critically and creatively.
In This Section
Presidents of Bard College
- George Franklin Seymour 1860–1861
- Thomas Richey 1861–1863
- Robert Brinckerhoff Fairbairn 1863–1898
- Lawrence T. Cole 1899–1903
- Thomas R. Harris 1904–1907
- William Cunningham Rodgers 1909–1919
- Bernard Iddings Bell 1919–1933
- Donald George Tewksbury 1933–1937
- Harold Mestre 1938–1939
- Charles Harold Gray 1940–1946
- Edward C. Fuller 1946–1950
- James Herbert Case Jr. 1950–1960
- Reamer Kline 1960–1974
- Leon Botstein 1975–
Founding of the College
St. Stephen’s College was established by John (1819–99) and Margaret Johnston Bard (1825–75) in association with leaders of the Episcopal Church in New York City. For its first 60 years, St. Stephen’s offered young men a classical curriculum in preparation for their entrance into the seminary. But even as a theologically oriented institution, St. Stephen’s challenged its students to be active participants in the charting of their intellectual paths over their four years of study. In support of this venture, the Bards donated part of their riverside estate, Annandale, to the College, along with the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, which is still in use.
Acknowledging Bard's Origins
Bard College acknowledges that its origins are intertwined with the systems of racial injustice that have been a part of this nation’s history from its founding. The land upon which the campus stands is the ancestral home of Native peoples, now identified as the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, the Delaware Nation, and the Delaware Tribe of Western Oklahoma. The grounds were expropriated by European settlers through deceitful transactions and violence. Montgomery Place, on the southernmost end of campus, was an estate run with slave labor.
John Bard, the founder of the College, had no direct ties with slavery. However, the insurance company founded by his father, William Bard (1778–1853), once did, and John’s grandfather, Samuel Bard (1742–1821), owned slaves. Margaret’s family fortune derived from the success of her father’s firm, Boorman & Johnston, which sold tobacco, sugar, and cotton produced by slave labor. These family resources, in part ill-gotten, enabled John and Margaret to act upon their shared faith by devoting themselves to philanthropic and civic endeavors from their country seat in Annandale.
With the appointment in 1919 of Dr. Bernard Iddings Bell as warden, the College began to move toward a broader and more secular mission. Social and natural sciences augmented the classical curriculum, and the student body was recruited from a more diverse population. In 1928, a time of increasing financial uncertainty, St. Stephen’s became an undergraduate school of Columbia University. Over the next decade, under the leadership of Dean Donald G. Tewksbury, Bard further integrated the classical and progressive educational traditions, in the process becoming one of the first colleges in the nation to give full academic status to the study of the creative and performing arts. In 1934, the name of the College was changed to Bard in honor of its founders.
Beginning in the mid-1930s and throughout World War II and the postwar years, the College was a haven for distinguished writers, artists, intellectuals, and scientists fleeing Europe. Among these émigrés were philosopher Heinrich Bluecher and his wife, the social critic Hannah Arendt; violinist Emil Hauser, founder of the Budapest String Quartet; precisionist painter Stefan Hirsch; labor economist Adolf Sturmthal; and Werner Wolff, a noted psychologist. Bard’s international outlook was reflected in a variety of programs and initiatives, as well as in its faculty. During the war, the College welcomed an elite group of soldiers who were trained in the French and German languages and cultures, and in the late 1940s Eleanor Roosevelt was a frequent participant in Bard’s international student conferences.
Bard underwent another redefining moment in 1944, when it opened its doors to women. The decision to become coeducational required the College to end its association with Columbia, paving the way to Bard’s current status as an independent liberal arts college. The same year marked the arrival of the first female faculty members. The faculty of the postwar years included Mary McCarthy, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, Anthony Hecht ’44, William Humphrey, and Theodore Weiss. This partial list 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. The College also continued to demonstrate its commitment to global issues of education and democracy. In 1956, Bard provided a haven for 325 Hungarian student refugees after their participation in that country’s revolt against its Stalinist government.
The 1960s marked a period of significant growth. Under the stewardship of Reamer Kline, who served for 14 years as president of the College, the number of students and faculty increased, as did campus facilities, and the curriculum was expanded, particularly in science and the visual arts. Bard also demonstrated an early commitment to civil rights. In 1962, Bard was among the first colleges to award an honorary degree to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Leon Botstein became Bard’s 14th president in 1975. Under Botstein, Bard has continued to innovate, take risks, and broaden its global outlook. He has overseen curricular innovation—including the nation’s first human rights major; the Language and Thinking Program, an intensive three-week presemester workshop for first-year students; and Citizen Science, a hands-on program that introduces all first-year students to natural science and the ideas of the scientific method—and the development of a new model for the liberal arts college as a central body surrounded by affiliated institutes and programs that strengthen core academic offerings. This model is flexible enough to include programs for research, graduate study, and community outreach, yet each affiliate is designed to enhance the undergraduate experience by offering students the opportunity to interact with leading artists, scientists, and scholars.
