve still got a lot of life in the corporate world,” says Banikarim.
-Susan Hansen, photograph by Noah Sheldon
Three distinguished economists and professors at Barnard were asked to explore the current economic decline, including the troubled auto industry, and assess ways to break the downward spiral. But as Dr. Alan Dye, chair of the economics department at Barnard College, noted somewhat wryly, economists rarely agree on anything except that they rarely agree. Yet when discussing the prevention of the next Great Depression, a growing number do concur on one thing: Bank bailouts and tax cuts aren’t working. In three separate interviews, Dye and Drs. Perry Mehrling and David Weiman, talk about the country’s recent turmoil, offering some ideas about possible fixes. What is increasingly clear is that the federal government must take charge of the economy in ways Americans haven’t seen since the New Deal and World War II. “It’s really remarkable that economists are in such agreement about this,” affirms Dye.
But the world has changed much since Franklin D. Roosevelt took office and reassured a shaky, fearful public. President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress will have to find new ways to revive and protect the nation’s economic system, often working on a global scale, in a 24/7 news cycle. Today’s politicians need to offer Americans a clear vision for a better economic future, and most importantly, they have to deliver.
Dr. David Weiman
Financial crises are nothing new in the United States, Barnard professor David Weiman tells his economics-history students. In fact, they are surprisingly frequent. He estimates the country has suffered through a major or minor panic about every 10 to 12 years since the end of the Civil War through the Great Depression. When you have a recession that’s accompanied by a serious panic, the recession is then made much worse; the decline is steeper, and it lasts longer than it would otherwise. “That’s precisely the situation we’re in now,” Weiman says.
Many people believe that the stock market collapse set off the Great Depression, and that a burst real-estate bubble and credit collapse signaled today’s downward slide. But the deeper causes of both crises lie in the overextension of credit and long-term structural problems in the financial markets and the economy. According to Weiman, policy-makers are relearning the lesson of the Depression today. They haven’t sat idly by and watched the economy collapse, as many say the Federal Reserve did at the start of the last one. The government has pumped billions into financial markets and bank-rescue plans.
But people are still losing their homes and their jobs in record numbers. They aren’t buying cars or houses. That’s proof, Weiman says, that monetary policies alone can’t reverse the country’s economy decline. The country needs aggressive government spending in infrastructure, health care, and education.
“I worry that we could be headed for something as dramatic as the Great Depression unless the federal government takes decisive action,” he frets.
Because FDR didn’t fully embrace the philosophy of British economist John Maynard Keynes, who argued that governments could keep people fully employed during tough times by operating at a deficit, the government did not take aggressive or decisive enough measures during the New Deal and didn’t act until just before and during World War II. Private-sector investments were not enough. For the next 30 years, the government became the nation’s primary economic manager. Under Truman, Weiman notes, the government institutionalized Keynes philosophy by creating the Full Employment Act, which was a commitment to using fiscal policy to stabilize the economy.
That view of government fell out of fashion in the 1970s, especially after Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, notes Weiman. Reagan convinced voters that big government wasn’t the solution; it was the problem, and government policy changed dramatically. Since then, policy-makers have turned more to tax cuts and monetary policies (interest-rate changes) to stimulate the economy during downturns, rather than deficit financing for social or economic programs.
The tug of war between the opposing philosophies is still at play today, says the economist. President Barack Obama is performing a delicate balancing act between the two sides to gain support for an $825-billion economic-stimulus package, which includes significant cuts, a move some Democrats have renounced, saying similar tax cuts under President George W. Bush didn’t sufficiently encourage consumer spending.
But it’s also clear that Obama wants to create New Deal-type public-investment programs, adapted to changing demands. He’s proposed that the government invest in clean energy, as well as infrastructure and health-care projects. Obama has said his economic stimulus plan will create or save three million to four million jobs. “He could do something that’s very, very dramatic,” believes Weiman.
No matter what, policies should be put in place to insure that no group is excluded from any recovery. No plan will succeed if only certain sectors of the economy benefit. Will women be left out if too much stimulus money is spent on infrastructure and construction, professions dominated largely by men? That’s why spending in health care and education, professions dominated by women, will be critical to any plan’s success, affirms Weiman. He adds, “If the private sector can be reignited, you can’t assume that will ease poverty. We also need other government policies to make sure the benefits are diffused widely.”
