WOMEN SHAPING HISTORY 2011
President Deborah Spar, Barnard College
What Inspired You To Pursue Your Current Career?
I had been at Harvard Business School since the early 1990s and, as much as I loved my time there, I wanted to be closer to the undergraduate experience. In reflecting on my own career, I started thinking more and more about the education of young women — what was and was not available to them, how the landscape for girls entering college was defined, how it might evolve. When I learned that Barnard was seeking a new president, the timing was right and the idea of being part of a college for women in New York City was rather irresistible.
Challenges And Resolutions: It’s always been a challenge to find sufficient time for research. And when I do find it, I am then faced with the task of bridging the divide between purely academic scholarship and the world of policy. I’ve tried to stay relevant in both, which is not at all easy and not often clear cut. Juggling seems to be my best act — both with this question of scholarship and policy and, even more profoundly, in terms of work and family. These are ongoing challenges. The fact that they’re not easily resolved keeps me on my toes.
Accomplishments You’re Proudest of: I’m very proud to claim Making Markets Work, the executive education program in Africa that I created and ran for a decade. The program was developed to educate emerging African leaders in both the private and public sectors. And I have to say that the writing and publication of my books is always a great joy.
Most Influential Mentors: My most influential mentor would certainly be Raymond Vernon. He was a professor at Harvard for decades and I was his research assistant for quite a few years. He was one of the first scholars to think about the expanding reach of the multinational corporation, and no one could touch his expertise in the realm of international trade and globalization (before the term even existed). He was also a devout and indefatigable rower. At the age of 80, he’d be out on the Charles River every morning and still make it to the office before I did. He died in 1999, but I think about him often.
Turning Points: I became president of Barnard in October 2008, and I can’t imagine a more meaningful turning point to date. It meant embracing some of my biggest challenges — moving my family, taking on the leadership of an established and esteemed institution, settling in with students and faculty. And now, two years later, I have the added benefit of perspective, which makes it all the better.
Future Goals: I plan to continue writing which, as I mentioned before, means both finding the time and maintaining the focus. And engaging with public policy debates is something I actively pursue. In terms of which debates, the past two years at Barnard have shifted my lens a bit and I’m looking much more intensely at issues surrounding the education of women and women’s leadership, the financing of higher education and, more broadly, the very future of higher education in this country. I was never really one for small topics. #