Photograph by Dorothy Hong
Morningside Heights differs vastly from the rustic surroundings in Pennsylvania where she’s spent most of the last two decades, but despite a bit of sensory overload, Linda A. Bell finds the energy of New York and Barnard inspiring. Previously the provost and the John B. Hurford Professor of Economics at Haverford College, Bell began her new position in October and has spent much of her time meeting with professors to learn more about their work. “I’ve been having discussions with the faculty about research, what kinds of courses they’re teaching, their views on particular curricular objectives, what their resources to support their research look like, what their strengths as a department are, and some of the challenges they face,” says Bell. “My desire . . . is to learn from them,” she adds. “The students and the faculty are the College’s two most vital assets.”
As provost, Bell is Barnard’s chief academic officer, which involves overseeing all academic departments, programs, and centers, as well as the library. One of the things she finds most exciting is the sense of collaboration among faculty and departments, and the courses and research that grow from these collaborations. “One of the unique things about working in an environment like Barnard, and one of the underlying missions of most small liberal arts colleges—they foster interdisciplinary conversation and interaction,” Bell says. “Interdisciplinary engagement requires resources both in terms of time and financial resources. One of the ways in which Barnard faculty collaborate, is that they are engaged and involved in cross-disciplinary pursuits.
“You think in different directions,” she continues. “The beauty of it is in the unexpected interactions and all the discoveries that you didn’t know were out there.”
Bell hopes to enhance the emphasis that Barnard is able to place on student scholarship and on close student-faculty interaction. She also plans to continue developing one of Barnard’s unique features—New York City-specific opportunities for students both on and off campus. On a personal level, Bell, her husband, and two sons had been frequent visitors to New York before moving here, the family enjoying museums, galleries, restaurants, and the energy so typical of a world capital. She speaks enthusiastically about the city’s multiculturalism and the feeling of endless possibilities.
Bell is an empirical labor economist and her research has mostly been applied work with a strong policy focus. She’s dealt extensively with issues of gender in the workplace and in society as a whole. “Standard theory in economics is that discrimination—while it can exist in a moment in time—cannot persist through time. Competitive pressures should force discriminators out of business,” says Bell. However, she has found the idea challenging to embrace when observing differentials in salaries and compensation by race and gender that have persisted over time. Her recent research on executive women has shown a sizeable gender difference that disappears when top executives work in companies that are led by women.
During her time as provost at Haverford, Bell often interacted with alumni, and she eagerly anticipates making similar connections at Barnard. “I was so deeply impressed with the Haverford alumni and their commitment to the school, and that sense of nostalgia and love for the institution that had helped to shape them,” she says. “One of the joys of my job at Barnard [is] the ability to interact with and to learn from the alumnae. Those alumnae I’ve met are fantastic women who are doing really interesting things and who have a deep love and admiration for the College that is inspirational. Faculty who devote their careers to teaching at a place like Barnard are people who really have as their chief objective educating young women to fulfill their academic goals and career aspirations. Seeing it happen…is just a wonderful satisfaction.”