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Bard College Celebrates 150th Anniversary and President Leon Botstein’s 35 Years Of Leadership with Jubilee Gala

Gala Event Raises More than $1.1 Million for the College

Mark Primoff

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – Bard College marked its 150th anniversary and President Leon Botstein’s 35 years of leadership with a Jubilee Gala on November 11 in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall. The event both celebrated Bard College’s extraordinary history and Leon Botstein’s remarkable 35-year leadership role, and raised funds for the core programs of the College and the 150th Anniversary Campaign. The evening began with cocktails at 6 p.m., followed by the Jubilee Dinner and special events, including speakers and presentations.

“On behalf of the College I am deeply gratified that so many people came out to celebrate Bard. We have much to be proud of in terms of what has been accomplished over the last 150 years,” says Bard College president Leon Botstein.  “It was a joy to be in the presence of so many friends, colleagues, and alumni/ae, and I would like to thank everyone who came out to honor the College and who donated to this great institution and its unique and wide-ranging mission.”

The Jubilee Gala, which was cochaired by Roland and Kathleen Augustine, Constance and David C. Clapp, Alex Kuczynski and Charles P. Stevenson, Mary and James H. Ottaway, Ruth ’52 and David E. Schwab ’52, Toni and Martin Sosnoff, and Walter Swett ’96 and Rebecca Hall, raised more than $1.1 million dollars—the most a single fundraising event for Bard has ever raised. Four-hundred-and-fifty guests attended this milestone evening. The gala’s distinguished speakers included Roland Augustine, Trustee of Bard College/Co-owner Luhring Augustine Gallery; Leon Botstein, President of Bard College; Pia Carusone ’03, Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona; Felicia Keesing, Associate Professor of Biology, Bard College; Roger Scotland ’93, Vice President, Board of Governors/President of the Southern Queens Park Association; George Soros, Founder and Chairman, Open Society Foundations; Charles P. Stevenson, Chair of Bard College Board of Trustees; and Walter Swett ’96, President, Board of Governors/Executive Director of the Charles Rangel Campaign.

BARD’S HISTORY FROM 1860 to 1975

Bard College was founded by John Bard as St. Stephen’s College, in 1860, a time of national crisis. While there are no written records of the founders’ attitude toward the impending Civil War, a passage from the College’s catalogue of 1943 applies also to the time of the institution’s establishment:

While the immediate demands in education are for the training of men for the war effort, liberal education in America must be preserved as an important value in the civilization for which the War is being fought. . . . Since education, like life itself, is a continuous process of growth and effort, the student has to be trained to comprehend and foster his own growth and direct his own efforts.

This philosophy molded the College during its early years and continues to inform its academic aims.

For its first 60 years, St. Stephen’s offered young men a classical curriculum in preparation for entrance into the seminaries of the Episcopal Church, with which it was affiliated. With the appointment in 1919 of Dr. Bernard Iddings Bell—educator, writer, and churchman—as warden, St. Stephen’s began a period of transition to a broader, more secular mission. In 1928 the College opened a radically new chapter in its history when it became an undergraduate school of Columbia University. Donald G. Tewksbury of Columbia was appointed dean in 1933, and in 1934 the name of the College was changed to Bard in honor of its founder. Dean Tewksbury’s famous “program” for the College, inspired in part by what he saw as best in the great English universities, encouraged students to pursue intensive study of their already established interests and abilities as the basis for achieving a broad cultural outlook and understanding; the program demanded of them disciplined and independent study and remains central to Bard’s undergraduate curriculum today. The tutorial and seminar system, a substantive examination at the end of two years (now called Moderation), and what Tewksbury called the “final demonstration” (now the Senior Project) were established as part of his plan. One of the hallmarks of the program was an emphasis—unique at this period in American education—on the place of the fine and performing arts in a liberal arts curriculum. Although Tewksbury himself did not use the term “progressive,” his program established Bard as a leader of the progressive movement then gaining prominence in higher education.

In the 1940s, Bard’s faculty was strengthened by the addition of distinguished émigrés from Europe. These scientists, artists, teachers, and writers, who fled Europe prior to the war and found a home at Bard, included Stefan Hirsch, the precisionist painter; Felix Hirsch, the political editor of the Berliner Tageblatt; the violinist Emil Hauser, founder of the Budapest String Quartet and associate of Pablo Casals; the distinguished Austrian labor economist Adolf Sturmthal; the noted psychologist Werner Wolff; and the philosopher Heinrich Bluecher, husband of Hannah Arendt. In 1944 Bard became a coeducational institution (severing its ties to the all-male Columbia University). A new company of scholars taught at Bard during the late 1940s and 1950s. The list, which includes Mary McCarthy, A. J. Ayer, F. W. Dupee, Ralph Ellison, Franco Modigliani, William Humphrey, Theodore Weiss, Anthony Hecht ’44, Saul Bellow, and Dwight Macdonald, indicates that Bard had assumed a place of eminence in the teaching of literature and writing and was attracting leading thinkers in the social sciences.


