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Blessing and Burden

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

By Ella A. Hoffman and Elizabeth S. Widdicombe, Crimson Staff Writerss

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.”

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.

Radcliffe is no longer a women’s college—it is something entirely different in spirit and idea. The Radcliffe Institute revolves around a fellowship program, and it has shed many of the educational programs and the connections with undergraduates that once defined its existence.

These streamlining efforts have been largely successful, and many predict that the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study is on its way to joining an elite and prestigious league—and establishing itself within the University.

Though it has for the most part left its past identity behind, the Institute’s mission includes a commitment to “women, gender and society” as a nod to Radcliffe’s heritage.

And because of its history as a former women’s college the present Radcliffe Institute possesses what no other comparable organization has—an alumnae body.

Susan S. Wallach ’68, a former member of the Radcliffe College Board of Trustees who played a key role in negotiating the Harvard-Radcliffe merger, says that alumnae interests factored significantly into what Radcliffe has become.

“We had a clear list of things [during the merger negotiations] that were central to Radcliffe College and Radcliffe history,” says Wallach. “These were things that were non-negotiable and reflected what alums wanted and were really concerned about, and what had grown out of Radcliffe’s history.”

But despite attempts to include alumnae input in the reshaping of Radcliffe, many alumnae say their role in the Institute feels unclear.

“It is a little awkward to be an alumna of a college that no longer exists,” says New York Times reporter Linda J. Greenhouse ’68, who will receive the alumnae recognition award for the 35th reunion class this week. “The Institute is struggling to deal with what to do with the alums.”

This built-in constituency is both a blessing and a burden. Alumnae don’t fit into the puzzle of the new Radcliffe, and yet the Institute must reconcile the vestiges of its collegiate past with its emerging identity.

At its inception, the Institute inherited a body of alums which didn’t have any direct connection to the new mission and goals of the Institute, but remained sentimentally attached to the idea of Radcliffe.

Alumnae feel varying degrees of ownership towards the nebulous new institute.

“Many of my classmates say they feel dispossesed by the merger,” says Charlotte P. Armstrong ’49, a former president of the Board of Overseers who also helped in merger negotiations. “It’s a different relationship [with the Radcliffe Institute.] The women of my era are not altogether part of the Institute and they’re not altogether a part of Harvard. They’re in never-never land.”

But if the idea of an institute for advanced study appears remote and incongrous to some alumnae, even the most skeptical are swayed by Faust’s vision for Radcliffe’s future.

For Faust as well as alums, this is a vision firmly rooted in Radcliffe’s history.

“Sometimes I wonder if [former University President] Neil Rudenstine was self-conscious about choosing an historian as dean,” Faust says. “My approach has been to look at the past as prologue to the present.”

This is the vision of Radcliffe’s future that Faust has adapted, and it is one that University President Lawrence H. Summers has emphatically endorsed.

“I think it’s a great tribute to Dean Faust the way Radcliffe is adapting,” he said at the Radcliffe-sponsored Strawberry Tea late last month, “With Dean Faust’s leadership, what’s now going to happen at Harvard is something the University has never had before—an institute for advanced study that will bring the greatest scholars from all over the world to do research in fields that range from economics to the inner workings of the cell.”

But to create a new Radcliffe that is in continuum with its past, Faust must attempt to reconcile the mission of the new Radcliffe Institute with what alumnae value most about its heritage.

“Dean Faust has an enormous challenge,” says Sandra Biloon ’51. “Her challenge is to build an institute of advanced study that will be renowned internationally. Her focus should be on doing that...Her basic charge is to create a very good institute, but without neglecting attention to Radcliffe values.”

From the beginning, this created an uneasy balance between alumnae interests—which the Radcliffe Association sought to protect—and those of the Institute.

“There’s a slight disconnect between what Radcliffe College was and what the Institute is,” says Figueroa. “The members of the Radcliffe Association are part of a group because of their association as undergraduate alumnae. [Their concerns] don’t always fit in nicely with what the Radcliffe Institute is doing.”

Women, Money and Power

At present, the Institute is bound to their built-in alumnae constituency—and their pocketbooks.

But some alumnae say that while their loyalty to the memory of their alma mater has not changed, it does not transfer to the Institute automatically.

