Midnight Sun and Scholarship Support

We just returned this weekend from a week visiting Kari’s family in Norway. Here’s a glimpse of what we saw as dusk settled in around midnight. It grew lighter by 1 AM.

It feels good to be back home on campus. The fields at Long Lane are busy with football and lacrosse practices from the high school camps here in the summer. Volleyball players have taken over Freeman. Over the next few months, the painters, carpenters and other physical plant employees will be working hard to get the various buildings ready for the return of the students. Classes in the Graduate Liberal Arts Program begin Monday, and soon I’ll be meeting with our Admissions officers to talk about recruiting the class of 2013. A few weeks ago I wrote about Summer Rhythms. The pace is already picking up!

When we were in Oslo, Kari and I met with a Wesleyan alumna who has settled there. We talked about how the education system in Norway emphasizes skill building early on, and how different that is from a liberal arts approach. In meeting college age relatives, I was struck by how they felt they had to specialize in a course of professional study by the age of 19. When I described Wesleyan to them, they were struck by the freedom that our students have to mold their own educational experience. “Is it only for the very rich?” they asked. When I described our financial aid program, and the work we’re doing to enhance it, they were very surprised. With strong governmental support, there is not the same tradition of philanthropy for culture and education in most of Europe as there is in the US. Of course, I know that there is plenty we still need to do to improve access to Wesleyan.

Even though our Oslo alum is decades out of Wes and thousands of miles away, she recently made a gift to support our scholarship programs through the Wesleyan Fund. She knows the value of financial aid to the students who receive grants, and to all the other students who benefit from a more diverse community. With the economic turmoil of this past year, it has been a challenging time to raise money. I have been reluctant to do any fundraising through this blog, but as this is the last week of our fiscal year, I will ask you to make a gift to our annual fund if you have not already done so. I know how tiresome it is to be asked for support again and again, and I have been so impressed with the generosity of the Wesleyan community. But nonetheless I now ask for your support because I believe that scholarships are a key component of our educational mission – and we need your help. Please give to financial aid through the Wesleyan Fund. Participation counts, as does every dollar we receive. Here’s the link to make a donation:

Thanks in advance for any additional help you can provide.

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WOW! Wes on Broadway!!

Although I am far from Middletown on a family vacation, I had to share the news of last night’s Wesleyan successes at the Tony awards. Jeffrey Richards ’69 was a producer of “August: Osage County,” a family drama. The play already received a Pulitzer prize and won five Tonys, including “Best Play.”

“In the Heights,” a musical that was first performed as a student play at Wesleyan and written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, directed by Tommy Kail ’99 and with music arranged and orchestrated by Bill Sherman ’02, won four Tonys. These include “Best Musical,” “Best Original Score” (music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda), “Best Choreography,” and “Best Orchestrations” (Bill Sherman and Alex Lacamoire).

Brad Whitford ’81, known to many for his film and television work, has been a hit in the comedy “Boeing-Boeing.” The play won two awards, including “Best Revival.”

What great recognition for these talented alumni, and what a wonderful signal of Wesleyan’s capacity to launch creative students into the limelight!!

Let’s celebrate in September on Broadway!! We are holding a benefit performance of “In The Heights” on September 5, 2008 at The Richard Rodgers Theatre. Proceeds from the event will support our financial aid programs. More information is available online at: wesleyan.edu/intheheights or email ith@wesleyan.edu.

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Understanding and Engagement: Public Service

Last night in Washington, D.C., more than 150 Wesleyan alumni and parents gathered together to catch up with old friends, reminisce about college days, and hear from this not-so-new president about what’s been happening on campus. Although hopes for a cool June evening had given way to the reality of a scorching heat wave stretching along the East Coast, spirits were high as we looked forward to the relief that thunderstorms would bring.

The Wesleyan folks I spoke with throughout the evening seemed optimistic about how our university has remained a beacon for progressive values in liberal arts education. Of course, people of different political persuasions understand “progressive” in a variety of ways, but there remains a commitment to seeing our university graduate students who would continue to make a positive contribution to public life.

Robert and Elena Allbritton, two Wesleyan alumni who graduated in the early 1990s, hosted the event. Elena is a physician with a D.C. practice, and Robert (a Wes trustee) recently started the web-based political news organization, POLITICO.COM. They have also made the leadership gift to establish the Center for the Study of Public Life, an interdisciplinary effort to better understand national and international issues with the tools of social science and the humanities. The Allbritton Center will enable our students to study issues such as Violence and Public Life, Faith and Politics, or Health Care Economics in a project-based format using a variety of methodological tools. The study of issues in public life should increase our students’ capacity to contribute to its betterment. The new Center will open in the fall of 2009 in the building that many of you know as either Davenport or Scott Labs.

Among our Washington guests last night there was still much discussion of Barack Obama’s participation in Commencement this year. In my conversations with alumni with very different political views, I could see that the senator’s call to public service resonated in important ways. There is a long history of Wesleyan students engaging in public service, from volunteering for the military, to signing on for Teach for America. A great figure in this regard was John Macy ’38, who held a variety of posts in the government and was executive vice-president at Wesleyan from 1958-1961. John returned to Washington when President Kennedy asked him to chair the Civil Service Commission. He would later direct the White House Personnel Office and become president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Countless Wesleyan students heading to Washington received a warm welcome from John, along with counsel on how to develop fulfilling careers in public service. Many are still here in D.C. We plan to honor John Macy as we develop new programs that help students to engage in public life.

As the Allbritton Center takes shape, I imagine that it will navigate between stimulating the scholarly study of complex issues and inspiring students to find ways to turn their studies into practical applications that enhance the public good. As I finish my Washington meetings and head back to Connecticut, I realize that we need both: a deeper understanding of difficult issues, and an active engagement in the public sphere. Wesleyan will enhance understanding and engagement – that certainly is part of what it means to remain “a beacon for progressive values in liberal arts education.”
PS Speaking of public issues, some of you may have seen my review of Philip Gourevitch’s new book on Abu Ghraib. If you missed it, here’s the link:


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Summer Rhythms

After the frenzy of activity over the last month, the campus is oddly quiet. As I stroll across Andrus Field I expect to greet students heading to class, or going for coffee and conversation at the Usdan Center. Instead, I am more likely to run into a lone jogger or a dog walker taking in the open space, very green now with the spring rains.

But the calm in the center of campus belies an intense level of activity in a variety of areas. Graduate students are busy working on experiments, theses and dissertations. There are a surprising number of undergraduates here, too, some focusing on research in the sciences, others studying Arabic or Russian. The staff at the Graduate Liberal Studies Program is gearing up for classes. This remarkable program welcomes students from all walks of life. There are undergrads mixed with teachers, professionals and various people from the area just eager to continue their education. There is still time to register for some classes at:

The Wesleyan Writers Conference will be underway in less than two weeks. You can read about this exciting program at:

This afternoon I will meet with elected student leaders to discuss our follow-up to the Fountain Ave. incident. Our interest is twofold. On the one hand we want to understand what went wrong that night, and who should be held accountable. On the other hand, we want to put in places policies and practices to ensure that this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.

At the end of the semester I received reports from the task forces working on the planning themes that emerged during the winter. There are five areas: strengthening the undergrad experience; internationalization; creative campus; civic engagement; College of the Environment. I will be reviewing the reports and preparing for next steps for moving forward in each of these areas. We are also focused on developing resources for enhanced financial aid and to stay on track for building our new complex in the molecular and life sciences.

One of the projects that has already emerged from our planning talks is the need for more support for undergraduate research during the summer. We currently have McNair, Hughes and Mellon foundation support for scientific research that supports the work of several students in the life sciences. These are great programs that open opportunities for students who might not otherwise have the chance to engage in advanced research. The programs are emblematic of what Wesleyan stands for more generally: helping students make a positive contribution through excellent academic work.

Now that I’ve taken stock of only a few of the activities on campus, it no longer seems so calm! I’d better get back to work!!

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