Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
by Whitney Graham/News Editor
Reprinted with permission from The BiCo News.
The search for the next President of Bryn Mawr College concluded last week as the committee announced Jane McAuliffe will follow President Nancy Vickers as BMC’s eighth president. The announcement came just a day after an open discussion forum about the process hosted by the Presidential Search Committee last Thursday.
McAuliffe is an internationally respected scholar of Islamic studies and currently Dean of the College at Georgetown University. She was approached by the Search Committee last year as a possible candidate, and will begin her term as President of Bryn Mawr in July of this year.
The President-Elect visited Bryn Mawr and met with the community last Friday after the Board of Trustee’s unanimous decision was made public.
She mentioned Bryn Mawr’s reputation for intense academic inquiry as an appealing aspect of the job. “When I met [students], their eyes were all alight with the pleasure of being students here,” said McAuliffe who also remarked on the community of students, faculty, and staff at the college.
“I think [Bryn Mawr has] got this palpable sense of community,” said McAuliffe of the open house event in Thomas Great Hall last week. “The community kind of flooded in to say hello and welcome, we are glad you are here. It was an extraordinary experience to have that kind of chance to meet people from across all of the various areas within the community.”
With the conclusion of the recent Challenging Women campaign, several changes in administrative positions, the forthcoming Goodhart renovation, and now a new president, this is a time of change for the college.
“This is change that the community has been building towards for years. This is now the realization of aspirations that drove the energy and ambition of many on this campus for years. I certainly hope students don’t see this as a threatening transition period; rather, it is a period of fruition,” commented McAuliffe who expects her time as president to develop upon existing programs at the college.
“It really is a momentum the college has created as a consequence of the terrific leadership that Nancy Vickers has been able to provide here. I am very lucky to come in as the successor to a president who has done so much. I don’t have to start from scratch. I can build from a record of extraordinary accomplishment.”
The projected goals and long-term influence that McAuliffe will have at BMC are still in their early stages of development. “I do not come in with a preset agenda that I will try to impose at all costs. I think that would be an act of hubris,” said McAuliffe. “I think change in an institution like this, coming back to the notion of how collaborative the community structure is here, is an organic process. What I can best be is a catalyst for getting that process to work as effectively as possible.”
McAuliffe’s work at Georgetown included faculty recruitment, developing programs for more successful teaching and student advising, and increasing areas of study. At Bryn Mawr she will be a tenured member of the history department and hopes to teach a course in the future. “Teaching is the core of my professional life. It is why I did a graduate degree. It’s why I wanted to enter the world of academia, and I hope there will be an opportunity to pursue that here,” said McAuliffe.
Having attended an all women’s prep-school and then Trinity College in Washington, D.C., McAuliffe is a strong proponent of the benefit to women that a female educational setting can provide. “Of course it is an individual choice for each student, but I think that the more I can do to get the message out about that value-added the better, because I believe it. I experienced it, so I can be a spokesperson for that out of deep conviction,” said McAuliffe.
The President-Elect met with some students during a campus visit as part of the search process.” Jane McAuliffe is a dynamic woman. Her passion for women’s education is evident in her intellect and vision for Bryn Mawr,” commented Talia Greenwald ’08, student representative on the Search Committee, by email. “I hope students find Jane as engaging and provocative as I have found her.”
She also met Haverford College President Stephen G. Emerson ’74 at that time, and spoke with enthusiasm regarding the future of the bi-college relationship. “It simply must be to the mutual advantage of the two institutions to take advantage of synergies between them. Because when you are small institutions the more you can create collaborate space, the more you can leverage your individual advantages,” said McAuliffe.
With the conversation of diversity an important and often passionate topic on campus, it will likely surface as a theme early in her term. “I went into Islamic studies thinking about issues of religious pluralism, and how religious traditions and by extension how cultural traditions relate to each other. How we can create a world in which there isn’t simply tolerance of each other but an opportunity to learn and grow and be enriched by each other,” inquired the President-Elect reflecting on her work with Muslim-Christian discourse.
Funding is another one of the priorities for the president of any college. “It is just the nature of an educational institution of this quality that you are always striving to do more… and the resource base is always finite. So certainly one of the challenges for me will be to do everything that I can as a fundraiser for the college so that we can continue to aspire. Our aspirations, our ambitions, should always outpace our resources,” said McAuliffe.
Outside of academia, McAuliffe’s hobbies include rowing and knitting. “I think it’s fair to say that apart from the scholar-administrator side to me, I am primarily a wife and mother,” said McAuliffe who is pleased her husband can relocate with her to this community. They have four grown children.
The announcement was unexpected for most of the college since the Presidential Search Committee had not specified a decision deadline for the process. Unlike Haverford College’s transparent search, Bryn Mawr chose to keep the list of candidates confidential. “The very best candidates out there, with very few exceptions, would never agree to step forward at the beginning of the process if they weren’t comfortable that the confidentiality of their potential interest is recognized,” said trustee and member of the Search Committee William Rankin.
The search has been underway since last academic year when Vickers announced her retirement from the college. The committee winnowed the search from over 300 possible candidates before selecting McAuliffe, who will begin her term this summer.
“I really, really like the idea that this is a small enough college and graduate program that I could get to know lots of people…It’s being able to sort of wrap my arms around an institution of the right size that I find really exciting,” said McAuliffe.