Office of the President

Bair Mail

In this final issue of Bair Mail, outgoing President Sheila Bair reflects on the accomplishments of her tenure at Washington College. 


Dear Friends,

This is my last issue of Bair Mail and, by far, the hardest one I will write. I am filled with strong, conflicting emotions. I am elated at the prospect of reuniting with my family and spending more time with my daughter, who will be leaving home for college in just one short year. I am bursting with pride over the many things we have accomplished these past two years, and pleased and grateful that the President-elect and Board have publicly committed to continue our nationally recognized efforts on affordability. 

Yet I feel strong sorrow that I will be leaving you soon. We have achieved so much, but there is so much more to do! Our national stature and rankings are on the rise and, within a few years, we should be a top 50 school in all the ways the matter. Just look what we have accomplished in improving retention rates, graduation rates, and alumni participation — things that matter to raters and should matter to any school that, like ours, puts the successful education of their students above all else. I had originally hoped to shake the hands of our first cohort of George’s Brigade when they cross the stage at Commencement in the Spring of 2020. Indeed, I had looked forward to shaking the hands of the entire class of 2020 (and maybe giving out a few hugs too — you know me). This was the first class that I recruited as your President, and it was the second largest, most diverse, and academically strongest in the College’s history. 

But the special feelings I hold for the class of 2020 do not in any way detract from the strong affection I hold for all of our students. For me, this job has always been about the students. College administration has its challenges. I once asked Freeman Hrabowski, the legendary head of UMBC, the secret of his success. He told me (somewhat reassuringly, I think) that I would succeed if I kept everyone minimally unhappy.  He counseled that all college presidents have diverse constituencies—board, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, community—and all have a different view of how a college president should do his or her job.

I juggled the best I could. When it would become overwhelming, Joe Holt would tell me to head over to Hodson Hall or the Miller Library Terrace and find some students with whom to chat. They would fill me in on the classes they were taking, or their summer plans. They might ask my advice on job prospects and internship opportunities. Occasionally, they would shyly tell me about problems with broken washing machines and windows that would not close in our older residence halls, feedback that I welcomed. Those conversations always reconnected me with the reasons I took this job. They gave me energy. I wish I had been able to do more of them.

I have many fond memories of my time here—so many that with the help of the CRM team, we put together a photo album of memorable moments.  You can find them here. Whether it was dancing up a storm at the Horizons fundraiser, eating Thanksgiving oysters with Gus, toasting at the Birthday Ball with a green smoothie, traveling in the wee hours to Omaha to see Warren Buffett, or decorating HRH with SGA, we had some very good times.  And amidst all the fun, we did some serious work as well.  Below, I have listed all of our accomplishments over the past two years. Some of these represent completion of projects already underway; some were initiated during my tenure. All represent the hard work and professionalism of the Washington College community.  These are not my accomplishments; they are our accomplishments. They never would have happened without you. They should make all of us very proud.


Fall 2016 entering class had the highest first-year retention rate in a decade, jumping from 82.5% to 86.5%

Even higher first-year retention rate for our inaugural group of George’s Brigade Scholars, at 88

Graduation rate we recorded this spring highest since 2009

A new major in Communication and Media Studies

Completion of a top 50 curriculum comparison analysis that will lead to new majors in biochemistry and neuroscience.



Two record-breaking years of fundraising, hitting $23 million in FY16 and $25 million in FY17

Four percentage point increase in alumni participation rate

Completion of fundraising for the Hodson Boathouse, with groundbreaking scheduled for September

2016 CASE award for one of the most improved funding operations among private colleges

Highly successful launch of $150 million capital campaign


Center for Career Development

Thanks to the strong leadership of interim director Lisa Moody, we achieved a nearly 6% increase in our placement on graduation rate, from 50% for the class of 2015 to 55.8% for the class of 2017



Successful launch and marketing of four nationally recognized affordability initiatives: George’s Brigade, Dam the Debt, Savers Scholarship, and FixedFor4

Recruitment of second largest, academically strongest, and most diverse class in Washington College history (Fall 2016)

Fall 2017 class projected to beat last year in diversity and academic strength

$11.2 million raised in scholarship funds, increasing funded discount to 19%. A 10% increase in Pell and MD GAPP funding.



