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.
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