Category: Administration

People inherently long to be part of a group, a village, a community. For communities to endure, they must have a history, and each generation must perpetuate the traditions of the past and pass them along to the next generation. Some such traditions are intentionally created and integrated into society at a young age, such as saluting the flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and singing the National Anthem. Others are more organic, like family picnics and watching fireworks on Independence Day. In a small town near where I grew up, the biggest annual event was the “irrigation festival,” celebrating the bountiful harvests made possible by the technology that brought water to what was otherwise an arid valley. In a small community, people seize upon whatever it takes to bring people together to eat, play, compete with each other, and socialize. These events are part of the fabric of our civilization.

The common experiences that occur during four years of college similarly bring a community of students together in many ways. Traditions within a college bind class to class, generation to generation, and bring current students from every academic pursuit a sense of togetherness and community and a bond of kinship. Many such college traditions are a bit odd or idiosyncratic, but they form a part of the identity of a school that every student carries away from commencement and (hopefully) brings back for class reunions. The attraction of oddball college traditions was summed up in one article: “[C]ampus traditions are a huge part of what takes a bunch of students, and makes them a community that lasts a lifetime.”

Examples abound throughout the country. At Regis University in Denver, after four nights of enforced quiet study in the week leading up to finals, the signal is given for the “all hall scream,” and students spend ten minutes screaming, laughing, and running through the halls.

At Occidental College, where Barack Obama spent his first two years before transferring to Columbia, tradition dictates that on your birthday you will be thrown into the campus fountain (by your friends). During the “Pterodactyl Hunt” at Swarthmore College, students don garbage bags and roam campus beating each other with foam weapons. At the University of Virginia, students run naked across the campus lawn and kiss the statue of Homer in the days leading up to graduation.

And the Ivys are not too elite to participate in quirky traditions. At the University of Pennsylvania, students throw pieces of toast onto the football field after the end of the third quarter of home games. (The university has designed a special Zamboni-like machine to vacuum up the stray bread.) During the winter carnival at Dartmouth, a hole is drilled into the ice of a local pond, and students jump into the freezing water (with a safety rope).

What traditions bind together the generations of Columbia alumni? There are few, other than the Core Curriculum. In the Wikipedia entry for Columbia University, there are only three entries under “Traditions.” They are (1) Orgo Night, (2) the tree lighting and Yule log ceremony, and (3) the Varsity Show. The first one on the list, Orgo Night, is one of the most unique traditions in all the land, and it is unfortunately under attack.

When you search“quirky college traditions” on Google, the first search result is an article from the website “collegeraptor” titled “13 of the weirdest college traditions.” The article begins:

“There are strange things happening at college campuses across the country. Students are nailing their shoes to trees, howling at the moon, and kissing statue’s bums with no one giving these weird pastimes a second thought.”

The #1 entry on this list is: “Orgo Night:  Columbia University.”  The article notes the essence of the event:

“Each year, on the eve of the orgo final, the Columbia marching band heads to the library to entertain all of the orgo students (and anyone else lucky enough to be studying at that time) with the fight song, jokes, and music. The tradition is a great harmless way for students to blow off steam during finals.”

The website then links to other information about Columbia for the benefit of users who are researching different schools.  You would think that Columbia administrators would be proud that their school ranks #1 (on this list) in yet another aspect of American universities.

In fact, the Orgo Night tradition is listed in all six of the top search results on Google, where articles from BuzzFeed, USA Today, and hercampus.com list the most interesting and memorable events on campuses across the country.  In all cases, Orgo Night is lauded as a fun stress reliever for students during finals week.

On Columbia’s official web site, there is a prominent entry on Orgo Night among the stories that alumni were invited to write about their memories of the Columbia experience as part of the C250 (250th anniversary) celebration.  University editors chose this as one of the best stories:

“One of my most memorable experiences at Columbia was Orgo Night in the undergraduate reading room in Butler Library. I attended Orgo Night in all eight semesters I was at Columbia. Each was an experience of its own. . . .[T]he show of school spirit was unmatched . . . Cheers to Columbia and its passionate students who continue to fight for our school’s age-old traditions.”