Bard's 14th and current president, Leon Botstein, took office in 1975, at which time he was the youngest college president in U.S. history. An innovative voice in American education, he has been a pioneer in linking the liberal arts and higher education to public secondary schools, as well as acting on the conviction that the college plays an essential role in civic engagement. In addition, he serves as music director and conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and is music conductor emeritus of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, roles that have been integral in ensuring the arts play a major role in the institution, and in demonstrating the importance of engagement in one’s passions in professional life. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and recipient of the Carnegie Corporation’s Academic Leadership Award and the award for Distinguished Service to the Arts from the American Academy of Arts and letters, among others. He is the author of Jefferson’s Children: Education and the Promise of American Culture and Judentum und Modernitaet and has published widely on music, education, history, and culture. His 35 years at Bard have been marked both by extraordinary achievements and a commitment to a single institution rarely seen in academe.

Under Botstein’s leadership, Bard developed a new vision and model of the liberal arts college—both in its approach to undergraduate and graduate education and to the role of the college as a positive force not just locally, but nationally and internationally. On Bard’s Hudson Valley campus, the College has been structured as a central undergraduate college surrounded by significant institutes and programs—satellites comprising graduate programs, arts institutions, and research centers—that strengthen its curriculum. While this model is similar to that of a university in being flexible enough to include programs for research, graduate study, community outreach, and other cultural and educational activities, the undergraduate program remains its focus, with small classes and intense intellectual interaction across the student body and faculty. Each satellite program is designed to uniquely serve its students while enhancing the undergraduate course of study by offering students opportunities for interaction with leading artists and scholars. In 1975, 700 undergraduates were enrolled and a faculty of 94 taught in 22 academic programs. Today, more than 1900 undergraduates study on the Annandale campus. They choose among some four dozen programs, taught by 291 faculty members. The entering class of 500 is chosen from a pool of over 6000 applicants from around the country and the world. Nearly two thirds of the undergraduates receive financial aid from Bard.

Botstein brought renewed emphasis and ambition to the unique ideals and requirements of Bard’s curriculum. Responding to a need to strengthen undergraduate writing skills, the College launched, in 1981, The Language and Thinking Program, which requires first-year students to take, prior to the start of classes, a three-week writing course that provides them with careful training in the basic skills of analysis and expression. Continuing its effort to revitalize science education within the context of the liberal arts, the College will launch, this January, the Citizen Science Program, an intensive introduction to the sciences for all first-year undergraduate students. The innovative program is designed to take science learning beyond the laboratory and give students the tools, attitudes, and motivation to use science and mathematics concepts in their daily lives. The Citizen Science Program, required of all students in their first year at Bard, will be held over a three-week intersession period each January.

Over the past 35 years, Bard has strived to rethink the character of specialized study at the undergraduate level and embarked on new curricular initiatives focused on fields that the College believes need more attention, such as science, mathematics, and computing, and on issues such as human rights, that undergraduates seek to address. Since 2000, new initiatives for undergraduates have included:

  • The Bard Science Initiative, a program of curricular innovation, faculty hiring, external opportunities, and new facilities aimed at improving the level of science literacy throughout the College. Examples of the science initiative include The Bard-Rockefeller Program, in which Rockefeller University in New York City offers courses to Bard students and gives them the opportunity to do graduate school–level research in its internationally distinguished laboratories; and The Gabrielle H. Reem and Herbert J. Kayden Center for Science and Computation, which includes a chemistry wing, the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Science Laboratories, all devoted to research, classes, and programs in the sciences.
  • The Bard Program on Globalization and International Affairs, a one- or two-semester residential program in New York City that offers specialized study with leading experts in foreign policy and internships with international service organizations and NGOs
  • The Human Rights Project, interdisciplinary and humanities-based, in which students learn about and take part in the contemporary human rights movement
  • The Bard Prison Initiative, led by a recent graduate, in which students are working to restore higher education in New York State prisons

Graduate schools established under President Botstein’s leadership include programs in environmental studies and the arts, such as a Master of Arts Program at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Master of Arts and Doctoral Programs at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, and a Master of Science degrees through the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. Additional Bard graduate programs are The Conductors Institute at Bard, the Master of Arts in Teaching Program, and the International Center of Photography–Bard Program in Advanced Photographic Studies, in New York City.

Most recently, Bard introduced The Bard College Conservatory of Music, an integrated double-degree program in music and the liberal arts and sciences which also offers two M.Music degrees, one in vocal arts and one in conducting.

