Bennington College President Elizabeth Coleman announced this week her intention to retire on June 30, 2013, following her 25th year in office. Coleman, Bennington’s ninth president, is among the longest-serving college presidents in the country, with a tenure nearly three times the average among her peers.
“It is hard not to understate the profound impact that President Coleman has had on this institution,” said Alan Kornberg ’74, chairman of the Bennington College Board of Trustees. “Thanks to her courageous leadership, unwavering commitment to the founding values of the College, and her pioneering vision for a liberal arts education, Bennington is stronger than ever. While it seems impossible to imagine this place without her, in many ways we won’t have to: Her imprint—from the programs she seeded and buildings she erected, to the spirit of innovation she instilled—will be here always.”
It is no coincidence that Coleman’s tenure coincides with Bennington’s most significant period of growth in the College’s 80-year history. Since her inauguration in 1987, the College has raised more than $175 million; six new buildings have been constructed, all of them award-winning; and applications for admission have doubled, bringing enrollment to an all-time high.
In 1994, Coleman led the College through an organizational restructuring initiated by the Board of Trustees to reanimate Bennington’s vanguard educational mission. Among the pioneering curricular programs launched under Coleman’s leadership are a top-ranked low-residency graduate program in writing and the ambitious Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA), which invites students to put the world’s most pressing problems at the center of their educations. As part of the transition, the Board of Trustees has asked Coleman to serve as the first director of CAPA for two years upon the completion of this academic year.
“Presiding over Bennington has been more than I had dared to dream—exhilarating, tumultuous, challenging, heady—and always, always about things that mattered, things that mattered a lot, and about people of immense dignity, grace, intelligence, and courage,” said Coleman in a letter to the Bennington community.
Prior to assuming the presidency at Bennington, Coleman was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of humanities at the New School for Social Research in New York, where she founded and directed the Freshman Year Program and the Seminar College, the school’s first ventures in undergraduate education. Prior to The New School, she was professor of literature at SUNY-Stony Brook.
In recent years, Coleman’s vision for the liberal arts and their role and reinvigoration in society has been widely recognized—she has spoken internationally on the topic, including concluding the 25th anniversary TED “Ideas Worth Spreading” Conference in Los Angeles, keynoting The Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado, and addressing the Royal College of Defence Studies in London.
A search for Coleman’s successor is currently underway by the Bennington College Board of Trustees.
Coleman’s Principal Achievements
- Enrollment is at an all-time high—690 undergraduate students in Fall 2012 and 136 graduate students in 2011–12.
- Applications for admission have more than doubled—1236 for the Fall 2012 entering class.
- The College has raised more than $175 million.
- Six new buildings have been constructed—all of them award-winning—and 90 percent of the campus has undergone substantial renovation. A concerted greening initiative included a conversion of the College’s primary heating system from oil to wood chips.
- Bennington is no longer the most expensive college in the country; 80 percent of its students receive institutional grants and scholarships, more than many top private colleges; and its students graduate with less debt than the national average.
- Among the pioneering curricular programs launched are a top-ranked low-residency graduate program in writing and the ambitious Center for the Advancement of Public Action, which has garnered national attention.