Meanwhile, in a printed recruitment brochure for high school , Columbia lists fifteen items as “Fun on campus” events that new students can look forward to.

 

It is debatable whether student government budget meetings, University Professor lectures, or Engineering Weeks belong in the “fun” column, but it is significant that Orgo Night is on the university’s official list.  In another recruiting brochure titled “Columbia Blue,” the university’s office of undergraduate admissions lauds various traditional campus activities, including Bacchanal, the Varsity Show, the President’s annual Fun Run, and Orgo Night:

“Orgo Night Merriment. The night before the Organic Chemistry Final — Orgo Night. On this night in December and again in May, the main study room in Butler Library starts getting packed around 11:30 pm. You see practically everyone you know and despite being finals week, everyone is excited and happy. At midnight sharp, you hear the sound of instruments and all of a sudden, the marching band storms into the room playing songs and reading jokes while the rest of us are standing on the tables and chairs dancing and laughing. Debbie Goodman, Lido Beach, NY; CC”

All this would suggest that the university administration values Orgo Night as something that is unique to Columbia.  It is a living demonstration of how a peculiar tradition can provide some needed stress relief during an otherwise tense finals period and can serve as an heirloom that generations of Columbia alumni share as a common memory.

And yet, if you did not already know, the current University Administration has decided to end this tradition, claiming that the Orgo Night show is not an appropriate activity for Butler Library and relegating the marching band to performing the show outside, on the steps in front of the library in whatever weather might present itself.  Banishing Orgo Night from the library is intended to diminish its significance and disassociate it from the process of finals studying.  The Head Librarian who announced the ban in December of 2016 justified it based on the need to preserve quiet study space, although the University had received no complaints from students who were unable to find other appropriate study space or who were surprised by the appearance of the band at the well-publicized time and place that had occurred every semester since 1975.  Despite protests by students and alumni, the University has remained resolute in its desire to kill the Orgo Night tradition.

This leaves only the tree-lighting and the Varsity Show as traditions common to present and past Columbia students – along with reading The Iliad.  Will this improve the feeling of community and connection for future alumni?  Will it make any students feel better about the university knowing that the administration took action to preserve their quiet study space during finals week?  Years from now, the class of 2018 will remember the Orgo Night in December of 2016 when it was eighteen degrees and the valves in the band’s horns froze up after they were banished from the library.  They will remember the notice sent out from Low Library in April of 2017 stating that the administration was “working closely” with the current band leadership to discuss the future of Orgo Night, when in fact there was no communication of any kind from the administration to the band, and none would follow that whole summer.  They will remember how the tradition of Orgo Night was stubbornly perpetuated by the marching band despite the administration’s continued “war on fun.”  They will probably lament that they are one of the last classes that can remember Orgo Night.  As they mingle with the younger alumni from the classes of 2023 and 2028 and 2033 at a future class reunion, someone is bound to mention Orgo Night and some younger alumnus will say “I’ve heard of that, but by the time I was a student, it had died out.”  That will be a sad day, but one that is entirely predictable, and apparently one desired by President Bollinger, who is the chief executioner in the crusade to end Orgo Night.

It is not too late to change this course; the scrappy marching band continues to plan an Orgo Night show despite the administration’s resistance.  We, who love Columbia, should care.  When Orgo Night is just a distant memory for a diminishing population of older alumni and someone laments the absence of enduring traditions that link current students to previous generations, we will all share the blame.  We had Orgo Night, and we let it die.

 

If you’d like to submit a response to this op-ed or a general op-ed to The Lion, please email submissions@thecolumbialion.com

After reading a post about the Free Time Initiative, junior Robbie Netzborg shared his personal experience with mental health on campus and his opinion on the matter on Facebook. Here’s what he had to say.

