What If Barnard’s Next President Was From The Corporate World?

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And who will be next?

Yesterday, the Barnard Speaking Fellows Program held a debate as to whether the next president of Barnard should have corporate experience. Guest Writer Ufon Umanah writes of his experience at the debate.

A funny thing happened on the way to Barnard’s Speaking Fellows’s debate on whether former Barnard President Deborah Spar’s successor should have corporate experience. They couldn’t manage to find anyone passionate enough about Goldman Sachs and salmon pants to argue for corporate experience. This was remedied by having two speakers, Joanne Kim BC’18 and SGA’s Representative for Inclusion and Equity Hannah Seymour BC’17, switch sides to have a debate with Talisa Ramos BC’18 and Rosie Fatt BC’18. What follows is a summary of those arguments and whatever meaning that could be gleaned for Barnard’s future.

Lean into the Gray Pantsuits

There’s no problem with running a college like a corporation. Corporations may be unwieldy beasts, but that means people with corporate management experience know how to unite disparate interests, in our case administrators and various academic departments, for a common goal. Corporate types know how to foster communication within and between teams. They know how to maintain and attract clientele, in our case donors. This is why while many people, including your local socialists and members of SGA, are disturbed by this philosophy, the trustees subscribe to said philosophy the most.

The trustees are charged along with the president with the finances of the college, trying to balance everyone’s needs through various committees. The trustees of Barnard are invested in the college. Many are alumni and some send their daughters here. But as trustees, they’re ultimately concerned about capital, especially in an unstable financial world. Without a stable source of money, Barnard would have to start looking for money elsewhere, and they typically search through support staff and students first.

It sounds terrible, but the reality is a college cannot provide many programs supporting students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds without money. Of course, any president has to care about education and research and empowerment, but that can’t happen if the college is broke. Besides, many women want to enter the corporate world and seeing their president be from that world, even a woman of color, will empower them in a way someone without that experience can’t.

Step out of the Corporate Bubble

Barnard is a college with bold, beautiful plans. It’s time to break out of this corporate haze. The students of this college, the most important constituency, want a president who cares about diversity and inclusiveness and the working conditions of our adjuncts. We know that when Barnard is run like a business that diversity and labor take a back seat, and that capitalistic approach is not holistic.

Besides, academics can have many experiences that make up for their lack in corporate experience. Many corporations ask academics for advice, and they have to navigate both their collegiate hierarchy and their professional associations. Being in academia doesn’t mean you’re cloistered in the ivory tower. It does mean you have a better sense of what Barnard’s mission is and how to connect to students of diverse socio-economic backgrounds better. And while what DSpar put in place will benefit the college for years to come, it’s time to use those benefits to expand the reputation of the college as a place for learning and maybe a little bit of activism.

Wait, Who Won?

People in college don’t like selling out. So it wasn’t a surprise that the only spontaneous applause came at the end of the negative’s closing. What was surprising was that they didn’t win. Four judges determined 3-1 that the affirmative, despite their dispassion, won the debate. Now, I’ve covered before the socialist view that colleges that rely on capital will never be unproblematic. But that was in the context of Columbia with an endowment that nearly approaches the GDP of the Bahamas. Barnard, both in comparison to the Ivy League, and in comparison to the Seven Sisters, has a small endowment.

This isn’t to say it’s poor. Barnard’s endowment nearly beats out the GDP of the Marshall Islands. But it does mean unlike most colleges, 80% of our revenue comes from tuition. That means while Columbia can afford to offer new services like 22-hour dining at John Jay without increasing costs significantly, Barnard can’t. On the other hand, Barnard didn’t start out with an endowment to begin with, and has managed to preserve throughout the years with its tiny treasure horde. Saying Barnard can’t find ways to integrate is denying Barnard the chance to be creative.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    The most important thing about a College president is to be a world wide cheer leader for the school and a huge connected fund raiser.

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