Trustees and Themes for the Future

At the end of the past week the Wesleyan Trustees were on campus for their winter meeting. This is an exceptional group of volunteers (alumni and some parents) who have fiduciary responsibility for the university and a great ambition for its future. The most significant business for this meeting was a resolution to approve moving to the next design stage for the buildings in Molecular Biology, Biology, and Chemistry. The architects from Payette Associates gave a great presentation, and we have raised the money necessary to continue the design program. The trustees unanimously approved that we continue with the process.

There were many other topics for the committees to discuss. The Governance Committee evaluates how the board is currently operating and considers the possibility for new members. The Finance Committee approves budgets, and it monitors our long-term financial health. The Campus Affair Committee considers everything from academics to residential life, and this time it also reviewed some tenure cases that I had recommended to the board. The University Relations Committee discussed fund-raising plans, alumni engagement and our communications strategy. Trustees also have an opportunity to meet (formally and informally) with faculty and students. They work hard while here, and they are ambassadors for Wesleyan between meetings. A full list of board members can be found at: http://www.wesleyan.edu/administration/trustees.html

At the heart of the full board meeting was a discussion of some of the key ideas that have emerged from the faculty as we discuss strategic planning and curricular innovation. We want to ensure that Wesleyan continues to make a positive and lifelong contribution to the lives of our students and alumni; that we have an impact on higher education in the United States; and that the knowledge and skills of students, faculty, and alumni have a crucial role in productively shaping the culture of the future.

I’d asked the faculty to send in brief papers discussing how they would use more resources for academic innovation. We receive more than fifty papers, and here are the key themes:
1. Strengthening the Undergraduate Experience

How can Wesleyan be better appreciated as an institution in which undergraduates thrive in a context of freedom, mutual support, rigorous academic demands, and liberal learning with practical consequences?

I am asking the faculty to concentrate especially on strengthening the “Wesleyanish” aspects of the first and last years of a student’s career. Our focused freshman seminars are popular, and we are now exploring how to link them with one another and with co-curricular initiatives. I have asked the faculty to explore how we might institute a university-wide capstone experience, whether it be a thesis, a recital, a community project, or some other senior project that completes the on-campus work and launches our graduates into the world.

2. Internationalization

How can Wesleyan become a magnet for international students who want to excel through active learning, as we become a destination for students who want a cosmopolitan educational experience at a scale that promotes deep relations with teachers and fellow students?

There were two main areas in which we can strengthen our international efforts. The first concerns the curriculum and the second concerns the composition of the student body. We must work on both fronts.

3. Creative Campus

How can Wesleyan fulfill its legacy as a school that values creativity, rewards intelligent risk-taking, and produces graduates who go on to reshape the culture around them?

Wesleyan should build on its creative reputation and seed innovative energies across all the divisions. From promoting access to studio classes for all students, to encouraging entrepreneurship as a habit and a subject, we should be known as a magnet for creative students and as an incubator of exciting projects. Creativity should flow from the CFA across the campus to the new science facilities (and back again!).

4. College of the Environment

Decades ago Wesleyan founded COL and CSS as path-breaking interdisciplinary programs in the humanities and social sciences. Is it now time for the College of the Environment, which would bring together all three divisions?

One of the most exciting proposals called for the creation of a College of the Environment that would give students a focused and intense education about the complex issues associated with global environmental issues. A College of the Environment would have important connections with the new Life Sciences buildings and be a beacon for interdisciplinary study grounded in the sciences and extending to the social sciences, humanities, and arts.

5. Civic Engagement

Wesleyan has been known for its activist culture. How can we build on that culture to create learning opportunities that make a difference?

The Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life will facilitate students becoming more engaged in real-world problem solving. How can Wesleyan integrate these activities and its traditions of engagement into a distinctive learning environment? How can we build on them to make our institutional voice heard in the governmental arena and in international discussions concerning the future of the liberal arts? Wesleyan should become well known as a place for connecting the liberal arts with a broad spectrum of activities that shape the culture and economy of the future.

