Smith College names Kathleen McCartney as 11th president

Kathleen McCartney has been named the 11th president of Smith College.
Kathleen McCartney has been named the 11th president of Smith College. –Smith College

Smith College has named Kathleen McCartney, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as its 11th college president.

McCartney, 57, succeeds Carol T. Christ, who has been president of the women’s college in Northampton since 2002. Christ announced her retirement last year.

McCartney, a Medford native and a specialist in child development and early education, will assume the Smith presidency in July. An inauguration ceremony will follow soon after.

“I’m very excited, very humbled,’’ McCartney, who is already preparing for her move from Cambridge to Northampton, said in an interview today. “I got the phone call a week ago, and it has been a whirlwind week. My inbox is overflowing with kind notes.’’


In the hope to learn about her new college community, McCartney said she plans to take a social approach to the start of her presidency by conducting a “listening tour.’’

“I want to hear what makes people proud about Smith and what their visions are,’’ McCartney said.

McCartney graduated from Tufts University with a degree in psychology in 1977, and then received her doctorate in developmental psychology from Yale University in 1982. She has also been a trustee at Tufts for the past five years.

McCartney was named the acting dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2005 and dean the following year.

“She has strengthened and energized the faculty, increased student aid, deepened the school’s connections with other parts of the university, and elevated its impact on the world of education far beyond Harvard,’’ Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement. “She has done all this with boundless energy, a constant commitment to high standards and innovation, and a relentless passion for enhancing learning in all its forms.’’

At Smith, McCartney said, she wants to uphold the goals of founder Sophia Smith, who believed in giving women access to the highest quality education, something that was unheard of when the school began over 140 years ago.


“Smith has a distinctive identity in higher education, and a strong history,’’ McCartney said. “Smith has played a prominent role in promoting women in leadership.’’

Smith College opened its doors in 1875 to 14 students. Today, it has more than 2,500 students and 285 professors across 41 departments, making it one of the largest women’s colleges in the United States. Smith is also associated with the Seven Sisters colleges.

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