Content Warning: suicide, mental health

Note: There are people with lots of extenuating circumstances, and I wholeheartedly agree that the university can and should do more to help people with these circumstances succeed at Columbia.

I’m usually not someone who writes on Facebook, but something really rubbed me the wrong way about your post on the Free Time initiative and I’ve just noticed this as a general idea that people have here. Sorry if my post seems confrontative or annoying, I genuinely do not mean to cause anyone to feel personal harm. But, as students, how can we honestly look at the university and blame them entirely for the stress culture here? What more can the university do to help reduce the stress culture here on campus?

Imagine yourself in the position of the university. You have collected from all around the United States and the world, from a wide-range of backgrounds, students who have pushed themselves to succeed academically — or, at the very least, students who have that as some sort of priority. We students push ourselves to our limits on a constant basis, whether it be to sign up for just one more class, work one more job, go to one more protest, or to fight one more fight. These students, understandably, will try to do anything to pursue their goals, to be the best that they can possibly be, but then we find ourselves here.

Before we know it, when we were all at the top of our classes, we’re now just a regular person in a large pool of people (what could be more insulting for the overachiever?). Success is something that should be given when you make it here but suddenly it doesn’t seem like it. All our peers around us are so much smarter than we are, they seem to be so much more capable than we are. You play an instrument? Good for you, the person next to you plays five at a professional level. You like math? That’s cute, I was doing real analysis by the time I got out of the womb. Our talents that previously marked our identities, that used be something you’d love to share with people, are now threatened. Our identities are threatened. For some people, to overcome that threat, they push themselves beyond their limits.

Now you’re in the university’s shoes. What do you do? Students need someone to talk to. Open up a mental health center on campus that provides therapy through walk-in hours, group sessions, and scheduled appointments. Students are stressed out from pushing themselves to their limits. Lower the credit limit. Give advice (albeit sometimes really, really horrible advice) on how to better manage your time. As an organization, you make an attempt to help the people who are members of that organization.

Now, to digress, I’d like to talk about my personal experience and why I’ve decided to write at all. This is, of course, is my personal account and there are plenty of flaws, details, and biases that people can and should point to in my story to qualify it. But, it’s my life here at Columbia regardless, so here it is.

During a particularly bad period in high school I suffered from suicidal thoughts. I never acted on them, and luckily my parents noticed that I was suffering and put me into therapy, and, through a series of events, I was eventually put on antidepressants. By the end of senior year, I felt entirely comfortable and happy in my life and decided to go off of the pills. It seemed like a temporary thing that I had gotten over.

When I came here to Columbia, I was first completed transfixed with everything that was going on. There are so many cool people, interesting classes to take, things to do. I tried to meet as many people as I could and to take the classes that I found the most interesting. Over time, however, the honeymoon period began to end. Whereas before people had been incredibly social, I found myself eating alone staring at the wooden wall in the John Jay bar area. I really didn’t feel like I belonged in the group that I found then, so I felt insignificant.

I’ve kept a journal for the past six years, and here are some of the things that I wrote back then: “Why am I in a friend group that I consider myself hated and unwelcomed in?” and “There’s a sadness within me and I have a feeling it has something to do with this overbearing sensation of self-disdain.” (Sorry, I like to wax poetic in my journal). As the first semester ended, I felt miserable. To cut things short, life didn’t really feel worth living. When I came back second semester, things only got worse. Things just kept getting worse and worse. After every single failed social interaction or academic test I’d go back to my room and think to myself, “Why the fuck am I alive?” I’d then let my eyes drift towards the window and think about how the exit was right there, and all I had to do was jump. All the thoughts were there, the only thing missing was the spark.

Due to a particularly bad day, I came home to my dorm in tears. I couldn’t take it anymore. I saw myself in the mirror and hated myself. hated who’d I become. Hated everything that I’d done. Hated the very fact that I kept breathing. Without really thinking about it, I ran over towards the window and propped it open and tried to climb out. Luckily, I couldn’t fit through and my roommate happened to come back a couple moments later. Deus ex machina I guess.

