Barnard Bold

By Debora Spar

I’ll confess. When my colleagues first brought me the concept for The Bold Standard—Barnard’s ambitious capital campaign that you will read about later in this issue—I responded like the economist I once used to be. For years, I had taught a class on Great Britain and the gold standard, highlighting the debate between Churchill and Keynes over how best to regain their nation’s preeminence in a post-war world. It didn’t go well (the return to gold, that is, not the class). And so I worried about the association. Wouldn’t the Bold Standard remind everyone of the gold standard?

It is a tribute to my colleagues that they patiently listened to my turn-of-the-century woes before gently reminding me that I was probably the only person in the Barnard community for whom this particular association held, the only one who would even hesitate at the broader, more commanding message in this statement. That we are Barnard, and we are bold.

It is a powerful word. And a wholly accurate one.

Barnard women are many things, most of which defy easy descriptions or generalizations. We are smart. We are savvy. We are researchers and builders, corporate leaders and community activists. We create art and cause trouble. What ties these disparate qualities and behaviors together, though, and connects generations of Barnard students and alumnae, is a certain audacity of spirit. A willingness to speak up and find a different voice. A propensity to engage—in activism and adventure and whatever ails the world around them. A penchant for majoring in unafraid.

This is the college, after all, that was launched as little more than a distant dream by a small group of smart, struggling women in 1889. It is the college that saw the death of parietal rules and the birth of feminism. The college that refused in 1982 to be absorbed by its big brother, and one that has joyously and resolutely carved its own path ever since. We are the college that educated Zora Neale Hurston and Margaret Mead; that hosted Malcolm X and Gloria Steinem and Barack Obama. We are, and have always been, bold.

With this campaign, though, we are taking audacity to new and different heights. Because if there’s one thing we haven’t been bold about, it’s money. On the contrary, we have traditionally been timid about money, pinching our pennies and priding ourselves on a hard-won resourcefulness. Which was fine, perhaps, for a while. But the time has come to be bold about our finances as well.

Here is the case, in the bluntest of terms. As of this writing, our endowment sits at $276 million. That is up 30 percent since the start of my presidency in 2008, but still pales by comparison to any of our peers: Wellesley at $1.85 billion, Wesleyan at $810 million, Vassar at $983 million. We are more selective than any of these schools, and have a higher yield as well. Like them, we are need-blind in our admissions policy and provide even our neediest students with full financial aid. We have similarly stellar faculties—urged even higher, in our case, by our faculty members’ appointments at Columbia. Yet we are trying to do this—and thus far succeeding in doing this—with only a fraction of our peers’ wealth.

This situation is simply not sustainable. If Barnard is to prosper in the future as it has in the past—if, to be justifiably audacious, we aim to get stronger and stronger over time—we need to build an appropriate financial foundation. This is by no means outlandish or unrealistic. It’s just bold. We need to raise several hundred million dollars over the course of this campaign, using these funds to endow professorships and financial aid, and to construct our new library. We need all of our alumnae to participate, supporting whatever priorities move them most and acknowledging both the joy and responsibility of sustaining the next generation of Barnard students and faculty. And we need to be clear about our request. Giving to Barnard doesn’t mean agreeing with every single action the College has ever taken, or ever will. It doesn’t mean rewarding the College for a specific act, or program, or beloved faculty member. It means taking a stand for women, for opportunity, and for the power of education to change lives. It’s the right thing—the bold thing—to do.

Latest IssueSummer 2021

The extraordinary class of 2021 sets off on their next adventure.