“There’s something about the role of an alum that harks back to the original experience,” says Constance Carden ’66. “I am less invested in supporting an institute because that’s not what I attended—that would be the college if it were still there. I don’t feel compelled to give money to an institute. My financial loyalty is affected, but not my sentimental loyalty.”

“I am pretty sure that in another era I would have thought that Radcliffe would be in my will. I don’t think it will now,” says Barbara Healey Killian ’53. “I am now at the stage in my life that I would have contributed more. I will continue my support of Radcliffe, but I won’t go the extra mile that I would have for the college.”

Currently, the Radcliffe Institute is financially secure with an income from its endowment—valued at $256.2 million as of June 30, 2002—merger payments from Harvard University, fundraising and a small amount from rents and fees.

In Fiscal Year 2001-2002, more than 7,600 donors contributed $7.3 million in gifts and pledges, with $2 million set aside for the Radcliffe Annual Fund and over $1.3 million in planned or estate giving received, according to the Institute’s 2001-2002 annual report.

Merger payments currently constitute 18 percent of the operating budget, with gifts comprising 11 percent of the Institute’s operating revenue.

Thus it appears that Radcliffe is flush with money—it brought in nearly four million more than it spent last year.

However, almost all of that surplus was part of the merger payments guaranteed to Radcliffe from the University—start-up payments which are slated to sunset in 2012. After that, Radcliffe will be responsible for its own funding as one of the University’s 10 autonomous schools. But unlike the other schools, which gain revenue from tuition and have growing alumni bodies, Radcliffe’s alumnae base will only decrease over time—and the Institute must plan accordingly.

“I think alumnae who feel a loyalty to the Institute as a successor to Radcliffe College will continue to contribute,” says Biloon. “But in the long-run, an institute has to look to different sources of fundraising, because we’re all dying off.”

Associate Dean for Advancement and Planning Tamara Elliott Rogers ’74 says that in recent planning efforts, the Radcliffe Institute has done just that, turning to some of the same sources of funding as its peer institutions, such as foundations and corporate contributions.

And Faust says the Institute’s recently-begun “financial modelling exercise” takes the fact that merger payments will cease in 2012 into account.

“We are defining our mission to fit within our means,” she explains.

In addition, the Institute is also positioning itself to appeal to a new constituency—one that includes younger alums, Harvard men and individuals unaffiliated with the University.

“The fundraising will be a very difficult and more challenging situation once the core constituency [of alumnae] is gone,” Rogers says, noting that the “magnitude of graduating classes of alums” will be difficult to replace.

According to Faust, new constituencies to court include “younger alums and people excited about the new Radcliffe identity.”

But in the meantime, its core alumnae supporters remain a very important part of the Institute’s fundraising efforts, according to Radcliffe officials, who declined to specify the percentage of total gifts that came from alumnae last year.

What Alumnae Want

Since the merger, Faust and other Radcliffe administrators have charted a clear course as an institute for advanced study, leaving many in the Radcliffe Association to wonder where they fit in.

And so, when the annual meeting of the association rolled around in April 2002, its board of management decided the time had come to take a fresh look at their relationship with Radcliffe.

The 10-member “Futures Committee,” charged with creating a strategic plan for the group every five years, was selected in June 2002—a year ahead of schedule.

Over a period of six months, the group of alumnae hashed out a series of recommendations and concerns.

“It was an intense process that took place over a very long period of time,” Figueroa says.

The Radcliffe Association is “less and less able to fulfill its traditional mission” under the auspices of the Radcliffe Institute, according to the report.

The report identifies the “interests” of both the Radcliffe Institute and its alumnae body, in an effort, according to its introduction, to determine where they overlap and come up with recommendations for both groups.

While support for the Institute is expressed throughout the report, it repeatedly cites connecting alumnae with undergraduate students—along with women’s public advocacy—as two of the “core values” that Radcliffe and its alumnae body no longer share.

“Basically, we’re just trying to be sure that all the things we hold dear and are concerned about as women who have been at Harvard are taken care of,” says Judith F. Bowman ’61, one of the committee members.

But the merger agreement mandated that Radcliffe hand over all responsibility for undergraduates to Harvard College.