Successful execution of systems changes for our new affordability initiatives, particularly Fixedfor4, and major improvements in budget tracking systems

IT – dramatic improvement in Wi-Fi connectivity 

Successful execution on numerous capital projects, including:

  • Opening of Cromwell Hall
  • Opening of Corsica Hall
  • Relocation of staff after the fire at 515 Washington Ave
  • Conversion of all campus lighting to LED
  • Dredging of our waterfront (after 18 months of permit process)
  • (Long needed) new roof, floor, windows, and doors for Russell Gym
  • New chiller for Toll Science Center
  • New offices downtown for CES
  • New HVAC/mold remediation in the Customs House
  • New B&G storage building with conditioned space for Library Annex
  • Redo of Kohl Gallery with HVAC, emergency generator, and dry fire suppression
  • New Career Services space, Health Services office, including mold remediation
  •  New paint and carpet for Bunting


Broke through the top 100 US News and World Report ranking, with trajectory to go much higher given strengthening retention and graduation rates, alumni participation, and high academic quality of student body.

For the first time ever, made it on to Kiplinger’s coveted “Best College Value” list.

Whew!  I’m exhausted just writing this list.

We accomplished in two years what it would take five at so many other institutions.

You are all amazing.

It has been my privilege to sail on this ship with you. However, we have reached my port, and it’s time now for me to disembark.

I will always remember you fondly, and will always be an advocate for Washington College.

I wish the President-elect every success. 

With the Washington College team behind him, I know he will not fail.

Very Best,



Sheila’s Scrapbook
Here are just a few of the memories I’ll carry with me. You can find some of my favorite photos and videos here.

Roger That

Eastern Shore Food Lab
Professor Bill Schindler and his students prepared some of the food for the Campaign Launch Party. Channel USA9 worked on this story for weeks. The story reached close to 4 million people, including audiences in New York, Texas, DC, Michigan, and Arkansas. The story online shares links to the college home page and food lab site. USA9 even set up a recipes page if you are interested in cooking up something special.

Professor Bill Schindler and his team of students prepared the charcuterie served to guests at the campaign launch on May 12. 

Professor Aaron Krochmal (far right), who is the Kappa Sigma fraternity’s faculty advisor, helped organize the trip to meet Senator Dole.

Pages from My Calendar

May Dates

1 - May Day. Thanks to students, Public Safety and Student Affairs for a safe, memorable tradition. Our May Day has its own Wikipedia page!
•  Faculty Meeting

2 – Signed off on Athletics updated strategic plan, which includes over $2 million in much-needed renovations for Russell gym this summer. Going forward, athletics will be getting the attention it deserves with this excellent updated plan.   
•  Contact with another foundation and a venture capital firm regarding Washington College ISA pilot.

3 – Call with recruiter regarding Provost search
•  Visit with Senator Susan Collins, senior member of Senate’s Education Committee, about student debt, affordability, ISAs and Dodd Frank

4 - Whirlwind overnighter to London on a trip sponsored by WC donor Santander 
•  Tea with Flora Fraser, 2016 Washington Prize winner.  Making plans for a London event with alumna Amy Lamé ’92, a popular London entertainer and official “Night Mayor of London.” Proceeds to provide financial support for WC students participating in Hansard scholars program.
•  Opportunity to thank Ondra, an independent financial consultancy firm, for their generous donation to Dam the Debt at a principals and client dinner.
5 - Landed just in time to join a meeting I had arranged for Washington College Kappa Sigs with their fraternity brother, former Majority Leader Bob Dole, one of my formative bosses and a dear friend. Wide-ranging discussion. 



•  Jack Frost called me with a progress report on the WETA documentary he is working on about Washington College, and said he would be back on campus to film the Sophie Kerr prize program and Commencement.

8 - Met with Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, and Counselor to the Secretary, Craig Phillips, to discuss student debt and Income Share Agreements 

9 - Learned we are breaking another record with potentially 175 Presidential Fellows in the freshman class. Attended receptions with potential Fellows and their parents, and dedicated a lot of my car travel time to make follow-up phone calls.   
•  Spent a lively meeting with Jack Frost brainstorming ideas for the  Washington College documentary.
Coffee with Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of The Business–Higher Education Forum and co-author of thought-provoking report exploring how new, emerging fields like data science and analytics can complement undergraduate liberal arts degrees. I hope WC will develop an interdisciplinary minor in data science and analytics.  

10 - Telephone conference with University Ventures to discuss our plans for Income Share Agreements and their suggested hybrid—combining philanthropy and University Ventures’ capital.   
•  Continued discussions with Admissions team, to hear their projection to make our goal of 430 students.   
•  Writers’ cramp from signing all the diplomas. Reading the name on each makes me smile. Such a great graduating class.   

12 - Board of Visitors and Governors meeting
•  Hugely successful Campaign Launch! Forge a Legacy. Our purpose. Your Promise.  Post your story here.
Finally, in addition to two videos “This Is Your Life” and “Forge A Legacy” previewed at the Board meeting and shown at dinner, here is another video also produced, directed, filmed, and edited by members of our College Relations and Marketing team, Rolando Irizarry and Shane Brill.

