My first semester is coming to an end, and as I watch the students make their way across the icy, exquisite terrain of Andrus Field, I find myself reflecting on how these first months of my presidency have developed. I have been listening to students and faculty, to staff and alumni, to trustees and parents, as they try to introduce me to the most pressing issues facing the university today. My second Wesleyan education, like my first, has started with a dramatic encounter with my own ignorance. What do I know about food prices in Usdan or the lines? What about access to courses that are popular but intimate? How can we have more students taking the seminar without spoiling it? How should we balance our immediate budget needs with the long-term health of the school that growing the endowment provides? How can we continue to promote advanced research in all departments while insisting on effective, creative teaching? These are just a few of the many questions I have yet to answer. … Of course, I am still trying to figure out how best to make this blog informative and honest.
By now, people who have read this blog or have heard me speak know that I am given to “thinking in threes.” So, as I think of my chief lessons from semester one, I focus on three main areas:
Access: Wesleyan announced a significant enhancement to our financial aid packages to begin in the fall. We want to ensure that students who are admitted will have the financial assistance they need to thrive here. Many families tell us, though, that we are not doing enough, and they can point to wealthier institutions that are doing more for families in higher income brackets than those to whom Wesleyan offers aid. These families are not poor enough to qualify for the highest support, nor are they rich enough to send students to expensive schools like ours without significant financial sacrifice. I am very aware of this dilemma, and for that reason I have put fundraising for financial aid among our highest priorities. As we increase the size of our endowment for financial aid, we will be able to further ease the financial burden on larger segments of the student body.
Access to Wesleyan isn’t only about financial aid. It is also important that we reach out to new constituencies of students—both in the U.S. and internationally—to introduce the liberal arts and Wesleyan to families from groups currently under-represented on our campus. Diversity is a shared value at our school, but segregation is also a fact of daily life for many on our campus. We must reach out to more groups of potential students, and we must also reach into the various communities at Wesleyan to find ways to connect people across the most obvious identity group barriers.
Communities: I have spent a fair amount of time moving among the various communities that make up the Wesleyan world—from swim meets to COL lectures; from Para la Familia to football games. I know there are plenty of groups I haven’t yet met, and I am looking forward to getting to know students by teaching next term. The multiplicity of groups is exciting, but it also creates challenges for bringing people together in shared purpose, study, even celebration. There are conflicts among our diverse groups over politics, economics, food, personal choices. But we should remember also what we have in common: a devotion to the freedom (and affection) in which education can thrive.
Achievement: I hope to improve access to Wesleyan as I work to strengthen our various communities and their common ties. Why? Because I believe that a Wesleyan education can foster one’s capacity to discover what one loves to do and to get better at it. I’ve seen this throughout my first semester here, as I watch students push themselves to achieve more than they ever thought possible. It is tremendously exciting to see our students shine as performers and scholars, as artists and athletes. Wesleyan students demand a great deal from their education because they give so much to it. I am so grateful to be working among you because it allows me to continue my own education.
Thank you for your patience and your support. Good luck with the remaining papers and exams, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!