After going to bed that night, I woke up the next day in a more stable mood and realized the gravity of what I had just tried to do. There are two factors that led me to still be here today. First was the fact that I had already gone to therapy before and knew (and know) that therapy could be a possible solution (but, the question that bugged me was, is life worth living if I’m never going to be able to be happy?). The second, and much more important, was that a distant-ish friend reached out to me. Not someone who I was spending a majority of my time with. Not someone I considered to be incredibly close to. They said that they were there for me if I needed anyone to talk to and that the university has resources if I needed them. After talking with them, I called CPS and had an appointment the next day.

Now, as a junior, life’s a whole lot better here, but it could have been a completely different story. And here’s the reason why I decided to share what happened to me and why I’m posting here at all: the main thing that got me over my depression and my suicidal thoughts was the fact that I was lucky enough to have a friend who happened to reach out to me when I was at my worst and point me in the right direction.

Here’s the question I pose, though, to every single Columbia student: when was the last time you reached out to a friend who seemed down? When was the last time you walked over to someone sitting in that damned John Jay bar area and started talking to them? I’ve walked around this campus, sat in random places, and just watched people interact with one another. We don’t talk to strangers. No one bothers to ask the person who’s sitting alone whether or not they’d want to join them or how they’re doing. I remember sitting in John Jay holding back tears because I felt so alone.

Now, I read the post about how the university’s not doing enough to support mental health initiatives. What the fuck can the university do for me when I’m all by myself? When I’m sitting alone with no friends or having friends close enough to spend time with me but not close enough to seriously help me out, what should the university do? Will the university pay people to pity me enough to spend time with me and genuinely become my friend? Will I become best friends with Dean Kromm?

Columbia has an empathy problem, and every one of us is responsible for maintaining it. If anyone who is serious about making a difference in mental health here on campus is reading this, stop blaming the university (although there’s plenty of blame on their part), and go out and do what you can do to seriously change one of your peer’s lives. Reach out to the friends you haven’t seen in a while or who seem distant. If you see someone sitting by themselves at a dining hall, talk to them! The mental health issue at Columbia is something that we as students can overcome, if we choose to do so. It’s just lip-service to go around blaming the university if you’re not willing to actually do something personally to help your community. There are so many unhappy people here on campus, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We the student body, not the university, can do something about it other than writing nasty letters. We have to make Columbia a place where people who feel like they’re suffering can lean on the person next to them for support, not a place where a person feels like they’re in an uphill battle against the world.

As we have these conversations about stress culture and mental health, we think it is important to share some of the resources available on campus to members of the Columbia community:

Counseling and Psychological Services – (212) 854-2878
Columbia Health – (212) 854-7426
Office of the University Chaplain – (212) 854-1493
Advising Deans – (212) 854-6378
Nightline – (212) 854-7777

If you’d like to respond to this piece / submit an op-ed to The Lion, please email submissions@thecolumbialion.com

After seeing the Commitment Time Management page on CSA’s website, senior Lesley Cordero sent this email to Dean Boyce to inform her about the issues with it. Here’s what she had to say.

Dear Dean Boyce,

As you probably know, the Center for Student Advising recently released this article on time management. I have some serious concerns about the content of this post that I want to share with you.

To quickly summarize, they essentially recommend/outline ~50 hours of studying and~16 hours of class time, totaling to about 66 hours (mind you, this assumes only 15 credits, which as you know you literally cannot graduate with in SEAS). Ignoring the rest of the content momentarily, this expectation lacks thought or concern for your students. Previously, I believed administration was just unaware or doubted how much time we dedicate to classes and school work. Given this post, it’s evident that they are, in fact, aware, which is actually far more alarming. Why is this outrageous workload not being challenged?

