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The Inauguration Of President Beilock: A Celebration Met With Protest

President Sian Beilock at yesterday’s inauguration

President Sian Leah Beilock, the eighth President of Barnard College, was inaugurated yesterday. Bwoggers Sarah Harty and Idris O’Neill were there for it all.

Sian Leah Beilock (pronounced Sē-ôn Lē-ah Bī-lock, contrary to what most speakers were saying) was inaugurated yesterday at Riverside Church. Present for the event were both Barnard and Columbia students alike, representatives of the Alumnae class, the Board of Trustees, former president Debora Spar, faculty members, Prezbo (a rare sighting), and distinguished friends of the College. Following a reading of Elizabeth Bishop’s At the Fishhouses by Barnard professor Saskia Hamilton, Chair of the Board of Trustees Jolyne Caruso-Fitzgerald ‘81 welcomed guests with her own anecdotes of her time at Barnard. She noted the importance of her attendance at Barnard during a pivotal moment of the women’s rights movement in the late 70s, mentioning that the same causes she fought for were unfortunately similar to issues students currently encounter today.

Among some of the first presenters were Beilock’s dual-advising team from Michigan State University, Thomas Carr and Deborah Feltz, who recalled stories of her more raucous years. “Of course Sian needed two advisers,” Feltz joked before speaking on Beilock’s dedication to her field, how she would drive four hours once a week to do research at a Canadian university.

Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College, congratulated Beilock, calling Barnard the “cosmopolitan city sister.” As president of a fellow women’s college, McCartney stated there is a responsibility among them to direct their respective colleges with moral. “We may not get it right every time, but we have to.”

As current president of the University of Chicago Robert J. Zimmer spoke, Student-Worker Solidarity protesters silently entered the aisles of Riverside Church, holding signs of Prezbo, Beilock, and Zimmer with the phrase “Unionbuster” written across their faces, referring to UChicago and Beilock’s anti-union stance and Columbia University’s recent decision to discontinue negotiations with graduate students on the formation of a union. One protester walked onstage to deliver the Graduate Students United letter which was released earlier that day. He was then escorted out of Riverside Church by public safety along with other demonstrators.

One of the protest signs

After a performance from the Barnard-Columbia Chorus of How Can I Keep From Singing? and other welcoming presentations from the alumnae, staff, students, and faculty, Columbia president Lee Bollinger took to the stage. A second group of SWS members entered the aisle and were escorted outside by public safety, ironically, after Monica L. Miller, an English and Africana Studies professor, commended Barnard students’ fight for free speech in the 1968 protests.

Fitzgerald returned to the stage along with Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Cheryl Glicker Milstein ‘82 to present Beilock with the College’s lapis medal, fully inducting her as president and advising we “learn from discomfort and create change.” Whether the speakers were alluding to the protesters’ presence at the ceremony is unclear.

Beilock delivered her inaugural address, justifying her February inauguration as a time to familiarize herself with the College and its constituents. “It is hard to aspire without the past,” Beilock stated as she revisited the College’s history, also thanking students who “inspire and challenge [her] daily.” She mentioned her new initiatives to encourage students in STEM, the new Beyond Barnard initiative, which promises to promote opportunity for Barnard students after graduation, and the deepening of faculty diversity. “If it means staying up all night, I’ll stay up all night.”

Student protesters returned for the reception ceremony, held at the Diana Center, though SWS members have clarified with Bwog that they did not intend on protesting the reception. While some SWS members were permitted to enter, one was withheld for his sign. After fellow members attempted to talk to public safety, they were asked to leave for not possessing invitations, despite the event welcoming walk-ins, of which many people were. Other SWS members were allegedly followed by public safety, specifically a black protester whose photo was allegedly shared among public safety officers and was not permitted to leave from any of Diana’s three exits unless identification was provided for this and one other SWS member. SWS protesters were permitted to leave as a group after President Beilock’s arrival at the reception. Read their full account here.

While a Barnard ceremony is not truly completed until a protest has been staged, new President Beilock has already encountered her first problem at the College. Students are excited to see how she will tackle the unionization of workers or whether she will continue to euphemistically refer to this issue as a “challenge” while ignoring it.

Edited on 2/12/18 to clarify protesters’ actions. Previous version also incorrectly identified Robert J. Zimmer as Zimmerman.

President Beilock via Barnard College

Unionbusters protest sign via student 

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous She does not have to face or comment on student unionization-because Barnard has no graduate students.

    1. Freesia says:

      @Freesia Absolutely. Also, why are adjuncts complaining all the time? If they don’t like Barnard’s policies, then move on!

  • @Georgette Fleischer Sian Beilock, as president of Barnard and a public figure, has an obligation to answer, or at least comment on, the more than hundred letters that have come in protesting the termination of the Barnard Contingent Faculty Local 2110 UAW’s founding member, along with at least eight other BCF, and she has an obligation to answer, rather than ignore, two formal letters from Local 2110 asking that she meet with the union to discuss the terminations. During the inauguration, outside the front entrance to Riverside Church, in freezing cold, two dozen BCF and supporters protested these issues, including with signage that spelled out:

    R. I. P.

    A C A D E M I C

    F R E E D O M

  • Birdie says:

    @Birdie Why do these protesters have to be so rude? Walking up to stage and interrupting the ceremony. If they wouldn’t be so annoying, then we would maybe give them more respect. Instead, they resort to such childish tactics in order to get attention.

    I agree that Prez Beilock doesn’t have to face or comment on student unionization because what can Barnard even do for them? Geez, as if rising tuition and costs aren’t heavy burdens enough.

    To the commenter, we among the students know you as a harsh person who is inconsiderate to students’ academic needs. “R.I.P. academic freedom.” really? Stop exaggerating.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous As an alumna, I am concerned for Barnard’s reputation and standing because its recent actions are so much at variance with the lofty ideals expressed at the inauguration. Troubling questions were raised by the dismissal, immediately after unionization, of adjunct professors some of whom have taught at Barnard for 20 years and some of whom led the unionization effort. I hope that the inhumane invitation of one commenter that these Barnard veterans should move on if they don’t like Barnard’s current policies does not reflect the current ethos of the college. Whatever the merits of the decision to dismiss the adjuncts, its timing was unfortunate. The poor public relations are now compounded by President Beilock’s failure to reply to letters from alumnae and responsible organizations. It seems to me civility is just as important to Barnard as, say, fundraising.

  • minerva durham says:

    @minerva durham This isn’t my fight because I left an adjunct teaching position at Parsons School of Design twenty-seven years ago and started to teach on my own. Today no one can fire me or control my speech. Back then, I began to think that administrators of higher education and the boards of directors that hired them lacked the high mindedness necessary for the survival of colleges and universities as institutions of higher learning.

    Essential ingredients in higher education are the powers given a teacher/professor to create a syllabus, to speak freely, and to grade students. Students today appear to be demanding less work, control over professors’ speech, and higher grades. While I am a pushover and a beloved grandmotherly person to my students, I realize that I have often got the best results from students when I respect them enough to be brutal (harsh) in my criticism.

    I am biased in favor of Georgette Fleischer because I have worked with her on social and community causes for many years and because we share a love of the English language. I am proud that I painted the R.I.P. signs that she and other teachers held up outside of Riverside Church during the inauguration.

    Ms. Fleischer has taught English grammar and literature courses for seventeen years at Barnard. It is clear to me that Barnard has either made seventeen small mistakes in re-hiring her year after year, or the current administration has made one huge mistake in firing her. (I paraphrase here a statement made by a professor in a letter he wrote supporting Ms. Fleischer a few months ago.)

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