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The Retirement of
President Karen R. Lawrence

In May 2016, President Karen R. Lawrence announced that she intends to retire at the end of her current contract in July, 2017 after ten successful years as President.

A Letter from John Hill, Chairman of the Board

Although we will have time in President Lawrence's final year for an appropriate celebration of her many accomplishments during a period of incredible challenge for small liberal colleges, a summary of some of the most important are worth noting.  

In spite of the financial crisis of 2008 and its impact on the economy, Karen has undertaken the most successful fundraising campaign in the history of the College, with over $110 million raised to date towards a goal of $200 million, thanks to several of the largest single contributions in the history of the College. She has preserved Sarah Lawrence’s unique pedagogy while garnering resources for new initiatives in environmental studies, arts, and technology; for faculty chairs in Asian studies, economics, sustainable design, and creative writing; and has created new opportunities for studying abroad. In addition, Karen has significantly increased the amount of financial aid available to our students and pursued a level of personal engagement with students beginning in their very first year here at Sarah Lawrence.

Her vision for a new campus center inspired alumna Barbara Walters to make a historic leadership gift that will make this important building a reality. She has expanded the network of internships, community partnerships, and extra-curricular programs—such as SLCeeds—that give students the opportunity to test and develop their ideas in real world situations. Under her leadership, the student body has become more diverse and international, with students of color increasing from 20 percent in 2007 to 30 percent in 2015, and the international student population increasing from seven percent to 16 percent. Under Karen’s leadership the College joined Division III of the NCAA.

Beyond the campus Karen has been an effective national spokesman for the primacy of a liberal arts education and has garnered national attention for Sarah Lawrence’s "critical abilities assessment" evaluation index. Significantly, she rebuilt the College’s relationships with the communities of Yonkers and Bronxville through initiatives such as the Intensive Semester Yonkers and personal engagement with local citizens and civic leaders. This success, both in terms of establishing an environmental sciences laboratory on the Hudson River, and enhanced environmental studies programs through the Sarah Lawrence Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB), is due to Karen’s vision and support for this exciting addition to the region’s academic resources.

While we are going to miss Karen’s many strengths, we must now undertake a national search for the person who will succeed her as president of this special and distinctive college. As the process moves forward, we will make certain to keep the campus community apprised of the status of the search and any major developments that arise.  


John A. Hill
Chairman of the Board of Trustees
May 23, 2016

The Search Process

At the May 14, 2016 meeting of the College’s Board, the Trustees formally commenced the search for the 11th president of Sarah Lawrence College by authorizing the creation of a Presidential Search Committee and by selecting the firm of Isaacson Miller to assist the committee with the cultivation of candidates.

Learn more about the presidential search

About President Lawrence

Karen R. Lawrence was named the tenth president of Sarah Lawrence College in August 2007. She previously served as Dean of the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). During her tenure, she developed the International Center for Writing and Translation, which supports writing, translation and research activities locally and globally, and the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture, supporting research, instruction, and programming in Persian culture, language, and history. She also co-chaired the University of California Humanities Commission, charged with formulating the ten-campus university’s twenty-first century role as a national and international model for the humanities in higher education. Prior to her deanship at UCI, President Lawrence was a member and chair of the Department of English at the University of Utah.

At Sarah Lawrence, President Lawrence has worked to enhance the College’s unique educational philosophy in an institutional setting that fosters rigorous intellectual inquiry across disciplinary boundaries. Lawrence has overseen the most ambitious fundraising campaign in Sarah Lawrence’s history, which had raised $101,000,000 by its public launch in October 2015, on its way to its $200 million goal. She has garnered resources for new initiatives in Environmental Studies, partnering with the Hudson River Valley Environmental Educational Institute in Yonkers to create the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak. The College has received support for initiatives in Arts and Technology; faculty chairs in Asian Studies, sustainable design, and creative writing; faculty research support; significant expansion of scholarship funds for students; and a leadership gift from alumna Barbara Walters to create the Barbara Walters Campus Center. Building on the College’s philosophy of linking theory and practice, intellectual inquiry and practical knowledge, President Lawrence has fostered an expanding network of internships, community partnerships, and extra-curricular programs—like SLCeeds—a program to help students test and develop their ideas in real world situations. Under President Lawrence’s leadership, the student body has become more diverse and international, with students of color increasing from 20% in 2007 to 30% in 2015, and the international student population increasing from 7% to 16%. Additionally, President Lawrence has shepherded the College to membership in NCAA Division III athletics.

President Lawrence is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, serving on its Higher Education Working Group on Global Issues, and a member of the board of the Commission of Independent Colleges and Universities. She has served as a member of the Women’s Leadership Network and the American Council of Education Commission on Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity, as well as the board of the Annapolis Group, a consortium of the 130 leading liberal arts colleges in the U.S.

A widely respected English and Irish literature scholar and teacher, President Lawrence has continued to teach at Sarah Lawrence periodically while serving as president. Prior to her presidency, she served in leadership positions in her academic field, including presidencies of the International James Joyce Foundation and the Society for the Study of Narrative Literature. Her books include The Odyssey of Style in Ulysses; Penelope Voyages: Women and Travel in the British Literary Tradition; Transcultural Joyce; Decolonizing Tradition: New Views of 20th Century "British" Literary Canons; Who's Afraid of James Joyce? and Techniques for Living: Fiction and Theory in the Work of Christine Brooke-Rose.

Throughout her career, President Lawrence has received awards and professional accolades, including a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Ramona Cannon Award for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities, and the University of Utah’s prestigious Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence in research, teaching, and service.

Karen Lawrence attended Smith College for two years and received her B.A. degree in English, magna cum laude, from Yale University. Dr. Lawrence was among the first women to graduate from Yale when it became coeducational. She earned an M.A. in English from Tufts University and her Ph.D. in English, with distinction, from Columbia University. She is married to Peter Lawrence, Chief of Vascular Surgery and Director of the Gonda Vascular Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. They have two sons, Andrew and Jeffrey.