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Smith College’s president plans to retire

Search underway to replace Christ

Carol Christ, the president of Smith College, said she will retire next year. She said that in her 12-year tenure ‘‘we have worked to make Smith a more global institution so we can provide students with more opportunities.’’

NANCY PALMIERI/FILE

Carol Christ, the president of Smith College, said she will retire next year. She said that in her 12-year tenure ‘‘we have worked to make Smith a more global institution so we can provide students with more opportunities.’’

The 10th president of Smith College, Carol T. Christ, announced that she will retire next year after more than a decade at the helm of the Northampton women’s college.

In a letter posted on the Smith website Friday, Christ, 67, said she will step down in June 2013.

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In an interview Saturday, Christ said many accomplishments marked her tenure, but two stick out: developing the nation’s only accredited engineering program at a women’s college and presiding over a significant rise in diversity among students.

“We have worked to make Smith a more global institution so we can provide students with more opportunities to engage global perspectives,’’ Christ said.

In the letter, Christ cited the strides the college has taken since she became president in 2000.

Applications have increased substantially, she wrote, Smith students continue to win Fulbright fellowships in “large numbers,’’ and the college has created new centers for work and life, global studies, the environment, community collaboration, and teaching.

“As Smith’s president, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the history of women in the 20th and now into the 21st century through a unique lens - the aspirations, the achievements, and the lives of our students and alumnae,’’ Christ wrote in the letter

Additionally, Smith has completed a number of major projects during Christ’s tenure, including the renovation and expansion of a fine arts center, construction of a new campus center, renovation of the botanical conservatory, and construction of Ford Hall, a sustainable-design classroom and laboratory facility, the letter said.

Cornelia Mendenhall Small, chairwoman of the Smith College board of trustees since 2008, praised Christ for her “excellent’’ business sense, her ability to anticipate and keep up with changes in higher education, and her commitment to the idea of a women’s college.

“She was starting out with something pretty good, but I think that in the last 10 years, the most distinguished effects she’s had were because of the emphasis on diversity and access,’’ Small said.

Small said she would like to see the next president have many of Christ’s attributes.

“I have no doubt that the next decade will be difficult for every institution of higher learning,’’ Small said. “We’ll need someone with very good strategic thinking.’’

After she steps down, Christ said, she looks forward to a sabbatical and picking up multiple writing projects she set aside during her term, including a book on death in Victorian culture, and projects related to higher education, and animals in literature.

Christ said she believes her successor should be “someone passionate about education for women and the development of women as global leaders.’’

In January, Smith’s board of trustees appointed a 12-member search committee to recommend a new president upon the completion of Christ’s term in June 2013, according to Smith’s website.

The search committee has not revealed when it will announce its selection, said Kristen Cole, a spokeswoman for Smith.

Looking forward, Christ said the rising cost of college is the most significant problem facing higher education. Only the top 5 percent of the population can afford to pay the full price of a private college such as Smith, she said.

“Smith has always had access to affordable education at the heart of its mission, and 60 percent of students receive financial aid. But this problem is not unique to Smith,’’ Christ said. “All universities need to figure out ways to reduce costs and raise revenue without raising tuition.’’

Before Christ was president of Smith, she was the executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California Berkeley, according to the college’s website. Christ was a professor at the Berkeley university from 1970 to 2002.

Christ was born in New York City, attended public schools in northern New Jersey, and earned a doctorate in English from Yale University in 1970, according to Smith’s website.

She is the author of two books on Victorian poetry.

Christopher J. Girard can be reached at chrisjgirard@gmail.com.
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