July 30, 2001
CAROL T. CHRIST NAMED 10TH PRESIDENT OF SMITH COLLEGE
NORTHAMPTON, Mass.-Meeting in a special session today (Monday, July 30), the Smith College Board of Trustees appointed Carol Tecla Christ, recently the executive vice-chancellor and provost at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley, as the college's tenth president.
Christ, the unanimous recommendation of a 20-member search committee, will take up her duties at the college in June 2002. She succeeds Ruth J. Simmons, who became president of Brown University on July 1.
A widely respected scholar of Victorian literature, Christ, 57, was Berkeley's top academic officer from 1994 to 2000 and is credited with sharpening the institution's intellectual focus and building top-ranked departments in the humanities and sciences. She played an important role in shaping Berkeley campus policy in response to Proposition 209, the 1996 California law barring the consideration of race in college admissions.
"Carol Christ has been a leading figure at one of the nation's premier teaching and research institutions," said Shelly Lazarus, chair of the Smith College Board of Trustees.
"Her obvious strengths across the board, her experience and dedication, make her an ideal choice for an institution committed to excellence and innovation in liberal arts education," she added. "We welcome Carol with great enthusiasm as Smith's next president."
Christ joined the English faculty at Berkeley in 1970 after receiving her Ph.D. from Yale University. She entered Berkeley's administration in 1988, serving first as dean of humanities and later as provost and dean of the College of Letters and Science. She was vice-chancellor (later executive vice-chancellor) and provost from 1994 until 2000, when she returned to full-time teaching.
"The search committee found itself blessed with an extremely strong pool of applicants," said Smith Trustee and Search Committee Chair Mary Patterson McPherson, president emeritus of Bryn Mawr College and currently vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
"Carol Christ's broad academic interests and administrative accomplishments seem to us to be exactly the right combination of talent and experience to provide distinguished leadership for the college at this time in its history," she continued. "Smith has benefited over the years from strong and engaged presidents. Carol will fit well into that company."
"I am excited and honored to assume the presidency of Smith College," Christ said. "It is a great institution, distinguished in its history, its faculty and its students. Public research universities and liberal arts colleges have a great deal to teach one another.
"It is particularly exciting to lead a women's college at a time when we are assessing what the women's movement has achieved and the challenges we still have before us."
Throughout her administrative career, Christ has maintained an active program of teaching and research, activities she expects to continue at Smith. As chair of her department from 1985 to 1988, she built and maintained one of the top-ranked English departments in the country.
"It will be a great pleasure to welcome to Smith someone who's not only a seasoned and accomplished administrator but a widely respected scholar and teacher," said Jefferson Hunter, professor of English and a member of the search committee.
Hunter noted that Christ's second book, "Victorian and Modern Poetics," sees the key figures Yeats, Pound and Eliot "in a strikingly new and compelling way." Christ has also become known across the country as one of the editors of "The Norton Anthology of English Literature," the preeminent classroom text in English literature. Her current scholarly project involves literary representations of death in the Victorian period.
Christ, who was the highest-ranking female administrator at Berkeley, has a well-established reputation as a champion of women's issues and of diversity. She served as assistant to the chancellor on issues involving the status of women and particularly of women in the sciences. She describes her undergraduate education at Douglass College, the women's college of Rutgers University, as formative and has, in the words of a colleague, "an intellectual and emotional commitment to women's education."
"She has always been attuned to women's issues," noted Laura d'Andrea Tyson, dean of the Haas School of Business at Berkeley and former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Tyson, who is herself a Smith graduate, described Christ as someone who "seems as if she could have been a Smithie."
Although formally educated as a humanist, Christ enjoys broad respect as a champion of the sciences and is credited with attracting a number of influential scientists to the Berkeley faculty. During her administrative tenure, she strengthened the life sciences at Berkeley, advancing initiatives in neuroscience and bioengineering.
"Carol Christ's arrival at Smith coincides with a rising tide of national awareness that women must assume leadership roles in science," commented Suzan Edwards, professor of astronomy and a member of the search committee. She noted that Christ's experience in strengthening and developing the sciences within a liberal arts tradition will be strong assets as the college continues to enhance its pioneering engineering program, launched in 1999, and advances planning for construction of a comprehensive, $100-million science center.
Christ was born in New York City and attended public schools in northern New Jersey. She has an avid interest in music, having studied the piano since childhood. She learned to play the viola as an adult and is a member of an amateur quartet. Her son, Jonathan Sklute, is a recent graduate of New York University; her daughter, Elizabeth Sklute, will be a first-year student at Mills College this fall.
Christ's husband, Paul Alpers, the Class of 1942 Professor of English Emeritus at Berkeley, is also a distinguished scholar and teacher, the winner of numerous awards and fellowships and author of three books on the literature of the English Renaissance, including most recently "What is Pastoral?" "His work is characterized by an original, learned and combative take on traditional texts," said William Oram, Helen Means Professor of English at Smith. Alpers is looking forward to participating in campus activities and sharing in the intellectual life of the Smith and Five College communities.
Christ will spend the 2001-02 academic year completing her teaching obligations at Berkeley. John Connolly, Smith's acting president, will continue to serve until Christ comes on board.
"I am greatly looking forward to working with Carol Christ over the course of the next year as she becomes better acquainted with current programs and issues at Smith," Connolly said.
"She is excited about our many emerging initiatives, as well as the college's traditional areas of strength. It will be extremely advantageous for us to have at the helm someone whose formative experiences at a women's college have been further shaped over the years at what is probably the nation's finest public research university. Ideally, a new president should bring new perspectives, ideas and energy. Carol is sure to do that for Smith. "
Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 50 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the United States.