Over the next several weeks, we will be creating faculty task forces to examine these themes and proposals. In addition to these themes, we will be raising endowment funds to enhance financial aid, and to put the university in a position to finance a significant part of the new life sciences complex. What do you think of these general themes and specific projects? What do you think is missing? The trustees gave us plenty of input, but we need more. You can send comments to this blog, or directly to the trustees at:

The Board of Trustees
Wesleyan University
WesBox 91666
Middletown, CT 06459.

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22 thoughts on “Trustees and Themes for the Future

  1. First let me begin by noting that this kind of educational innovation is exactly what Wesleyan needs at the moment. The advantages that a Wesleyan education offers over its peers can be unclear at times, but these proposals build upon Wesleyan’s unique strengths in a constructive way, so kudos to the Wesleyan faculty for submitting them.

    Particularly in regards to the College of the Environment, I think this really is the proper articulation of President Butterfield’s College Plan. Wesleyan is uniquely equipped to deliver such a program, and so long as the college can remain responsive to changes in the field, I’m sure it will join CSS and COL as standouts among Wesleyan’s already impressive academic offereings.

  2. I think we already do a good job at some of these things. Throughout Wesleyan’s history there’s often a lag between the time an idea takes shape organically and when it becomes fully embraced on an institutional level. We may be approaching such a moment with respect to creating the right mix of Senior Houses and traditional dormitories. I don’t know of a single one of my peers who doubts that Wesleyan is a much more “fun” place than it was forty years ago (of course, forty years ago there were almost no undergraduate women!) And, one reason for this is the remarkable interplay between life on campus and the surrounding streets of Middletown. Senior houses, and to a certain degree, theme houses, encourage the kinds of activities that put learning in the context of life in a cosmopolitan and urban space. We must ensure that as the older “frame houses” are recycled into the general Middletown housing market, that there are enough prototypes on line to replace them.

  3. I applaud the commitment to the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life and have promoted the concept of Wesleyan Achievers in Philanthropy and Public Service (WAPPS) for several years at WESeminars at both Homecoming and Reunion. In mid April, the NYC chapter of the alumni club will be hosting an event at NYRAG which will directly address careers (as well as career changers) interested in civic engagement whether that means working as a program officer, serving on a NP board, fundraising/volunteering etc. To my mind, building on this “continuum of compassion” and lifelong learning is a classic Wesleyan Ethos – regardless of political persuasion or party affiliation! Perhaps an affinity group is in the making………

  4. Was divestment from weapon makers not a significant discussion that the trustees had? Or was it not even talked about? Or did it not warrant mention in the blog?

    Let us not forget…that as we smile and hold hands and weave our glistening whirring lifestyle,
    it is built on s***.

  5. Ummm…I disagree with whoever censored the three letters in the word “s***” in the above post. I think by replacing them with asteriks you’ve dulled the magnitude of its impact.

  6. Adam,
    I think that at a Wesleyan Board of Trustees meeting, the most important outcomes and conversation are about Wesleyan’s organization and pursual of its core educational mission. Indeed, it is the board’s job, as stewards of the university, to consider these issues as has been reported above by President Roth.

    While I appreciate that some members of the student body find believe that divestment is an important topic for the board’s consideration, it is certainly not more important than shaping Wesleyan’s curriculum and student body for future years because the Board’s primary mission calls them to consider Wesleyan issues first(it’s why they’re here.)

    No matter what we may feel about the war or divestment, these kinds of educational issues are of great importance to us as a community, and further, they are President Roth’s prime area of responsibility. Frankly, though I believe he is a thoughtful man, President Roth’s views on the war or divestment matter much less to me than his views on Wesleyan and its future. As such, its important for him to prioritize Wesleyan issues over political ones, regardless of the action Wesleyan plans to take.

    In short, the board has to address Wesleyan issues first. If not, who will?

  7. I have now seen numerous designs which are in place for the new science center, and I am appalled by the direction our university and its trustees have taken.

