Robert J. Zimmer's Remarks
Robert J. Zimmer, President, University of Chicago
Good afternoon. It is a great personal pleasure and professional privilege to be with you today at this auspicious moment. Barnard College marks a transition into the next phase of its extraordinary, distinguished, and impactful history, and my close friend and colleague Sian Beilock is formally welcomed as the President of Barnard and into the ranks of leadership of great American educational institutions.
Moments of institutional transition are significant for many reasons, but of particular value is the opportunity to reflect on an institution's meaning. Leading educational institutions in the United States, Barnard among them, perform a dual role. They are stewards of institutional values, aspirations, contributions, and cultures that evolved over many years. Conversely, they must engage the ongoing flow of social change or perceived needs for social change, the evolution of disciplines and the emergence of new disciplines, varying approaches to education, the impacts of technological transformations, as well as financial pressures and political contexts. In other words, institutions are always challenged to recognize and articulate their enduring values, and simultaneously to express these values in evolving ways.
Some may interpret this challenge as an inherent tension, others as inherent ongoing opportunity, and I believe it is some of both. But whichever perspective one takes, recognizing this duality underscores the importance for leaders of academic institutions and all faculty involved in institutional matters to approach decisions about change — and the opportunities it may present — through the lens of enduring academic and institutional values.
Barnard, in addition to strong academic values it shares with a number of institutions, has critical distinguishing attributes that figure prominently when considering the interaction of enduring values and opportunities for change. Since its founding, about a century and a quarter ago, Barnard has been one of the most powerful institutions in the country for advancing opportunities for women. The tally of Barnard alumni and their accomplishments is truly impressive. This is a clear example of a powerful institutional value realized in an evolving manner over the past century. While our society has made significant progress over this time, much more must be done. Understanding how this value should be realized by Barnard going forward, perhaps including, for example, a focus on opportunities in science and technology areas, is a fundamental question.
Barnard is also distinguished by its location in New York City, the largest and surely one of the most dynamic urban areas in the country, indeed the world. A central part of New York's own narrative as a city is its role in welcoming immigrants and fostering opportunity for those with talent but not privilege. This resonates with Barnard's own commitment to access and its long-standing role in fostering opportunity. A Barnard education and experience has not only transformed individual opportunity, but changed the trajectory of families. This area too represents both an enduring value, and an opportunity for change. As a highly urban college, how does Barnard both contribute to and benefit from New York City, its urban energy, and the need to create opportunity today for those without traditional advantage?
Another question for Barnard will arise in terms of partnerships. These have played an important role in Barnard's history, obviously with Columbia but beyond that for example through joint programs with Juilliard and the Jewish Theological Seminary. As many institutions consider partnerships of various sorts to expand beyond what they can do alone, what types of new partnerships might enhance and reflect Barnard's enduring values?
These are but examples of the many questions that face Barnard today. They are filled with exciting opportunity for imagination and new ways of contributing, and demonstrating how enduring values can be matched with the challenges of our own time.
Confronting these challenges and seizing these opportunities demand committed and highly effective leadership. I have worked very closely with Sian Beilock for years, indeed depended on her. I know what you will come to know - namely, the extraordinary qualities she brings to this task. She deeply understands academic values and their enduring strength. She has the inner personal strength to provide leadership and the wisdom to understand that effective leadership requires deep engagement and collaboration with the broad college community. She is profoundly and proudly ambitious for her institution and what it stands for. She is singularly positioned as the leader of a college committed to success for women, not only by her own example but by the nature of her own scientific work. She is a person of unshakeable integrity. She will bring both imagination and deep values to the task before her.
I conclude by offering my congratulations to Barnard College and its community on all it has accomplished and all I am confident it will accomplish with Sian's leadership. And I offer my congratulations to Sian, and on behalf of my presidential colleagues, welcome her - to the informal but real, ancient and honorable company of leaders of academic institutions.
Thank you and congratulations to all.