In Conversation: President Mariko Silver

Recent graduate trustee Jason Moon ’13 talks with Bennington College’s tenth president Dr. Mariko Silver. They discuss what she finds compelling about Bennington, the college’s signature programs Field Work Term and The Plan, as well as the role the College plays as a vibrant model for the liberal arts.

Copy to share:

The Making of Bennington's 10th President, Mariko Silver

The story behind Bennington's first presidential search in 26 years—and the extraordinary candidate who emerged.

Copy to share:

print
share

End-of-year reflections

July 10, 2014

It was not quite a year ago that I arrived on the Bennington campus, thrilled to be joining this remarkable community—a community that over the next twelve months would add two more Pulitzers to its ranks, two more Fulbrights, another New York Times Magazine cover story, an upcoming solo exhibition at the Walker Art Center, an Echoing Green Fellowship, and countless other triumphs large and small. During that time, I talked with students, faculty, and staff across the campus and with alumni and parents across the country—literally thousands of you—about Bennington’s brand of genius. You told me of faculty mentorships, of collaborative work in and out of the classroom, and of the intense development of the individual mind—“a brain incubator,” one of you called it. And I became ever more convinced that what we do here is the highest form of higher education.

It is for this reason that I see my fundamental work, all of our work, as extending Bennington’s reach. This will require deeper and more expansive engagement with alumni and parents. It will take me, faculty, and staff talking about Bennington within the landscape of higher education and in the media. And it will take all of you telling your own Bennington stories.

For the 143 members of the class of 2014, their Bennington stories culminated with their commencement in May, a memorable, two-day celebration that included remarks from faculty members Sherry Kramer and Bruce Williamson, class speaker Maria Jacobson ’14, and our 79th commencement speaker, Dr. Johnnetta Cole. Dr. Cole spoke, among other things, of the virtue of courage, summoning the words of her late friend Maya Angelou, who called it “the most important of all virtues, as without it, the rest have no chance.” There’s perhaps no better authority on the subject of courage than Ms. Angelou—and no college better at instilling it in its students, as evidenced by this year’s remarkable graduating class, than Bennington. Congratulations again to our newest alumni.

Congratulations also to the Bennington Writing Seminars, our graduate program in writing and literature, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Faculty and alumni from the first class to the most recent returned to campus last month to celebrate the many accomplishments of their classmates and teachers and to welcome the 2014 graduates into their legacy of letters.

I am pleased to report that we are welcoming nearly 200 extraordinary new students to campus this fall. The class of 2018 joins us from a record 29 countries and 29 states, affirming our efforts to bring the world to Bennington and reaffirming our responsibility to bring Bennington to the world. I am especially proud that we are able to provide need-based financial aid to 78 percent of the incoming class, which is a testament to the vital importance and generosity of our ever-growing community of donors.

Our extensive financial aid packages, among other essential components of a Bennington education, are funded in large part by The Bennington Fund and alumni giving. Our fiscal year just ended on June 30, and while we are still receiving some gifts this week, to date we have raised $1,408,947 from 2,029 alumni, parents, faculty, staff, students, and friends. This includes 68 from the Class of 2014 for their Senior Class Gift effort (that reached a 51-percent giving rate). Thank you for your support.

And thanks as well to the hundreds of alumni, parents, and friends who attended the many events, on campus and in cities all over the country during my inaugural year. From Family Weekend and Reunion in the fall, to the regional events in New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland in the winter and spring, and finally, to my inauguration in April, the outpouring of support and shared love of this institution has been nothing short of astonishing. The enthusiasm I felt from you is something I hope to build upon with new and substantive opportunities for engagement in the future.

Engagement with the community has been a theme this year as well. Whether it be by our students spearheading North Bennington’s conversion to LED streetlights, or by the College partnering with the Bennington Museum on a summer Modernism exhibition, or by reopening the north gate of campus to make our offerings more accessible, we will continue to seek ways to expand our role as a partner and asset to the community that our faculty, staff, and their families—mine among them—proudly call home.

I am delighted to announce that two new faculty members will be calling Bennington home this fall. We look forward to the contributions of dance faculty member Elena Demyanenko and sound design faculty member David Baron, two wonderfully talented teachers and makers, to the intellectual and creative life of the College. In addition, David Bond, a visiting anthropology faculty member last year, will be rejoining us as a senior associate in the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, where he will continue teaching and help to develop and plan the CAPA curriculum and related events.