Botstein has extended Bard’s reach internationally, leading the creation of groundbreaking new programs on several continents. In partnership with Saint Petersburg State University, Bard established the first liberal arts college program in Russia, Smolny College. Founded in 1997, Smolny College offers dual degrees from Saint Petersburg State University and Bard College. It is widely considered to be one of the most successful Russian-American partnership projects in higher education. Looking to expand on that success, the Institute for International Liberal Education (IILE) was formed at Bard in 1998 to advance the theory and practice of international liberal arts education. The Institute’s long-term partnerships are characterized by the exchange of students, faculty, and curriculum—culminating in dual-degree and dual-credit programs. In all of its activities, IILE seeks to realize a humane and forward-looking educational politics, and in this way contribute to the just and realistic solution of global problems. In addition to Smolny College, Bard’s international programs include the Al-Quds Bard Partnership, a revolutionary collaboration in Jerusalem between Bard College and Al-Quds University that was established in 2008 to improve the Palestinian education system. Other partnership programs include the International Human Rights Exchange (IHRE), the Program in International Education (PIE), and joint programs with American University of Central Asia and Central European University.

National secondary education reform has been a central theme of Botstein’s tenure. In 1979 Bard assumed control and ownership of Simon's Rock Early College (now called Bard College at Simon’s Rock: The Early College) in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Although Bard and Simon's Rock remain distinct and carry on separate academic programs at their respective campuses, the relationship between the two institutions gives Bard an exceptional opportunity to apply its experience as a liberal arts college to the development of a strong curriculum for younger students. Building on that model, Bard led the national challenge to change an ossified secondary education system and opened the Bard High School Early College (BHSEC) in 2001, in partnership with the New York City Board of Education. BHSEC, which has campuses in Manhattan and Queens, is designed to challenge public school students with a rigorous curriculum and allow them to progress within four years from ninth grade through the first two years of college. President Obama cited BHSEC in a 2009 speech as an innovative model for the future of secondary and higher education.

Founded in 2003, the Master of Arts in Teaching Program fulfills the urgent need for change in public education. The core of Bard’s MAT program is an innovative integrated curriculum leading to a Master of Arts in Teaching degree and Initial Teaching Certification (Grades 7-12) in one of four areas: biology, English, mathematics, or social studies. Unique in its approach, the program requires an equal amount of advanced study in the elected academic discipline and in supervised clinical training in schools. The objective is to have teachers apply the results of their research and pedagogical analysis to their work in the classroom. Bard College offers the MAT degree in the Hudson Valley of New York, New York City, and California, allowing students to become certified in both California and New York and to gain experience in both rural and urban high-needs school districts.

Bard’s Institute for Writing and Thinking, which offers workshops for secondary school teachers, focuses on the writing process and its integral role in teaching and learning in all academic fields. The Institute offers teacher development workshops in writing and thinking both at Bard College and on-site at schools and colleges. Institute workshops model teaching through writing, foster strong teaching communities, and introduce participants to challenging and innovative texts along the way.

Other national initiatives include the Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities, which brings college-level instruction in the humanities to economically and educationally disadvantaged individuals at no cost, and the New Orleans Initiative, which encompasses Bard's two New Orleans–based academic programs: Bard Urban Studies in New Orleans and Bard Early College in New Orleans. In 1986, Bard opened a postdoctoral research institution, the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. Made possible by the late Leon Levy, a trustee of the College, the Institute generates public policy responses to economic problems that profoundly influence the quality of life here and elsewhere in the world.

While Bard’s leadership and innovation in the arts and education has greatly expanded over the past 35 years under Botstein’s leadership, the impact can perhaps best be seen in the transformation of its stunning Hudson Valley campus into not only one of the country’s leading liberal arts colleges, but also a national leader in art and culture. In 1990, Bard opened the Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture. Founded by Marieluise Hessel and Richard Black, the Center is devoted to the interdisciplinary study of contemporary art and its relationships with social and cultural developments. In 1994 the Center instituted a graduate program leading to a master of arts degree in curatorial studies. The Center also mounts exhibitions and sponsors symposiums, publications, and research fellowships. A recent expansion of the Center’s facility has enlarged the library and created the 17,000square foot Hessel Museum of Art, which will house the Marieluise Hessel Collection.

In 2003, the college opened The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, the 110,000square foot Fisher Center houses two theaters as well as the Felicitas S. Thorne Dance Studio, Stewart and Lynda Resnick Theater Studio, and professional support facilities. The Fisher Center is the home of the world renowned Bard Music Festival as well as Bard SummerScape, an annual festival of music, film, dance, and drama. The Center’s dance and theater studios provide rehearsal space for undergraduates, and its Sosnoff Theater gives the region a world-class concert hall. The New Yorker has hailed the Fisher Center as “what may be the best small concert hall in the United States,” and the Wall Street Journal has called SummerScape “one of the most intellectually stimulating of all American summer festivals.”

Over the course of 150 years, Bard has grown from a small but respected liberal arts college to a national powerhouse. This achievement is a testament both to an institution and its leadership, which has never stopped evaluating itself and the world around it, and will never stop adapting and growing to maintain its well-earned reputation for excellence and innovation.

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This event was last updated on 11-15-2010