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August 1, 2001

In an interview with Vassar: The Alumnae/i Quarterly, President Frances Fergusson reflected on her first 15 years at the college. “When I arrived,” she said, “there were three major issues that needed to be addressed. As an architectural historian, I believe that spaces have a very large effect on behavior. The campus felt rather alienating and unfriendly because it was congested and unkempt. The morale of the faculty was quite low. Salaries had slipped, teaching conditions were not as good as they had been; there was a perception that we were in danger of losing the quality of students that they had been used to teaching. We also needed to work on the issue of community. People felt themselves to be individuals with no larger concept or commitment to community. It’s not something that you ever fully achieve, but the conversation’s always there.

“And certainly we’ve been able to improve everything from faculty salaries to the teaching and research facilities, which are now quite phenomenal and getting even better. We are without a doubt a very desirable school right now.”

“I’m proud,” Fergusson continued, “of the fact that if you were to come to Vassar during the course of the year, you wouldn’t feel that any of the old traditions or commitments to liberal education have been lost…. This year we probably had a total of seven different Shakespeare plays performed on campus. We had our annual Beowulf marathon in old English, we had the opera workshop, we had the marathon reading of the Iliad and the Odyssey—one or the other each year—and so on. So you see that our students aren’t just present-minded by any means, but at the same time they’re thinking in very advanced intellectual terms. There’s a wonderful balance between the traditional and the new.”

Vassar: The Alumnae/i Quarterly

The Years