John Bard founded Bard College with the mission of preparing young men for entrance into the seminaries of the Episcopal Church. At the time, the school taught according to a classical curriculum and was called St. Stephen’s.
In 1919, a new warden by the name of Bernard Iddings Bell was appointed, and he moved the school toward a more secular mission, adding social and natural science courses and diversifying the student body.
In 1928, the school became an undergraduate school of Columbia University. In 1934, Dean Donald Tewksbury led an overhaul of the school’s program, laying the groundwork for today’s Moderation and Senior Project requirements, and as well as the importance of fine and performing arts in the liberal arts curriculum. It was also at this time that the school was renamed “Bard” in honor of its founder.
In 1944, Bard opened its doors to women, cut off its relation to Columbia, and became an independent college, affiliated with the Episcopal Church but secular and nonsectarian. In 1975, Leon Botstein assumed the presidency of Bard, after serving as the youngest college president in history at the now-defunct Franconia College.
The grassy 500-acre Bard campus is built on two former estates bordering the Hudson River, in New York’s picturesque Hudson River Valley. Walking trails wind around the campus, which features more than 70 buildings in a veriety of styles, from old stones houses covered in ivy to more contemporary structures. Most notable is the 110,000-square-foot Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, which was designed by Frank Gehry in 2003.
Facilities are clustered in the center of campus – Kline Commons, the main dining hall and meeting place is there, along with the Bertelsmann Campus Center, and a number of classrooms, science labs, art studios, libraries, and the gymnasium. Most of the more than 40 residence halls are scattered around campus.
Bard is located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, about two hour’s drive north from New York City in the Hudson River Valley. There’s plenty of pretty scenery at Bard, including waterfalls on campus, the Tivoli Bays and the Hudson River. Nearby towns off-campus (the college is basically all that there is of Annandale) include Red Hook, Tivoli, and Rhinebeck. All three have small commercial areas that, while not catering specifically to Bard students, fit the bill when students want to get off campus. Kingston, across a small bridge over the Hudson River, is slightly larger.
Given its location in the Hudson River Valley, which has become known for its artisanal farms, wineries, and antiques, dining options abound near Bard, though not exactly tailored to the typical college student. While the area around Bard is not necessarily bustling, students keep themselves busy, especially those who have a car or have friends who do.
With or without a car (though with one makes freedom easier and better!), off-campus life is centered on a few specific places: Cappuccino’s, The Black Swan, Taste Buds, Michael’s Diner, and the Tivoli student houses.
Cappuccino’s is technically the only off-campus place to dine that is considered within walking distance. I think at the farthest point on campus, the walk across the street to this Italian joint is still reasonably under a mile. While many order food from here, since they offer free delivery, others like to go for a nice sit-down meal of pizza and the famous calzone. Then there is Taste Buds, which is easily a campus shuttle away in the little town of Red Hook. Here your sweet tooth can be sated with homemade fudge and candies, and they also offer every caffeinated beverage under the sun. Taste Buds even serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, from omelets to homemade macaroni and cheese! With cozy seating and background music, no one can avoid this local favorite. Those who are lucky enough to have a car can take a 20-minute drive over the Rhinecliff Bridge into Kingston to Michael’s, an old-fashioned diner where breakfast is served all day and night.
The Black Swan is the local and rather hokey bar that almost all students visit at least once during their time at Bard. Sponsoring everything from karaoke nights to country line dancing parties, the Black Swan has it all if you’re okay with a slightly more local atmosphere. And while you’re at the Black Swan, you might as well try to hit up some of the off-campus student parties held in the upperclassmen houses in Tivoli. Each weekend there is at least one house party advertised around campus with posters. It’s a popular way to spend the weekend for many students, especially if Bard just isn’t giving you the fun on campus that you are looking for.
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Chevy Chase (1967) is a well-known comedic actor.
Blythe Danner (1965) is a film, theater, and TV actress who was won Emmy and TONY Awards.
Daniel Pinkwater is a commentator for NPR.
Matt Taibbi is a political journalist at Rolling Stone magazine.
John Yau (1972) is an award-winning poet and literary critic.
Varsity sports are not that popular at Bard, and the school lacks staples like football and baseball. The men’s basketball team did not perform well last year (8-17) and the women’s team only did slightly better, going 10-15, though they did earn a spot on the list of Most Improved Teams in Division III.