Dr. Alan Dye
Dye also believes major public investment in infrastructure and education is central to any economic recovery plan. But that won’t be easy with a jaw-dropping $1.2 trillion deficit facing the country. China helps finance that debt by purchasing U.S. Treasury bills. But the Chinese have to believe the U.S. is a very good credit risk, or that will stop. The country has to come up with a plan to pay down that debt, and invest in education, health care, and infrastructure at the same time. How that can be done in the real world, and what the consequences will be, are anything but certain. “It’s a very tricky thing,” Dye says. “Whatever steps we take have to be taken with an eye towards productivity to build earnings.”
One area where consequences are very important is the auto industry. As someone who has studied the automotive industry for several years, Dye points out that if it were to collapse completely—which is very unlikely—that would make it very difficult for any stimulus plan to work. Certainly, he says, the industry is in trouble, and potentially a lot of jobs could be lost, but what matters is how much of a hit the industry would take.
Further, says Dye, the objective of any government assistance should be to minimize the shock on employment. This doesn’t mean that companies should be saved under any circumstances. Measures could be taken to reduce the impact even if one or more of the big three should have to declare bankruptcy under Chapter 11. Provisions could be made for an orderly reorganization, which could include government participation. The industry employs about 250,000 people, and that number increases to around three million when you include those who make their living serving the car industry in some way, often as suppliers of parts or raw materials.
It’s hard to imagine the economic repercussions if a significant portion of those jobs were allowed to disappear. So a short-term bail out is needed, says Dye, but continuing to bail out the auto industry long-term could have unintended consequences. Industry executives could assume the government will step in to rescue them despite their bad business decisions.
And carmakers have plenty of problems. They haven’t adopted modern production techniques to increase quality control and prevent costly defects on the assembly line. Instead of investing in energy-efficient vehicles, they’ve relied too heavily on sales of gas-guzzling SUVs in recent years. Too many car dealerships have been established, and industry leaders haven’t taken the necessary steps to reduce that number, even though they’ve known for a long time that this was necessary. Now, many of those dealers, even long-time ones, in cities and towns across the country are being forced out of business. This is another part of the industry that needs reorganizing; that will probably happen through the bankruptcies of a lot of these dealerships.
Dye believes the government shouldn’t be in the auto industry. But, he concedes, loaning the auto industry money could be a way to demand real change from manufacturers—no easy task. The United Auto Workers Union refused to accept the wage cuts demanded by Republicans in a $14 billion bailout bill, which died in Congress last December. Autoworkers have been asked to make concessions, but Dye suggests concessions should come from both labor and management.
The industry needs to do more than take a close look at the competitiveness of union wages, Dye says. And the recent federal loans—the federal government offered car companies a welcomed $17.4 billion in rescue funds—have given taxpayers the right to demand that car manufacturers make more efficient, cleaner hybrid cars. Companies need to invest in new factories that can make those cars. Not an immediate option, it has to be part of a long-term plan. “That’s the future,” he avers. “If these companies want to be a bigger part of the global market, they are going to have to be competitive in these niches.”
Innovation can happen in tough economic times; crises present an opportunity to rethink and reorganize. It’s called “creative destruction,” says Dye. During the Depression, car companies increased efficiency by shutting down some factories, which improved average productivity in those remaining. The challenge is making sure that people who can make those innovative, environmentally friendly vehicles keep their jobs. That’s why any plan for the car industry has to strike a balance between the immediate need of preserving jobs and the long-term future of a maturing industry. “There’s no question we’re going to have a serious crisis,” Dye says. “There’s going to be a lot of suffering and we haven’t seen the worst of it, we know that. The question is: How do we minimize the pain? There are some things we clearly know how to change.”
Dr. Perry G. Mehrling
What the country needs most from political leaders now is a realistic vision for the future, says Professor Perry Mehrling. They have to determine what is possible 10 years out, and start building it. “I want to engage our policymakers to look through the crisis,” Mehrling says. “We need to have a believable, plausible vision of the future.”
In a way, he says, that’s what FDR gave the public when he created the New Deal, and Mehrling believes the federal government should heed FDR’s example. It should increase public spending on health care, education, and highways, things already in need of repair. At the very least, Americans would have better schools and hospitals. But, he emphasizes, new government spending isn’t just to fill in for the reduced consumer spending in the short run, but rather should be focused on meeting long-term investment needs of the country.
