POUGHKEEPSIE, NY (February 16, 2005) — Frances Daly Fergusson, the ninth president of Vassar College, has announced that she will leave her post at the end of the next academic year, on June 30, 2006. When she departs, Fergusson will close a twenty-year presidency, an extremely eventful period for the College. Among her key accomplishments, Fergusson has spearheaded a renaissance for the campus architecture and landscape, led efforts that have resulted in the College's highest admissions standards and dramatic increases in the number of applications, and overseen a record-breaking fundraising campaign.
"These years at Vassar have been extremely fulfilling for me, and I hope that I have helped to shape the Vassar of today and tomorrow; the College has certainly shaped me in expansive, gratifying ways," Fergusson said. "At the same time there's still much I want to see through for the College," she said of the next sixteen months. "We need to finalize the direction of our residential life improvements. I will oversee the final conceptual planning for our exciting new science facilities and help choose the architect for that complex. Finally, I intend to raise as much funding as possible, both to advance our campus and give my successor a fine cushion."
In the last decade alone, applications to the college have more than doubled, to nearly 6,200 for the 2004-2005 freshman class. Vassar has also become far more selective in its admissions standards during Fergusson's presidency. Only 28.7% of the past year's applicants to Vassar were offered admission to the college, reduced from the nearly 50% of applicants who were accepted when she began in 1986.
Fergusson has been a passionate champion of Vassar's multidisciplinary curriculum, including the development of new programs in Environmental Studies, Jewish Studies, and Media Studies, and the integration of new technology across the college's broad array of disciplines. She also has worked to ensure that Vassar attracts and retains top faculty, who are both first-rate scholars and teachers, to provide students the richest learning community.
Fergusson's management and fundraising prowess have provided long-term financial stability for the college, and made it possible to pursue ambitious campus improvements. In 1996, Vassar completed a $206 million fundraising campaign, at that time the largest for a liberal arts college, and under her leadership the College also has more than tripled its endowment to $648 million. Acknowledging these advances, the College received an upgrade in its bond rating from AA- to AA, an unusual shift upward in recent financial times.
"Fran Fergusson has proven to be absolutely the right person at the right time for Vassar. She's brought her great respect for scholarship and dedication to liberal arts education together with the skills of a top CEO," said Richard Van Demark, chair of the College's Board of Trustees since 1995, and the first male graduate to hold that post. "She understands all of the fiscal complexities and challenges of running a college, is a tireless fundraiser, and is wonderful at keeping our alumnae/i engaged. She has done all of this with an unwavering vision of the kind of institution Vassar could become, and she's brought the rest of us with her."
Soon after she was inaugurated, Fergusson, an architectural historian, commissioned a comprehensive assessment of the College's expansive grounds, which became a blueprint for her revival of the storied Vassar campus. Today, Vassar brims with natural beauty across its thousand acres. Important historic buildings by James Renwick, Jr., Marcel Breuer, and Eero Saarinen have been renovated, and the grand Thompson Memorial Library boasts an expansion by the noted architect Hugh Hardy.
Importantly, led by Fergusson's architectural expertise, dynamic new uses also have been found for existing facilities, and new life has been breathed into forgotten portions of the campus; for example, a student multicultural center, art studios, and an experimental black-box theater have been created from former trades buildings and the old campus power plant.
Under Fergusson's leadership, the sciences have seen new teaching and research spaces for experimental psychology, for geology and geography, and for astronomy. New campus construction has included the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center and the recent Center for Drama and Film (both designed by Cesar Pelli), as well as the Class of '51 Observatory, Priscilla Bullitt Collins Field Station, and greatly enhanced athletic facilities.
"Frances Fergusson has done so much to transform Vassar. Today it has one of the most beautiful and coherent campuses in America," said architect Cesar Pelli. "Fran impressed me from the very beginning with her intelligence, and her understanding of planning and architecture. She was always deeply involved in our designs from the early planning decisions and how they would affect the total of the campus. Her presence will be felt by many generations yet to come."
Fergusson is on the Board of Overseers of Harvard University, beginning a six-year term in 2002. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, on the Board of Directors of the Foreign Policy Association, and a trustee of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation.
Fergusson was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Ford Foundation from 1989-2001 and chaired its committee on education, media, arts, and culture, and its proxy committee. She was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Mayo Clinic from 1988-2002, and chair of its board from 1998-2002.
Fergusson currently serves on the executive committee of the New York Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (cIcu), and has been on the board of directors of the Society of Architectural Historians of the United States, and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). In 1998, she received the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, and Vanity Fair magazine chose her as one of "America's 200 Most Influential Women." Harvard University awarded her the Centennial Medal of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, in 1999. She is a 2001 recipient of the Alumnae Achievement Award of Wellesley College, and of the Doctor of Literature degree (honorary) from the University of London.
Fergusson is a director and member of the executive committee of HSBC Bank USA, and recently was named a director of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. She served as a director of CH Energy Inc. from 1993-2002. A past member of the board of directors of the United Way of Dutchess County, she was the 1991 campaign chair for Dutchess County. She was on the board of Historic Hudson from 1990-1999, and was elected an honorary fellow of the Foreign Policy Association in 1999.
Fergusson came to Vassar from Bucknell University where she was provost and vice president for academic affairs (1982-1986), and a professor of art. A graduate of Wellesley College in 1965, with special honors in art history, Fergusson went on to earn her master's and doctoral degrees in art history at Harvard University. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, she was named a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in 1974-75 and a Radcliffe Institute Fellow in the same year. In 1979 she was elected a Danforth Associate for excellence in teaching and commitment to students.
Fergusson's career in teaching began at Newton College (merged in 1975 with Boston College) in 1969. In 1975 she was appointed an associate professor of art at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, where later she was director of the Urban Studies Program and director of the American Civilization Program. From 1980 to 1982 she served as assistant chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Boston. She has published widely in her academic specialty, architectural history; her work has emphasized the reuse of historical styles by later generations of architects and the meaning given to those revivals. She won the Founder's Award of the Society of Architectural Historians for her study of St. Charles' Church, Vienna.
For more information and photo requests, contact Jeff Kosmacher, Director of Media Relations, at (845) 437-7404. Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.
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