At a recent Bwog event, one staffer found herself in a familiar position: surrounded by shocked faces once she announced her love for former Barnard president, Debora Spar. In a haphazard effort to justify her unpopular opinion, Bwog Staffer Megan Wylie gives to you: the defense of DSpar.
When I first arrived at Barnard, DSpar’s tumultuous reputation was unknown to me. It was only when I expressed that I “worshipped her” did people inform me of their hatred of her. The realization happened gradually– she would walk in with her assistant in tow, and my admiration was drowned out by the groans of my student body.
I don’t blame them, DSpar has made some questionable decisions, such as maintaining her board seat at Goldman which probably made her more popular amongst CC econ students than the Barnard community. But I swear guys, she’s not that bad. Did she embody corporate feminism? Probably, but did she also do great things for Barnard? In my opinion, yes. The Georgetown School of Foreign Service/Harvard Business School Alum had all the prereqs to launch Barnard into a new stage of its existence.
While she is often seen as just another econ professor, she has done a significant amount of work analyzing the relationship between modern reproductive technology and capitalism, as well as studying the societal implications for women in high-powered positions. She translated this work at Barnard by creating the Athena Institute, and made women’s leadership initiatives a core mission in her administration.
DSpar also spearheaded the new core for Barnard students, which does a great job of making students aware of the city with its ‘thinking locally’ category. She also worked at bringing high profile speakers to the school, and as a result of her boosting Barnard’s public profile and endowment, applicants increased 50%. Moreover, in case you couldn’t tell by the fact that I have not been able to avoid construction cranes or overpasses on my way to class for the past two years, she attached her legacy to the Milstein Center (and our library being in a gym).
While I may be blinded by my perception of her as the cool, sophisticated, bougie and influential mom on campus, I understand others grew frustrated with her attempts to combine a guise of activism with a corporate agenda. I just happened to have a positive experience, which was probably heightened by the fact that I only spent a year under her leadership. In many ways, she is representative of a slightly outdated feminist icon, whose once liberal ideals have become more traditional in recent years. Even though I feel a bit abandoned by her passing up Barnard for the next big thing, and her ultimate untimely departure from said role, I still look back fondly on my time with DSpar serving me french toast sticks at midnight breakfast and making me take a selfie with her. Maybe it’s my obnoxious desire to disagree with people all the time, but I like being the sole advocate for DSpar on campus.
Photo Courtesy of Barnard College