Gratitude and Legacy

An e-mail message is going to the campus today summarizing some of the conversations we had over the past weekend with the Board of Trustees. Our major theme at the board meeting was the challenge of the current economic climate. We are faced with reduced income from our endowment over the next few years and a challenging environment in which to raise money for our financial aid program. We have proposed a group of budget cuts, a salary freeze for next year, and a modest and temporary increase in the size of entering classes for four years. More information on these proposals can be found at the Securing the Future website: http://www.wesleyan.edu/administration/securingthefuture/112508.html.

The trustees have a tremendous responsibility for Wesleyan. Our job is to ensure that the quality of the education we offer remains at the highest level, and that it is sustainable for generations to come. We are protecting our core values: access to Wesleyan regardless of ability to pay, and first-rate curricular and co-curricular programs for faculty and students who are advancing their fields through research and creative work. This is the legacy we have inherited, and it is the future we are building.

After the long and tense discussions of the weekend, I went to the Freeman Athletic Center for a little exercise. As I looked back across the campus on a beautiful and brisk fall evening, I felt very lucky to be at Wesleyan. Working together with a talented group of faculty, staff, students and trustees, we will chart a course in these turbulent times that combines prudence and ambition, idealism and practicality. We will not only preserve the precious legacy of this university, we will build upon it. The progressive liberal arts education that we offer, an education that enables graduates to lead meaningful lives and contribute to the world around them, has inspired generosity and hard work from families and faculty, from staff and from students.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I am so grateful that I work in a community with a legacy and prospects for the future like ours. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Transitions

This is a time of transition in the rhythm of the school year. Faculty and students know what to expect from their classes now, but the great challenge of execution to meet the highest standards is still ahead of us. After Thanksgiving there is a mad dash to the finish line of the semester, but now there is music to hear, lectures to learn from, theater or sports in which to participate, and, of course, there’s mountains of work to do. Transitions.

Looking out on our beautiful campus, one can see those same transitions. Suddenly the temperature rises and it feels again like late summer. And then, like yesterday, the wind kicks up, the leaves swirl, and the sky reminds you that winter is coming. This morning, as I write this, the temperature hovers just above freezing, but the bright sunshine still works magic with the leaves, the increasingly bare trees, and the stately buildings of College Row. Tonight we may see our first flurries. Transitions.

photo of campus by Olivia Bartlett
photo of campus by Olivia Bartlett

Even within what our students call the Wesleyan bubble, the campus community watches the world’s economic malaise with great trepidation. In the administration, we are adjusting to these turbulent times by trimming our expenses, making a case for the strategic value of our programs, and by planning for reduced revenue over the next few years. But we are also protecting the academic core of our university, and continuing to recruit an extraordinary faculty and student body. We work for the best even as we plan to deal with a worsening economic context. Transitions.

And of course we hope for change. Whatever our political affiliation, we hope that a new leadership team at the national level will make a positive difference. We desperately need another model for economic growth and social cohesion. Transition, we trust.

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Veterans Day and Open House

It’s Veterans Day, and at Wesleyan that will mean many visitors flocking to campus to check out the university. High School juniors and seniors, transfer students and their families will be coming to Middletown to check out the distinctive constellation of qualities that make our school so special. I know our students, faculty and staff are ready to share their thoughts on what it means to be a Wes student today, or simply to show visitors where to get a good sandwich or the best cup of coffee.

This should also be a day when we remember the service of our veterans — the men and women who have defended the freedoms that the rest of us often take for granted. It is especially important to acknowledge this service while we are mired in an unpopular (and often invisible) war. At Wesleyan we are fortunate to have alumni who have created a scholarship for returning veterans, and we hope to be able to attract more applications from those who have served. At our Open House today I will be joined by two of our current veteran scholarship recipients, and it will be an honor to stand beside them to represent Wesleyan.

Thousands of our alumni and parents have been checking out reports of our election day celebrations on campus last week. Let’s also remember that the service of our vets have made it possible for us to have elections and to celebrate in peace.

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Hope and Purpose

Last night I went to sleep after knowing that all the networks had called the Western states for Barack Obama (Hon ’08), ensuring his victory in the election. We’d spent much of the evening with colleagues and friends watching the electoral map turn blue, but it was late and Sophie had school in the morning….

photo by Jessica Brownfeld '10
photo by Jessica Brownfeld ’10

Sometime after midnight I awoke to hear more than the usual roar from outside our windows. I regretted that I hadn’t gotten over to Usdan earlier in the evening, and I lay in bed thinking that this was a campus celebration I shouldn’t miss. Throwing on some clothes and a Wes softball cap, I headed over to the University Center and saw folks dancing, cheering and chanting. Students who had worked hard on campaigns, and others who had just invested their hopes in Barack’s message of change were out in force on the terrace of Usdan, sharing in this historic, glorious moment. We waved an American flag, and I marveled at the feelings of hope and enthusiasm that were rippling through this Wesleyan crowd.

photo by Jessica Brownfeld '10
photo by Jessica Brownfeld ’10

I have been proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff as they have registered voters, organized neighbors, and articulated fundamental issues. As our president-elect said last night, we have a long road ahead of us, but if we can work together with a spirit of optimism and purpose, we have an opportunity to improve our country. Let us seize that opportunity!

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Vote! Vote!


At long last this campaign is coming to an end, and I just returned from the polling station in Middletown. I was pleased to see Wesleyan students coming out of the building having already cast their ballots at 7:00 AM, and even more pleased to see some of our undergrads volunteering as poll workers.

Last week I wrote on the Huffington Post about participation as a form of education. At Wesleyan we believe that learning takes place not just by being spectators, but by doing the work oneself. Here’s the link to that piece:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-roth/participation-as-educatio_b_139598.html

We do a lot of talking about politics at Wesleyan, and of course I don’t want to reduce politics to casting a ballot. But this is a crucial moment in the political process, and I hope to see a steady stream of Wesleyan students, staff and faculty heading down William Street to cast their ballots. Tonight many of us will be gathered at Usdan University Center to watch the results, or hanging out with friends and together holding our collective breath.

Tomorrow will be the beginning of a new chapter in our political lives. I trust we can build on the momentum of these last months to continue to engage in the public sphere, to work with our neighbors and co-citizens to develop a vision of how we want to change, and then to join together to get there. But first, please vote…whether it’s by walking down William Street, or wherever you make your voice heard.

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