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A personal message from Kathleen McCartney

Presidential Letters 21-22

Published February 25, 2022

Dear students, staff, faculty, and alums,

After much reflection, I have made the decision to step down in June 2023, after a decade as president of this great college. I was humbled when called to serve as the 11th president of Smith, and the work has been deeply rewarding. For this reason, I find myself filled with gratitude to all of you in the Smith community as I share my thoughts on all we have accomplished together.

When I accepted this role, I noted that a good education encourages individuals to seek change, to risk change; a strong institution encourages its community to do the same. Together, as members of this remarkable college—with its venerable traditions and its distinguished history—we continue to embrace change and the opportunities it presents.

From the beginning, one of my main priorities has been increasing college access and affordability. In service of this goal, we greatly expanded financial aid, eliminated loans from our financial aid packages, and offered new funding to equalize the student experience. Applications increased by 63% in just eight years, in large part due to these investments.

We reimagined the curriculum and co-curricular activities to prepare students to live, work, and engage in a complex global community. Curriculum changes included new majors in Middle East studies as well as statistical and data sciences, research labs in the humanities and social sciences, programming in writing and public discourse, and a design-thinking initiative. Thanks to generous endowment gifts, our centers evolved with new opportunities in leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship, global studies, community engagement, poetry, and the arts.

Amid a profound and necessary national racial reckoning, we continued to take actions to make Smith a place where everyone has a deep sense of belonging. We expanded our Equity and Inclusion team to develop and support Smith’s “Toward Racial Justice” strategic plan, we implemented an inclusion grants competition that resulted in new campus initiatives, and we hosted racial justice thought-leaders to further educate our community.

We listened to our students and met their evolving interests and needs; for example, we expanded mental health services, enhanced our wellness offerings, and created a new vision for career development.

The campus changed dramatically, with new classrooms to support innovative pedagogies, new gardens, and new buildings—the Schacht Center for Health and Wellness, the new Friedman apartments, a reimagined Neilson Library that is a work of art and the intellectual heart of our campus, and soon a renovated Alumnae House.

Trustees, students, staff, and faculty—many of them engaged in our Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability—came together to work on the Study Group on Climate Change; their recommendations resulted in divestment from fossil fuels and plans for a district energy project that will support our goal of carbon neutrality.

And we have continued to move Smith forward, even in the face of the greatest public health challenge of our time. The pandemic could not and will not stop us from delivering the best liberal arts education possible, thanks to the unwavering commitment and resiliency of our staff and faculty.

Looking ahead, there is still more work to do together to reach our aspirations to become need-blind in college admission, to equalize the student experience, and to realize our full vision in career development. These are ambitious and far-reaching goals, and they will set the stage for Smith’s future success. Later today, you will hear from Alison Overseth ’80, chair of the board of trustees, about the search for the 12th president of Smith College.

Throughout my presidency, Bill and I have made a practice of taking daily walks through the Smith campus. Whether strolling through the botanic garden, hiking along the Mill River, or power walking around the athletics fields, we are reminded of the natural beauty of our campus—it sustains us, creates a canvas for our community, and provides the creative and spiritual force that connects us to something deeper in the human experience. What a gift this campus is for all of us.

Bill and I have made Smith College our home in every sense, and we know already that it will be difficult to leave this community of extraordinary people who make this college the outstanding place we all know it to be. I am heartened that we still have much time to be together—after all, another Mountain Day awaits us this fall, and I will be ready to ring the bells one last time.

With gratitude,

Kathleen McCartney