Nancy Vickers, 'avid learner'

photo of Nancy VickersWhen cable television came to the small New Hampshire town of Hanover over a decade ago, the woman recently named Bryn Mawr's next president experienced a research epiphany — music videos.

What captured Nancy Vickers' interest about the medium was that it was a new technological form of lyric. A scholar of Renaissance studies, focusing on gender issues in French, Italian and English lyric poetry, she had been looking at the passage from manuscript to print cultures. “I very quickly became interested in questions of recorded sound, what it meant to reproduce the lyric moment visually, and that even spurred questions about interactive media,” she said.

Vickers, then teaching at Dartmouth College, was watching a music video when a phone call came inviting her to join the faculty of the University of Southern California. “The proximity of a cinema school and the entertainment industry spoke to my expanding interests in popular culture, so I quite happily made the move to Los Angeles,” she said.

Last fall, Vickers received another phone call, this time from Bryn Mawr's presidential search committee, which had received her name as a nomination. In the end, Vickers was the only finalist invited to visit the campus in early February. The 22-member committee of trustees, alumnae/i, faculty, staff and students unanimously recommended her selection to the board of trustees, who voted on February 15 to appoint her.

The question asked during Vickers' visit as often as it was left unspoken was how she feels about following in Pat McPherson's footsteps. “In a way, it will be easier than you might think,” she said. “Pat is an extraordinary individual with a deep understanding of this institution, which has a long, rich history and a distinct culture of its own. There's no way that an outsider can step into those shoes. They're going to have to be different shoes! And the most avid learner at Bryn Mawr next year will be Nancy Vickers.”

Asked by undergraduates whether she would be a suitable role model for students, Vickers said that she would be comfortable as one model among many, but would not want the fact, for example, that she is single to suggest that successful women cannot be married.

Vickers received her A.B. in 1967 from Mt. Holyoke College, which she credits with “forming my academic self through its integrity and demands.” She thinks that although their roles have changed, women's colleges still have important work to do. Vickers witnessed earlier difficulties for women as a graduate student and hall master at Yale when the university made its rancorous transition to coeducation and in going to teach at Dartmouth in 1973 when it was making the same shift. (She received her Ph.D. from Yale in 1976.)

In 1987, Vickers joined the USC faculty as professor of French, Italian and comparative literature. Since 1994, she has served as dean of curriculum and instruction in its college of letters, arts and sciences. One of the projects she is completing is an overhaul of USC's general education program, and she looks forward to returning to a school whose size permits a clearer focus on the liberal arts. Vickers greatly values, however, her decade of living in Los Angeles — “that fraught, always interesting, always demanding, always multicultural city” — and of working to build connections between the university and the community. Nancy Vickers will move to Bryn Mawr in August. Look for a full interview with her in the Bulletin this fall.

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