Inauguration of Barnard College President Sian Beilock

Introductory Remarks

February 9, 2018

It is a very great pleasure for me, on behalf of the entire Columbia community, to welcome President Beilock as Barnard College’s twelfth leader and eighth president. 

All of the speakers here today, together with those assembled here, and the many others in the Barnard and Columbia families who are not visible but who are attending closely to this ceremony—all of us together are a testament to the excitement and enthusiasm stirred by your selection as Barnard’s President, and by the love and affection so many feel for the College you now lead. 

I want to extend a special recognition to Debora Spar, also to Judith Shapiro and Ellen Futter, who have served the College and our community with such great distinction and an unwavering sense of purpose for these many decades, and whose partnership and support I have frequently relied upon during these years. 

Inaugurations are special moments in the life of an institution, especially one with an endless horizon like a college or a university.  On the one hand, the event is intensely personal: an individual, carrying with her a lifetime of education, training, and experience, steps formally into a defining role.  On the other, the moment acquires its meaning from the community that is brought together for the ceremony.  In this case, we welcome a new President to the helm of a College possessing a singular history that began long before her lifetime, who is now entrusted with safeguarding its traditions and applying its values to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.  Through this ceremony, we seek in some small measure to help prepare her, and ourselves, for that journey. 

Photo of the Empire State Building glowing blue in honor of President Beilock's inauguration

It is also true that inaugurations, like so many parts of academic life, tend to go on for a very long time, so I will keep my remarks brief.  I have just three simple points.

First, on the relationship between Barnard and Columbia: I want to affirm the principle that Barnard is an integral part of Columbia University.  It is indeed essential to defining Columbia’s character.  Columbia would not be Columbia without the presence of Barnard, its faculty and students, with its determined independence, deep sense of self, and world-altering ambitions.  And, I hope it is also true that Barnard could only be Barnard by fusing its identity as one of the world’s finest liberal arts colleges with a pride in being part of one of the world’s great research universities. 

Second, I think it is important, given that this is happening today in a period of great national and global stress, that we all re-commit ourselves to continuing on with what our charters commit us to do:  namely, quietly to bring reason and wisdom to expanding our knowledge and understanding of the world and to bring the youth of the world into that enterprise.  I can think of no better act of resistance to the forces that would undermine our nation’s deepest values. 

And, third, I also believe that we need to evolve, consistently, of course, with our underlying principles and mission.  It is self-evident that the world is changing in ways that make us all feel more and more closely inter-connected and inter-dependent.  The integration of the world economically, technologically, and personally all means that we must make our scholarship and our teaching reflect that increasing closeness of our national and world populations, even more so now with the resistance to that reality. 

I know Barnard and President Beilock share these feelings, which makes this an even happier occasion for me and our two institutions. 

President Beilock, on behalf of Columbia, I offer you our warmest welcome and congratulations.

President Lee Bollinger and President Sian Beilock speak at Beilock's inauguration