A number of these initiatives developed within the Bard Center, established in 1978 to present artistic and intellectual programs. These include the Distinguished Scientist Lecture Series, which has brought 45 Nobel laureates to Bard, and the Bard Fiction Prize, awarded to emerging writers who spend a semester in residence at the College. Other programs developed under Bard Center auspices include the Institute for Writing and Thinking, which has had a major impact on the teaching of writing in high schools and colleges around the country and internationally; and the Bard Music Festival, which debuted in 1990 and each year illuminates the work and era of a specific composer.
Bard has been a leader in early college education since 1979, when it acquired Simon’s Rock, the nation’s first early college. Simon’s Rock was founded on the belief that motivated students of 16 and 17 were ready for serious intellectual work. The College has since partnered with public school systems across the country to establish tuition-free early college programs that allow young scholars to earn up to 60 college credits and an associate in arts degree along with their high school diploma. The first Bard High School Early College opened in 2001 in Manhattan. Bard now operates early college campuses in Queens (2008); Newark (2011); New Orleans (2011); Cleveland (2014); Baltimore (2015); Hudson, New York (2017); and Washington, D.C. (2019).
The College has developed a number of additional initiatives to address the educational needs of underserved communities. These include the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), founded in 2001 by Max Kenner ’01 as a project to bring higher education into New York State prisons. Since 2005, BPI has granted degrees to more than 600 incarcerated men and women. The program is also the subject of a 2019 PBS documentary series, College Behind Bars. Building on the success of BPI, the College partnered with community-based institutions to create Bard Microcollege campuses at the Holyoke (Massachusetts) Care Center and Brooklyn Public Library. These programs, which lead to an AA degree, feature small seminar courses and tutoring support. The Clemente Course, currently in its 24th year, provides college-level instruction, for college credits, to economically disadvantaged students aged 17 and older at 30 sites around the country.
Affiliated programs also include graduate programs and centers of scholarship and research. These include the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts (1981); Levy Economics Institute of Bard College (1986); Center for Curatorial Studies (1990); Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture (1993); Bard Center for Environmental Policy (1999); Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program (2001); International Center of Photography–Bard Program in Advanced Photographic Studies (2003); Master of Arts in Teaching Program (2004); Bard College Conservatory of Music (2005); Hessel Museum of Art (2006); Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities (2006); Center for Civic Engagement (2011); Bard MBA in Sustainability (2012); Longy School of Music of Bard College (2012) in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Levy Economics Institute Graduate Programs in Economic Theory and Policy (2014); and the Center for the Study of Hate (2019).
Bard has continued to further its efforts to promote freedom of inquiry internationally. In 1991, under the Program in International Education (PIE), the College began bringing students from emerging democracies in Eastern and Central Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East to Bard for one semester of study. This program is one of many overseen by the Institute for International Liberal Education, which was founded in 1998 to develop long-term collaborations between Bard and other leading institutions around the world. These partner campuses include the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences of St. Petersburg University (Smolny), the first liberal arts program in Russia, founded as a joint venture of Bard and St. Petersburg University; Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, which collaborated with Bard in 2009 to create the Al-Quds Bard College for Arts and Sciences and a master of arts in teaching program; American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where Bard established a dual-degree program in 2010; Bard College Berlin: A Liberal Arts University, a partner institution since 2011; and Central European University (CEU), a graduate-level, Vienna-based institution. In 2020 Bard and CEU, with support from the Open Society Foundations, launched an international network of higher education, research, and cultural institutions. The Open Society University Network (OSUN) includes Al-Quds, AUCA, and Bard College Berlin, as well as European Humanities University in Lithuania, Ashesi University in Ghana, BRAC University in Bangladesh, American University in Bulgaria, Birkbeck: University of London, and Arizona State University, a leader in distance learning.
