Barnard President: Obama’s Commencement Turned Columbia Women “Nasty” Toward Barnard Women

“It caused this reflection where we could say, this is not good for anyone,” Debora Spar said. “Everybody gets demeaned in the process.”

When President Obama decided he’d like to make the 2012 Commencement speech at Barnard College, the all-women’s sister college to Columbia University, it put the school’s president Debora Spar in a difficult situation. She not only had to accept the President with open arms and bump “New York Times” editor Jill Abramson from the podium, but also mediate jealousy of Columbia students — who already had a habit of sneering at Barnard.

Students at Columbia were pretty upset that their small sister school was getting a presidential speaker, while they were not.

“It caused such a firestorm that we had to make some reflection, where we asked, how did we turn on each other so badly?” Spar said at the Wall Street Women Forum at The Time Warner Center in New York last night. “In particular – it was Columbia women being nasty to Barnard women.” (When Columbia started admitting female undergraduates in 1982, Barnard remained affiliated with the school as its less competitive entity.)

The incident prompted some introspection on campus about why everyone was being so mean to each other. “It caused this reflection where we could say, this is not good for anyone,” Spar said. “Everybody gets demeaned in the process.”

Spar, who is one of two women who sits on Goldman Sachs’ Board, also spoke about why she thinks there aren’t more women in CEO or leadership positions. She pointed to the number of women who succeed in executive roles, but what she called “number two” roles. In other words, lots of women are excelling as COOs or CMOs or CFOs, but few occupy the CEO spot. “Women hover at number two,” she said, explaining that she believes woman value being liked too much. In a CEO role, she said, “There are going to be a lot of people who not only dislike you, but actually hate you.”

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