Kathryn Kolbert

Constance Hess Williams Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies

Kathryn Kolbert  is the Constance Hess Williams '66 Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, Professor of Leadership Studies, and Professor of Professional Practice, Department of Political Science at Barnard College. As the founder director of the Athena Center, a premiere, interdisciplinary center dedicated to the advancement of women’s leadership, Kolbert provides Barnard students and adult women, a wide range of education, research, professional development, and public education programs both in New York and across the globe.   

A public-interest attorney, journalist, and visionary in the not-for-profit world, Kathryn Kolbert brings to Barnard an extraordinary depth of experience in collaborative leadership, educational programming, and civil-rights advocacy. She has been recognized by The National Law Journal as one of the "100 Most Influential Lawyers in America,” and by The American Lawyer as one of 45 public- interest lawyers “whose vision and commitment are changing lives." In 1992, Kolbert argued the landmark case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the U.S. Supreme Court and has been credited with saving Roe v. Wade with what Jeffrey Toobin has called "one of the most audacious litigation strategies in Supreme Court history.”

Prior to coming to Barnard, Professor Kolbert spent a year in Washington D.C. as the President and CEO of People for the American Way and People for the American Way Foundation, two of the nation’s premier civil rights organizations.  From 1998-2008, Professor Kolbert oversaw a program on law and American life at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. She was the executive producer of Justice Talking, an award-winning radio program distributed by NPR and heard across the globe and also directed an educational website called JusticeLearning.org, winner of a 2005 Webby Award.

Kolbert has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a public interest attorney specializing in women’s rights. From 1992 to 1997, she directed domestic litigation and public policy programs for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, where she was a co-founder and vice president. She has also served as the State Coordinating Counsel of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project in New York and as a Staff Attorney with both the Women's Law Project and Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

Professor Kolbert graduated cum laude from Temple University School of Law, and received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University’s School of Arts and Sciences. She has lectured at colleges and universities across the nation and is a frequent commentator on constitutional and women’s rights issues in the national media.

Academic Focus: 

Civil Rights

Reproductive Rights

Women’s Issues

Supreme Court





J.D., Temple University, School of Law

B.S., Cornell University

In the News

Barnard’s annual film festival focused on furthering the conversation around equity and empowering a new generation of women leaders.

Throughout the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, Barnard faculty members in a variety of disciplines have drawn connections from the White House to their fields of study and the real and potential outcomes resulting from the current administration.

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