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 charting their own intellectual paths. 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. In December 2020, the Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohican Indians approved the following text of Bard’s land acknowledgment (also known as a territorial acknowledgment):
In the spirit of truth and equity, it is with gratitude and humility that we acknowledge that we are gathered on the sacred homelands of the Munsee and Muhheaconneok people, who are the original stewards of the land. Today, due to forced removal, the community resides in Northeast Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community. We honor and pay respect to their ancestors past and present, as well as to future generations, and we recognize their continuing presence in their homelands. We understand that our acknowledgment requires those of us who are settlers to recognize our own place in and responsibilities toward addressing inequity, and that this ongoing and challenging work requires that we commit to real engagement with the Munsee and Mohican communities to build an inclusive and equitable space for all.
This land acknowledgement required establishing and maintaining long-term, and evolving, relationships with the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. The Mellon Foundation’s 2022 Humanities for All Times grant for “Rethinking Place: Bard-on-Mahicantuck” offers three years of support for developing a land acknowledgment-based curriculum, public-facing Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) programming, and efforts to support the work of emerging NAIS scholars and tribally enrolled artists at Bard. A landmark gift by the Gochman Family Foundation in 2022 generously extends this work, providing new support for faculty lines, student scholarships, curricular development in undergraduate and graduate programs and the arts, and NAIS programming across Bard’s network.
The College acknowledges that its origins are intertwined with slavery, which has shaped the United States and American institutions from the beginning. Starting in the 16th century, European traders trafficked approximately 12 million Africans to the Americas, where they were held as property and forced to work as enslaved laborers. Their descendants were also held as slaves in perpetuity. The exploitation of enslaved people was at the foundation of the economic development of New York and the Hudson Valley, including the land now composing the Bard College campus. In the early 18th century, Barent Van Benthuysen purchased most of this land and was a slave owner. Later owners of the property also relied on Black workers they held in bondage for material gain. Montgomery Place, which became part of the College in 2016, was a working farm during the 19th century that likewise profited from the labor of enslaved people.
The founders of Bard College, John Bard (1819–99) and Margaret Johnston Bard (1825–75) inherited wealth from their families and used it to found the College. That inheritance was implicated in slavery on both sides. John’s grandfather Samuel Bard (1742–1821) owned slaves. His father William Bard (1778–1853) was the first president of the New York Life Insurance Company, which insured enslaved people as property. Margaret’s fortune derived from her father’s commercial firm, Boorman and Johnston, which traded in tobacco, sugar, and cotton produced by enslaved labor throughout the Atlantic World. Other early benefactors of the College, such as John Lloyd Aspinwall (1816–73), also derived a significant proportion of their wealth, which they donated to the College, from commercial ventures that depended on slavery. John and Margaret Bard devoted their lives and monies to educational pursuits. In his retirement John Aspinwall redirected his fortune and energies toward humanitarian pursuits.
Recognition and redress of this history are due. As students, teachers, researchers, administrators, staff, and community members, we acknowledge the pervasive legacy of slavery and commit ourselves to the pursuit of equity and restorative justice for the descendants of enslaved people within the Bard community.
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 psychologist Werner Wolff. 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, Dorothy Dulles Bourne, Irma Brandeis, 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.
1975 to Present
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, a 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 46 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 the 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; the Bard Music Festival, which debuted in 1990 and each year illuminates the work and era of a specific composer; and the literary journal Conjunctions, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2021.
Bard has been a leader in early college education since 1979, when it acquired Simon’s Rock, the nation’s first early college. 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 Valley, New York (2016); Washington, DC (2019); and the Bronx (2023).
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 by Max Kenner ’01 as a student project to bring higher education into New York State prisons. The program is the subject of an Emmy-nominated documentary series, College Behind Bars, which aired on PBS in 2019. Building on the success of BPI, the College partnered with community-based institutions to create Bard Microcollege campuses at the Holyoke (Massachusetts) Care Center, Brooklyn Public Library, and Countee Cullen public library in Harlem. These programs, which lead to an AA degree, feature the elements of an Annadale education. The Clemente Course, currently in its 26th 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 the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts (1981); Levy Economics Institute of Bard College (1986); Center for Curatorial Studies (1990); Bard Graduate Center (1993); Bard Center for Environmental Policy (1999); Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program (2001); Master of Arts in Teaching Program (2004); Bard College Conservatory of Music (2005) and its graduate programs in vocal arts (2006), conducting (2010), and instrumental arts (2022); 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; The Orchestra Now, which awards an MA degree and offers experiential training to postgraduate musicians (2015); the US-China Music Institute (2018); and the Center for Human Rights and the Arts (2021).
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. Partner campuses include 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 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 institution based in Budapest and Vienna.
Noted writers and artists who spent time at Bard in recent years include the late Chinua Achebe, widely revered as the founding father of African fiction; John Ashbery, considered one of America’s most influential 20th-century poets; Nobel laureates Orhan Pamuk, José Saramago, and Mario Vargas Llosa; choreographer Bill T. Jones; and soprano Dawn Upshaw, who developed Bard’s graduate program in vocal arts.
