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International Expert Will Lead Bennington College

Jun 28, 2013

By Patrick McArdle, Rutland Herald 

BENNINGTON —An international policy expert who worked in the Obama administration has been chosen to succeed Elizabeth Coleman as president of Bennington College.

Mariko Silver is coming to Bennington College after working at the Department of Homeland Security, Columbia University, as an adviser to the president of Arizona State University, and as a policy adviser to former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who is now secretary of Homeland Security.

Silver has also worked in London, Bangkok and at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

She said Thursday that Bennington College appeals to her because it prepares students to engage the problems and navigate the diverse cultures of the world.

“I think the intense focus on creativity in all its forms, whether its arts or sciences, math or literature, is something that Bennington has always had in its DNA and to me, in many ways, that is what the core of a 21st-century liberal arts education should be,” she said.

“It should teach you how to think, it should teach you how to articulate your ideas, it should teach you how to understand the ideas of others — analyze them and think critically about them — and it should teach you how to communicate in multiple forms.”

Silver said she hadn’t been to Bennington College before she was part of the presidential search process, but knew a lot about the school. She said she looked forward to getting to know the faculty and staff, and being part of part of what makes the college special.

“It (already has) in place such interesting, innovative elements to the nature of the education that it provides to students,” she said. “There’s so much opportunity to build on what’s already there.”

Silver was a senior advisor to President Michael Crow at Arizona State University during a period when Crow was transforming the school. In 2009, Time Magazine named Crow one of the top 10 college presidents for his work in making Arizona State what he called the “New American University.”

At Arizona State, Silver developed international initiatives. At Homeland Security, she was acting assistant secretary for international affairs and deputy assistant secretary for international policy.

At Bennington, she hopes to use her international experience as well as her experience working at a school that underwent “tremendous change that built very carefully on what was already there.”

She added, “... There are things that can be learned from the ASU experience that can be brought to Bennington.”

Silver pointed to the field-work term, during which students spend seven weeks in the spring semester working at a job or internship that complements the student’s major. She said it was an example of innovation for higher education and addresses the questions being raised in the national conversation about the value of a liberal arts education.

The field-work term is one of the aspects of a Bennington education that connects the world of work to the world of ideas through the experiences of the students, she said.

“I think in many ways, at its best, that’s what a liberal arts education can be and should be,” she said.

In a statement announcing Silver’s appointment, Alan Kornberg, chairman of the Bennington College Board of Trustees, said Silver sees the world “not as a set of givens but as a collection of resources to be harnessed.”

“She has an extraordinary intellectual and imaginative vitality, an outstanding track record, and a deep commitment to the college’s pedagogic traditions and values,” Kornberg said.

Silver will succeed Coleman, who served as president for 25 years. Coleman will continue at the college as the head of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action.