Aside from the ethical concerns of working students to such a high number of hours, compared to our peer institutions, we do not seem to outperform other institutions (two simple but powerful examples: number of Rhode Scholars here, number of Fulbright students here), so why is it that we’re working more? For reference, you can check this article on how Columbia students stay up later than all other universities. It’s also important to note that Columbia, not other Ivy League institutions or other top tier universities, had 7 suicides within a year’s time, likely as a result of some of the factors I review in this email.

Furthermore, overworking isn’t an efficient or healthy strategy for producing good work, whether that be research, projects, or just general knowledge learned. In this publication on worker productivity, you’ll see that an increase in number of hours worked has diminishing returns. Here, you’ll also see research on the effects of chronic stress which include diminished health and psychological capacity.

With all that said, I would also like to speak from own experience here at Columbia. I chose to attend a school like Columbia because I love being challenged. Learning, working on meaningful projects and work, excites me to no end, and I genuinely believed that Columbia would be the perfect place to spend my late teens and early twenties working to become my best young adult self.

Columbia has given me so much — friends I genuinely love, countless academic and professional opportunities. But it has failed to cultivate the excitement I came in with as an ambitious and passionate first year. School and academia no longer carries the same positive, growth-driven mindset it once used to. Instead, I’ve grown to associate school with chronic stress, tiredness, and a culture that never seems to keep its student body at ease.

I think this is particularly true for students of color, first generation/low-income students, and anyone whose identities this institution was not built to serve. As outlined in the post this email is about, those calculations are made with the “typical” student in mind, which tends to not be of color or low-income.

To highlight some of the striking misguided calculations:

1. Medical appointments counting for free time is inconsiderate to students with disabilities, many of whom have to spend a large portion of that “free time” on appointments. I, for one, do as a student with a neurological disability.

2. Even on a very simple level, small things like hygiene and professional development are more time consuming for students of color, women, and FLIP students. As a woman of color, I face unique challenges in how the world perceives me. Other students might be able to get away with being unkept — for women and especially women of color, we’re far more scrutinized.

3. 65+ hours of class and work disregards the limitations students with disabilities might have. For many, working long hours is not plausible and even detrimental to their health. As someone with remaining symptoms from a head injury a few years ago, it’s a sacrifice to spend so much extra time on work. I do it because it’s essentially a requirement, but it’s a sacrifice — a sacrifice I would argue isn’t fair to students like me.

4. I’ve had to take up work-study throughout the majority of my time at Columbia, and 8 hours is often a conservative estimate for low income students. Additionally, when you’re on a budget, getting food cheaply (or through free venues) is time consuming. Underestimating those serious challenges fails to appreciate the hard work low-income students put into being a student at Columbia.

There are countless other ways in which these calculations grossly misrepresent the experiences of many students at Columbia. However, I want to emphasize the danger of these misguided calculations. It’s not a matter of pointing out inaccuracies; rather, consider how this high demand workload affects its students and especially its disabled students and students of color. 9 hours a week of free time is not a number we should condone or be proud of.

Now that this post has been released, however, it’s time to radically reconsider the ways we can improve our culture on campus. This means more than suggesting time management skills or having stress buster events. This means institutional change. This means reduced requirements. This means financial aid for 9 or 10 semesters for low-income students.This means more psychological health services. This means more administrative support and listening to students.

I know you want the best Columbia possible. I do too, which is why I decided to reach out to you and share my thoughts and experiences on such an important challenge we’re facing as a community. Thank you for taking the time to read this email, and I hope to see a better Columbia soon.

Best,
Lesley Cordero

Note: Since this letter was written, Dean Valentini has claimed that this chart was not in fact recent but outdated, as reported by Bwog

As we have these conversations about stress culture and mental health, we think it is important to share some of the resources available on campus to members of the Columbia community:

Counseling and Psychological Services – (212) 854-2878
Columbia Health – (212) 854-7426
Office of the University Chaplain – (212) 854-1493
Advising Deans – (212) 854-6378
Nightline – (212) 854-7777

If you’d like to respond to this piece / submit an op-ed to The Lion, please email submissions@thecolumbialion.com

Following up a previous email from Professor Goldberg, the University Provost has emailed students to make them aware of the Rules of University Conduct, likely related to recent protests of speakers invited to campus by CUCR.