And, finally, it is with mixed emotions that we toast beloved faculty member, mentor, colleague, and friend, Mansour Farhang, who retires from Bennington this summer after 30 years. A political science and international relations expert, as well as a devoted human rights advocate, Mansour is the embodiment of Bennington’s fundamental belief that a teacher’s influence in the classroom should be informed by his or her influence in the world. In both arenas, Mansour’s influence has been great. You can read about Mansour’s remarkable life and career in the upcoming issue of Bennington magazine, and join us as we formally honor him on campus this coming October 4. I hope to see many of you there—and in the meanwhile.

–Mariko Silver, President


Reflections on my first term at Bennington

January 7, 2014

As we welcome in the New Year, I wanted to take a moment to share with all of you some of my first term reflections.

First and foremost, I want to say thank you. Thank you for welcoming me and my family. We have so quickly come to feel Bennington truly is home.

It has been a rich, amazing, diverse, and inspiring term. Since we arrived in August, I have been working closely with members of the Bennington community—faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni—to surface and articulate the fundamental aspects of a Bennington education, and to develop programs that will foster and support a healthy, engaged campus community. We also are exploring multiple ways to develop our campus infrastructure to better support our work.

I look forward to continuing these conversations on campus and with more alumni and parents when I take to the road in the spring. I hope to see many of you at events during these travels and, of course, on campus for the inauguration celebration on Saturday, April 26.

Until then, here are a few highlights from my first five months on campus:

August: We settled into Orchard D, where we ate all the apples we could reach (and more) and marveled every day at the spectacular views. I had the enormous pleasure of welcoming the Bennington College Class of 2017, working with them through a phenomenal “close reading” of the traditional Bennington Commencement Statement, and listening to faculty member Nick Brooke take us all on a wonderful ride through key moments in the storied history of music-making at Bennington and more.

September: I attended my first faculty meeting, where we talked about our goals for this year and beyond, shared perspectives on what makes Bennington so distinctive as well as where we can continue to reach new levels of educational innovation and achievement. My second child, Aya Mary, was kind enough to wait until after that faculty meeting to enter into this world. When she did arrive, the entire Bennington College community gave her the warmest of welcomes. For this we will be forever grateful.

At the end of September I also had the honor of welcoming record numbers of alumni and parents to campus for Reunion and Family Weekend. I heard from alumni of (almost) every decade (1943–2013) about what makes Bennington so very special to them. Inspiring is the best word to describe the weekend for me.

October: I traveled to NYC at the invitation of the Mellon Foundation to meet with a select group of fellow new presidents of liberal arts colleges. I also had the opportunity to meet with a range of foundations and college presidents at a Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) gathering. And, at the last minute, I managed to make it to the inauguration of Yale’s new president, Peter Salovey. This is just the first wave of reaching out to peer institutions, but it is clear that Bennington's place in the community of educators is truly important. We have a lot to share.

With faculty we continued to talk about what works well here and where our ongoing work is most needed, as well as the innovations we should build upon. We talked about our aspirations and goals. A special highlight of October was meeting with students and sitting in on several Plan meetings. These experiences gave me a deeper understanding of the Bennington experience.

November: I attended the fall meeting of the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges (AVIC) and reaffirmed Bennington's commitment to our sister institutions, our state, and the development of a shared vision for what makes an education in Vermont distinctive. I am particularly pleased to join AVIC discussions this year, as alumna Ellen McCulloch Lovell, president of Marlboro College, is chairing the group.

My husband, Thom, and I were also thrilled to host our neighbors in the Orchard—including faculty members Rotimi Suberu, Allen Shawn, and Michael Wimberly, and their families—for a rousing Thanksgiving-turned-drum circle-turned piano improvisation (on my 19-month-old’s baby piano)...photos upon request…

Thom and I were transfixed by the stirring performance of Great Expectations, this term’s faculty-directed production that showcased the talents of our students and faculty.

December: While the snow began to fall, I had a wonderful time settling in, meeting with faculty and students one-on-one, continuing to hear and share ideas—too many to count. I loved seeing and hearing about all the great work students are doing here in the sciences, mathematics, and computing at the Winter-palooza Poster Fest, and bringing my children to the McCullough Library in North Bennington to make snowflakes and read stories with two Bennington students working on a project there. I was wowed by the end-of-term dance and music performances, visual arts exhibitions, and thoroughly enjoyed inspiring conversations with faculty groups about our shared aspirations. We also hosted a campus-wide conversation about the College’s sustainability goals that touched on everything from the food we eat (and grow) to our financial health.

On a more personal note, at my first Midnight Breakfast a student led me in a rollicking swing dance, while my husband Thom played guitar with the staff band. Not bad for my first late night out with two kids sleeping at home!

My warmest wishes to you and your families for a happy and healthy 2014 and a million thank-yous for what you do and have done to make Bennington the extraordinarily remarkable community that it is. I look forward to seeing you all soon.

–Mariko Silver, President