A Man, A Plan
When it comes to Sarah Lawrence’s future, Robert M. Riggs, the new chairman of the College’s Board of Trustees, has a clear set of goals in mind. His number one priority: increasing the College’s endowment.
A decade ago, it was $20 million; currently it stands at about $50 million. “And yes, that’s progress,” says Riggs, a longtime Bronxville resident and senior counsel at the Wall Street law firm Carter, Ledyard & Milburn. “But in the world of liberal arts colleges, it’s still small potatoes.”
What would he like it to be? “More like $150 million!” he says emphatically, explaining that Amherst College in Massachusetts, his alma mater and a comparable liberal arts school in terms of size and scope, boasts an endowment of about $900 million.
Riggs’s plan is to mount a targeted money-raising drive for a separate fund—all of which would be reinvested over the years and not drawn upon, enabling it to grow rapidly. “Yale University’s class of ’54 gift this year shows how rewarding such a fund can be, both for the donors and the College,” Riggs says. “Seventy-one donors started with modest four- and five-figure contributions, then presented Yale with $90 million twenty-five years later.” The new fund would not replace, but rather supplement, the Fund for Sarah Lawrence, the strategic initiatives, and other giving programs at the College “that must retain their priority,” he says. He hopes that as the endowment grows, the College will be able, among other things, to increase the economic diversity of incoming classes.
His number one priority: increasing the College’s endowment. A decade ago, it was $20 million; currently it’s about $50 million. “Yes, that’s progress,” says Riggs. “But in the world of liberal arts colleges, it’s still small potatoes.” What would he like it to be? “More like $150 million!”
As the current campaign, The Sarah Lawrence Difference: Preserve it. Enrich it, draws to a successful close—at press time, the overall goal of $75 million has been exceeded by $1.5 million—Riggs gives praise to President Michele Tolela Myers for fostering the College’s financial health and burgeoning academic and social programs. “Her leadership, sense of vision and fiscal responsibility, and her fundraising skills have brought us a long way in a short time,” says Riggs, a take-charge type of individual who is a retired U.S. Air Force Captain, senior counsel at Carter, Ledyard & Milburn, the director of Sea Containers Ltd. (listed on the New York Stock Exchange), and a former trustee of the Village of Bronxville. “She relates well to all of the Sarah Lawrence constituents—students, parents, faculty, trustees and graduates—and working closely with her will be a pleasure.”
Riggs and his wife, Wendy, are longtime Sarah Lawrence boosters; the Frieda Wildy Riggs Chair in Religious Studies was created by the Riggs family to honor his late mother, and more recent gifts have added to the chair’s capital and other needs of the College. He is drawn to supporting SLC, he says, because “Sarah Lawrence has a greater need than my alma mater, which is already rich.”
Riggs describes SLC’s academic program as one of the strongest in the nation. He points to the remarkably low student to faculty ratio at Sarah Lawrence and the seminar and donning system. He notes that, in a recent report, Harvard University recommended that its own undergraduate division incorporate smaller class sizes. “Sarah Lawrence has been there for years,” he says proudly. The Harvard report also says that its students should have a broader experience with other countries. “We’ve been doing that for a long time, too,” he notes, referring to Sarah Lawrence’s programs in Florence, Paris, Oxford and Cuba, and its London Theatre Program.
A member of the Board for 10 years, Riggs says he has witnessed “tremendous growth” at the College during that period. Among other things, Sarah Lawrence has trebled applications, built the Science Center and the Campbell Sports Center, constructed the Monika A. and Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Visual Arts Center, and otherwise “become a hot school,” he says.
Despite its relative youth—and the need to grow its nest egg— Sarah Lawrence has much to be proud of, says its 19th Board chairman.
“The strongest endorsement is its alumnae/i—all the writers, the educators, the artists, the scientists and doctors, and those active in politics, for example. Just think of it: If one were to try and place on a table all of the books published by Sarah Lawrence alumnae/i in just the past 10 years—the fiction, nonfiction, poetry, photography—the table couldn’t hold them. It’s an exceptional place.”
At the May Board of Trustees meeting, retiring chairman Margot Bogert ’75 received a memorable send-off. To honor her “unparalleled leadership and generosity,” a new faculty chair has been endowed in her name; the holder of the Bogert Distinguished Service Chair will represent “excellence in teaching, a concern for the full development of students, and lively engagement with and service to the Sarah Lawrence community.” Bogert will remain a trustee through 2004-05.
At the May 2004 meeting of the Board of Trustees, Robert Riggs was elected chairman, replacing Margot Bogert ’75, who will remain a trustee. Myra Drucker ’68 was elected co-vice-chair; she will serve along with Diana Chambers Leslie ’69, who was re-elected as co-vice chair. Monika Heimbold ’85, Anne Beane Rudman ’67, Wendy Samuel ’71 and faculty trustee Shirley Kaplan retired from the Board.
Four new trustees have joined the Board: François-Henri Briard is a senior partner of the Paris-based law firm of Delaporte, Briard & Trichet, one of the four largest French Supreme Court firms. He graduated from law school at the age of 20 and has since represented a wide variety of public and private individuals, multinational companies, and foreign governments. Briard is the president of the Vergennes Institute, which promotes cooperation between the French and U.S. Supreme Courts, and has taught at law schools and colleges around the world.
Sonia Reese ’73 holds an M.Ed from Columbia University and an MA in public administration from the City University of New York. For over 15 years, she has served as executive director of Columbia University Community Impact, an independent nonprofit organization that serves disadvantaged people in the Harlem area. Reese serves on the board of the Spence Chapin Services to Families and Children, an adoption agency, and is a member of the advisory board of the Center in Innovation in Social Responsibility at Columbia University.
Judith Serafini-Sauli ’63 was elected as the faculty trustee at the nomination of the faculty. A member of the Italian faculty since 1981, she earned her Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University, and is an expert on Boccaccio. Serafini-Sauli designed and oversees the College’s program in Florence, a model for programs immersing American undergraduates in language, culture, social and educational systems abroad.
Yvonne R. Isaac ’70 will serve as alumnae/i trustee at the nomination by the Alumnae/i Association. She is the vice president of regional operations for Full Spectrum of N.Y., a Harlem-based real estate development firm where she develops environmentally “green” buildings. She holds MS degrees in urban and environmental science and in transportation planning and engineering. Isaac, who was an at-large member of the Sarah Lawrence College Alumnae/i Board prior to her election to the Board of Trustees, also serves on the board of the Girl Scout Council of Northwest Georgia and is a past member of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce Committee on Education.
Trustee Nancy Cantor ’74, formerly chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, became the 11th chancellor and president of Syracuse University in February 2004. She is the first woman to hold the Syracuse post. “It is really, truly a momentous day,” said Joe Lampe, chairman of the Syracuse Board of Trustees. In other trustee news, Suzanne W. Wright ’98 was elected to the board of the Make-A-Wish foundation.