Jill Beck has been president of Lawrence University since 2004. She is the college’s 15th president and the only woman to hold the position. Her vision reflects a deep appreciation for Lawrence’s rich history and a commitment to advancing the college’s educational philosophy and traditions with innovative ideas for the 21st century.
Since joining Lawrence, she has focused on the following priorities: raising Lawrence’s national profile; increasing the number and spectrum of individualized learning experiences for students; fostering collaboration between the fine and performing arts and the traditional liberal arts and sciences; cultivating a desire for environmental sustainability on campus and in the lives of Lawrentians; creating greater diversity in the Lawrence community; and engaging alumni, parents and friends of the college to enhance educational experiences now and in the future.
A native of Worcester, Mass., Beck received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and art history from Clark University, her master’s degree in history and music from McGill University, and her Ph.D. in theatre from the City University of New York.
In 2009, Forbes.com named Beck a barrier breaker, one of 15 female college presidents on Forbes’ list of America’s 50 Best Colleges. That same year Forbes ranked Lawrence 41st among 600 of the nation’s colleges, an improvement of 27 places from the publication’s inaugural ranking in 2008. Princeton Review ranked Lawrence sixth in the nation for professor accessibility and 10th for college theatre programs.
From 2005 through 2012, Lawrence received 42 grants totaling $7,738,367 from prestigious national agencies and foundations (compared to 13 national grants in the preceding five years) including National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, The Teagle Foundation and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Their support, competitively won, affirmed Lawrence’s reputation for academic and artistic excellence.
Beck launched the More Light! campaign in 2005—the most ambitious fund-raising effort in Lawrence history—with a goal of raising $150 million in gifts and pledges for college’s endowment, capital projects, The Lawrence Fund and new initiatives. At the heart of the campaign was a $34 million student center, regarded as a vital step forward for the college’s residential experience. After more than 20 years of planning and with Beck’s determination to complete the fund raising and construction, the Warch Campus Center opened in 2009 on time, under budget and with no debt. This was also the case with the expansion of Björklunden lodge at the college’s northern campus, and major renovations to Memorial Chapel, Memorial Hall and several residence halls.
In addition to capital construction projects, the More Light! campaign secured $55 million in new commitments for the Lawrence endowment, $25 million for endowed scholarships generating approximately $1.2 million in new scholarships each year, multiple grants from national foundations, $8 million for new endowed professorships, including the Walter Schober Professorship in Environmental Studies, and $4 million for four endowed Lawrence Fellows positions.
During Beck’s tenure, annual contributions to the Lawrence Fund have grown 6.4 percent, the number of Legacy Circle members (people who have included the college in their estate plans) increased 35 percent and the number of donors contributing $1,000 or more increased 9.6 percent. In the five fiscal years following her arrival, Lawrence University received $96 million in gift income.
Beck and the Lawrence community began a two-year Green RootsTM initiative in 2008, to establish institutional policies and procedures for achieving a sustainable Lawrence campus. The LEED Gold certified Warch Campus Center with its vegetated roof system, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and energy efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems is a tangible symbol of Lawrence’s environmental stewardship. Solar panels have been mounted on the roof of Youngchild Hall and a new Riverwalk—a scenic interpretive walkway that invites visitors to learn about the history and the unique environmental attributes of the Fox River—are also part of the Green Roots legacy.
Beck is a strong advocate for individualized learning, a unique aspect of the Lawrence education, where a single student or very small group of students works closely and collaboratively with a member of the faculty on a significant research project, tutorial, field experience, creative work or performance.
In 2007, she organized and hosted the two-day conference Tutorial Education: History, Pedagogy and Evolution. The conference attracted recognized education leaders from Oxford University, Williams College, St. John's College of Annapolis, the College of Wooster, Sewanee, the University of the South and Sarah Lawrence College for an examination of current practices in tutorial education at Oxford and leading liberal arts colleges in the United States.
Under Beck’s leadership, Lawrence implemented a significant change to its curriculum requiring all students, beginning with the class of 2012, to complete a Senior Experience. Designed as a bookend to Lawrence’s nationally recognized Freshman Studies program, the Senior Experience engages graduating seniors in projects that demonstrate proficiency in the student’s field of study. Each individual project reflects an integration of knowledge and skills gained at Lawrence as well as the development of scholarly or artistic independence.
In 2010, she established the LU-R1: Partnership Opportunities for Students program, which creates additional opportunities for Lawrence students to work in laboratories at R1 research universities and other settings for 10–12 weeks. The program provides students with research experience enabling them to conceive and undertake more diverse Senior Experience projects in the sciences. It also leverages Lawrence alumni directing research labs and projects to help create these experiences and enlists their help as external advisors to Senior Experience projects. With its genesis in the natural sciences, Beck plans to expand the LU-R1 opportunities to accommodate demand from other disciplines at the earliest possible date.