    There was a time when architecture as art was valued here. That is, until the 1950s when Wesleyan demolished the original mansard roof of Judd hall, and constructed the Butterfield and Foss hill dorms. In the 1960s we erected the brown clad science complex, and a number of unique properties were demolished in the process, including the old house on Foss hill, and many old fraternities houses which were razed to make way for the Butterfields parking lot. A georgeous old mansion which was situated at the corner of William street and high street between eclectic and psi u was also demolished in order to build a power plant.

    Our most recent endeavors have not proven successful. Zelnik pavilion has overwhelmed our original brownstown row with its overtly modern glass edges and reflections. Usdan and Fauver have proven equally disappointing. did you know 92′ theatre (originally rich hall) housed the college’s first library and was meticulously decorated with columns and paintings?

    I think we could attract more students if we for once paid more attention to our appearance. if you look at our older buildings, the vast majority of them are in structural disrepair. the center for American studies is a gorgeous house, but the yellow paint is being chipped away and the wood is rotting after years of neglect. the same is happening to the white columns of the Public Affairs Center and the Eclectic House. Shanklin is in equally terrible condition, but the solution to that problem has been found in its demolition.

    Now this situation might remind some of the older alumni with connections to New York City of the 1964 destruction of the original Penn Station, which was famous for being one of the most authentic, most elegant, and grandest examples of roman-revival architecture in the world. It’s architects? McKim, Mead, and White, the same team that Wesleyan hired to construct Shanklin Hall in addition to other buildings such as Olin Library in the mid 1920s.

    The fact is that if one were to truly study the present quality of Wesleyan’s acquired historical landmarks, you would notice that only one is in pristine condition: the President’s house. There really is a complete lack of care dedicated to the upkeep of our most notable, prized, and valuable properties. It is upsetting not only because it is visually offensive, but also because the longer they remain in this condition, the more the core materials will rot away.

    Stop building, start preserving. I urge the President and the trustees to address this issue.

  8. The creation of a College of the Environment is overdue. Let’s not forget the original College of Science in Socity (later the Science in Society program)functioned as a de facto College of the Environment. I’m a proud SiSP graduate, but we did have a fair amount of conflict between the SiS folks and the “hard scientests”. While the SiSP’ers could be self-righteously obnoxious in their viewpoints, there was an equal lack of understanding across the street in the Science Center. Ultimately, SiS suffered from almost too broad and diffuse a mandate and moved away from “Science in Scociety” to “Society against Science” My point is that interdisciplinary studies need to maintain a diverse but interdependent and respectful group of participants.

  9. Bradley,

    I feel that we must not forget that all our educational ideas are tied inextricably into systems…we are getting money from somewhere…are educational goals specific to Wesleyan really more important than deciding whether to resist a military industry? If we choose to ignore what our laurels and pursuits are founded on, if we slice and dice and separate actions and their far reaching effects, we ignore scary issues…all the Wesleyan issues are in one way or another political (certainly the issue of where we get our money from is!), all the actions have a ripple effect into the greater system we are a part of. In fact one of the key themes that Roth wants to strengthen in the University is civic engagement…should this engagement not include the very environment we live in?

  10. Wesleyan’s facilities masterplan can be viewed on the web at http://www.wesleyan.edu/masterplan/. A review of the plan illustrates the commitment to preservation and adaptive reuse of our existing buildings. Since implementation of the plan we have renovated Fisk Hall, Downey House and 285 Court Street for classrooms and departmental office space for the humanities. Clark Hall was completely rebuilt inside its historic structure to make it a modern residence hall. The Memorial Chapel – 92 Theater project completely restored the exteriors and interiors of these important buildings and brought them up to modern standards of access and safety. The university center project resulted in the restoration of Fayerweather Gymnasium to its original dimensions. The Wasch Center was created through the restoration of 51 Lawn Ave. In the near future, Davenport will be restored for use as a classroom and office building to house the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. Future projects will result in the adaptive reuse of the squash court building and the renovation of the Davidson Art Center and Alsop House. In addition to these capital projects, the major maintenance program addresses year to year maintenance of our facilities. A list of major maintenance projects can also be viewed on the masterplan web site.

