Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson’s 13th President, Jay Bernhardt, outlines short-term plans for first term at college

Ashlyn Wang
After two years of an interim leader presiding, it was officially announced in January that Jay Bernhardt would become Emerson’s 13th president.

For the first time in two years, Emerson College is beginning its 2023-24 school year with a full-time president: Dr. Jay M. Bernhardt.

In January, Emerson officials formally announced that Bernhardt, former dean of the communications school at the University of Texas at Austin, was named the college’s 13th president. The announcement came almost two years after former President M. Lee Pelton departed the college to lead the Boston Foundation in June 2021, followed by the interim presidency of William Gilligan during the presidential search. 

“I’m incredibly honored to be the 13th president,” Bernhardt, who officially began his term in June, said in an interview with the Beacon. “It feels exciting and overwhelming and joyous… It’s an amazing college with a rich history and great people.” 

Bernhardt outlined the short-term priorities that he hopes to achieve during the early stages of his presidency, which include hiring, strategic planning, and learning more about the Emerson community. 

“Everything is certainly a work in progress because I’ve learned a lot and I’ve met a ton of people,” Bernhardt said. “But I have a lot more to learn, a lot more people to meet, and a lot more places to visit and programs to learn about before our collective plans become firm.” 

In the near future, Bernhardt said the college is looking to fill senior positions, including the provost position, a general council, chief of staff, and new positions such as vice president for communication and marketing.

The college’s strategic plans will be also updated for the first time in 13 years to accommodate changes in technology and climate, as well as challenges around equity, access, and social justice. The new plan will also have Emerson’s 150th anniversary in 2030 in mind. The process will begin this fall and will consist of workshops, surveys, and seminars to engage stakeholders at Emerson, he said.

The Emerson College Polling Society released a survey in June that showed how the majority of Emerson’s undergraduate student population believed funding and tuition should be the highest priority for Bernhardt. The survey was conducted from March 27 through April 24, 2023, consisting of 371 undergraduate students at Emerson College. 

The survey reflects students’ negative reactions after Emerson undergraduate costs of attendance increased by four percent for the 2023-24 academic year. The $2,892 increase brings the total cost of full-time Emerson students in a single room to $75,208 per academic year.

Bernhardt hopes to address those concerns and find solutions to make Emerson more financially accessible.

“There aren’t easy ways to reduce the cost of an Emerson education, but what we must do is explore as many ways we can increase its value,” Bernhardt said.

Increasing the college’s value means strengthening the college’s advising, career, mentoring, and networking services to provide students with a more competitive advantage in their careers. The cost of offering small classes and hands-on experiences is reflected in the college’s tuition, he said. 

At the University of Texas, Bernhardt raised more than $145 million in funding and hopes to achieve a similar goal at Emerson. He mentioned that the college prioritized hiring Allison Dawson, UT Austin’s former Chief Development Officer for the Moody College of Communication, as the Vice President of Institutional Advancement this summer to continue rebuilding relationships with alumni and garner more fundraising. 

While Bernhardt did not explicitly say he plans to increase tuition, he said factors like inflation and the overall cost of operating a college in Boston may continue to impact tuition costs. He said that Emerson managed to keep the rate of tuition increases lower than many peer institutions, including other private colleges in Boston. 

“That doesn’t take away the pain that can be caused by increasing tuition, but I know that we care very deeply about our students [and] about their ability to be here,” Bernhardt said. “We are continuing to do what we can to make Emerson accessible.”

In response to advancing technology, Bernhardt mentioned that the college is preparing for the future of AI by teaching faculty about AI and exploring how it affects classroom assessment. He also believes Emerson should prepare students for careers that AI may impact, whether it’s through events or in the classroom.

“We have an opportunity and perhaps an obligation to our students to make sure they understand how these technologies are going to affect the fields they are going into, so they can remain highly competitive in the workforce,” Bernhardt said. 

Additionally, Bernhardt spoke about how affirmative action will impact the 2024 admissions cycle and referenced a statement issued to the Emerson community in June following the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action that stated that the college strongly believes in the values of diversity, equity, access, and social justice.

“We are working within our admissions and enrollment offices to operate within the law, with the restrictions that we have to do everything legally within our power to continue to ensure that diverse applicants have access to Emerson,” he said.

Bernhardt plans to make his way around Emerson’s campuses to meet and learn more about the Emerson community. Before the fall semester, he visited Emerson’s Los Angeles campus twice and is slated to visit Emerson’s campus in the Netherlands this October.

“I can already see what makes this place special,” Bernhard said. “I’m excited to be part of that.” 

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About the Contributor
Hannah Nguyen
Hannah Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
Hannah Nguyen (she/her) is a senior journalism major from North Wales, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in publications like The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, North Penn Now, Cambridge Day and AsAmNews. Outside of reporting, she enjoys thrifting and painting her nails. (see: https://linktr.ee/hannahcnguyen)

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