There are other sports at Bard worth mentioning: the men’s volleyball team made it to the Eastern College Athletic Conference South men’s volleyball tournament last season and lost to the top-ranked team.
As of next year, Bard will have men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, starting as club sports in 2009, followed by full varsity status in 2010.
As for less conventional sports, a lot of students play Ultimate Frisbee, and people say croquet is popular, too.
Bard President Leon Botstein is also music director of the American and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestras.
The Bard College Prison Initiative operates colleges inside two maximum-security prisons and two transitional institutions.
Bard is described as “My Old School” in the Steely Dan song of that name.
Most residence halls at Bard are coed, and vary in style – from converted farmhouses to traditional corridor-style living. Students who live in the residence halls must take the school’s meal plan.
The major dorm arrangements on campus for freshmen are based around ‘north’ and ‘south’ campus. You either live in the Cruger Village or the South Campus Quad. The two are separated by woods and paths, and there are pluses and minuses to each. In the Keene complex, within Gruger Village, the benefit is very few stairs, single bathrooms, and more spacious rooms (but not by too much). Here, the major dorms consist of Keene and Cruger (large two-story dorms with about 50 kids each) with the ‘tree houses’ holding close-knit families of 10-15 people. (Treehouses are a form of temporary housing, also known as a trailer, that never vanished from the campus after Bard expanded the size of the student body. They aren’t too shabby, if the residents may say so themselves, and do regularly!) There are other dorms in this quad and also, and it’s not all freshmen, some upper classmen choose to live here again as well.
Cruger is not considered a ‘party’ dorm, though the residents would likely beg to differ…but it is a friendly place! Its warmth comes from the very communal feel, with big hallways where people sit and chat, the common room and loft off of it where people can sit, do work or bond over movies, and its large kitchen. Keene is where the party is, or so is the case this year. The upper classmen will concur that it all depends on the class. But Keene is a maze of halls and rooms that go in crazy directions. It’s not the most wonderful place to live, and things are often broken (bathrooms, stoves, lights).
On south campus there is basically Tewksbury and the Toasters (oddly shaped dorms that are permanent versions of the Treehouses, kind of cute, lots of stairs!). Everyone fears the tales of ‘Tewks’ as incoming freshman. But those who live there claim it’s the best place ever, guess I’ll take their word. I’d say it’s like most bad college dorms, but since that’s not the norm here, it seems like an alien place. The benefit of living on this side of campus is the easy access to shuttle stops, classes, dining halls, and the student center (which means down the road café, or snacks until midnight!) What you give up though is often better housing, but that’s all a matter of perspective I suppose. The Toasters also have smaller rooms and less space to move around, but they are cozy, have quaint common rooms, and you really get to know your housemates.
Preferred housing for upperclassmen is in the suites of The Village, the rooms of Manor Place, or the rooms of New Robbins. The Village is a path of dorms with very interesting and rather pretty design that hold about 20 students who usually choose to live together in a more homey kind of arrangement. These are eco-friendly dorms that run on minimal energy and are really popular with most students. Manor Place is an older building that is great because it’s home to many dance parties and other festivities, as well as the only other dining hall on campus. While its rooms are usually smaller, and it’s a bit more ancient and can get quite warm since it doesn’t have AC, it has a nice atmosphere and plenty to do. There is a rolling green out back behind the building, and a gazebo where students mingle in good and bad weather. Also, the big common area has a nice space for catching that World Series game or the ever suspenseful episode of House.
New Robbins is the newest dorm on campus and most compare it to a nice hotel. With three floors, it’s one of the tallest buildings to live in. It boasts single bathrooms, multiple laundry service rooms, spacious halls, and rooms in interesting shapes and sizes, some with circular, tower-like designs. Robbins also has great common areas, the bottom floor holding a massive kitchen with two giant stainless-steel fridges. With lots of counter space and modern appliances, tables, and chairs, it’s a great place to host meals and chill with friends. Also in the bottom common room, since there is one on each floor, is a large couched-out section of the room with plenty of comfy seating to pop in a movie or two for the night. With access outdoors as well to a large rolling green, it’s quite a scenic place to live, with views over the fields, the Hudson, and into the Catskills. While aesthetically pleasing, residents do complain that there isn’t as much ‘dorm love’ as in other places, since it’s so large and spread out. Bard kids love their dorm bonding!