Year’s End….. Looking Ahead

As we close out 2008 I find myself still dealing with ongoing projects from the fall while putting things in place for the beginning of next semester. Almost finished with my grading of my class on photography and representation, I am spending more time finalizing my syllabus for my spring course on movies and philosophy, The Past on Film. Although I have taught this class many times over the years (and as recently as last spring), I can’t help but rethink the readings and movies one more time.

As a historian interested in how people make sense of the past, I began teaching and writing about film and photography more than 15 years ago. In December I wrote a review for the LA Times on Annie Liebovitz’s most recent book:,0,6719282.story

Working with the photography collection in our Davison Art Center was a great treat this past semester, and I am looking forward to teaching again in our state of the art film facility. But first I have to finish this syllabus!

Once faculty and students return to campus we will resume work on our budget planning and curricular initiatives. There will be more difficult trade-offs, as we chart a course to keep Wesleyan on track during this economic crisis and beyond. I will continue to share information about the planning process on this blog and the Securing the Future website.

Maintaining access to a Wesleyan education through a robust financial aid program is an important value that guides our planning. Recently the political scientist Charles Murray has argued that we are encouraging too many people to pursue a college education. Yesterday I published on the Huffington Post a response to a recent op-ed piece by Dr. Murray:

It is still very quiet here at Wesleyan, but now varsity athletes have returned for practices before next week’s tournaments. Before too long the campus will be fully back to life. Meanwhile, I send out best wishes to the extended Wesleyan family for a great 2009.

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Snowy Campus for the Holidays

Most of the students have left campus, which in the last days has been beautifully blanketed in snow. Foss Hill has become the center of sledding in Middletown, though Sophie and her friend Claire tell me that you get more “air time” on the terraced steps behind Olin.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a great 2009!!

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Consultations, Finals Prep, Early Decision

Over the last week of semester I’ve been meeting with different groups about our plans to deal with the impact of the economic crisis. (see: )

When I returned from California I had a long discussion with the Wesleyan Student Assembly. They had many good questions concerning the proposal I brought to the Board on how we would balance the budget over the next several years while continuing to protect and cultivate the core educational experience we offer. Although we talked about a variety of issues, the students returned frequently to whether we could successfully integrate an additional 30 students a year for four years. How much pressure would this put on our housing and dining facilities? How would it affect class access and the admissions process? These are all important questions, and we are drawing up plans in each of these areas to determine how we can temporarily accommodate an increase of about 4% to our student body.

Some commentators among trustees, students and faculty are reminded of the very rapid enrollment growth at Wesleyan in the 1970s, when the school more than doubled in size. I should make clear that we are studying a measured increase of only 4%, and we have no plans to go beyond that.

In the beginning of the week I met with faculty representatives and then with the faculty as whole. While I was traveling, there was considerable discussion online about the proposed salary freeze, the enrollment increase, and on whether there has been adequate consultation. Our face-to-face meetings turned out to be very productive. I underscored that the scenario I outlined to the board was a draft that we are open to revising – as long as we meet our budget obligations. There has been and will continue to be detailed consultation. The faculty members are clearly invested in working together to find a solution that will provide for the long-term health of the institution. Our professors take their responsibility to guide the university very seriously, and they are willing to join in making sacrifices as long as these will contribute to setting Wesleyan on a path to greater academic and economic strength. There are difficult trade-offs ahead of us, but I was reminded of how fortunate we are to have a faculty so devoted to our community.

At the end of the week I met with the senior administrative staff, to present these institutional leaders a sense of the economic challenges ahead. They, too, asked questions about potential enrollment increases, and about the possibility of a salary freeze. We are agreed on the importance of protecting jobs even as we become more efficient across the variety of departments. I made it clear that a potential salary freeze would start at the top – with me and with my Cabinet. But it is also important to recognize that those with the most modest pay are those likely to feel these changes most acutely. It’s for that reason we are exploring ways to mitigate the effects of any salary freeze on our most vulnerable employees.

While I meet with various stakeholders about the budget, most of the people around me are preparing for finals or grading them. Many students are putting the finishing touches on papers, performances and experiments, while others are up late cramming for those big exams. There is plenty of pressure, but we all know the holiday break is fast approaching.

While our students and teachers are finishing their work for this semester, lots of high school seniors are opening envelopes telling them that they will be starting their undergraduate education in Middletown next fall. The first round of Early Decision is complete, and our Admissions Office reports that the great surge in applications (over 35%) also resulted in an extremely talented pool.  I very much look forward to welcoming these first members of the class of ‘13 into the Wesleyan family!

Good luck with the final push, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

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WESU from the West Coast

I write this post from Los Angeles, where I have been visiting with alumni and other members of the Wesleyan family. When I’m on the road, I often listen online to WESU, our wonderfully creative and original radio station. Not only does WESU bring us international, national and local news from perspectives we otherwise might not hear, they offer genuine community-based radio. I am grateful to station manager Benjamin Michael and the volunteers who keep WESU a vital source for radio that makes a difference in Central Connecticut.


Anna Gevalt ’09 performing at WESU

Anna Gevalt ’09 performing at WESU

Like all community-based radio, WESU depends on our support. Through December 14 the station is holding a pledge drive. To show your support for WESU, donate online at or call 860-685-7700 during the drive and make a pledge. Premiums will be offered for donations of $20 and above. I just called in my pledge. Won’t you please help?

Last night I was asking for help when I met with more than 200 alumni in Los Angeles. I’ve been talking with writers and editors, teachers and musicians, producers, doctors and yoga instructors. It is a difficult time to ask for support. Many of the people I’ve met here are frightened by the financial turmoil and concerned for their livelihood. All agreed that we are in the midst of the most serious financial crisis in generations. Still, the loyal Wesleyan community members with whom I am meeting are eager to hear about what’s happening on campus and willing to lend their financial and moral support. It is especially gratifying to see this expression of generosity during these challenging times.

After a quick stop to meet with our San Diego alumni group, I am heading back to Middletown. It’s always great to be back in California, but I am eager to return to campus for this weekend’s production of The Threepenny Opera and the other end of semester events.

I’ll also be meeting with student, faculty and staff groups to discuss our budget proposals. We still have a couple of months before presenting our next draft budget to the Board in February, and I am eager to hear new ideas on how we can deal with the substantial fiscal challenges ahead of us. The proposals that I shared with the Wesleyan community represent one scenario to deal with these challenges. We will continue to develop these ideas with input and imagination. Input and imagination – just like WESU!

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