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Blessing and Burden

Role of alumnae in the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study remains in flux

Lowell K. Chow

As thousands of Radcliffe alums return to Cambridge this week to reconnect with classmates and revisit the site of their college years, the group that represents them will be entering its final days.

This Friday, the Radcliffe Association—which includes some 30,000 alumnae of Radcliffe College—will hold its last formal meeting in Aggasiz Theater.

On June 30, the association’s sole source of funding will be cut off, and a new office will open at Radcliffe in its place.

The change highlights a complicated and often tense relationship between alumnae of the now-defunct women’s college and the fledgling institute that bears its name—the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, which formed in 1999 after the college’s merger with Harvard University.

“The Radcliffe Association will no longer be funded and the governing board will no longer be funded to do its governance,” says Radcliffe Association President Raine Figueroa ’84.

The Institute quietly informed alums of the change on page four of the summer 2003 edition of the Radcliffe Quarterly, beneath a nondescript headline that reads “Announcement of New Office of Alumnae Services.”

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The office will provide the same staff and services to alums—including sponsoring reunions for the Radcliffe classes up to 1962—according to the announcement, which cites a recently released report from the Radcliffe Association’s Futures Committee as the impetus for the change.

But Figueroa, who oversaw the committee and the writing of the report, says the move towards eliminating the Radcliffe Association began before the committee even convened and was driven primarily by the Institute’s streamlining efforts.

“They said very emphatically that it was in response to the Futures Committee report. However, I don’t think that’s possible because of this ongoing examination of what they need to do,” she says.

The 24-page Futures Committee report—based on numerous meetings, a survey of alumnae and interviews with Radcliffe administrators—and evaluates the relationship between the Radcliffe Institute and the alumnae of Radcliffe College. Posted on the Radcliffe Association’s website, the report includes recommendations for ways the Radcliffe Association can serve alumnae more effectively while remaining supportive of the new Institute.

Though the report acknowledges that alumnae still share some common interests with the Institute, it reveals fundamental differences in their priorities and goals.

The Radcliffe Institute “has ceased to fund some programs central to the RA’s [Radcliffe Association’s] mission, resulting in their discontinuation,” the report says. “To the RI [Radcliffe Institute], the RA’s activities are merely budget line items, to fund or not fund according to RI priorities, and with limited input from or discussion with the RA.”

But Radcliffe officials describe alumnae as a valued constituency.

“Other institutes for advanced study don’t have many of thousands of alums,” Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust says. “Instead of feeling it’s a necessity, we need to feel that it’s a luxury and a privilege.”

‘Prologue to the Present’

Radcliffe administrators have spent the last four years since the merger hammering out the details of its new identity as an institute for advanced study, attempting to streamline programs and refine its mission.

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