Public investment is good, but it won’t help banks begin lending money to families and businesses again, he says. Today’s financial markets are nothing like they were in the 1930s and 1940s. The world’s economic engine has depended—but can’t any longer—on the willingness of Americans to go into debt, to buy cars and homes, or finance a college education. That debt is sold mostly to China, usually in the form of Treasury bills. And since the mid-1990s, that debt has been repackaged and sold primarily to European countries as various forms of securities. Such securities are essentially a kind of bond, traded like treasury bonds, whose values are market determined. Subprime mortgages, for example, were repackaged as securities and sold all over the world. But when that credit was overextended, as it was before the Great Depression, and too many people couldn’t make their house or car payments, the entire financial system fell apart. “It snapped like a rubber band,” Mehrling says. “And the pieces flew everywhere.”
So the first thing the federal government should do, he recommends, is restore the value of securities. Until that broken market is fixed, the current crisis will continue. The federal government can do that by selling credit insurance against default for the highest-quality securities. Buying them would be too expensive. But insuring them wouldn’t be. It would be like having catastrophe insurance for the securities market, Mehrling explains. The federal government would insure only the highest-quality assets, because they would be in trouble only during a serious financial crisis, like the one the country faces today. They have already done this, notes Mehrling, in the case of Citigroup’s $306 billion bailout in November and the $118 billion for Bank of America early this year.
The benefits are many, he says. The plan wouldn’t drain banks of much needed cash. Securities could be traded and used as collateral again, and banks would start lending more money. Insuring good securities for up to 90 percent of their value, would make investors want to buy them again without being fearful of losing their money. And once credit started flowing again, the economy would recover. The Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department have introduced a mechanism for supporting the value of newly issued securities, which will support securitization of consumer loans of various kinds. “These are important steps that I’m happy to see,” says Mehrling. In early January, he notes, the UK decided on a major push in the insurance direction. And he expects that the U.S. will follow suit.
The federal government has begun dipping its toes in the credit-insurance business already. Aspects of the plan were even incorporated in the government’s $700 billion bailout plan. But what the future holds is anything but certain. “This is the new world we live in now, and it’s never been tested by a crisis before,” Mehrling says. “This is a crisis of the entire financial apparatus.”
There is another problem, though, for which Mehrling says he doesn’t have a solution. The world may depend on U.S. consumers to spend more money than they earn, but they probably won’t continue doing it. China and its surplus of savings could step in, reviving world markets by spending more money rather than saving it. But that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Still, Mehrling says he’s hopeful about the future. Never underestimate Americans. “I do think we can avoid another Great Depression, and because we can, we will.”
-Amy Miller, photograph by Brandon Schulman
Like the October 23 festivities marking Debora Spar’s inauguration, the next morning’s commemorative event had an international focus. That event was the academic symposium What Africa Can Teach the World, where President Spar introduced the panel, cited her own “passionate intellectual interest” in the topic, and alluded to profound lessons she’s learned from Africa in her travels and research.
Spar ceded the James Room podium to historian Abosede George, the symposium’s organizer and a Barnard faculty member whose scholarly work centers on Nigeria and other African nations. George addressed an issue that other speakers would highlight as well—the importance of community in African life, versus the Western cult of the individual. George paraphrased author Walter Mosley on the Western “artiste” who rises in status by extricating herself from “ordinary” people, and the African artist who sees herself as a product and member of a broad social community.
Panelist Jonathan Cook, a white South African and a senior lecturer and administrator at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institution of Business Science, talked about other consequences of the African belief “I’m human because I belong.” It’s the belief, he said, that important decisions should be made only after the consideration of various points of view, and that the whole of humanity is diminished when one part is humiliated or oppressed. While recognizing the severe damage wrought by destructive tribalism, Cook also suggested that a reverence for consensus has played a vital role in African justice, particularly the success of his country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Malik Fal, a Microsoft executive based in Africa, focused on how Africans see themselves not only as part of a human community but as inseparable from nature, the animal world, and a spiritual universe. Despite poverty and deprivation, he said, Africans have low suicide rates and often score higher than affluent Europeans on the happiness index. He added that prosperous Africans feel a responsibility to share their wealth with family and neighbors, and derive great pleasure from this role.
Poverty endures, but the continent’s economies are growing faster than Europe’s, observed panel moderator Mamadou Diouf, director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University. He said Africa’s extremely young population of 1.5 billion people can play a leading role during this era of rapid urbanization and globalization.
