NEW YORK, Nov. 16, 2016—Barnard College President Debora L. Spar announced today that she will resign in March of 2017, after almost nine years leading the college, to become president and chief executive officer of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald ’81, chair of the Barnard Board of Trustees, said, “Debora Spar, quite simply, has transformed and elevated Barnard over these past nine years, building on its distinctive strengths, fortifying the College’s financial position, and pioneering important new initiatives in areas ranging from women’s leadership, technology and the arts to internationalization and campus life, while also providing national leadership on a broad range of issues."

“Lincoln Center is fortunate to have attracted such an innovative, forward-thinking leader,” she added. “While we will miss Debora when she departs next year, I’m confident that she has left behind an institution that is as strong and well positioned for the future as it has ever been.”

In an email letter to the college community, Spar noted the difficulty of her decision.  “These are strange times to be embarking on such a big move,” Spar wrote.  “Over the past few days, I have been more impressed than ever by the importance of Barnard’s mission and the depth of this community’s commitment to women’s education, women’s empowerment, and social justice for all.  I have been deeply moved to hear our students’ concern for the world they are inheriting, and their determination to harness their energies to make it a better place.”

Spar was the Spangler Family Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development at Harvard Business School when the Board of Trustees elected her the seventh president of Barnard College in 2008.  She succeeded President Judith Shapiro, who stepped down after leading Barnard for 14 years.  

During Spar’s tenure, Barnard has strengthened its resources and raised its profile in an increasingly global and digital world.  Barnard’s endowment has almost doubled, growing from $162M in 2008 to approximately $300M in June of this year, and The Bold Standard, the largest capital campaign in the School’s history, is on track to reach its ambitious goal.  As part of the campaign, Spar raised funds for 22 named faculty chairs, and $100M for a modern and much-needed teaching and learning center, slated to open in August 2018.   

Applications for admission to Barnard have increased by over 50 percent and Barnard’s acceptance rate has plummeted from almost 30 percent to 16 percent in the same time period.  This dramatically increased interest in and demand for Barnard has resulted in a more diverse student body: under Spar, the percentage of students of color has increased from one-third to one-half of the student body and the percentage of international students has more than doubled. Throughout, Barnard has remained steadfast in its commitment to need-blind admissions, even after the devastating economic downturn of 2008. 

Spar established and championed a number of curricular and co-curricular initiatives, many of which crucially recognized Barnard’s greatest asset–New York City. The entering Class of 2020 is the first to study under Barnard’s new, modern curriculum, Foundations, which includes an innovative technology requirement, as well as a unique series of classes relating to New York City. Sought-after scholars and artists of the highest caliber, including Leymah Gbowee, Twyla Tharp, Jenny Finney Boylan and Wendy Whelan, have taught Barnard students as artists or scholars in residence, and Spar has established Barnard as a “must-stop” venue for dignitaries from every industry to address young future women leaders of the world.  Distinguished visitors have included President Obama, Secretary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.  Signature programs like Harlem Semester and Barnard Teaches have provided Barnard students with unsurpassed access to a litany of New York’s major cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Apollo Theater and the New York Public Library. 

"Debora has been a strong advocate for faculty at Barnard," said Linda Bell, Provost and Dean of the Faculty. “She is the rare combination of a leader who is both visionary and practical, and who similarly motivates and encourages everyone around her to think as grand terms as possible. Lincoln Center is lucky to have her.”

The Spar era, though, will perhaps most be remembered for its reaffirmation of the relevance of single-sex education, as well as the continued importance of institutions dedicated to the complex study of gender and women’s advancement.  Early in her presidency, Spar established two signature programs: the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, which has expanded in many ways, including the very popular Athena Film Festival, and Barnard’s Global Symposium and Salon series, which has gathered scholars, artists, activists and policymakers in locations from Beijing to Mumbai to discuss issues of importance to women.  In 2013, Spar authored Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection, one of the most comprehensive modern analyses of feminism and the state of women in society, and in 2015, she led the historic move to admit trans women to Barnard.   

"When we were seeing other candidates in our last Presidential search at Barnard, one of our student committee members had a mantra: impressive, but she's not Debora Spar,said Anna Quindlen ‘74, journalist, author and former Chair of the Barnard Board of Trustees. That's because Debora is the gold standard.  With uncommon energy and creativity, she has elevated Barnard beyond even my initial expectations.  Lincoln Center just got very lucky."

At Lincoln Center, Spar will take the helm at one of our nation’s most precious cultural resources, with 11 resident organizations, five million visitors a year and a 16-acre campus on the Upper West Side. In announcing her decision to take on the presidency of Lincoln Center, Spar referenced what she will bring with her from Barnard to this new role. “During my time at Barnard, I have had the great privilege of meeting and working with women who are truly of substance, and of grit,” she wrote.  “All of these experiences have touched me in profound ways, forcing me to grapple with my own understanding of what it means to be a woman, and to live a life that matters.”

A popular figure on both the Barnard and Columbia campuses, Spar, or “DSpar” as she was known to the students, was a regular attendee at town halls, performances and student events, including “Dancing with DSpar,” a dance aerobics class offered twice a year during finals. She held open office hours and continued to write prolifically throughout her presidency.  She is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and serves as a director of Goldman Sachs and a trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Spar received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and her master’s and Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University. She is married to architect Miltos Catomeris, and they are the parents of three children.

Caruso-FitzGerald said the search for a new president will begin immediately, and that the search committee will include trustees, faculty, staff, students and alumnae.