BENNINGTON, Vt. -- Bennington College President Elizabeth Coleman will retire at the end of the academic year, concluding a quarter-century of leadership at the private, liberal arts college.
"Presiding over Bennington has been more than I had dared to dream -- exhilarating, tumultuous, challenging, heady -- and always, always about things that mattered, things that mattered a lot, and about people of immense dignity, grace, intelligence, and courage," Coleman wrote in a letter to the college community.
During her 25 years as the ninth president of Bennington College, Coleman has overseen the institution’s greatest period of growth over its 80-year history.
Since her inauguration, the college has raised more than $175 million, has constructed six award-winning buildings including the most recent addition last year of the three-building Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) center. The college also has an all-time high enrollment, with nearly 700 undergraduates and another 136 graduate students last academic year. Admissions applications have doubled since Coleman took over, topping 1,200 for the current freshman class.
"It is hard not to understate the profound impact that President Coleman has had on this institution," Alan Kornberg, chairman of the Bennington College Board of Trustees, wrote in a letter. "Thanks to her courageous leadership, unwavering commitment to the founding values of the
Neither Coleman nor Kornberg were available for comment Wednesday after the announcement was made.
In her letter, Coleman identified a re-animation of the college’s founding model -- to have students shape their own education and to assure a rich and complex dynamic between the college and the world -- in 1994 as one of her most profound moments at the college.
"Bennington’s maturity as an institution was achieved, in short, not by abandoning or softening its most radical principles, but by embracing and revitalizing them," she wrote.
CAPA fits into that approach by inviting students to put the world’s most pressing problems at the center of their education. For at least two years following her retirement Coleman will continue her involvement with the college as the first director of CAPA, upon the request of the trustees.
Coleman’s vision for the liberal arts and their role and reinvigoration in society has been widely recognized. She has spoken internationally on the topic, including at the 25th anniversary TED "Ideas Worth Spreading" conference in Los Angeles, keynoting The Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colo., and addressing the Royal College of Defence Studies in London.
The college’s board is in the process of appointing a search committee to find Coleman’s replacement and has already contracted Phillips Oppen heim, a leading firm in nonprofit searches with offices in New York City and Wash ington, D.C., to assist in recruiting candidates. The board is also seeking input from the Bennington College community regarding the qualities and qualifications the next president should possess.
Coleman was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of humanities at the New School for Social Research in New York prior to assuming the presidency at Bennington College. Before that she taught literature at SUNY-Stony Brook.