Interview with Leon Botstein: 35 Years (and Counting) as President of Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

After 35 years at Bard College, Leon Botstein reflects on his life as a public intellectual


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leon botstein with student bob reselmanNewly named President Botstein and Bard student Bob Reselman show off their ’70s style in this 1977 photo

Photograph by John Duke Kisch/courtesy of Bard College

While it might seem natural for an uber-intellectual to crave the stimulation of New York City, Botstein actually finds it “enervating. It’s too distracting. I spend fewer than 20 nights a year overnight in the city.” His wife of 20 years, Barbara Haskell, is a senior curator at the Whitney Museum of Art and lives in Manhattan during the week. When their two grown children were younger they also lived in the city from Monday through Friday. (Botstein also had two daughters with his first wife, one of whom was killed in a car accident when she was seven.) “But the kids spent all their holidays and summers here,” Botstein says. “They loved it, they could roam around free, and bicycle, and of course, they met a lot of interesting people here.” When asked about his unorthodox marital living arrangement, he replies only that “People are always uncomfortable with people who don’t fit into a neat picture. We’ve solved the dilemma of the two-career family in the way we have. But she does participate in official events at the college just as I make required appearances at the Whitney to support her work.”

On weekends, Botstein often pops into town where he loves to mill about A.L. Stickles 5 & Dime Store (he dubs it “one of the great treasures of Rhinebeck”) or dine with his family at Red Hook’s Mercato, Tivoli’s Osaka Restaurant, or Rhinebeck’s Le Petit Bistro. And lest you think he takes himself too seriously, Schwab insists that Botstein “is funny, but not in a comedian type of way. He is very witty, very clever, he is a joy to argue with. Sometimes I tell him he should have been a lawyer and he disagrees. Lawyers are not among his favorites.”

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