    Peter Patton
    Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences

  11. I would just like to give a hearty “hurrah!” to all of the folks who have posted comments. Great to see passionate people who care taking time to share ideas and opinions about how to make Wesleyan an even better university, on all fronts.

  12. You have included above:

    “2. Internationalization

    How can Wesleyan become a magnet for international students who want to excel through active learning, as we become a destination for students who want a cosmopolitan educational experience at a scale that promotes deep relations with teachers and fellow students?

    There were two main areas in which we can strengthen our international efforts. The first concerns the curriculum and the second concerns the composition of the student body. We must work on both fronts.”

    I think this theme needs to be expanded to “Internationalization and Diversity,” or something to that effect, whereby the challenge would be to encourage Wesleyan students to become “world citizens” in addition to being good citizens of their native countries and communities. Soka Gakkai President Daisaku Ikeda has defined three models of world citizenship, “People as wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living things; courage not to fear but to respect differences and strive to learn from people of different cultures; and compassion that extends beyond the near and familiar to all those suffering far away.” (Source: http://www.wagingpeace.org/menu/programs/youth-outreach/peace-heroes/ikeda-daisaku.htm)

    This article goes on to say that Mr. Ikeda “believes that human-to-human exchange beyond nations and races is the true path toward peace.” Therein lies an opportunity for Wesleyan, which has so sincerely created cultural and ethnic diversity on campus: the opportunity to promote deeper understanding and appreciation of people from other backgrounds through structured dialogue and course opportunities. Mr. Ikeda writes elsewhere: “I strongly hope that the world’s religions [and I would add, the world’s universities] will use dialogue and exchange to resolve the multitude of problems that threaten the survival of humanity, and stress harmony and cooperation with the aim of creating a culture of peace. Of course each culture and religious tradition has its own characteristics and practices. This makes it natural that each tradition should respect the differences of others, but it is also essential to search for our common ground as human beings, to search for universality. It is vital that we together clarify core human ethics, elements of which would include love for humanity, reverence for all life, nonviolence, and compassion, as well as mutually beneficial modes of coexistence with nonhuman nature.” (Source: http://www.sgi.org/about/president/works/essays/movement.html)

    Moreover, this dialogue between peoples of diverse backgrounds could be integrated into the other themes outlined above, including creativity, environmental protection and civic engagement. This could involve bringing diverse peoples and organizations to campus, but also involve engaging Wesleyan students in “global classrooms” whereby they interact with students in different locations at different campuses through modern technology (See the following for examples: http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/2029 and http://www.globalclassroom.net/gcr/index.html). It could also involve exchange programs with other campuses internationally that are pursuing goals similar to Wesleyan’s.

    To promote dialogue among diverse groups it may also be important to involve faculty and staff in appropriate seminars. For example, one university developed the following to help clarify “teaching for inclusion:” http://ctl.unc.edu/tfi1.html

    There is a famous scene in “Remember the Titans” where the coach challenges his players to learn and then share something about someone from a different race while the team is at summer training camp. This is a new and often painful task for most of them, but because they do it they begin to develop and unbeatable “esprit de corps” that was unexpected and unprecedented. Rather than a team of strangers working at odds with one another or ignoring each other, they became a bonded group working together for a mutual goal. Appreciation for self is critical and appreciation of others is vital if we are to proceed to create a world where mutual understanding and appreciate and opportunities to work together peacefully across ethnic, cultural, religious and national differences becomes the norm.

  13. I applaud President Roth for the forward thinking. Both the College of the Environment and the notion of actively encouraging civic engagement are truly in the Wesleyan spirit. They are not only timely but a good way to help foster integration of an number of disciplines.