Rapid commercial growth was also noted by economist Una Okonkwo-Osili, who teaches at Indiana University and advises the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. She credited her Nigerian childhood for teaching her important ways of understanding generosity and support systems, and she highlighted the advances made by African women in higher education, the workforce, and civic life. Recalling a Ugandan official she met a few years ago at a Washington, D.C. conference, Okonkwo-Osili quoted her as saying that women and men had fought side by side in her country, and that when the conflict was over, “If men had told us to go back to the kitchen, we would have said no.”
-Anne Schutzberger, illustration by Annabel Wright
In donating to the College Archives nearly 400 letters that I wrote from Barnard to my parents in Elmira, New York, I first reviewed them closely. The prospect of future scholars relying on your adolescent and post-adolescent letters home as documentary evidence of anything is a sobering thought. It’s even more chastening for a professional documentary editor like myself, someone who pretends to know something about making such materials accessible as part of an editorial process. What is chilling is the realization that letter writers lie. Perhaps each of us, in her personal letters, functions as her own first editor.
Let me first examine what is real and honest about the letters.
A tendency to over-annotate for my audience. On reporting a Marcel Marceau, performance, I went to some pains to explain how this man could keep his audience enthralled for two hours with “no scenery, only a stool or a box for props—he made the stage what he wanted.” My parents had grown up with the silent films of Chaplin and Keaton and knew about pantomime far better than I did.
Fantasies about food. Pre-vacation letters contained menus for welcome-home feasts: “STEAK (I’m becoming an involuntary vegetarian) ... Pork and sauerkraut and dumplings, Barbecued hamburgers, Roast beef, Pecan pie, Eggs and sausage, Popcorn—with plenty of butter and salt, ... Milk—cold, hairless and waxless—Good, warm, rolls softer than rock.” Food shipments from Elmira were a constant theme.
Reports of performances I’d seen. When we’re young and poor we take greater advantage of New York’s opportunities than we ever will again. My first professional ballet was Sadler’s Wells; the first O’Neill play, Long Day’s Journey into Night with Fredric March, Florence Eldredge, and Jason Robards, Jr.
What it was like to study at Barnard then. Chilton Williamson, later my adviser and lifelong friend, warned we’d be doing eight hours of reading a week for his course. I obediently headed to Butler Library to get two books on his list—and discovered they were charged out to Williamson. I didn’t exaggerate when I wrote my sophomore year.
“I’ve never read so much in my life.” We worked hard, so hard, and I hope my parents understood when I penned: “Congratulations—you have just become a study break.”
The role of the opposite sex. In high school, I simply didn’t date. I realized I wouldn’t get out of Elmira by being anyone’s steady girlfriend. If my parents were embarassed by the earlier absence of boyfriends, they could now keep track of a changing cast of characters in my social life. Like any girl in New York, I noted my increasing sophistication. Fixed up with a freshman my sophomore year, I commented grandly: “He’s nice, good-looking, but young. (I felt like a maiden aunt chaperoning him and his freshman companions.)” My birthday wish list reflected the same world-weariness. The sophomore catalogue included “good white gloves.”
The letters’ numbers betrayed my need to assure my parents that I hadn’t changed or lost touch with people I’d left behind. At first, I wrote daily. While they assured me this was unnecessary, I knew better: “In every letter you say that you don’t expect a letter a day from me. However, in every other letter I find a book of stamps enclosed.”
Mostly, I lied like a trooper. Hard to imagine, isn’t it, a teenage girl being less than honest with her parents? I never hinted at my discovery of cigarettes. While I reported my roommates’ occasional over indulgence in hard liquor, I never admitted to more than two beers in the West End Bar. In reviewing my old missives, I feared they were so well-censored they’d never interest anyone until I found one written to my father in March 1959. It’s predictably sophomoric but heartfelt:
“Now I realize that however much I dislike the food here, however tired and dirty I am, I was right in coming ... In the 50 odd years after I leave college, I must rely on all the thoughts and theories that have been thrown at me here. If I end up teaching history at some high school in Batavia, N.Y., or reasoning with Mau Maus in Tanzanyika [sic], I’ll still be able to go back to the philosophies of John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and Niccolò Machiavelli.... I won’t need bridge games or TV. I’ll have myself.”
