By Jim Therrien
BENNINGTON — Bennington College President Mariko Silver will step down in July to become president and CEO of the Henry Luce Foundation, the college announced Monday.
The college also announced that Provost and Dean of the College Isabel Roche will serve as interim president while a committee appointed by the board of trustees conducts a national search for Silver’s replacement, who is expected to be named during the 2019-20 academic year.
In leading Bennington College since 2013, Silver is credited with overseeing creation of a long-term strategic plan that has included stabilizing the institution’s finances, renovating and enhancing key campus structures and forging institutional partnerships that expanded opportunities for learning.
“Mariko’s contributions to Bennington College have been innovative, broad, and lasting,” said board Chairman Alan Kornberg in a media release. “From the establishment of creative new funding models and partnerships with some of the world’s most impactful organizations, to the record student enrollment we enjoy today, Mariko has raised the profile and the long-term sustainability of the college immeasurably.”
The school's enrollment today is just under 700 students.
During her tenure, the trustees said, Silver has initiated formation of “lasting partnerships with some of the world’s premier arts and cultural institutions; overseen a revitalization of the campus, including the iconic Commons building; quadrupled commitments to the endowment since 2013 to $60 million, and guided the establishment of the largest capital campaign in the school’s history, raising more than $90 million to date for the college overall.”
“Leading Bennington is one of the greatest honors and joys of my life,” Silver said. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with this dedicated faculty, staff, and board on initiatives that empower students to change the world. Bennington’s future is bright and I am excited for all that is ahead for this trailblazing institution.”
In leading the New York City-based foundation, Silver will oversee the independent, not-for-profit entity established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor of Time Inc. The Luce Foundation issues grants and offers leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion, theology, art and public policy, according information on its website.
During a phone interview Monday, Silver said that, along with the milestones cited by the trustees, she is proud of the efforts to expand the college’s presence and involvement beyond the campus into Bennington and North Bennington.
"I think it is important to focus on all the progress Bennington has made, not just in the last six years, but even before that," she said. "But certainly in the last six years, on a personal note, the thing I am most proud of is the relationship that we have built between the college and the community. I think all of that is essential to the college and to the community going forward."
Silver said she's likewise proud of the fund-raising work the college has done to place it on a firm financial footing and expand educational programming.
She also cited efforts to enhance the overall learning experience of students, "who are increasingly coming from all over the world — because Bennington is a draw. Bennington always has been a draw, but it is increasingly a global draw, and that is very exciting and something to be proud of."
Perhaps the most notable local initiative has been the school’s participation as an investor in the Putnam Block project to revitalize the former Hotel Putnam and other historic buildings around Bennington’s Four Corners intersection.
Involvement in the $53 million, two-phase project will continue, she said, adding that key staff members have regularly joined her during meetings of the consortium of community organizations and local businesses that has spearheaded the Putnam project over the past two years.
“Our town owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Mariko Silver, and her can-do legacy will remain both in our town and on the campus for generations," said Select Board Chairman Donald Campbell. "No voice has been stronger than President Silver’s in helping the community understand that all of our futures are tied together. While making the college more successful, she has also made our town more successful by involving the campus in the community.”
Campbell said the recent era of town-college cooperation has been a productive one, "and we very much look forward to building on these successes with Isabel Roche and other presidents to come.”
A key role
Silver cited Roche’s close involvement and leading role in planning and implementing new college programs, partnerships and initiatives during her presidency.
Roche came to Bennington College as a faculty member in 2002. She was appointed dean of the college in 2011, and provost and dean in 2015.
A scholar of French literature, she is the author of “Character and Meaning in the Novels of Victor Hugo,” and has published a number of scholarly articles on the 19th-century novel and French Romanticism.
According to the release, Roche “has played an integral role in nearly every institutional achievement the college has made over the past eight years and will usher Bennington into the next chapter with deep expertise, insight, and continuity.”
“I am honored to build on Mariko's contributions and, together with this talented faculty and staff, to advance Bennington's mission of educating tomorrow's world-builders and problem-solvers,” Roche said.
Roche was credited with helping to “launch multiple programs, including Poetry at Bennington, and she has secured multiple multimillion-dollar gifts from major individual and institutional supporters of the college. She also works closely with Senior Vice President Paige Bartels on the college’s partnerships agenda, creating important opportunities for students such as the Lortel Fellowships and the Middlebury College partnership.”
Roche, who grew up in Lenox, Mass., received a bachelor of arts degree magna cum laude from Bates College and master’s and doctorate degrees from New York University. Her previous teaching positions include The Cooper Union, State University of New York-Stony Brook, and Williams College.
Silver, a native of New York City, said she's excited about her next position, but added, "I actually feel extraordinarily privileged to be able to live here and have my kids [now ages 5 and 7] be little here; for them to have those formative years in this extraordinary place has been really a remarkable opportunity. And they are extremely sad to leave."
She said of the Bennington area, "The way this community comes together to support kids is really something the community should be proud of, and I am honored to be able to be a small part of that."
Silver previously served as a senior advisor to the president of Arizona State University, as Acting Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Policy in the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, and as policy advisor to Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien