New President for a Top Women's College

Article excerpt

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON'S alma mater is getting a new president. On Oct. 1, Diana Chapman Walsh will take over the leadership of Wellesley College in this suburb of Boston.

The 112-year-old women's college, which enrolls 2,300 students, is one of the few colleges able to report consistently good news in the last few years.

Ranked as the leading women's college in the United States, Wellesley is listed fourth among the top 25 American liberal-arts colleges in the U.S. News & World Report college guide.

Applications are up 15 percent after high-profile commencement speeches by Barbara Bush, Raisa Gorbachev, and Mrs. Clinton. In 1991, Wellesley raised $168 million in a capital campaign that broke all records for liberal-arts colleges in the US.

Ms. Walsh replaces Nannerl Keohane, who resigned to become the first female president of Duke University.

"Wellesley is well positioned for the future," says Walsh, whose soft-spoken voice contrasts with strong athletic looks.

The next stage for the school, as Walsh sees it, is "some serious dialogue and tough-minded thinking about the role that liberal-arts institutions like Wellesley can play in engaging important social issues of the day. In Wellesley's case, particularly issues that relate to women."

The school's Center for Research on Women has made a mark nationally by releasing several controversial reports focusing on sexual harassment in schools and the educational neglect of girls.

"There are some very strong foundations on which to build," Walsh says. "It's clear that people look to a place like Wellesley as a source of thought and insight ... about the role of women in society and the pressures that women are feeling."

Walsh received an English degree from Wellesley and a PhD in health policy from Boston University. She has spent the last three years as a professor and chair of the Department of Health and Social Behavior at Harvard University's School of Public Health. Before that, she was a professor at BU for more than a decade.

"I have always been involved in social policy of one kind or another," she says. "The potential of doing that here is what really drew me to the job. …