In particular, he notes that students actively disrupting speakers are subject to being disciplined, confirming reports noted by Zack Abrams (CC ’21).

 

The full email can be found below.

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

 

As President Bollinger made clear in his Commencement Address last May, freedom of speech is a core value of our institution. The University is committed to defend the right of all the members of our community to exercise their right to invite, listen to, and challenge speakers whose views may be offensive and even hurtful to many of us. It is the duty of every member of the community to help preserve freedom of speech for all, including protesters.

 

This duty does not evaporate when the freedom we enjoy protects community members who invite speakers made famous by grotesquely unfounded and unethical attacks on people whose presence at Columbia, and in the surrounding Harlem community, contribute so much to the diversity that makes us great.

 

Two years ago, after broad consultation, the Columbia Board of Trustees adopted amended “Rules of University Conduct” to protect freedom of speech for invited speakers and their audiences, as well as for protesters. Since a number of controversial speakers are already scheduled to come to Columbia in the coming weeks and months, it may be helpful for members of the community, especially students, to keep the following points in mind.

 

  • It is a violation of the Rules of University Conduct to interrupt, shout down, or otherwise disrupt an event.
  • It is also a violation to obstruct the view of the speaker with banners or placards.
  • Individuals engaged in disruption will be asked to identify themselves by a Delegate or Public Safety Officer; it is an additional violation of the Rules to refuse to do so.
  • Delegates or Public Safety Officers will request that individuals stop disrupting (e.g., stop shouting, sit down, move to another location); individuals who fail to comply promptly with such a request may be subject to interim sanctions up to and including suspension by the Provost for the rest of the semester.
  • On receiving reports of a violation of the Rules of University Conduct, the Rules Administrator will investigate to determine whether a Rules violation may have occurred. The Rules Administrator may meet with students or others involved in a disruption to determine if an informal resolution is possible.
  • If informal resolution is not possible, the disciplinary process will continue with the Rules Administrator filing a formal complaint with the University Judicial Board. That Board will follow the procedures specified in the Rules of Conduct. Repeated violations of the Rules of Conduct will be subject to greater penalties.

 

More detailed information on University free speech policies and procedures is now available on the website of the Office of University Life.

 

John H. Coatsworth

Photo Courtesy of Barnard College.

To celebrate DSpar’s time at Barnard as we prepare to say farewell to her, we look back at the advice and personal stories she imparted during our interview with her.

As many people know, you have a doctorate degree in government, but you are also in the board of directors of Goldman Sachs and also a college president. So, those are two positions not normally associated with government majors. So what inspired and led you to pursue such a different career path than the one you actually studied for?

Story of my life! Uhm, you know, nothing specific. I’m always saying to students, based on my own experience, I think people’s lives move in zigzags rather than linearly. I certainly know mine did. I wound up getting a PhD in government largely because I always had thought when I was younger that I was going to be a diplomat or a spy, but then I actually decided not to pursue those paths, so I stayed in academia, even though that wasn’t really what my original intent had been. I’ve just been lucky, and I think, at some level, innately curious. So when interesting things come along, even if they are somewhat peripheral to where I am at the moment, I’m always intrigued to take a look.

On the subject of research, one thing that I was really surprised to read about was that you’re one of the first people to start researching and writing about the economics of alternate fertility, which I thought was kind of surprising. I’m interested to hear a little bit about that. What struggles did you face in the beginning when you decided to research this topic? Have you ever considered teaching a class at Barnard about that topic?

So this is a very specific, not all that interesting, story. Before I did that research, I read a book called “Rolling Waves,” which was on cycles of technological discovery. The book was really initially about trying to understand how the internet was likely to play out politically. My research has always looked to the intersection between business and politics.

