Stephens celebrates new attitude

The college installs a new president as alumnae reflect.
Sunday, April 25, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:37 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

At least six decades of alumnae returned to Stephens College Saturday to witness Wendy B. Libby’s installation as the 23rd president of the college.

The ceremony was part of the college’s Reunion 2004 weekend. It provided an opportunity to invite all alumnae back, rather than just those classes scheduled to celebrate a reunion this year.

“I believe that Stephens is headed for good times,” said Mayor Darwin Hindman as he spoke to the audience in Silverthorne Arena. “I like the style of President Libby.”

Libby, former vice president for business affairs and chief financial officer of Furman University in Greenville, S.C., took over the school’s top position in July and has already put her stamp on the college.

When Libby took over, Stephens lacked financial stability, with college officials saying the school would have to close within three years if changes weren’t made. Libby immediately began reinventing Stephens by initiating a strategic planning process examining four areas: academic programs, student affairs, enrollment and marketing efforts, and facilities and finance issues.

For many alumnae, Libby’s inauguration and Reunion 2004 provided their first glimpse of the new Stephens. But some said it remains to be seen whether Stephens is heading in the right direction.

“When I attended Stephens, we had over 2,500 girls,” said Jayne Kulhanek, class of 1979. “The dorms were filled. This was the most popular place in Columbia. Everything was just full of activity.”

This year, Stephens had 577 undergraduate students. The strategic plan includes a goal of increasing enrollment to approximately 900 undergrads.

One recent change, which alumnae had mixed feelings about, is Stephens’ plan to phase out six degree programs and not renew contracts for 15 faculty members over the next two years. The moves were made in order to cut $1 million from the annual deficit of $3.5 million at which the school operates. Five new programs designed to strengthen the school’s performing arts and pre-professional programs will be added in the fall.

Kulhanek, whose daughter is currently a junior at Stephens and majoring in one of the programs that will be phased out, said it is a mistake to move away from a liberal arts background.

Kathy Cole, class of 1983, had a different opinion.

“It was a move toward honesty,” Cole said of the program changes. “We’re not truly a liberal arts school because we don’t offer the sciences and some of the other things necessary to be considered a liberal arts school.”

Despite disagreement over the specific changes, many of the alumnae credited the growing positive spirit at Stephens to the new president.

Kathy Hawken, class of 1967, visited the campus last fall. She said there have been tremendous changes to the college in the course of the school year.

“When I came last fall, at first it was a little depressing,” Hawken said. “In the six months, I’ve seen a change and people are excited about what’s happening.”

Hawken’s classmate, Anne Boyd, agreed.

“The spirit is coming back to what it was when I was here,” said Boyd. “The changes that this new president is bringing all play into the spirit.”

In her acceptance speech, Libby said there were ten ideals Stephens College tries to instill in all its students. When she spoke of courage, she referenced the changes that have taken place since her arrival.

“This year has called upon the courage of everyone in the Stephens family,” Libby said. “I believe in us and I believe we have the wisdom of our ancestors behind us.”

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