CHESTERTOWN, MD—Sheila C. Bair, the former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and a renowned advocate for financial reform, has been named the 28th president of Washington College, the historic liberal arts college on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“I am incredibly pleased to be joining Washington College, a school the father of our country helped found over two centuries ago. This is a pivotal moment in its rich history,” said Bair. “As some see challenges in liberal arts education, Washington College sees nothing but opportunities. Through multi-disciplinary programs and experiential learning, Washington College gives its students the knowledge and practical skills to succeed as model, global citizens.
“If the financial crisis taught us anything, it is that we need decision-makers in both the public and private sectors who understand the social, ethical, and economic consequences of their actions – who can appreciate the historical and cultural context of the global environment in which we live, and who will be committed to the health and prosperity of not only their generation, but of generations to come,” she added. “That is the kind of education that Washington College has been providing to generations of students.”
“I am also pleased to be joining the Chestertown community and look forward to building even stronger ties between the college and local residents. Given its location on the Chester River near the Chesapeake Bay, Washington College is well-positioned to expand its well-regarded environmental research while contributing to the quality of life in Kent County.”
In announcing the appointment, H. Lawrence Culp, Jr., chair-elect of the Washington College Board of Visitors and Governors, noted that Bair will officially take the reins on August 1, 2015. She will be the first female president of the College, founded in 1782 with the patronage of then-General George Washington as the first college chartered in the new nation. Washington College ranks among the top selective liberal arts institutions in the country. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 12 to 1, it emphasizes the life-changing power of small classes and close connections between professors and their students.
“Sheila Bair has proven herself on the world stage as a clear-eyed strategic thinker who is willing to challenge the status quo to improve institutions and improve lives,” said Culp, a 1985 graduate of Washington College who recently retired as president and CEO of Danaher Corporation. “She understands our history, our mission, our values, and our potential. She also appreciates this beautiful Chesapeake Bay region and understands the importance of Chestertown and the College collaborating in ways that benefit our students and the community.”
Appointed to lead the FDIC by President George W. Bush in 2006, Bair led the Commission skillfully during one of our nation’s most challenging periods. She was one of the first officials to warn about the damage the growing subprime mortgage crisis would pose to millions of homeowners and the economy at large. Consumer advocates praised her relentless efforts to represent the interests of homeowners, bank customers and taxpayers. She helped shape and implement the Dodd-Frank Act, which gave the FDIC expanded power to “wind down” rather than bail out a failing bank, and created the Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion in an effort to bring banking services to underserved populations.
As head of the FDIC, Bair was recognized for sound fiscal management and for raising employee morale. Under her leadership the agency rose from last to first ranking in “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” from the Partnership for Public Service. In 2011, she was named by the Washington Post and Harvard University as one of America’s seven top leaders.
Her tenacity, independence and leadership earned her the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award, and the Better Business Bureau’s Presidents’ Award. Forbes twice named her the second most powerful woman in the world, behind Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Bair chronicled her five years at the FDIC in Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself, a New York Times bestseller published in September 2012. A prolific writer, she is a regular contributor to Fortune and has written three books for children that offer lessons in financial literacy.
Since stepping down from the FDIC at the end of her term in 2011, Bair has served as a senior advisor to the Pew Charitable Trusts and chaired the Systemic Risk Council, a public-interest group of prominent former government officials and financial experts who monitor the implementation of financial reforms. Bair also serves on the boards of the nonprofit Volcker Alliance, which was formed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to promote more effective government.
A native of the small town of Independence, Kansas, where her father was a surgeon and her mother a nurse, Bair earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the University of Kansas in 1974 and a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law in 1978. She began her career in public service as an aide to Kansas senator Bob Dole and later served as a commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a senior vice president for government relations at the New York Stock Exchange, and Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. For four years prior to joining the FDIC, she was the Dean’s Professor of Financial Regulatory Policy for the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Bair is married to Scott P. Cooper, Vice President of Government Relations at the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the couple has two children. Son Preston graduates this month from Swarthmore College, and daughter Colleen is completing her first year of high school.
Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of the Pew Charitable Trusts and a former board member of Washington College, says that the appointment is a perfect fit. “Sheila’s energy, intellect and commitment to public service have benefited the American people throughout her career, and I am delighted that she will serve as the next president of Washington College,” said Rimel. “Her tireless efforts to strengthen the U.S. financial system, speak truth to power, and serve the public interest make her the perfect leader for this great institution.”
Chair of the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors Edward P. Nordberg, Jr. ’82, whose term concludes July 1, praised the members of the presidential search committee and its chair, Richard Creighton ’73, for their work in reviewing some 350 potential candidates before recommending Bair unanimously to the board. “The result of their commitment and countless hours of research and interviews speaks for itself,” Nordberg said. “Our pool of finalists overflowed with remarkable, accomplished men and women from a variety of fields, and in Sheila Bair they found the perfect combination of wisdom, leadership skills and sensibility. She is a true example of four words we celebrate in our mission statement: ‘citizen leader’ and ‘moral courage.’ I could not be happier for my alma mater.”
Nordberg also thanked Interim President Jay Griswold for the stellar leadership he has provided since last summer, when former president Mitchell B. Reiss stepped down to lead the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Griswold, a former long-time board chair, will remain at the helm until Bair’s arrival and will help with the transition.