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.