So, I was working on the internet space, but the argument I made wound up having everything to do with these cycles of discovery, and when I was giving lectures about that book, which was in 2001-2002, inevitably, I would always get the same question, which was “Okay, what’s the next great technology that’s going to set off another wave of market creation?” And for about a year, I didn’t have an answer to that question, and then I figured I probably needed to get one, so I started looking around. I became increasingly convinced that the next sector that was going to have innovation big enough that was going to create a market, was going to be biotech. So, I spent about a year or so doing research about the biotech sector. This was early 2000s now, and I came to see that biotech wasn’t quite there yet; arguably, it probably is now, but it’s now 12 years later. 2003, it wasn’t, but almost by accident, I kind of discovered the world of assisted reproduction, and I was fascinated by it.

I hadn’t known anything about it, I didn’t go through it myself, but two things struck me as soon as I kind of saw what was happening. The first one was this was just inherently interesting, that people had been making babies the same way for millions of years, and all of a sudden, they are making babies a different way. That’s just cool! The second thing– and at this point I had been in Harvard Business School for 15 years–was that this was the first business I ever encountered where nobody was acknowledging that they were in a business. So generally, when you talk to business people, they brag about their business: “I’m making lots of money. You know, we have great market share.” In the fertility industry and years in the industry, everybody goes out of their way to tell you that they are not in business. The reporter in me that said somebody has to tell this story, and that’s how I winded up doing it. And I don’t teach a class, I teach a little piece of a class. There is a class here on science and public policy, and I do the fertility piece of that. I wish I had the time to teach a class because I’d really like to.

Would you want to? Do you think that you can have a class on this?

Yeah! You know, I taught some things about it back at Harvard Business School. I’ve just decided I can do my job, and I can either write or teach, but I can’t do both. So, I’ve decided to just stick with the writing and just teach a little team, that’s for better or worse.

Photo Courtesy of Steven DeCanio.

Photo Courtesy of Steven DeCanio.

Okay, so now, going off that, in your most recent book, I believe, “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” you addressed this idea that women still feel a pressure to strive for perfection and the problems resulting from that kind of thought. So, as president of an all-women’s college, how do you address what could be considered a vicious cycle of women trying to strive for this perfection among the student body here? And do you still feel like this challenge should be perfect, still?

Yeah, I think women in particular feel additional pressure to be perfect in lots and lots of different aspects of their lives. I see women today trying to be really successful in their careers, and at the same time, be wonderful wives, be wonderful mothers, be very sexy, look like models, be great athletes, and save the world. I think that pressure really winds up being a great obstacle for women because if your expectation is that you’re going to be perfect at everything, then by definition, you’re going to fail. And so I try to get that message out as best as I can without hitting my students over the head with it because I don’t see that as my role.

How have your experiences working at Goldman Sachs and Harvard Business School influenced your philosophy in leading Barnard, and how have those experiences impacted your development of The Athena Center for Leadership Studies?

Okay, I’m going to talk about HBS and not Goldman. You know, HBS is a complicated place, but it’s a well-run place, and I think I was very lucky to have spent such a large chunk of my career there and to have worked with older mentors who really went out of their way to give me a lot of experience. So, I worked for a dean who promoted me into a senior social dean position, pretty much right after I had tenure. And he was a great manager and a great dean, so I learned a lot from watching him. And of course, Barnard is a fundamentally different place from Harvard Business School, but managing a complicated enterprise is the same endeavor, regardless where it takes place, so I think I was lucky to be able to sort of watch management from a close place that doesn’t do everything right by every stretch of imagination, but it’s pretty well run: it has good policies, it’s transparent, people feel involved. So, that was a lucky thing for me.

What are some of your next long term goals for Barnard?