    Perhaps an additional idea would be to improve the Scholar in Residence program. Bring in someone each year from various areas to be involved on campus with courses and seminars to enable the students to connect with key figures in our society. This person should also be involved in a key seminar at the start or end of their residence. This week long seminar, preferably at the being of the year should be the theme of study for the year. Meaning many classes will undertake this theme as part of that years curriculum. It will bring leading figures to campus for a week to participate in the seminars and discussions. These could be open to alumni and the public and should be large enough to attract outside attention and participation. Hopefully, the themes would be broad enough to be multi-disciplined attracting people from the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences. It could also be the “capstone” that President Roth was trying to create for seniors. Plans for the years theme will be known several years (2-3) in advance.

    Finally, it was interesting reading the lines from Ben Rowland ’08 and Peter Patton’s reply. I agree with Peter that the university has made some major strides in restoration and reuse of structures. I also understand to a point Ben’s view. I mainly agree with the Architecture as Art as a fundamental principle the university should always try to uphold. Constructing buildings for the longterm not just for the needs of the next 40+ years is critical. Reuse of new buildings should also be in the forefront of design of any new structure, not to mention its sustainability and “green-ness.” I remind Ben that while many older structures are wonderful, not all were built with the notion of sustainability in mind. It is also important to remember that while many new structures may not be beloved by all, neither were some of the old buildings. Many older buildings we love today were not universally loved when they were built either. Hopefully the university will remember to create a science center that has great utility inside, a marvelous facade for its exterior, and with thought to sustainability and “green-ness” throughout!

  14. Regarding the College of the Environment, be sure to include the earth sciences. They are critical to the enterprise, yet I did not see them mentioned.

    International outreach – Yes, bring in more students from other countries and cultures, IF they can afford to come. Otherwise, an explanation about where the resources will come from to pay for it has to be addressed. It will be expensive, but worth it.

    Buildings – I haven’t been on campus since 1996 and recall going to the Honors College. I was appalled at the state of disrepair at that time. It appears from comments this problem is more widespread.

    As for restoring older buildings, sometimes it is cheaper to build a new one than to renovate the older ones. That is particularly true of science buildings where laboratory infrastructure requires buildings with a modern design. There is also something to be said for preserving architectural designs through time and many campuses across America have done that well.

  15. Dear President Roth,

    When I called you Mr. President in 1976-77 I had no idea I’d be doing it 30+ years later! Congratulations on your appointment, and I fully support the College of the Environment idea. Having recently been to Alaska, and reading Dominique Browning’s Op-Ed piece today in the E-mail I received from WESU, I think Wesleyan can make a vital contribution, both social and scientific, to combating the environmental challenges facing us today. Best wishes to you.

  16. I think that too often Wesleyan’s activism is disconnected from the most pressing concerns of the larger society. Therefore, I hope that this focus on civic engagement will encourage positive and productive activism, allowing Wesleyan students to have a real impact on the world around them.

  17. “encouraging entrepreneurship as a habit and a subject”

    This is a rich comment feed, and as much as I’d like to thread off on the pros and cons of ethical investment policies, or the quality or lack thereof in Wesleyan’s recent and recently projected traditions, I was struck by one phrase that has not attracted attention elsewhere. Entrepreneurship is near and dear to my heart — it demands idealism and risk-taking, but it confronts you like nothing else with the need to make ideas work in an economic world of people and decisions and every day. My idealism and even risk-taking (from an intellectual standpoint) training at Wes was without par. What I learned about entrepreneurship, I learned later and elsewhere, often at great cost.

  18. “quality or lack thereof…”

    I meant “quality or lack thereof in Wesleyan’s recent and recently projected _architectural_ traditions.

    Referencing the earlier thread on the designs for a new molecular bio/bio/chem building (which, in my architectural innocence, I find impressive).

    Sorry for the mixup.

  19. “The Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life will facilitate students becoming more engaged in real-world problem solving.”

    I think this is an excellent concept. As Wesleyan does not readily facilitate student participation in off-campus internships, this program could help fill the gap. I graduated in 2001 and now work for a non-profit in Connecticut. I have supervised a number of interns from Trinity and other schools and they have supported our work crafting legislative policy, learning how to engage citizens in political activity, directly spoken with state legislators and created materials for use by citizens. This real-world experience helps them learn if they want a career in this field and often use what they have learned in class.

