During her first days as President, Dr. Joyce P. Jacobsen met with numerous students, faculty, staff and members of the broader Hobart and William Smith and Geneva communities. Between breakfast with Hobart and William Smith Deans Khuram Hussain and Lisa Kaenzig P’22, and lunch with students conducting summer research on campus, Jacobsen visited faculty and staff, convened with Geneva leaders, and spoke with multiple alumni and alumnae.
On WXXI’s “Connections,” a talk show that covers topics important to the Finger Lakes and Upstate New York, she laid out her first priorities. They include “trying to learn about the schools and understand all the various narratives” that shape the HWS community, including its relationship to Geneva, and listen to “what the Colleges mean to [those constituencies]…what their hopes are for the Colleges, what their concerns are for the Colleges, and take that in.”
In addition to her scholarship as an economist, her childhood heroine Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, and her hope to eventually teach an economics course at HWS, “Connections” host Evan Dawson asked Jacobsen about the historical significance of her presidency. As the first woman to lead HWS, Jacobsen noted that William Smith College “was founded very much for women’s rights [at a time] when women didn’t have great access to education. The symbolism of having this coordinate system have its first woman leader is important.”
Sharing her initial impressions of the Colleges and her approach to sustaining their success, Jacobsen said, “I knew people in the [HWS] economics department by reputation, I knew a couple of the former provosts professionally… [and knew the Colleges] for having a strong faculty and being a serious institution…. The challenge is to build and preserve what is strong about an institution and figure out things that can make it even stronger.”
In a wide-ranging interview that covered Title IX, the future of higher education and the power of strong endowments, Jacobsen was also asked about the implications of her scholarship around economics and gender. “Economics was not a particularly gendered field really until fairly recently,” she said. “We’re big on homo economicus, for instance — we say ‘economic man,’ we never talked about ‘economic people.'” A more inclusive model, taking into account women and family structures, helps “line up economics more with the real world, where we know people interact within families in certain ways, within firms, within ways that relate often to their gender roles within society as well,” she said. “There’s just a lot of interesting patterns and I find that students often like areas of economics where they can actually link them to things they have already noticed in the real world but haven’t really thought about in an analytical way.”
Jacobsen also discussed free speech on college campuses as “a fundamental standard” of intellectual inquiry. “We actually owe it to our students to have them hear multiple types of voices and understand different points of view,” she said. “They need to understand reasoned counter-positions to beliefs that they hold. And for any position that you hold there is at least one if not more — usually two or three or five — counter-positions.”
Earlier this week, Jacobsen launched Explore HWS, a new webpage that tracks her process of learning about the Colleges’ community, traditions and goals, including The Pulteney St. Podcast. Jacobsen and two new presidents at nearby institutions were also highlighted this week in the Rochester Business Journal.
Jacobsen is the 29th President of Hobart College and the 18th of William Smith College. Previously the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Wesleyan University, Jacobsen is a renowned scholar of economics, an award-winning teacher and an experienced administrator. Jacobsen earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University and M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with her A.B. in economics as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.