15 – Executive recruiter conference call to review a list of top-notch candidates for VP for Enrollment Management
•  Met with Sal Liberto, our Interim VP for Enrollment, on his first day on campus. Sal hit the ground running.

16 - Fielded questions from talented, engaged students who are peer mentors, during their training session
•  Worthwhile conference call with Cynthia Miller of the Simon Foundation, which has supported three George’s Brigade students’ foreign exchange programs and other extracurricular activities. 

17 - Had fun shooting a video tour of my favorite places on campus for Summer Advising Day.
•  Hosted a faculty retirement party for acclaimed poet Kathy Wagner, who helped found the Lit House, and Rosemary Ford, who prepared many students for graduate study, medical and nursing school, and research positions.
18 - One-on-one meetings and phone calls with potential donors for Forge a Legacy campaign
•  Braved the rush hour traffic to Mount Vernon to continue the tradition of the President’s toast to seniors before they embark on their Potomac cruise.  

19 - Senior Luncheon. So many happy awardees. Bright sunny day and a bright sunny nose from standing under it for over an hour!

Sophie Kerr Prize’s 50th anniversary.  Congratulations to Catalina Righter, who won this year’s prize of $65,768. Great coverage in the Baltimore Sun.
This smile —magnified. The Lynette Nielsen Juror’s Choice Award, given to Meghan Dulin, was just one of 53 prizes I presented to beaming soon-to-be graduates during the Senior Luncheon.
 A crew from PBS taped an interview with Cat Righter, the 2017 Sophie Kerr Prize winner, and her parents. 
Christine Lagarde, leader of the International Monetary Fund, offered an eloquent Commencement address about the power of being open to the unknown.


20  - Commencement.  Big day/small breakfast with our Commencement speaker, Christine Lagarde, and invited students (again filmed by the PBS crew). Opportunity to honor Joe Holt! Very little happens at the College that Joe doesn’t know about first, but I think we really surprised him. You can watch the entire Commencement ceremony here.

24 - Staff Council Retreat. Wow! What a thoughtful group, and we have developed some excellent ideas for building morale and teamwork at our college, and better support our valued staff.
25 – Conference call with FannieMae experts to discuss student debt relief for homebuyers. Worked on a letter to alumni letting them know of the opportunity to fold high-rate student debt into their low-rate mortgages.  
•   Investment Committee Call
•   George Washington Prize Gala. Congratulations to Nathaniel Philbrick, whose book Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, took the prize.  I was delighted to meet the new regent of the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association, Sarah Miller Coulson.
29 - Memorial Day
JUNE 1 - Sheila Bair appeared with Andrew Ross Sorkin, and old friend from mortgage crisis days, as part of The New York Times Higher Ed Leaders Forum to talk about her ideas about easing student debt. Watch the program here. 

Pages from My Calendar

June Dates

1 - Interview with Elaine Zimmerman on Income Share Agreements as a better way to finance college. 

Dam the Debt and George’s Brigade receive additional financial support in new donor gifts. Read all about it.

2  - Alumni Weekend begins! Happy Hour with alums. 

3 – Alumni Weekend President’s Dinner on the lawn of Cromwell.  Weather could not have been more pleasant, our newest building could not be a more welcome addition to our campus. Thank you for the standing ovation!

5 – Met with Kurt Landgraf, President-elect of the College.

6 -  Staff lunch. Lunch is a better than breakfast for a campus-wide staff get-together.

7 - Farewell for Tom Curry, Comptroller of the Currency, and meeting with Marty Gruenberg, Chairman of the FDIC.

 9 – Lunch with Senator Susan Collins to talk about Higher Education Act Reauthorization and the FINANCIAL CHOICE Act passed by the House.

10 – Keynote, Maryland League of Women Voters, “Ban the Debt, Rebuild the Middle Class, and Win the Game of Loans”

12 – Lunch with Eileen Dickey, The Hodson Trust, at her request

Meeting regarding Eastern Shore Food Lab.

13 – Meeting with Susan Vowels, Department of Business Management, and the business department’s three-year plan

19 – Discussion with Rhode Island Governor Gina Gaimondo regarding Higher Education, free tuition plans, and their impact on public and private colleges and universities
Farewell telephone call with Betty Casey, at her request

20 – Higher Education forum at Bipartisan Policy Center with Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue. Good discussion and opportunity to thank him for all his help during my Presidency at Washington College

21 - Meeting with WC alum Amy Lamé ’92, London’t Night Czar

In The Wings

June 29  - Open House Hours for unhurried conversations and good-byes.