Bard alumni/ae have also been an influential force in the arts and in the physical, social, and political sciences—and in the life of the College. A short list includes actors Blythe Danner ’65, Adrian Grenier ’98, Gaby Hoffmann ’04, and Patrick Vaill ’07; comedians Chevy Chase ’68, Christopher Guest ’70, Ali Wentworth ’88, and Adam Conover ’04; filmmaker Gia Coppola ’09 and film editor Jinmo Yang ’03; screenwriter, actor, and producer Raphael Bob-Waksberg ’06; playwrights Sherman Yellen ’52, Nick Jones ’01, and Thomas Bradshaw ’02; dancer Arthur Aviles ’87; sculptor Rita McBride ’82; photographers Tim Davis ’01 and Lisa Kereszi ’95; groundbreaking artist Carolee Schneemann ’59; musicians/songwriters Richard M. Sherman ’49 and Robert B. Sherman ’49, Donald Fagen ’69 and Walter Becker ’71 (founders of Steely Dan), Billy Steinberg ’72, and Adam Yauch ’86 (a founder of the Beastie Boys); scientist László Z. Bitó ’60, who was instrumental in developing a drug used to combat glaucoma; Fredric S. Maxik ’86, a leader in environmentally innovative lighting technologies; environmental writer Elizabeth Royte ’81; financial entrepreneur and investor Mostafiz ShahMohammed ’97; and journalists William Sherman ’68, Matt Taibbi ’92, and Ronan Farrow ’04, 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for public service.
Several graduates exemplify Bard’s emphasis on active engagement. Max Kenner ’01 oversees institutional initiatives for the College and serves as executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, which he founded in 2001. Mariel Fiori ’05 was a student when she cofounded La Voz, the only Spanish-language news and cultural magazine serving the Hudson Valley’s Latinx community. Stephen Tremaine ’07 turned a student project to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina into a full-time initiative, Bard Early College New Orleans. Conservatory graduate Allegra Chapman ’10 is founding executive director of Bard Music West, a California-based branch of the Bard Music Festival that debuted to critical acclaim in 2017. Other alumni/ae hold leadership positions with Bard’s graduate and affiliate programs, including Nayland Blake ’82, chair of the ICP-Bard Program in Advanced Photographic Studies; Dumaine Williams ’03, dean of early colleges; and Valeri Thomson ’85, principal of Bard High School Early College Queens.
The campus itself expanded in 2016, when Bard purchased Montgomery Place, a neighboring 380-acre property that features a 19th-century mansion, coach house, greenhouse, farm, gardens, walking trails, and outbuildings. To date, activities at Montgomery Place have included lectures, exhibitions, guided walks by Bard horticultural staff, a SummerScape gala and performance, and a salon series presented with Hudson River Heritage. The Bard College Farm is using the greenhouse to start vegetables and flowers from seeds, and several undergraduate courses have been inspired by the history of the property.
The Orchestra Now, which offers experiential orchestra training to postgraduate musicians and leads to a master of music degree, debuted in 2015. In the same year, Bard SummerScape originated a bold new staging of Oklahoma! that opened on Broadway in April 2019 and won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The US-China Music Institute, a partnership between the Bard College Conservatory of Music and the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, launched in 2018, offering a degree program in Chinese instruments. In January 2020, Conservatory dean Tan Dun led the Bard Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance marking the opening of China’s Haikou Bay Performing Arts Center. Bard offered a new admission path to high school juniors living within 120 miles of the College. The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Advanced Achievement Scholars program let high-achieving juniors apply through the Bard Entrance Exam for Early Admission. Bard also offered juniors at Poughkeepsie Day School, which closed its doors in April 2020, the opportunity to finish their senior year at Bard at the same cost as attending Poughkeepsie Day.
The Open Society University Network (OSUN), created with support from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, launched in January 2020 with the goal of integrating teaching and research across higher education institutions worldwide. Leon Botstein will serve as the first chancellor of the network, which is anchored by Bard and Central European University (CEU) and includes educational and research partners in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America, and the United States. Within the framework of OSUN, Bard’s Human Rights Project, the Fisher Center, and CEU are developing a graduate program in human rights and the arts. A new bachelor of music program in vocal performance will be offered through the Bard College Conservatory of Music, beginning in 2021.
In spring 2020, the Levy Economics Institute acquired the John Kenneth and Catherine Atwater Galbraith Library Collection, which will be housed at Blithewood and made available to students. This fall marks the debut of a stand-alone program in architecture and a suite of interdisciplinary Common Courses that engage with themes of the contemporary moment, such as epidemics and society and local, national, and global citizenship. Also in response to recent events and in the belief that colleges and universities must play a part in creating fundamental change, President Botstein established the President’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice to assess the College’s past, analyze its present practices, and produce a plan for the future.