    Wesleyan students have a lot of potential to support organizations solving real-world problems, but the difficulty receiving credit for internships is a real barrier. A center which provided an academic framework enabling students to earn credit for these type of activities could help students apply their knowledge to the real world, gain experience which would improve their academic work, and help break through the stifling barriers of compartmentalizing knowledge into academic departments, when for issues like global warming we need sociology and English as much as we need earth science.

    Finally, sustainability, with environmental health as an important subcategory, has got to be more than a rebranding of current programs as a “College of the Environment.” I strongly support using it to connect humanities, social sciences and science, in new ways but there must be *additional faculty resources* attached.

    In addition, I urge you to include a second component where Wesleyan and Middletown are used as laboratories for learning. Most students who study arts, music and dance get some opportunity to practice them. Sociology students benefitted tremendously from working on community service projects and analyzing real local problems (like housing in Middletown’s north end). This new environmental college should work hand-in hand with an on-campus sustainability office and maybe a staff/student/faculty sustainability advisory committee. The students can research problems at Wesleyan which have been identified by the sustainability office, research solutions at other campus, brainstorm and debate creative approaches with other students, and work with staff to turn them into real implementation plans. Unworkable or unrealistic plans should be handed back to encourage students to keep thinking and better understand how institutions work.

    The students should also get credit for helping to green the campus by volunteering to implement these ideas the same way that psychology students can get extra credit for volunteering in lab experiments. I think an approach like this could significantly support staff working on sustainability at a reasonable cost to the school (versus simply hiring new staff to do everything) and benefit to the students who participate.

    Finally, the campus is a place to start, but there’s no reason this approach couldn’t extend to Middletown and beyond. In the CT non-profit world, dedicated help is always needed.

    Best wishes,
    Roger Smith ’01
    Clean Water Action CT

  20. 2 give a contesty for faculty to submit Senior Generalization courses.
    3 Hire better architects. I have a student who writes about architecture who said he’d give money again just as soon as they tore down the Zelnick Pavilion (nothing personal, Harry).
    4. We had one, called CSIS, College of ?science in society; remix, reformulate, open it with new guidelines.

  21. I am gratified to see from Peter Patton’s defense of the University’s record of the restoration/adaptive reuse of its many fine historic structures, that he specifically identifies the DAC/Alsop House as high on the school’s list of future capital projects. As a former (but long-standing) member of the Wesleyan Landmarks Advisory Board, I can attest to the urgency with which this group – advisory to WU Presidents – advocated for the restoration of the Alsop House since the 1970’s. The architectural/historical significance of this building and its notable interiors (see http://www.wesleyan.edu/dac/hous/house_intro.html) will most likely earn it the esteemed designation “National Historic Landmark” in a final ruling of the National Park Service by next Fall. The only campus building to have earned this same designation is the Russell House. Indeed, only 59 structures in Connecticut have achieved this status. The University’s commitment to a restoration of this great treasure is very welcome news.

  22. As an alum who is now ten years out of college and still finding his
    way in the environmental industry, I was ecstatic to hear that Wes is developing a College of the Environment. Developing an innovative approach to studying interactions between humans and the environment that is elevated past the typical Environmental Studies dept. or the then-nascent Environmental Studies Certificate (which combines the E&ES, Government, and Economics departments) with which I graduated would truly put Wesleyan at the cutting edge of 21st-century education.

    One of the reasons I moved to California and San Francisco in
    particular is its leadership in all things environmental – jobs,
    thinking, policy, finance, technology, etc. It seems like every school
    in the UC system has well-developed environmental programs, and I’ve also seen great programs in Oregon (I’m not sure about Washington). The East Coast has a long way to go to catch up, and it would be great to see Wesleyan as a magnet for young environmentalists, some of the most forward-thinking people around.

    Who is spearheading the COE idea?

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