Beck’s administration has amplified efforts to enroll a student body that is as ethnically and culturally diverse as possible. In 2006, she established a partnership with the Posse Foundation, Inc., and Lawrence joined an elite group of 26 colleges and universities across the country associated with the program. Each year, a culturally diverse cohort of 10 student leaders from New York City public high schools is selected to join Lawrence’s incoming freshman class. Through programs like Posse, College Possible, College Horizons and a partnership with Providence St. Mel High School in Chicago, she has helped create educational opportunities for motivated students and, at the same time, broadened the diversity of the Lawrence University campus creating a richer environment for the exchange of ideas and learning. In 2012, 21 percent of incoming freshman students were domestic students of color compared to eight percent in 2004.
Lawrence University’s quality as an institution and of the education students receive is reflected by the individual awards and recognition garnered by students and faculty. During Beck’s administration, 16 students and five members of the Lawrence faculty have received Fulbright awards, the U.S. government’s premier scholarship program; seven students have won coveted Watson Fellowships to pursue projects of personal interest in locations around the world; and musicians from the Lawrence Conservatory of Music—both students and faculty—have won 10 awards from DownBeat magazine, considered among the highest music honors in the fields of jazz and contemporary music education.
Faculty members have earned international and national recognition in diverse areas of academic interest from organizations such as NASA’s Origins of the Universe Program, the American Council on Education Fellows, the New York Historical Society, the University of Chicago’s Arete Initiative and the American Association of Physics Teachers. Conservatory faculty members perform with renowned music ensembles around the world. Under Beck, the ranks of Lawrence University’s faculty have expanded from 162 full and part-time positions in 2004 to 205 faculty positions in 2012. Enrollment has grown from 1,382 to 1,525 students.
President Beck introduced an innovative postdoctoral teaching fellowship program in 2005, the Lawrence University Fellows in the Liberal Arts and Sciences. The program has provided a national model for preparing aspiring professors to achieve excellence in teaching and scholarship. Selected from an international applicant pool of recent doctoral degree recipients from prestigious research universities, Lawrence Fellows enjoy extensive mentoring, teaching opportunities and research collaborations that help prepare them for tenure-track academic positions in liberal arts colleges. In addition, the program enriches student learning at Lawrence, introduces to the curriculum the newest research techniques and scholarly approaches being pursued in distinguished graduate programs,
enhances faculty research and artistic accomplishments and further augments the college’s individualized learning experiences for all students. To date, 37 Lawrence Fellows representing the sciences, humanities and arts have participated in the program. Three have been retained as members of the Lawrence faculty, and one has just received tenure. In 2009, Beck was invited to participate in a Harvard University conference on innovation in higher education on the basis of this program.
Beck is dedicated to advancing the quality of higher learning beyond the Lawrence campus and serves on the executive committee of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) board of directors. She is a member of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU) board of directors and a member of the Higher Learning Commission’s Peer Review Corps.
She is an advocate of the arts and a nationally recognized authority on arts education. She is both a scholar and a practitioner of dance and choreography and has written extensively in the fields of dance history, theory, repertory, and technique and has directed ballet and modern dance repertory. She has served on the faculties of the City College of the City University of New York, The Juilliard School, Connecticut College, The Hartford Connecticut Ballet, Southern Methodist University and the University of California, Irvine. In 2008, she was invited to join the Wisconsin Task Force on Arts and Creativity in Education as well as the Wisconsin Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) Leadership Council.
As dean of the School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine from 1995 to 2003, she was the driving force behind the establishment of three innovative programs for furthering the impact of the arts: The Center for Learning through the Arts and Technology, an interdisciplinary center for research focused on learning across disciplines; The Beall Center for Art and Technology; and ArtsBridge America.
ArtsBridge America has been recognized as a national model for the advancement of educational arts partnerships between universities and the K-12 community. The program offers hands-on experiences in the arts to school age children, placing university students in K–12 classrooms as instructors and mentors. Under Beck’s direction, ArtsBridge America grew from a limited pilot program in California with seven student scholars in 1996 to a nationwide effort involving 31 campuses (including Lawrence University) in 16 states and Northern Ireland. ArtsBridge has delivered arts curricula to more than 300,000 pupils, professional support for more than 1,500 overworked teachers during times of heavy budget cuts, and scholarship support for nearly 4,000 university arts students. The program has been funded by the California State Legislature and by the U.S. Department of Education.
In 2000, she co-chaired an international conference titled ―Sciences for the Arts: Building a Coalition for Arts Education‖ that brought psychological and medical researchers together with artists and art educators, one of several ways in which she has worked to establish linkages between science and engineering and the arts.
A founding member of the Alliance of Dance Notation Educators, Beck has been active in a number of professional organizations and as a participant in scholarly meetings and publications. She received the Disney Corporation’s Jack Lindquist Award for Innovation, given in recognition of ArtsBridge America’s creative approach to social problems; the American Red Cross Clara Barton Award for humanitarian service in the arts; and the University of California, Irvine, Medal, the university’s highest honor, for visionary leadership in building community.
Beck is married to Robert J. Beck, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of
California, Irvine and a visiting professor of education at Lawrence University.