A half century later, I still have the self Barnard helped me find. To underscore this, my letters in the Archives include a note reminding future researchers that teenage girls lie to their parents, and suggesting areas in which I, at least, was surprised to find myself telling the truth. I am not alone among dishonest letter writers, so I donate the letters with only this explanation—there’s no need for apologies.
-Mary-Jo Kline '61, illustrations by Katherine Streeter
No Diving, Photograph by Ann Twadelle Whittall '58
In her inaugural address, Debora Spar outlined an ambitious initiative to expand Barnard’s presence outside the United States, “allowing the College to play a more active role in a world increasingly dominated by the international exchange of capital, technology, people, and ideas.” On November 9, 2008, less than two weeks after the investiture, President Spar left for Great Britain and spent several exceedingly full and productive days at both Oxford and Cambridge universities, meeting with presidents and deans of many of the most prestigious colleges. In addition to introducing herself and Barnard to the larger “Oxbridge” community, she explored the possibilities of Barnard students studying for a year at these colleges. Barnard already has a relationship with St. Peter’s College, Oxford, but given growing student interest, President Spar hopes to develop academic partnerships with other Oxford and Cambridge colleges as well. Also on the president’s agenda were the possibility of Barnard faculty exchanges and other joint programs. In between academic meetings, President Spar enjoyed spending time with Barnard alumnae and parents in Cambridge and London, talking with them about new ways to integrate our overseas community with that of Morningside Heights. She had drinks with a group of Barnard alumnae in finance at the Royal Automobile Club in London, met with retired editor of Barnard Magazine Toni Coffee, in Oxford, and was delighted to “take tea” with the extraordinary Dame Anne Warburton ’46, first British woman ambassador when appointed to Denmark, and former president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.
Editors’ note: Space limitations prevent us from printing some of these heartfelt letters in full; please go to alum.barnard.edu/winter09letters to read more. We will address Barnard’s intercollegiate athletic program prior to the Consortium in our next issue.
As a former Barnard College athlete, I enjoy reading any articles relating to the achievements of student athletes. So your article in the Fall 2008 issue about the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium was great to see. Unfortunately, however, you have missed honoring the true heroes of Barnard College athletics—three students of the 1970s who fought for and helped create the college’s intercollegiate program in the first place. They are Valerie Schwarz Mason ’80, Lynn Moffat Wray ’78, and Diana Wood Kutlow ’80, and they each deserve a place in the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame. Athletic Directors Marian Rosenwasser and Margie Greenberg also deserve recognition. Without the tireless efforts of these women, it is doubtful Barnard would have had the “thriving NCAA Division III program” (referred to by Sharon Everson in the article) to merge with Columbia when it went coed in 1983.
—Shari Teitelbaum ’79, P 11
As a student athlete who was involved in the formative years of the athletic program referred to in “Sports Builds Life Skills” you can imagine my disappointment when there was not even a nod to the Barnard women and faculty who helped put the program on the map. From my vantage point, no honor roll or list of the most influential women would be complete without the names of all of the Barnard women who participated on and built the teams and program in the years leading up to the Consortium. It was their dedication and spirit that laid the foundation for the 25 years of sisters who followed them.
—Valerie Schwarz Mason ’80
New York, NY
As a former captain of the fi rst Barnard- Columbia Women’s Cross Country and Track and Field Teams, I read with interest the article “Sports Build Life Skills.” While I am glad to see women’s sports highlighted, you have neglected to ... acknowledge the very athletes who were responsible for beginning the women’s athletic program. While the very first Barnard athletes were making do with meager practice facilities and little funding, we were also actively planning a bigger and better future. The Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, consisting of captains of all the teams, met monthly with Marian Rosenwasser. What exists today is in no small part testament to the efforts of this group.
—Merle Myerson, MD, EdD, ’78
[I am] someone who bridged the pre- Consortium and Consortium time periods (I was a Barnard Bear and then a Columbia Lion). To help in educating our current student-athletes on this wonderful history, perhaps Barnard could include another article about these pioneers.
—Philippa Feldman Portnoy ’86
New York, NY
I used to just flip through Barnard Magazine, but I just spent the past hour reading the articles and admiring the new layout. This new version feels not only more timely, but also, more personal. I especially enjoyed the article on Doris Miller—as memorable and vital as she was to my experience at Barnard, it was touching to read how many others her kindness and humor reached.
—Dana Lieb ’90
San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico