Everybody's Talking...

Upon hearing the July 30 announcement of Carol Tecla Christ's appointment as Smith's 10th president, many people quickly offered exuberant support for the choice. "Thanks for this fabulous news! What a perfect fit she sounds
to be! Onward and upward!" wrote an alumna in an e-mail. Said another: "This is great news! She sounds superb, and I'm so glad that we'll have someone who thinks English literature is important. Thanks to the committee for their good work."

"Yay! I'm so excited," said one student posting a message on the Smith Daily Jolt Internet forum. "I thought that it would take much longer for them to find a new president. From what I read about her, she seems like a great person for the job. I hope she has the same spirit and is able to invoke the same responses in us (the students) as Ruth [Simmons] did."

Smith's board of trustees also received kudos for the way it handled the search process. "Congratulations to the board for successfully completing a very difficult task" said one alumna. "We thank you, especially those of us living far, far away!" Another said, "I couldn't be prouder of Smith, this process, and, I trust, our new president. Well managed, all!"

Apparently, many folks riding elevators that day didn't miss the news either. "Just back from Cambridge," reported Smith's media consultant. "Got a big smile when I was at the Charles Hotel and saw their elevator electronic news board flashing 'Smith College Names New President.' "

The media weighed in as well:

"Smith College brought one of aca-demia's highest-ranking women to the helm last week, appointing Carol Christ as its 10th president."
- "Smith College Names New President," The Christian Science Monitor, August 7, 2001

"I think Smith is awfully lucky. She is wonderful to work with, a woman of enormous compassion, vision and the capacity to attend to details."
-Janet Adelman '62, chair, English Department, University of California­Berkeley, "Smith Names New President," Daily Hampshire Gazette,
July 31, 2001

"I am absolutely delighted that Carol has been named Smith's next president. While it is a great loss to Berkeley, her energy and intellect make her eminently qualified to lead Smith in the 21st century."
-Robert Berdahl, chancellor, University of California­Berkeley "UC Berkeley Prof is Smith College's President," Oakland Tribune, July 31, 2001


Smith College made news in July when it named one of academia's highest-ranking female administrators as its 10th president. Carol Tecla Christ, 57, succeeds Ruth Simmons, who left Smith after six years to become president of Brown University on July 1.

Christ (rhymes with "mist") is a University of California at Berkeley English professor and Victorian scholar who served as the executive vice chancellor and provost at UC Berkeley from 1994 to 2000 before returning to the classroom to teach English full-time. She will assume her post in June 2002 after she completes her last year of teaching at Berkeley. John Connolly, Smith's acting president, will continue to serve until Christ comes on board. Media Relations Director Laurie Fenlason recently sat down and interviewed Smith's newly appointed president. What follows are some of the highlights of that conversation:

What drew you particularly to Smith?
There were some obvious qualities: its overall excellence, its distinguished faculty, outstanding students and extraordinary resources. When I visited the campus, I was so impressed with the libraries, the Mortimer Rare Book Room, the plans for the Museum of Art and the offerings of the campus in general. I was very intrigued by the Five College Consortium because I work in a consortium-like environment in which the University of California campuses work very closely together.

But on a deeper level, I was moved by a number of values that came across to me as part of Smith's core identity: academic excellence, diversity, access and a sense of public responsibility. I think of Smith as a private college with a public conscience.

I'm very excited by the prospect of bringing to a private college the insights and experiences that I've gained at a public research university. Historically, these two kinds of institutions have had too little to say to one another. I believe that each of them does certain things very well and other things not so well. Public universities have long experience with resource planning and allocation and with diversity, with maintaining a sense of an inclusive community in which everyone is entitled to be there. On the other hand, private colleges, in general, are much better at undergraduate education and academic advising, for example, and at creating a sense of residential community in which people are less likely to feel isolated.

At the same time, I am particularly intrigued by the prospect of being the leader of a women's institution at a point when we are assessing the achievements of the women's movement and the challenges that are still in front of us.

You must have had some preconceptions of Smith. What were they, and how have they changed in the course of your being selected as Smith's next president?
I had many images of Smith in my mind. One was expressed to me by a friend: women in twin [sweater] sets and pearls. I had the image of Smith that I took from Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. And I had the image of Smith as a very progressive place-in a town that, at least in some
of the materials I read, called itself "the Berkeley of the Northeast."
What I'm growing to love about Smith is the way in which Smith represents, in itself, the history of women in the United States, from the college's founding to the present, with all of the wonderful achievements and varied forces that have been characteristic of women's lives.

You have said that one of the attractions of coming to Smith is that it is an institution you can "get your arms around." Early on, how do you expect to do that? I hope in the course of the year to get to know all of the faculty individually. I look forward to inviting the community into our home and to meeting community leaders. And of course I want to go to all of the student houses and get to know the students in the context of their residences.

Throughout the course of your administrative career, you have continued to teach. What is your sense of how students see you and of the role you have played in your students' lives? One of the things that has surprised and profoundly gratified me in my teaching career -- because you can never tell how students see you -- is the number of times I've run into students at the supermarket or at a theater who talk to me about something I said years ago that had an important impact on them. I think of myself as an enthusiastic teacher, as someone who loves the material we're studying and tries to convey that passion to others, and as a role model for many students-but I'm constantly surprised when I find out, often much later, the effect that one of my classes has had on a student.

One of the roles of a college president -- unlike, say, that of a corporate CEO -- is to ensure the rigorous educational and intellectual vitality of the institution. How does one characterize -- and foster -- college's or university's intellectual climate? Intellectual climate is the sense of habitual intellectual interaction among faculty and students, the presence that people's intellectual enterprises have in conversation. Berkeley is a very invigorating place in that regard; you'll never be among a group of faculty in which people would not be discussing the most recent arts events, the most recent articles in The New York Review of Books or important new scientific ideas. People's work is very present. Questions that are asked all the time -- just like How are your children? -- are What are you working on? What are you teaching this semester? or What's your idea for that course?

I don't know enough about Smith yet to know what its intellectual climate is like. I know it has a very distinguished faculty, an intensely engaged faculty, and I have every reason to expect the same quality of intellectual engagement that I have come to value so much.

If you were asked to describe how your mind works, what would you say? I'm a very logical thinker. I tend to think in structural ways, in outlines and through main points and such. But also, because I'm a professor of English, I'm very sensitive to texts, to nuances of language, to what people are saying through their rhetoric as well as the content of their messages.

Describe your own experiences of educating and being educated.
I was born in New York and grew up in suburban New Jersey, where I attended public schools in a little town called Ramsey. The thing most important to me when I was growing up was music. I was passionate about music. I played the piano. I went off to college planning to be a high school music teacher. My experience at Douglass, the women's college of Rutgers University, changed my aspirations. It introduced me to a vigorous and intense sense of intellectual life. I left there wanting to go on for a Ph.D. and wanting to be a college professor. It was going to a women's college that changed my aspirations.

In my last year as a graduate student at Yale, the undergraduate college became coed. People started saying "For the first time, there are women at Yale"-which made us women graduate students feel even more deeply what we had been feeling all along: completely invisible. These were the heady days of the feminist movement of the 1960s. So we'd be in our apartments at night reading Simone de Beauvoir and Kate Millett and in our classes in the daytime feeling invisible!

I got a wonderful education at Yale. At the same time, it was a radicalizing experience for me.When I got the job offer from Berkeley, I'd never been west of Philadelphia. I cried all night. I knew that I couldn't turn down the job but I didn't want to go to California. I had always imagined myself teaching at a place like Smith! I went to Berkeley filled with trepidation-and fell in love. I fell in love with the crazy anarchic individualism, the noisy way in which everyone expresses their opinions. I found that very liberating. And I fell in love with the heady intellectual atmosphere of the place, the fact that there was no subject so obscure that you couldn't find someone who knew a lot about it. Finally, I fell in love with the students, who, because Berkeley is a large public university that takes a third of its upperclassmen from community colleges, come from every imaginable background and experience-and some that you can't imagine.

In your experience, how does a college support both diversity and community?
It seems to me that the conventional way of understanding diversity is as a code word for underrepresented minorities. And I think ideas of diversity don't work when you think of some students-some people-as diverse and others as not diverse. A diverse community depends on the idea that everyone is diverse. Every college or university faces a challenge in creating and maintaining a sense of a diverse community, because part of the experience of going to college is moving into a community that is different from the one in which you grew up. And part of the learning experience of college is learning to understand-to connect with-people who don't share the same assumptions as you, people who don't act the same way you do. That learning doesn't come automatically. Making community is part of the task of going to college, and it's a challenge for all of us.

What are the most important things a president does for an institution?
Clearly, a president is responsible for the college's future direction and for the strategic thinking and planning that take it into the future. You must have a sense of where higher education is heading and
an understanding of your own institution's position in that context. But there is another, equally important role as well: creating a sense of shared vision and articulating that, reflecting that, wherever you go. One thing I learned from former Berkeley chancellor Chang-Lin Tien is that a president must always be presenting the image of the institution. I don't mean "image" in the superficial sense but as it signifies the institution's values, identity and presence in the world. And it's often just as important to present that image internally as externally.

In the context of a demanding career, how do you make time for yourself?
Music has always been extremely important to me. In addition to the piano, I play the viola, and I've always made time for them every day. It's a kind of meditation for me, a form of both discipline and release that keeps me balanced. I don't think you can play music and think about other things-at least I can't! I also love to walk, and I'm told that Smith and Northampton have wonderful routes to walk. And my husband and I are emphatic about keeping time for ourselves, having meals together and talking over our days.



NewsSmith is published by the Smith College Office of College Relations for alumnae, staff, students and friends.
Copyright © 2001, Smith College. Portions of this publication may be reproduced with the permission of the Office
of College Relations, Garrison Hall, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts 01063. Last update: 5/9/2001.

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