[KS] Meredith Woo: "Sweet Briar’s new president comes via Korea, Japan, London and U-Va."

Frank Joseph Shulman fshulman at umd.edu
Tue Feb 7 23:39:07 EST 2017

The following story from the February 7, 2017 issue of the "Washington
Post" might be of interest to the KS listserve.  Meredith Woo
[Jung-eun Woo] earned her Ph.D. in Political Science in 1988 at
Columbia University, where she wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled
"State Power, Finance and Industrialization of Korea".  It was
subsequently published as "Race to the Swift: State and Finance in
Korean Industrialization" [by Jung-en Woo]. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1991. xi, 280p. (Studies of the East Asian

"Sweet Briar’s new president comes via Korea, Japan, London and U-Va."


By Susan Svrluga By Susan Svrluga
Grade Point
February 6 Follow @SusanSvrluga

Meredith Woo, the president-elect of Sweet Briar College, left, is
greeted by Phil Stone; current president of Sweet Briar College, right
at the school. Teresa Tomlinson, chair of the board of directors, in
background at left. (Cassie Foster/Sweet Briar College)

Sweet Briar College announced a new president Monday, almost two years
after its leaders said the more-than-100-year-old women’s college
would have to close forever.

It was a decision that shocked not only those on campus but college
officials across the country, as people asked: Can private liberal
arts colleges survive?

At Sweet Briar — so far — the answer is yes.

Meredith Woo will leave the Open Society Foundation in London, where
she has been director of the International Higher Education Support
Program, supporting higher education for refugees from the Middle
East, Africa and South Asia, and creating and supporting more than 50
liberal arts colleges in the former Soviet bloc, to lead Sweet Briar.

Previously, she oversaw 11,000 undergraduate students, 1,600 graduate
students and 800 full-time faculty at the University of Virginia, as
the Buckner W. Clay Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts &

“I am not innocent of the great challenges ahead,” she planned to tell
supporters, but she recognized something important was at stake when
alumnae saved the tiny school. “The hallmark of Sweet Briar is an
excellent liberal arts education — intense, hands-on, personalized, in
small classes and in the intimacy of a lovely campus. To my mind,
there is no better preparation for your future in the 21st century
than a liberal arts education, and particularly in a college like
Sweet Briar that is focused on the development of the whole person — a
whole woman, with the complex set of roles and responsibility this

It’s not cheap to provide that kind of education, she noted. So one of
the first challenges will be strengthening the school’s finances
without letting go of that legacy.

The college had been slated to close because of numbers: Not enough
students, not enough tuition revenue, not enough demand for a private
women’s college in rural Virginia.

So after alumnae fought back — with fundraisers and lawsuits,
countless volunteer hours, and daisies handed to prospective students
— and a settlement was brokered to save the school, the hard work of
reopening a school began.

Phillip Stone, a lawyer and former college president, took over a
3,250-acre campus in July of 2015 with no students, no faculty and no

Over and over, he talked people into coming back. Alumnae kept giving:
The school exceeded its fundraising goal last year and expects to meet
its $20 million goal this year. “Last year’s freshman class was 32, 33
kids,” said Teresa Pike Tomlinson, who leads the board. The school
announced it would close at a crucial time for enrollment, just as
students were making final choices about where to attend. The impact
on revenue from that tiny class will hurt the school’s finances until
they graduate, she said, so they have asked donors to fill in the gap
until they level out.

Woo said she will draw on her foundation experience to broaden
fundraising, so they aren’t just counting on the same pool of alumnae
to keep the school afloat. She anticipates they will build
collaborations with women’s colleges around the world.

Their enrollment goal for new students, first-years and transfers is
180 students.

They have cut the budget, and come in under budget. They made their
enrollment efforts more targeted, and see more commitments, earlier,
than they did last year.

Tomlinson said they held nothing back, wanting Woo to know exactly
what the challenges were. She said they wondered, with her experience
and credentials, if she would understand why they felt so strongly
about the importance of their particular type of education — all
female, small classes, liberal arts. “She knocked it out of the park,”
Tomlinson said.

Speaking from London, Woo said the challenges at Sweet Briar were
reflective of those faced by many liberal arts institutions,
intensified, of course, by the attempted closure — and eased by the
dedication of alumnae who banded so tightly together to help. “I
thought it was a really excellent opportunity to do something really
important for a college with an important historical, social and
cultural legacy.”

She grew up in Seoul, moved to Japan with her family as a teenager and
attended a Spanish Catholic high school there, then came to the United
States to attend Bowdoin College. She earned a doctorate in political
science and master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia.

She was a visiting scholar at the Ministry of Finance in Tokyo, and
taught at Northwestern and Columbia universities, specializing in
international and comparative politics with a focus on East Asia.
Before working at U-Va., Woo was the associate dean for social
sciences at the University of Michigan and a tenured professor of
political science.

“I’m one of those people who decides where home is, rather than be
given a home,” she said. She fell in love with Virginia and the
friendships she made during her years in Charlottesville. “Now I’m
about to come back home.”

Woo, 58, will begin April 3, working alongside Stone, with whom she
talks frequently. He will preside over graduation, and on May 15, she
will step in as the 13th president of Sweet Briar College.

Tomlinson planned to tell supporters Monday that “President-elect Woo
is a bold change-agent in the most positive sense, stating in her own
words that while change is essential in order for higher education
institutions like Sweet Briar to thrive, ‘you must remain faithful to
who you are — your authentic DNA.’ ” She “gets” Sweet Briar in the
most profound way, stating in her interview with the search committee,
and referencing the work of poet John Donne, that “Sweet Briar is a
‘little world made cunningly’: it requires a subtle understanding of
its complexity and purpose.”

Frank Joseph Shulman
Bibliographer, Editor and Consultant for Reference Publications in Asian Studies
9225 Limestone Place
College Park, Maryland 20740-3943 (U.S.A.)
E-mail: fshulman at umd.edu

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