Karen Lawrence, president of Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, describes her life as “very full.” A widely respected scholar of English and Irish literature, Lawrence juggles her passion for James Joyce with activities like hosting student dinners — and visiting her husband, Peter, a physician who runs a vascular-disease center at the University of California. “I’m on Platinum on American Airlines; he’s on Executive Platinum,” she jokes.
No relation to the founders, Lawrence, a Yale graduate who has led the college since 2007, will be stepping down from her role next summer after an impressive run. She’s maintained the college’s commitment to providing a personalized liberal-arts education, with seminars encompassing about 90 percent of the school’s courses. She has broadened the college’s academic offerings while strengthening ties to the community through programs like an urban-design class that contributed to the reimagining of Yonkers’ downtown. The college also joined the NCAA’s Division III during her tenure.
Her accomplishments include the most successful fundraising campaign in the college’s history (more than $120 million to date), with Barbara Walters donating $15 million in February 2015 — the largest gift Sarah Lawrence has ever received.
The school has also become more diverse under her watch, with students of color now constituting 30 percent of the student body. “That is a legacy I feel good about leaving,” she says.