Coronavirus Update: Washington College responds to coronavirus outbreak. More Info

Office of the President

Sheila Bair

Sheila C. Bair, the former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and a renowned advocate for financial reform, was named the president of Washington College in May of 2015 and took office on August 1.   

“I am incredibly pleased to be joining Washington College, a school the father of our country helped found over two centuries ago. This is a pivotal moment in its rich history,” Bair said at the time her appointment was announced. “As some see challenges in liberal arts education, Washington College sees nothing but opportunities. Through multi-disciplinary programs and experiential learning, Washington College gives its students the knowledge and practical skills to succeed as model, global citizens. 

“If the financial crisis taught us anything, it is that we need decision-makers in both the public and private sectors who understand the social, ethical, and economic consequences of their actions – who can appreciate the historical and cultural context of the global environment in which we live, and who will be committed to the health and prosperity of not only their generation, but of generations to come,” she added.  “That is the kind of education that Washington College has been providing to generations of students.” 

“I am also pleased to be joining the Chestertown community and look forward to building even stronger ties between the college and local residents. Given its location on the Chester River near the Chesapeake Bay, Washington College is well-positioned to expand its well-regarded environmental research while contributing to the quality of life in Kent County.” 

In announcing the appointment of Bair as the College’s 28th president, and the first female president in its 232-year history, H. Lawrence Culp, Jr., then chair-elect of the Washington College Board of Visitors and Governors, said she had proven herself on the world stage “as a clear-eyed strategic thinker who is willing to challenge the status quo to improve institutions and improve lives. She understands our history, our mission, our values, and our potential. She also appreciates this beautiful Chesapeake Bay region and understands the importance of Chestertown and the College collaborating in ways that benefit our students and the community,” continued Culp, a 1985 graduate of Washington College who recently retired as president and CEO of Danaher Corporation. 

Appointed to lead the FDIC by President George W. Bush in 2006, Bair led the Commission skillfully during one of our nation’s most challenging periods. She was one of the first officials to warn about the damage the growing subprime mortgage crisis would pose to millions of homeowners and the economy at large. Consumer advocates praised her relentless efforts to represent the interests of homeowners, bank customers and taxpayers. She helped shape and implement the Dodd-Frank Act, which gave the FDIC expanded power to “wind down” rather than bail out a failing bank, and created the Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion in an effort to bring banking services to underserved populations. 

As head of the FDIC, Bair was recognized for sound fiscal management and for raising employee morale. Under her leadership, the agency rose from last to first ranking in “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” from the Partnership for Public Service. In 2011, she was named by the Washington Post and Harvard University as one of America’s seven top leaders.

Her tenacity, independence and leadership earned a John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award, and the Better Business Bureau’s Presidents’ Award. Forbes magazine twice named her the second most powerful woman in the world, behind Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

Bair chronicled her five years at the FDIC in Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself, a New York Times bestseller published in September 2012. A prolific writer, she is a regular contributor to Fortune and has written three books for children that offer lessons in financial literacy.   

After stepping down from the FDIC at the end of her term in 2011, Bair served as a senior advisor to the Pew Charitable Trusts and chaired the Systemic Risk Council, a public-interest group of prominent former government officials and financial experts who monitor the implementation of financial reforms. She also served on the board of the nonprofit Volcker Alliance, which was formed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to promote more effective government. 

A native of the small town of Independence, Kansas, where her father was a surgeon and her mother a nurse, Bair earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the University of Kansas in 1974 and a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1978. She began her career in public service as an aide to Kansas senator Bob Dole and later served as a commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a senior vice president for government relations at the New York Stock Exchange, and Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. For four years prior to joining the FDIC, she was the Dean’s Professor of Financial Regulatory Policy for the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. 

Bair is married to Scott P. Cooper, Vice President of Government Relations at the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the couple has two children, Preston and Colleen.