Sarah Lawrence College president to step down next year

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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Karen R. Lawrence, president of Sarah Lawrence College. Photo by Stefan Radtke, provided by Sarah Lawrence. Karen R. Lawrence, president of Sarah Lawrence College. Photo by Stefan Radtke, provided by Sarah Lawrence.

The president of Sarah Lawrence College will step down next year, the school announced Wednesday.

Karen R. Lawrence, who became president of the small, Yonkers private liberal arts college in 2007, said she will retire in July 2017. Sarah Lawrence College said in a press statement it has started a search for its next president and will announce a successor in the winter.

The 10th president of the college, Lawrence has no relation to the founding family of the school. Sarah Lawrence College has credited her with leading the university through recession, concerns over the growing costs of higher education, changing student demographics and questions of the place for a liberal arts education in a world growing more dependent on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

“Karen Lawrence’s greatest legacy will be her leadership and fundraising success, which allowed the college to maintain the affordability of the distinctive Sarah Lawrence education, the hallmarks of which are small classes and on one-on-one interaction between students and faculty, during a period of national economic turmoil,” said John Hill, who chaired the school’s Board of Trustees from 2008 to May 2016.

During Lawrence’s tenure, Sarah Lawrence raised more than $120 million toward a goal of $200 million, including a $15 million gift from alumna Barbara Walters to help fund a new campus center. Sarah Lawrence also grew its enrollment, added new curricular offerings in arts and technology and environmental studies. The school also expanded its community outreach, including the establishment of the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak, which provides education programs for K-12 students involving Hudson River estuary and urban watershed issues.  The college’s sports programs joined Division III of the NCAA.

Lawrence served as dean of the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine, before arriving at Sarah Lawrence College, according to a biography on Sarah Lawrence’s website. Before that, Lawrence was a member and chair of the Department of English at the University of Utah.

Lawrence attended Smith College for two years and received her bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University. She was among the first women to graduate from Yale when it became coeducational. She earned a master’s in English from Tufts University and her doctorate in English from Columbia University.

At its residential campus in Yonkers, near the Bronxville border, Sarah Lawrence College has about 1,500 total students.



About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.

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