President's Letters

A Message From President Hill, June 2010

June 4, 2010

Dear Members of the Vassar Community,

As we end what has been a very challenging but also productive academic year, I want to share with you some of the accomplishments of the year, as well as some of the projects we look forward to for 2010-11. I am encouraged by many things, including the hard work we shared as we collectively faced the economic challenges of the recession. While members of the community didn’t always agree on the best course of action, I appreciate the campus-wide discussion that has taken place and the efforts so many are making that will allow us to offer a superb liberal arts education now and into the future.

While we live with continued uncertainty about the global financial situation, I am cautiously optimistic. Our endowment has recovered some of its value, although it is still, as of March 2010, below its July 2008 value by just under $100 million. I believe the efforts we’ve made over the past year and a half and our continued vigilance over our operating budgets position us well to enter our sesquicentennial year and to look ahead to new projects that support our institutional priorities.

As always, our students give me a great sense of optimism.  It is that time of year when I hear about what’s next for our graduating seniors – plans for graduate school, or travel, or a job. Many have found employment, thanks, in part, to our Career Development Office and the help of alumnae/i mentors. Others will move on to advanced study, a number of them supported by prestigious fellowships, including Fulbright awards.  Vassar has consistently ranked in the top 10 among undergraduate institutions in the country for Fulbright fellowships. This year’s eight recipients, all recent graduates, will use their fellowships to study a range of topics, among them public health in Ecuador, education in South Korea, water resources in Sweden, and the role of provincial museums in China.

Three members of recent classes also earned fellowships this spring for advanced study from the National Science Foundation. They will be pursuing graduate work in cognitive neuroscience at the University of California-Irvine, cognitive psychology at Boston University, and environmental sciences at Stanford.

As we celebrate our departing seniors, we also anticipate our newest class, the first-year students who will comprise the class of 2014. We again had a record number of applications, 7822 for 660 places in the class.  We are very pleased that, at this point in the admissions process, this class includes 35 percent students of color, up from our record 33 percent last year. We also have four students from Poughkeepsie High School enrolling, all receiving Vassar's Poughkeepsie High School scholarships, part of our effort to be responsive to students in our local community.  The class of 2014 is 42 percent male and 58 percent female, close to the national norm for entering students at four-year colleges and universities in the U.S.

This also is the class that will receive the largest amount of financial aid in our college's history, an outcome that reflects our commitment to providing a Vassar education to the most qualified applicants regardless of their ability to pay. The college continues to see financial aid as an essential factor in offering a great education to our students. We all benefit immeasurably from the talents, variety of backgrounds, and differing perspectives in the student body that our financial aid policy makes possible.  The senior class felt so strongly about the importance of this priority that they devoted their class gift to financial aid and raised the largest gift of any senior class in Vassar history out of their shared sense of commitment to educational access.  Their gift of  $22,690 represented a participation rate of 92 percent of the class. Two generous alums each matched the gift for a grand total of $68,070 for the 2010 Endowed Scholarship Fund.  What a remarkable accomplishment from our most recent graduates!

We are so grateful for all of the support we get from our alumnae/i and others who believe in Vassar’s mission.  More alumnae/i than ever are showing their commitment to the college with philanthropy for financial aid, capital projects, and with gifts at all levels to the Annual Fund for the college’s greatest needs.  To date, Vassar has had 800 more donors this fiscal year than last.  We could not accomplish our goals without the commitment and generosity of our alumnae/i.

This year in the course of the nearly 1,500 lectures and other events on campus, we hosted some extraordinary guests. In late April U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke on campus, introduced by our alumnus and former trustee Richard Roberts, U.S. Federal District Court Judge. Attorney General Holder addressed a full Chapel of students, faculty, staff, and community members on “Public Service and the Common Good.” His talk is available on the Vassar YouTube channel for those who were unable to attend, The Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College (AAVC) presented their Award for Distinguished Achievement to Dr. Anne Buckingham Young, class of 1969, a world-renowned neurologist who has made major contributions to the understanding and treatment of such diseases as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s.  Dr. Young is the Julieanne Dorn Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and the Chief of the Neurology Service at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The coming year, 2011, will mark Vassar’s sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of the college’s founding. This will be a time of reflection and celebration of the pivotal role our college has had in the history of higher education and in the world.  Vassar stands apart. It stood for important principles from its beginnings and stands for important principles today: engaged and rigorous study, students who can challenge each other and their professors, world-changing graduates. Our celebration of this anniversary will take place first on campus in early 2011, with subsequent events to be held at various cities throughout the country and abroad.  These celebrations also will serve as the launch of the public phase of our fundraising campaign, a major initiative that will support important priorities of the college.

One of those priorities is providing excellent science facilities that will match in quality the science programs now available to our students.  With an emphasis on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches to science, Vassar faculty have developed cutting-edge curricula and significant opportunities for undergraduate participation in research. Unfortunately, our facilities have not kept pace, and we must now address those needs.  A faculty committee has been working for several years to develop a detailed plan of lab and classroom needs.  The college has engaged the noted architectural firm, Polshek Partnership, to envision a building that would accommodate our science needs and support the work across disciplines that marks our programs. You will be hearing more details about this project, the campaign, and the sesquicentennial events in the near future.

I want to close by thanking you for all that you do for Vassar.  I learn more about this extraordinary college every day, and I value so greatly its place in the world and the impressive contributions of its faculty, students and their families, staff, and alumnae/i.

Catharine Hill

Posted by Office of Communications Friday, June 4, 2010


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