President Emerita Alice Stone Ilchman Dies

President Emerita Alice Stone Ilchman
Sarah Lawrence Campus Memorial Service for Dr. Alice Ilchman, President Emerita

Tuesday, September 19 at 5 p.m. in Reisinger Concert Hall

Dr. Ilchman's family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Sarah Lawrence College, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Mount Holyoke College, PBS Foundation and Save the Children.

Sarah Lawrence College mourns the loss of Dr. Alice Stone Ilchman, an expert in international affairs who served as the eighth president of Sarah Lawrence College from 1981 to 1998. Alice died on Friday, August 11, 2006 from complications arising from pancreatic cancer. Throughout Dr. Ilchman’s long and varied career in academia, government and philanthropy she was respected and admired for her leadership, her commitment to her ideals, and her ability to “build bridges,” to bring together diverse constituencies to collaborate towards common goals. She was 71 years old.

As the longest-serving president in Sarah Lawrence College’s history Ilchman had a profound effect on the school. She established two new buildings, 10 faculty chairs, and three overseas programs; she strengthened the College’s management and finances and helped it find its place in the global community. In so doing, she advanced the College’s unique approach to education during a time when the liberal arts often appeared to be endangered.

“Alice Ilchman's legacy helped shape a vision for the future of Sarah Lawrence that made it easier for all of us to continue to build on the strengths and uniqueness of the College," said Sarah Lawrence President Michele Tolela Myers, who succeeded Ilchman in 1998. "I am grateful personally for her wise counsel and grace.”

Dr. Ilchman’s dual passions for higher education and international affairs informed her presidency at Sarah Lawrence College. Prior to coming to Sarah Lawrence, Ilchman served in the Carter administration as the assistant U.S. secretary of state for education and cultural affairs, where she was responsible for managing a number of exchange programs, including the Fulbright program. She had also served as the dean and professor of economics at Wellesley College, as a faculty member and administrator at University of California, Berkeley, and as a Peace Corps trainer for volunteers in India.

President Emerita Ilchman used this impressive background to connect Sarah Lawrence to the world community. She gave the curriculum a global perspective by inviting an international array of politicians and scholars to speak on campus and establishing three student-exchange programs—including the first undergraduate exchange program for a liberal arts college with institutions in the Soviet Union.

She also strengthened the College’s relationships closer to home, establishing community service programs that connected SLC students with service organizations in Westchester County and beyond.

“Alice exemplified the tradition of great and extraordinary women who have guided this college, said Barbara Kaplan, dean of the College. “She taught us that a college can be run successfully on a combination of idealism and practicality--as long as it is infused by humor and by a sense of beauty. She reminded us that if moral principles are to have any meaning, they must be expressed in action. And she taught us that even a small place can reflect, can contribute to, can take part in the larger world.”

During her tenure, Ilchman became a fierce defender of the College’s unique, student-directed pedagogy, insisting that there are “no shortcuts to producing educated and moral citizens” and criticizing educational institutions that “treat their students as passive objects.”

Upon Dr. Ilchman’s retirement, literature faculty member and former dean Ilja Wachs commented, “With all her material achievements in buildings and endowment, her lasting legacy is that she spent 17 years successfully protecting this precious kind of education and preserving it with loving care at a time when the culture of the society was hostile to it.”

In addition to her major accomplishments: increasing the College’s endowment from $3 to $30 million, creating new opportunities for faculty research, constructing a science building and a sports center and renovating a student center, Dr. Ilchman devoted her attention to the aesthetic dimensions of the College. The campus’s gardens were close to her heart – she personally planted hundreds of tulip and daffodil bulbs – and she started a student gardener program in 1992, insisting that “…beauty is a strong partner in the learning enterprise.”

“She was a very dear friend and a great mentor, one of the finest people I have known, pure in heart and mind,” said Margot Bogert, a former Chairman of the Board of Trustees who served as Vice President for Development during President Ilchman’s tenure. “Alice’s style was hard work leavened with a great sense of humor and joy. We did some great things together for the good of the College. She made everyone around her be a little bit better than we thought we could be.”

Her legacy at Sarah Lawrence College is marked by the Alice Stone Ilchman Chair in Comparative and International Studies and the Alumnae/i Association’s Alice Stone Ilchman Award for Service, both established in 1998. In May 2006, recognizing her contribution to the growth of science studies at the College, the science center was named the Alice Stone Ilchman Science Center.

“Dr. Ilchman’s vision for science sparked a campus renaissance that has resulted in the expansion of the curriculum, the creation of new interdisciplinary areas of study, new funds for research, and a lively culture of science and mathematics that has enhanced campus life for all,” said President Myers, in announcing the building’s renaming.

“Through her persistence, leadership and far sighted vision, she carried the day,” said George Adams, honorary trustee, who recalled the challenge to build a state-of-the-art science facility when the College had few students pursuing the study of the sciences. “Alice has always attained her goals,” said Adams, who was a member and chairman of the board during the first years of Dr. Ilchman’s tenure.

Alice Ilchman served on the boards of many organizations, foundations and institutions including the Committee on Economic Development (CED), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) The Court of Governors, London School of Economics and Save the Children USA. For 13 years, she served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation, chairing the board from 1995 to 2000.

Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation said: “Alice Ilchman had the magic touch. At the core, indomitable will and insatiable curiosity. But every problem she tackled at Rockefeller she moved forward with humor and care; everyone she worked with she taught.”

“Alice Ilchman was a superb board member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and a dear friend,” said Peter Duchin, a member of the Board of Directors. “Everything she said that she would do, she did, and it was unfailingly intelligent, thoughtful and always inspired other members of the board including myself to deeper commitment. If she approached you with that seemingly innocent disarming way of hers to do something for the Society, you simply did it - no questions asked - there was something so kind and so good about her, that you just couldn't say no. She was the best possible board member and the best possible friend.”

Mary Bitterman, Chair of the PBS board of directors said of Dr. Ilchman, “PBS benefited greatly from Alice’s service on the board of directors. While Alice wrote to me less than a month ago that her PBS colleagues – board and staff alike – were among the ‘wisest, most public spirited, and generous people’ with whom she had had the privilege of working, I can only say that, in our collective view, she was the primus inter pares on all accounts.”

In the1980s, Dr. Ilchman was part of a major national panel on women, families and work and authored two major policy studies. Many of her papers are held in the Sarah Lawrence College Archives. An oral history resides there as well.

Most recently, Dr. Ilchman was director of The Jeannette K. Watson Fellowships program of The Thomas J. Watson Foundation which, provides internships, mentoring, and enriched educational opportunities to promising New York City undergraduates with the goal of increasing their life choices and developing their capacity to make a difference in their own and others’ lives.

Alice Stone Ilchman held a B.A. from Mount Holyoke, a master’s degree from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. She received many awards for education and international service, including the Fulbright Award for International Understanding in 1996.

She is survived by her husband, Dr. Warren Ilchman, program director for the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, son Frederick, of Boston, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and daughter Sarah Hollinger of New York City, World Area Manager for Africa, Near East and South Asia for the Fulbright Foreign Programs at the Institute of International Education.

A memorial service will be held at Christ Church, Bronxville on Thursday, September 7 at 4 p.m. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Sarah Lawrence College, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Mount Holyoke College, PBS Foundation and Save the Children.