Radcliffe College

  • Counsel on strategic planning and institutional repositioning.
  • Assistance in negotiations with Harvard University, which led to the establishment of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, a new faculty within Harvard University.


Although an independent institution, Radcliffe College had been closely related to Harvard since its founding in 1894, and it played a pre-eminent role in the higher education of women that transcended the college’s relationship with Harvard. In addition to its historical role in the education of undergraduate women, the college was home to the Bunting Fellows Program, a community of exceptional scholars and artists; the Schlesinger Library, an unparalleled collection of books and manuscripts devoted to women’s history; the Murray Research Center, an archive of longitudinal social science studies; and the Public Policy Institute, focused on the practical applications of public policy research.


AKA was asked by the Radcliffe College Board of Trustees in November 1997 to assist in preparations for, and to facilitate, a major strategic planning retreat to be held in January 1998. The goal of the retreat was to develop a set of major options for repositioning the college and redefining its relationship with Harvard University, to which Radcliffe had delegated responsibility for the education of undergraduate women almost three decades earlier. In particular, Radcliffe wished to determine what mission and structure would best transcend the limitations of its situation, while firmly building upon its history and opening possibilities for greater achievement.

AKA's Approach

As a result of the planning retreat, the Radcliffe Board of Trustees authorized opening discussions with Harvard about a possible new set of relationships, as it likewise pursued a number of other strategic options. After almost a year and a half of intensive discussions, Radcliffe and Harvard agreed in April 1999 to a merger, in which the college would become the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study within Harvard University. The institute is dedicated to the creation of knowledge in every field of learning, the professions, and the creative arts, sustaining within that broad definition of purpose a special commitment to the study of women, gender, and society. The merger became effective in October 1999.

With the merger, Radcliffe ended its existence as a separate, independent corporation and became the youngest of the ten faculties within Harvard, one of just a handful of institutes of advanced study in the world, and the only institute of advanced study within a research university.

AKA served as strategic counsel to the Radcliffe board throughout the merger discussions. Our work involved preparation of options papers; analysis of alternative structural and funding arrangements; delineation of mission, focus, and programs for the new institute; and coordination of merger discussions within Radcliffe. Throughout the merger process we worked closely with the Radcliffe Board of Trustees; the president and senior executive staff of Radcliffe; members of the Harvard Corporation; and the president and other key officers of Harvard.


The new Radcliffe Institute is playing a highly important role within Harvard, one that carries on its dedication to intellectual excellence and to women. The institute has made a number of important joint academic appointments with other faculties in the university; increased substantially the number of visiting fellows; and reshaped its research and postgraduate programs. It has also initiated a master planning process to determine how it can best increase the quality and importance of interdisciplinary studies at the university, while contributing further to the richness of Harvard’s broad intellectual life.
The strategic transformation of Radcliffe has been profound: from an independent college with a distinguished history, but an ambiguous role and mission, to an institute of advanced study within a leading research university with a special focus on the study of women, gender, and society. We are pleased to have played a key role in realizing this transformation.

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