Well, we’re in an interesting moment right now because we’ve put a lot of initiatives. We completed the planning for a lot of initiatives last year, so we’re really in a sort of implementation moment right now. So, everything is ready for the new building, we just have to build it. We also spent lots of time last year thinking about transgender applications or transgender admissions, and now we have to figure out the fine details of that.

Photo Courtesy of Barnard College.

Photo Courtesy of Barnard College.

We wrote a strategic plan about 4-5 years ago, so no we’re implementing it. You know, I think in many ways, my greatest goal for Barnard is the one that the board laid out for me when I arrived, which was to elevate the college. Barnard is a wonderful place, it really is. But I see my role as being to make sure that anyone who might want to come here knows about the college, to make sure that if there is a smart young woman in Mississippi or Mumbai, Barnard is on her radar screen. So, we’re doing a lot to get the word out around Barnard. After that, it’s really to make Barnard the best Barnard it could possibly be, which I think means — we have a wonderful faculty, making sure that we retain that faculty, we have great students. We make sure we get exactly the students we want, and we do well by them. And then, as always, for any high rated institution these days, we have to make sure that we have the resources to do what we want to do, and that’s hard, but we’re getting there. I shouldn’t say we’re getting there, but we’ve had a lot of success in the past few years. Once people hear the Barnard story and understand it, they want to support it, so I just need to keep getting the word out.

So do you also plan to have more events? I think last year I remember seeing there was an event that happened for Barnard in Los Angeles. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Yes, it’s in the strategic plan which you can find on our website that we really want to expand the college’s reach and reputation. Part of that is doing Barnard events where there are interested Barnard people. We have the local symposium series now, so once a year we do a big event in another part of the world, which has been great for the college in many respects. We also experimented last year in LA, just having a fund raising gala in another part of the country, and it was terrific because the Barnard alumnae here in New York have a lot of opportunity to do Barnard things. The Barnard alumnae in LA don’t have that many opportunities, and they tend to be very devoted alumnae, and it’s just fun. People really had a good time at the gala, so we’re definitely going to repeat that. We’re doing more in the San Francisco Bay area, around Barnard in tech, building communities of our alumnae who are going into the tech fields. We’re really starting to look into some partnerships that will help us make sure that more young women stay in computer science, learn how to code, and those efforts probably will be entering in the Bay area.

Okay, that’s cool. So, it’s exciting to see Barnard expanding around the world.

Yeah, we’re getting there!

Kind of a vague question, but what advice would you give to women who are breaking into what is normally perceived as a male dominated field, like finance, government, or college presidencies?

That’s a good question. You know, I think the advice I’d give to young women is pretty much the same I’d give to any young person or any person. Anytime you’re going to be in a high-pressure environment, anytime you’re trying to make a way in a field–particularly if it’s a field that’s dominated by men or dominated by people who look different than you or dominated by people with different backgrounds–you got to be really good at what you do. I was on a panel last week with Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, and she was just describing how she’s constantly pushed into a corner and ignored. You could probably find it online because I don’t remember exactly what she said, and what she said was great. It was something like, “I just understood that I was going to be the best in the room, and at some point, they were going to have to come to me because I could do a better job than anyone else.” That’s a pretty good lesson to live by. So you don’t get by in anything by putting your hand up and saying, “Look at me, look at me, I’m the best.” Ultimately, success comes from actually being the best or being really good at what you do.

I like that. Okay, and then last question: what advice would you give to current students uncertain about what they want to do after college?

Don’t worry about it. I was supposed to be a spy; it didn’t work out. I have had a perfectly nice life. You know, life is going to throw you curve balls, so do not waste time in college worrying about what you’re going to do when you grow up. Most people I know my age don’t know what they’re going to do when they grow up, so take that off the worry buffet, as I say. You know, have a good time, learn stuff, have as many experiences as you can, and don’t spend too much time worrying about the next steps; they will happen.

I like it, it’s perfect. Thank you so much for sitting down with me. It’s just really exciting. I learnt a lot.

My pleasure!