Bwog News Editor Paulina Rodriguez and Deputy News Editor Emma Burris spoke with new Barnard President Laura A. Rosenbury about her first few months in her position.
Last week, Bwog’s News Team sat down with Barnard President Laura A. Rosenbury to discuss the start of her tenure as Barnard President and the goals she has for the future. In the three months since she became Barnard’s ninth President in July 2023, Rosenbury has begun to plan her earliest initiatives, starting with Shaping Barnard’s Future Together, a series of listening sessions for the Barnard community.
A feminist legal scholar, Rosenbury comes to Barnard from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, where she became the first woman to serve as Dean. Under Rosenbury’s leadership, UF Levin jumped up 27 spots in the U.S. News and World Report Law School rankings, ultimately breaking the top 25, and saw its applications increase by 200%. Speaking to Bwog, Rosenbury expressed similar goals for her time at Barnard, explaining she wants to find “the things that are truly great about Barnard” in hopes of making the College “the envy of the world.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Paulina Rodriguez: To start off, what about Barnard led you to accept the president position?
Laura Rosenbury: Well, the more I learned about Barnard, the more I learned how unique it is to have a liberal arts college dedicated to the empowerment of women that’s affiliated with this great research institution in New York City. No other college in the nation has that combination. As a feminist legal theorist, I was particularly impressed by the ways that Barnard had stayed a woman’s college while also expanding its focus in so many different ways. Then, as I met more and more people, I also realized that Barnard students and alumni all have passion and focus; it varies—you’re a very diverse group—but you’re not people who sit on the sidelines. That’s attractive to me, so it’s been great to meet more students and see just how true that is.
Emma Burris: It must have been a big transition coming from a co-ed law school, to not only an undergraduate institution, but specifically a women’s college and a liberal arts school.
LR: You’re right, and particularly being in New York City is also a big change. Actually, the way law schools are regulated by the American Bar Association means they operate very much like liberal arts colleges. We have to have our own admissions, our own career services, our own library, our own registrar, our own faculty. So in that way, there hasn’t been a huge change. But of course, the students here are studying so many different things, which I love, because my own work has been very interdisciplinary. It’s great to see how all the disciplines intersect here at Barnard.
EB: Going off of that aspect of transition, what do you think has been the most difficult or unexpected aspect of the transition here? In terms of being in New York, or being the President of this institution. What have you learned so far in your first few months here?
LR: I’ve been trying to meet as many people as possible, both here—our students, faculty, staff—but also in the city: our alumnae (not just here, but in other locations), and also our neighbors and partners here in New York. So, there’s been a lot of learning. As you know, I’m having some group listening sessions now as well. My hope is that at the end of this month, I can transition from pure listening to more of a conversation about where people see Barnard going in the next five to 10 years. We’ll do some real deep dives, and begin to form our priorities, together.
In terms of surprises, a good surprise is that everyone is so passionate about Barnard. They’re passionate about their own goals, but everyone also wants to see Barnard succeed. You don’t see that everywhere, you know. Some schools it’s more take-it-or-leave-it, but you don’t have accidental students at Barnard, or people who come here by default. You have to first choose to come to a women’s college, and you then have to choose to come to New York City. So it’s been wonderful to learn about that passion, and the extent of it was a great surprise. There really haven’t been any bad surprises, even though I will say the intensity can sometimes be draining. So I’ve been learning how to take better care of myself so I can keep going.
PR: What are your goals for your time as president? You’re just starting off your tenure, so they may still be forming.
LR: Stay tuned.
PR: Are there any big changes in particular that you’re already thinking about?
LR: Well, I would want any to come from this community process that we’re currently engaging in. So we’ll see what the big changes are. If any, I think the key is we want to maintain the incredible momentum that Barnard has and continue to build upon its strengths. I’m certainly excited to see the LeFrak Center completed. Certainly by the beginning of next school year, it will be fully operational, and we’ll have lots of parties. Also, the Science Center—construction will get underway in full force starting in May or June [of 2024], after graduation. Then we’re committed to that two-year process before it opens for full use in a little under three years from now.
EB: You recently announced your Shaping Barnard’s Future Together plan. How do you hope it improves Barnard?
LR: Some of the questions I’m asking are: what are the things that are truly great about Barnard that, if we double down on them, would make Barnard truly world-class, the envy of the world? It’s been great to hear people’s perspectives on that. You know, what are some of the things Barnard might be missing, or that we want to add? What is the role of Barnard in larger societal discourse? As we prepare students to go out and into the world in so many different ways, what is our responsibility to strengthening institutions like democracy? To addressing climate change? So those are the topics we’re discussing. Stay tuned—we’ll begin to develop more of them in the next few months.
PR: Lastly, what Barnard tradition are you most excited to be a part of?
LR: I think someone else asked me this recently, and the one I’m most intrigued by is the Big Sub. Like, I just can’t imagine it. My imagination is limited, so I’m looking forward to actually seeing it, and then I’ll be able to say if I enjoy it. I think I will, because it’s gonna change me. It’s gonna blow my mind.
I’ve obviously also heard about Midnight Breakfast. I love cooking, and I love feeding people, so I will be right up there. I hear some of the students are trying to get the Greek Games back. I don’t know what those are, but I look forward to learning.
The main thing is the intellectual rigor of Barnard. It’s just who we are, so we don’t think of it as a tradition. But, you know, that’s what got me excited about Barnard and continues to make me so excited. I’m sure it’s why you wanted to come to Barnard. We want to continue to emphasize that, you know, an intellectual life is part of a life well lived.
EB: Thank you so much for meeting with us. I don’t know if there’s anything else that you want to highlight.
LR: You can encourage [readers] to come to the next student listening session on October 24th. We had a good session last night, but there weren’t that many people there, so we would love to hear more voices. [Barnard community members] can also fill out the survey. As the News Editor and Deputy News Editor, what are some of the hot issues right now that you’re covering?
EB: We like to report on things we don’t really see other campus publications talking about as much. Last year myself and our former publisher did a piece about the infrastructure in 620, which was having a lot of infrastructure problems.
LR: So, that is one thing that’s coming up in the listening sessions, not just with students, but staff and faculty, is the need to be more proactive with our infrastructure, not to wait until there’s a flood. That’s certainly something I support, and it’s just a matter of how to reallocate some resources and to grow our resources. Certainly that will be one of my priorities. I think it’s so obvious that we don’t need listening, that we need to grow our endowment so it’s more competitive with our peers and aspirational peers. That would give us more of a cushion to handle the infrastructure issues. Right now, we’re a bit delayed because of funding, but we’ll get there.
Listening sessions for the Shaping Barnard’s Future Together plan will take place throughout October, with individual sessions designed for various populations of the Barnard community. The next student-oriented session will take place on October 24 from 12–1:30 pm in Brooks Hall’s Lewis Parlor. Next, a virtual session for alumnae will take place on October 10 from 6-7:30 pm, and for parents, a hybrid session will take place on October 13 from 4-5 pm. Finally, a faculty session will take place on October 24 from 8:30–9:30 am in 914 Milstein, followed by a session for college staff from 3-5 pm in the Diana Center Event Oval.
President Rosenbury’s Inauguration will take place on February 2, 2024. There, she plans to announce her priorities for her presidency, largely crafted in response to the October listening sessions. After our discussion today, it’s evident that Rosenbury intends to uphold current momentum at Barnard while ushering in a period of productive change.
Barnard President Laura Rosenbury via Bwarchives