At the corner of Berkeley and Beacon streets in 1992, about eight blocks away from 150 Boylston Street, Jacqueline Liebergott became president of Emerson College at a time when the school faced turmoil and a lack of direction.
David Rosen, assistant to the president, said Liebergott’s tenure transformed the college. In 1992, Emerson was hit with the unexpected death of then-President John Zacharis, who passed away from complications with leukemia. Liebergott stepped in during that time of shock and brought the student body back together, Rosen said.
“[The college] was saddled with debt, its facilities were woefully inadequate, its admissions picture was bleak, the curriculum needed upgrading, the faculty was too small, and the institution was reeling from the after-shocks of an ill-conceived and failed plan to relocate the College to suburban Lawrence. Many people feared the college would not survive,” Rosen said in an email to the Beacon.
But today, after 19 years of Liebergott’s leadership the school’s admission rate has decreased from 74 percent in 1993 to 47 percent in 2010, increasing the graduation rate from 52 percent to 80 percent, and moving the college to Boylston St., thus expanding its population and number of buildings. But, Rosen said, what makes Liebergott stand out from other administrators in academia is her unwavering devotion to the student body.
“Two traits set Jackie apart from the others I’ve worked with,” Rosen said. “The first is her hands-on style and grasp of virtually every aspect of the college. The other is her genuine interest in the well being and success of students, faculty, staff, parents and friends of the college. Jackie really cares. She is truly one of a kind.”
At a faculty assembly on Tuesday, Liebergott was presented with the Emerson Lifetime Achievement Award.
Tom Cooper, professor of visual and media arts, gave a presentation applauding the president’s accomplishments throughout her time at Emerson. During the presentation, Cooper announced a scholarship fund that has been created in Liebergott’s name. The fund currently has $4,000 in it, all of which has been donated by various faculty members.
Brooke Knight, associate professor of visual and media arts, presented Liegerbott with the award.
“Many of us would not be here nor would we be sitting in this room had it not been for your efforts,” Knight said to Liebergott at the assembly. “We wish you the best in your future endeavors; please know that you will not soon be forgotten.”
Liebergott accepted the award and thanked the faculty for the success of the institution during her time as president.
“Do you know how many times I’ve dreamt of having the mic in front of me at assembly?” Liebergott said with sarcasm. “It’s been a transformational series of years for me. Where we are as an institution reminds me that you can’t do it alone, you have to do it together. For that I thank you.”
Daniel Kempler, chair of the communication science disorders department, said he has many great memories of Liebergott, but one in particular demonstrated to him her ability to be personable, no matter the situation.
“One of the images I’ll always hold dear is her coming to my house for a retirement party for a colleague of mine, and mingling effortlessly and with great appreciation, even though the honoree was somebody who had originally voted against her tenure,” he said. “No grudges, just enjoyment of people and accomplishments. It reflects on her ability to see the big picture.”
Kempler said Liebergott keeps the ‘big picture in mind’ by listening to student voices. He said no decision is made by the president without first asking how it would affect the lives of Emersonians.
Jon Allen, president of the class of 2014, has experienced Liebergott’s willingness to help students first hand. Allen said that forming a close bond with Liebergott throughout this year has not only given him an administrator to confide in, but has allowed him to form professional connections he wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“She set me up with a PR company in Boston that is owned by an Emerson alum because she thought it would be beneficial for me,” Allen said. “I think she has done a really good job basing her goals for the school off of the students needs and interests.”
Alumnus Dan Sher, a graduate of the class of 1994, the first to graduate with Liebergott as president for a full year, still remembers the impact of Liebergott on the student body years after he left Emerson. He said he got to know the president through being a member of the student government association, and described her as a visionary in multiple facets, from buying 180 Tremont to bringing students from all majors together.
“I am who I am because of my experience at Emerson,” said Sher, who now lives outside of Chicago. “I think that the administration is a big part of making sure that students are getting the very best education.”
John Pool, also an alumnus from the class of 1994, said he remembers the failed attempt to move the college to Lawrence, Mass., and recalls the uncertainty of the future of the institution. But despite this, he said, Liebergott remained accessible to the students.
“Through her abilities, skills, and perseverance, she brought the school back together,” Pool said. “She rebuilt Emerson. She made it the world class institution it is today.”