Yesterday we welcomed Wesleyan’s class of 2012 to campus. It was a splendid day! Andrus Field was filled with cars and trucks unloading boxes of clothes, books, cds and computers. Many Wesleyan staff members, including this president, donned WESHAUL t-shirts and helped our new families carry luggage to their new dorms. I met parents, grandparents and friends who were (anxiously) helping their students set up their rooms. In a matter of hours they would be heading home, and the students would be (eagerly) beginning their Wesleyan careers.

This is such an exciting time. Most students come to Middletown with a wide variety of interests. They want to study music and math, economics and poetry; they want to participate in athletics and theater, in politics and in religious practice. When I meet the new students, I often ask what they intend to study. It might be more efficient to ask what they don’t want to study. The Wes frosh are intensely curious and eager to engage. We will engage them.

Here are a few facts about 721 members of the class of 2012. It’s a class filled with academic distinction. More than three-quarters of the class have already done advanced work in mathematics, lab sciences and foreign languages. 17% of them come from the Western states, and 11% have their primary residence outside the country. About 6% of the class has a parent who graduated from Wes, and 16% are first generation college students. This year we’ve welcomed the largest group of international students (9%) to campus. They come from India and Ghana, Bulgaria and New Zealand — and many points in between.

For the rest of the week, the class of 2012, new transfer, exchange students and graduate students will be learning the ropes at Wes. They will meet with their advisors, make new friends, and begin to explore Middletown. Over the weekend, the rest of the Wesleyan student body will join them. Classes get underway Tuesday. I am still tinkering with my “Photography and Representation Syllabus,” but it has to be ready for distribution Sept 2. I can hardly wait until we are fully underway. It’s going to be a great year!

Welcome to Wesleyan

PS: Here’s a link to my Chapel talk to new Wesleyan families


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Getting Ready

Perhaps it’s the cool breezes in the morning and evening, or perhaps it’s the student workers who have begun to settle in, but as I walk around campus I’m getting that “back to school” feeling that makes every fall so special. After bookending my summer with vacations in Norway and Maine, I am eager to see our Wes students and teachers trotting to classes, sharing a meal at Usdan, or simply taking in the late summer sunshine on Foss Hill. We are getting ready!

During the summer I’ve been able to work with colleagues on evaluating how we did last year, and to plan the next steps for enhancing the curriculum, supporting the faculty, and making our students’ experience as meaningful as possible. Last year we gathered proposals that have helped us establish working priorities for improving class access, stimulating research, and enhancing the integration of the curriculum in the first two years. This summer we have built on those ideas and also prepared a new initiative to improve co-curricular offerings that link residential life with what students are learning in their classes.

In addition to the regular cycle of planning and goal development, this summer we have also created a task force to examine our policies and procedures in light of the incident with the police that occurred at the end of last semester on Fountain Ave. This committee of students, faculty and staff — led by Mike Whaley (VP for Student Affairs) — will report to me by the end of the summer. I will be meeting with Middletown police and civic leaders after I receive this report. My goal will be to ensure the safety and freedom of our community in a context that promotes a positive relationship with our town and region. Wesleyan has long been known for civic engagement, and that starts right here in Middletown.

Speaking of civic engagement, I hope that many of our students will be returning to campus with thoughts of the upcoming national election. I expect that there will be robust dialogue on the issues raised by various campaigns, and that our students will play a role in stimulating political participation. This is a time to make one’s voice heard, and it is also a time to listen to different voices. Elections matter, and this election offers opportunities for education and action. The stakes are very high.

Since I’ll be teaching a course on photography and philosophy this fall, I’ve also spent some of my summer getting ready for my first Wes seminar in 30 years. Whereas my film course last spring was a large lecture format, this will be a small class focused on contemporary scholarship. I have long been interested in how photography has changed the ways we make sense of the past, and the ways we represent the world. At CCA I taught this class for students in the visual arts, and I am excited to see how Wesleyan students respond to these issues in a liberal arts context. It won’t be long now!

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Our Shared Loss, David Harris Class of 2008

David Harris ’08 died recently while hiking in the Pacific Northwest. We have been in contact with his family, and will be circulating more information, including notification of memorial plans, as soon as it is available.

My heart goes out to David’s family and friends at this very difficult time.

I want to make sure that readers are aware of the Memorial Service in New York mentioned below:

New York Culture Center, SGI-USA(212.727.7715)
7 East 15th St., New York, NY 10003 US
When: Thursday, August 14, 6:30PM

David, as many have said in the last several days, was a person of extraordinary generosity, energy and talent. Through his volunteer efforts, his campus activities, his activism, and his exuberance, David spread joy, light and kindness all around him. His sudden death is a profound shock to his friends and family. As we come to terms with this loss, we try to make the memory of his diverse contributions a blessing for the future.

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