“The Radcliffe Institute is not taking responsibility for undergraduate women,” says Biloon, who also served on the Futures Committee. “That’s perfectly appropriate for them as an academic institution.”

The report also suggests that the Institute is still suited to serve women’s interests in some ways, acting as a base for female scholars to build credentials—and hopefully catch the attention of Harvard department chairs who can offer them tenure-track positions—and as a “convener” for women across the University.

In addition to recommending future goals for the Radcliffe Association, the report describes tensions that have developed between alumnae and the Radcliffe Institute since the merger.

“The most significant post-merger change...has been the end of a significant governance role for the Radcliffe Association,” the report says, claiming that they were not invited to serve on Faust’s advisory council.“We went into it thinking that we were partners in this and that all the parties were equal,” Figueroa said. “We couldn’t believe that they weren’t coming to us begging for our perspective.”

The report also cites several “divergent” interests between the Institute and the association, lamenting that “alumnae-centric” programming is a thing the past.

Even though alumnae were invited to attend the “Women, Money, and Power” conference held at Radcliffe last fall, “there was little opportunity to convene or connect as alumnae and limited recognition of alumnae status,” according to the report.

And the report complains that the Radcliffe Quarterly, which once reported on issues of special interest to alumnae, has now become more of an academic journal highlighting the work of the Institute’s fellows.

As a result of Radcliffe’s shifting mission, the report says, the functions of the Radcliffe Association should be divided over time between the Institute and the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA).

The Next Step

Now, just over four months after the committee delivered its findings, the Radcliffe Association is on its way out.

Several members of the Futures Committee say they expected the association would eventually dissolve as a result of the merger. But Figueroa says the Institute’s decision to cut their funding came as something of a surprise.

Though the report recommends that the Radcliffe Association adopt a “new model that includes affiliation with both the [Radcliffe Institute] and the Harvard Alumni Association” over a transition period of two to three years, members of the association’s board will only be invited to serve a term on an alumnae outreach advisory board.

“We’d hoped to be part of this transition process in a formal and supportive way, although this is not officially going to happen,” she says. “If someone were to ask, is this necessarily the right course of action, I’d have to say no.”

HAA Director John P. Reardon said he has invited members of the Radcliffe Association’s board to sit in on HAA committee meetings, and would welcome their involvement in the HAA.

And many Radcliffe Association members, including Figueroa, say they plan to accept the invitation.

If the Radcliffe Association wanted to stay together as a unit, Reardon says he would not prevent them from doing so.

“Committees have a way of staying in business forever,” he says. “They’re a committee of Radcliffe alums. They’re not going to be financed by Radcliffe any longer, but that doesn’t mean that as a group, they can’t sit down together and talk or have lunch.”

Reardon noted the HAA has had a history of participation from women—including several female presidents—and plans to continue its efforts to get more women involved.

The doors of the Office of Alumnae Affairs are now open for business, and on June 30, the Institute will officially stop funding the Radcliffe Association.

The office will provide many of the same services—including reunions for pre-1963 alumnae and the mentorship program which pairs undergraduates with alums—with the staff and funding assigned to those services remaining essentially unchanged, according to Rogers.

Faust says that preserving such programs is not at odds with the Institute’s new goals.

“Our first commitment is to be what we are and to be honest about it, not to fool anyone,” Faust says. “It would be a mistake to try and fool our constituency.”

Unlike the association, which had no official oversight within the Institute, employees in the new office will report directly to Faust and Rogers.

Though she says the difference will be unnoticable to most alums, Figueroa says the way programs are run will likely change.

“It’s going to be done for the purpose of outreach for the new Institute,” she says. “That’s great, but it’s not going to be done for alumnae.”

Rogers says, however, that alumnae are a “treasured Radcliffe constituency,” and continuing to host reunions and maintaining mentorship programs is in keeping with the Institute’s commitment to preserving its own heritage.

Faust acknowledges that at times this feat involves sacrifice.

“You have to understand what you are doing grows out of the past,” she says of her approach to incorporating Radcliffe’s alums into its evolving future, “and be pretty clear about when and why you’re going to do it—even if it may not make everybody happy.”

—Alexandra N. Atiya contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Ella A. Hoffman can be reached at

—Staff writer Elizabeth S. Widdicombe can be reached at

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