Bard alumni/ae have also been an influential force in the arts and in the physical, social, and political sciences. A short list includes actors Blythe Danner ’65, Adrian Grenier ’98, Gaby Hoffmann ’04, Patrick Vaill ’07, and Pauline Chalamet ’14; 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 ’53, Nick Jones ’01, and Thomas Bradshaw ’02; dancer Arthur Aviles ’87; classical singer Julia Bullock VAP ’11; visual artists Tschabalala Self ’12 and Xaviera Simmons ’05; fashion designer Brandon Blackwood ’13; sculptor Rita McBride ’82; musicians 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; poet and translator Pierre Joris ’69; and journalists William Sherman ’68, Matt Taibbi ’92, and Ronan Farrow ’04, 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for public service.
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, SummerScape galas and events, and a salon series presented with Hudson River Heritage. Several undergraduate courses have been inspired by the history of the property.
In 2015, Bard SummerScape at the Fisher Center 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. In spring 2023, it won two Olivier Awards, the United Kingdom’s most prestigious theater award, for Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actor in a Musical. The US-China Music Institute, a partnership between the Bard College Conservatory and the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, launched in 2017, offering a degree program in Chinese instruments; a graduate program in Chinese music and culture began in 2022.
The Open Society University Network (OSUN), created with support from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF), debuted in 2020 with the goal of integrating teaching and research across higher education institutions worldwide. The network is anchored by Bard and Central European University, and includes dozens of educational and research institutions both nationally and internationally. Bard students and faculty can connect and collaborate with their peers across the network through a variety of online courses. Also in 2020, Bard introduced a stand-alone undergraduate program in architecture; the Bard Baccalaureate, a full-scholarship program for adult learners in the Hudson Valley region; 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; and the President’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice, charged with assessing the College’s past, analyzing its present practices, and producing a plan for the future.
In response to the 2021 collapse of the Afghan government, the College, with support from OSF, evacuated hundreds of Afghan students, alumni/ae, and scholars to safety. Nearly 400 students are now enrolled at Bard Network institutions in Central Asia, Europe, and the United States, including 70 at the Annandale campus. The College has also initiated a scholarship program to support displaced Ukrainian and Russian students; 14 first-year and four transfer students from Ukraine and eight Russian transfer students are expected in fall 2023.
The 2021–22 academic year saw the launch of several new graduate programs and undergraduate initiatives, including the MA in Human Rights and the Arts; MA in Global Studies, which begins at CEU’s Vienna campus and continues with study at Bard’s Globalization and International Affairs Program in New York City; a bachelor of music program in vocal performance, offered through the Conservatory of Music; a summer program in decorative arts, design history, and material culture at the Bard Graduate Center.
In 2022, Bard received a $1.49 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant in support of its Rethinking Place: Bard-on-Mahicantuck project, which includes a proposal for a Native American and Indigenous Studies approach to a revitalized American Studies curriculum, the hiring of postdoctoral teaching fellows with Native and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) expertise, a Native Artist Residency, and public events such as conferences and lectures. A landmark endowment from the Gochman Family Foundation provides support for new NAIS programming, faculty appointments, and scholarships, transforming undergraduate and graduate studies across the Bard Network.
In 2023, the College established Bard NYC, a portfolio of experiential study away opportunities for students to live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and combine coursework with professional internships and cocurricular programming; the Office of Undergraduate Research, a central resource for students interested in research opportunities, seeking out a mentor, and connecting to funding; and the Center for Ethics and Writing in partnership with Bard Early College High Schools, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations. New initiatives also include the Gagarin Center for the Study of Civil Society and Human Rights at Bard College, which allows Russian scholars forced to leave Russia to pursue research and educational activities, and the Russian Independent Media Archive (RIMA), a project of the Gagarin Center and PEN America.
Bard College received a transformational $500 million endowment grant from philanthropist and longtime Bard supporter George Soros in 2021. This challenge grant—among the largest ever made to higher education in the United States—has facilitated and strengthened Bard’s educational and social initiatives, established the College’s most substantial endowment ever, and set the stage for a $1 billion endowment drive. In response to Mr. Soros’s generous grant, the College will soon announce the successful completion of meeting the endowment match, and a comprehensive campaign to renovate and build several new facilities and raise annual operating support.
A new Bard High School Early College campus in the Bronx opens this fall, in collaboration with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Thanks to a grant from the Korea Foundation, Bard is building toward a new Korean Studies Program, beginning with courses in Korean literature and culture as well as language classes. Data Analytics becomes an interdivisional concentration. The Revisiting Science Initiative has engaged a panel of prominent scientists to look at and determine future goals for the study of science at Bard. The College has embarked on 11 projects as part of its Capital Campaign. Among them, construction is set to begin in the fall on 300 suite-style residences on North Campus that will be geared toward juniors and seniors, and a performing arts studio designed by acclaimed artist Maya Lin is scheduled to break ground in the spring. Other plans include a new science building, an addition to the library, a nature lab addition to Fisher Annex, expansion of the Garcia-Renart House to accommodate the Architecture Program; a US-China Music Pavilion; and a wellness center/field house.