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Dr. Joyce Jacobsen was announced on Friday, Feb. 8 as the 29th President of Hobart College and the 17th of William Smith College. The introduction took place on campus in the L. Thomas Melly ’52 Lobby of the Gearan Center for the Performing Arts to a standing-room only crowd.
Jacobsen comes to the Colleges after serving for over 25 years at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. She most recently was the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. Her experience includes over 30 years of teaching, including positions as an endowed professor and dean.
Professor of Political Science and Presidential Search Committee faculty member Justin Rose noted in an interview with the Herald that “among faculty, there was a desire to have a strong faculty leader. And when looking at Joyce, her faculty credentials are impeccable. There was an endearing factor for the faculty as we got to know her. By the end there was widespread consensus – it was unanimous, for the Search Committee and Trustees – about the candidate.”
Immediately after the announcement, the Herald interviewed members of the audience and asked for their thoughts on Dr. Jacobsen. Associate Vice President for Advancement, Alumnae Relations Kathy Regan ’82 P’13 said, “I am completely inspired and excited. I had the good fortune to walk around with her today. She’s very observant, a great listener, a great sense of humor which came out [during her speech]. So I think it’s really neat. She’s exactly what this place needs.”
That feeling appeared to be shared among the many members of the audience, including first-year students like Mercy Sherman who told the Herald, “I was just so impressed at the fact that Hobart and William Smith is having the first woman president. I just can’t wait to see what changes she’ll bring to the college …”
Jacobsen continued to impress the members of the Presidential Search Committee. After her announcement, Professor of Physics Donald Spector, who served on the search committee, noted, “When we first came across Joyce in the search we just saw ‘this is someone we’ve got to talk to’ and as we talked to her and got to know her at each stage, everything, in every way, everything was more impressive than we thought. I mean, she is smart, she’s a scholar, she’s a teacher, she just knows liberal arts Colleges in her bones. And then on top of all that she’s just nice, she’s just a pleasure to talk to and have dinner with and I can’t wait to work with her. I think it’s going to be a fabulous time under her presidency.”
A graduate of Harvard University, the London School of Economics, and Stanford University, Dr. Jacobsen is a professor of Economics who has been widely published in the field with her research focusing on the economics of gender. She studied with the main labor economist Richard Freeman at Harvard and did postgraduate work with Victor Fuchs. She is a recent past president of the International Association for Feminist Economics. In addition to her academic work, she has also done consulting for think tanks and non-profit organizations including the World Bank and ACLU.
Dr. Jacobsen will begin as President on July 1, and Interim President Patrick McGuire, who is also an Emeritus Professor of Economics, offered advice based on his 50-year tenure at the Colleges: “Talk to students. I mean, and that will not be a problem for her … she’s just open to everything, so she’s very experienced in the ways of administration and she knows faculty. Provost is the toughest job on campus, so yeah I think she’ll welcome the kids and talk to them and get a sense of who they are, and I think she’ll be better off with that so that’s what I would say.”
There was a lot of excitement in the room for the announcement. Professor of Economics Thomas Drennen said, “It’s really exciting to have a recognized scholar in gender economics who’ll understand the academic world, what it’s like to be a professor and the pressure, and she’s, you know, a renowned teacher, she’s won teaching awards, so she gets all that.”
President-elect Jacobsen also met with some students in a meeting before the announcement. She impressed many of students in the room. One of them, William Smith Congress President Eva Catanzariti, told the Herald, “[Jacobsen] wants to work for everyone but the main thing is she wants to change stuff and I don’t think it’s just for profit, not just for political gain, image-wise but purely because she wants to fix things and there are definitely things to fix and I think she’s definitely the woman to do it.”
In a final reflection on the experience and selecting Dr. Jacobsen, William Smith Student Trustee and Presidential Search Committee member Caitlin Lasher ’19 said, “One of things I really appreciated about Dr. Jacobsen was the fact that she came up through the academy, she has that background as a professor but then as an administrator and it was also really apparent to us right away that students would gravitate towards her. She comes into a room and she fills it with happy energy and you know that she means well, but also that she can lead us and that’s something you want in a president: someone who can be there to support you but also make those tough decisions and lead us into greatness. I mean, I’m honestly beyond thrilled.”