President-elect Sonya Stephens
Ringing in a New Era of Leadership
A Letter from Barbara Baumann ’77
April 23, 2018
Dear Mount Holyoke community,
Today, as the campus bell rings in a new era of leadership to all who can hear it, I am delighted to announce that the Board of Trustees has voted unanimously and enthusiastically to appoint Sonya Stephens as the 19th president of Mount Holyoke College, effective July 1.
In January 2016, when the Board announced Sonya’s appointment as acting president for a term of three years, I wrote, “we eagerly await her unique brand of high-tempo changes, confident that she will bring new ideas and a fresh perspective on all aspects of College life.”
In the 22 months since Sonya took office, she has done all that my trustee colleagues and I had hoped for — and more.
Under Sonya’s steady presence and strong hand, the College has flourished.
Sonya has connected with the Mount Holyoke community during both times of challenge and times of celebration, demonstrating her willingness and ability to engage forthrightly on all matters, large and small. Armed with a tenacious work ethic, unshakeable cheerfulness and a welcome sense of humor, she has shown extraordinary commitment to the College and garnered wide support both internally and externally.
As we approached the end of Sonya’s second year as acting president, the Board undertook a systematic review and engaged the community in a feedback process to either appoint her president or to launch a national search to fill the position.
We are thrilled to say that we did not have to look further than our own campus to locate the individual who provides both the continuity and the vision to lead the College into the future. Sonya’s intellect, courage, broad knowledge of Mount Holyoke, high energy level and personal warmth have impressed us all.
A lifetime of leadership and scholarship
Sonya arrived at Mount Holyoke in 2013 as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, following a national search led by an all-faculty committee. Working closely with divisions across the College and with the Five College Consortium, she led efforts to enhance the reputation of the College and increase support for faculty research and curricular innovation.
She previously worked at Indiana University Bloomington, where she was chair of the Department of French and Italian and the University’s first vice provost for undergraduate education. She began her career as a faculty member at Royal Holloway, University of London.
An expert in 19th-century French literature and its relation to visual culture, Sonya is the author of “Baudelaire’s Prose Poems: The Practice and Politics of Irony.” She has also edited several books, the most recent of which, “Translation and the Arts in Modern France,” was published in July. She holds a B.A. in modern and medieval languages and a doctorate in French from the University of Cambridge. Her master’s degree in French studies is from the Université de Montréal, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar.
Serving as acting president
Sonya’s tenure as acting president is girded by her ardent belief in the value of a women’s college and a liberal arts education. A true leader, she understands that the College’s responses to issues is critical — and that those responses define the quality of a Mount Holyoke education. As such, she has shown a willingness to make tough decisions and execute them well.
She embraces the strategic imperative of accomplishing her goals for the College in the context of balanced budgets. She is committed to ensuring long-term financial stability so that Mount Holyoke will remain viable for future generations.
Among Sonya’s accomplishments are spearheading an inclusive strategic plan, The Plan for Mount Holyoke 2021, and following up by implementing campus-wide accountability for its goals. She also led the comprehensive self-study process for the College’s re-accreditation review by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
Sonya has led a strong and effective team, creating a positive and rewarding work environment and adding to it with thoughtful hires. Her dedication to students was demonstrated by her first actions, a refocus on student life with the appointment of a vice president for student life and dean of students and the creation of the Office for Student Success and Advising. She has reinvigorated the College’s institutional research office and its graduate and professional programs with new directors. Her efforts to promote Mount Holyoke include hiring a vice president for communications and marketing, and a group of progressive consultants to evolve and advance the visual identity of the College.
Sonya is a strong advocate for Mount Holyoke alumnae, and they, in turn, vigorously support her, as demonstrated by her spontaneous election to the class of 1955 as an honorary member. She has developed a strong relationship with the Alumnae Association, actively sponsoring the implementation of a detailed set of strategic recommendations that improve collaboration and operational efficiency.
She believes deeply that one of the College’s fundamental distinctions lies in the richness of its diversity. Her significant, authentic engagement with the issues of equity and inclusion resulted in her introduction in 2017 of the annual BOOM! (Building on Our Momentum) learning conference, and hiring the College’s first vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer.
Sonya’s goal of supporting and building the community informs all that she does, including her continued oversight of the construction of our stunning $50 million Community Center. She envisioned the complex as a social and intellectual anchor, the cornerstone of our campus. Throughout the design and construction process, she has consistently conveyed the need for ways to better foster community. As a result, the renovated student life hub and the Weissman Student Commons, both of which opened in fall 2017, and the Dining Commons, which opened in January 2018, promote exciting new ways of connecting faculty, students and staff.
Opened on time and on budget, these spaces have been instant successes. We can’t wait to see what the final stages of the project will look like when the entire complex opens in the fall.
President-elect Sonya Stephens
Rarely has an acting president “acted” more. Based on those many actions, and on Sonya’s deep affection for Mount Holyoke and her vision for its further successes, the Board of Trustees has voted to appoint Sonya Stephens as the 19th president of Mount Holyoke College.
More details will be forthcoming about her inauguration, which will take place in late September. Until that time, please join me in congratulating Sonya. We will be celebrating in the Dining Commons from 3:45 to 4:45 p.m. today to mark this important milestone and to congratulate our president-elect. I look forward to seeing you there.
Barbara M. Baumann ’77
Chair, Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees
The Community Responds
Katherine Bergeron, President, Connecticut College
Paula A. Johnson, President, Wellesley College
Jonathan Lash, President, Hampshire College, and President, the Board of Directors, Five Colleges, Inc.
Emeritus Professor Robert Lethbridge, formerly Master, Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge and provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust
Carolyn (Biddy) Martin, President, Amherst College
Michael McRobbie, President, Indiana University
Kumble R. Subbaswamy, Chancellor, University of Massachusetts Amherst