A strong proponent of single-sex education, Kennan held steadfast to the College's mission of excellent liberal arts education for women during a period when many women's colleges became coeducational. "Single-sex education for girls is a proven method for ensuring that they reach their fullest potential," she wrote last year in the Los Angeles Times. "I will be the first to call for coeducation at Mount Holyoke, the country's oldest women's college, when our society grants young women equal status in coeducational settings."
Kennan announced her intention to step down on April 14, 1994 to the campus community. A mediaeval scholar and member of the College's history department, she is expected to take a two year sabbatical.
Nan Keohane, President of Duke University and former president of Wellesley College, commented at the time of her announcement, "Liz Kennan has provided solid leadership for Mount Holyoke College and the institution has become even stronger during her tenure, especially burnishing the reputation of the excellent science programs. Liz's ability to transform young women's lives and prepare them for leadership is recognized by the leaders of other preeminent institutions, as is her wise counsel."
Under Kennan's leadership, Mount Holyoke College has achieved unparalleled financial stability and growth, maintained its leadership in curriculum development and acquisition of cutting edge scientific equipment and technologies, and expanded the College's service to women and girls throughout the nation as well as to local communities. The College has added new academic programs including the Frances Perkins Program, started in 1980 to serve undergraduates twenty-five years of age and older; new majors in environmental studies and computer science, instituted in 1992; and innovative programs in such areas as women's studies. The Kennan years also saw the creation of eleven new academic chairs, inception of the study of Asian languages, and the development of interdepartmental approaches to a variety of disciplines.
The College has maintained its historic success in educating women in the sciences and mathematics, in part, by investing in the finest equipment--including a Van de Graaff electron and positive ion accelerator--and computer technology. At the same time the College has seen increases in applications, increased its endowment by nearly five times to $240 million, and embarked on an ambitious building campaign which has reshaped the campus.
Further, in the area of fostering educational opportunity, President Kennan and the College were instrumental in working with city of Holyoke to open the Magnet Middle School for the Arts in 1990, where innovative programming has resulted in impressive success for female and male students drawn primarily from that city's lowest economic stratum. In addition, the College has offered since 1982 innovative SummerMath programs for teenaged girls and high school math teachers.
Mrs. Kennan has also been a leading advocate for women and women's education. In 1987, the College hosted the Worldwide Education for Women Conference. And this past November, the College brought nearly 400 educators, policymakers and researchers to campus for the Studies in Success Conference, held in partnership with the Women's College Coalition.
Kennan graduated summa cum laude from Mount Holyoke College in 1960. She received a master's degree from Oxford University in England in 1962 and a doctorate from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1966. A medieval scholar, she served on the faculty of Catholic University from 1966 to 1978. Kennan has also been president of Five Colleges, Inc. from 1985 to 1994.
"As a result of President Kennan's leadership, there have been significant gains in the academic programs, endowment, admissions, and the physical plant of the College," said Jameson A. Baxter, past chair of the Board of Trustees. "The College is now in a position of real strength, providing the ability to accomplish the leadership transition with expected ease. We look forward to a dynamic future for Mount Holyoke College and anticipate that President Kennan will continue as a recognized leader in higher education, a spokesperson for women's education, and an active supporter of the work of the College."