Promoting Access through Partnerships

Yesterday Sonia Manjon and I went to an exciting ground-breaking ceremony across the street from Wesleyan’s Green Street Arts Center. We first gathered at the GSAC to hear remarks from community organizers, bankers, businessmen, housing activists, federal, state and local officials, and the head of our Chamber of Commerce. It was a very impressive coalition of groups that has worked together with Nehemiah Housing to plan for 16 new owner-occupied units in the North End of Middletown. Access to affordable housing, all the partners agree, will enable residents to become stakeholders in their neighborhood thereby promoting the momentum for further improvements. Wesleyan has become an important part of this dynamic with our project at Green Street, and working with neighborhood groups (some of which are led by alumni) has been a great learning experience for our students, staff and faculty. Here’s a photograph of the groundbreaking from an article by recent honorary doctorate recipient Jennifer Alexander ’88 from the Middletowneye blog.

photo by Jennifer Alexander

photo by Jennifer Alexander

As we come to the end of our fiscal year this month, we are eagerly promoting the Wesleyan Fund as a way to enhance access to a great education. Be a stakeholder in our scholarship program by making a gift! We need the partnership of the extended Wesleyan family to keep our financial aid offerings strong. We  are making a big push to increase participation, so please make a contribution — no matter what size!

PLEASE GIVE BEFORE JUNE 30 TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR THE TRUSTEE MATCH. In another great example of partnership, the Board of Trustees will  match every gift up to $10,000 until June 30th.

Access to a Wesleyan education regardless of one’s ability to pay is key to who we are. Please become a partner in this effort! Here’s a link to make a donation on line.


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Happy Father’s Day from Alma Mater!

Summer time brings different rhythms to campus, and toward the end of June we are busy closing out the books on 2008-2009 while planning for the future makes progress. The north end of campus is quiet, awaiting the CCY students to animate things in July. I’ll soon write more about the busy researchers across Church Street, for whom summer just offers the opportunity for very focused experimental work in the sciences. On the south side of campus, undergraduates, graduate students and faculty are making the most out of time away from courses to pursue their independent research projects.

This Father’s Day will be mostly a relaxing one for me with my family, after a wild 12th birthday celebration for Sophie. My father, Joe Roth, died more than five years ago now, and of course I think of him often. I wonder how surprised he would be to find me in the president’s office at Wesleyan. I recently wrote something about his graduation advice that was broadcast on NPR (sorry for the duplication of website references!):

The writer Thomas Matlack ’86 has been thinking a lot about fathers, sons, and the changing roles for men in our culture. His “good men project” makes for fine Father’s Day reading:

We talk always of alma mater, but fathers have something to do with the educational nourishment at Wes, too. To all the Dads (and people who have dads) out there, happy Father’s Day!

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Summer Planning

This past week we welcomed back to campus a group of distinguished alumni with experience running large organizations – both profit and not-for-profit. We were discussing some of the ways that the University has responded to the current economic crisis and our plans for strategic initiatives going forward. It was good to check in with people who care deeply about the future of alma mater, but who are not invested in the specifics of how we are operating today. In this way, we can gather helpful criticism and discover opportunities for further improving Wesleyan.

There were three main areas of discussion at this meeting. The first was focused on the distinctive aspects of the Wesleyan liberal arts experience and what Wesleyan stands for in American higher education. We talked at some length about how we characterize the university’s personality. Boldness, a desire for intellectual adventure, independence and the ability to be a self-starter….these were some of the qualities that our group thought had characterized the Wes students and alumni. We discussed the importance of Wesleyan’s science programs in advancing the school’s reputation for research and rigor, while also re-iterating how key our vibrant arts scene and efforts to enhance creativity have been.

The second topic that we talked about at some length concerned the economic model underpinning our programs. About 16% of the general budget comes from endowment support – a percentage far lower than many of our peer institutions. Our reliance on tuition revenue and on generous annual support from the Wes family has allowed us to maintain a high quality program, but we must become more efficient in our use of resources while building a stronger endowment over time. We talked at some length about this year’s successful efforts to balance the budget in the face of the economic crisis, and underscored the importance of building the long-term fiscal health of the institution.

The third topic on which we spent considerable time was communication. How are we keeping alumni, students, families, prospective students, faculty, and staff informed? Are there new technologies we should be using to allow members of our community to share work, ideas, and opportunities? Should we be phasing out some of our more traditional publication vehicles, or devoting fewer resources to them?

Effective communication will undoubtedly be crucial for making more and more people aware of the great work done by the Wes family. It will also be important for raising additional support during our fundraising push over the next several years. Some at our meeting asked what we would do with additional support, and I went through the seven areas that many readers of this blog will recognize from past postings.

1.    Enhancing Financial Aid. Promote access to Wesleyan by making it possible for students to attend regardless of their ability to pay.
2.    Investing in Science. Support researchers and the equipment they need even with the delays in building Molecular and Life Sciences complex.
3.    Enriching Undergrad Experience.  Review first and last years of the student’s experience. Support for “intellectual cross-training” through porous programs.
4.    Internationalization. Continue to make the curriculum more reflective of advances in global research and international cultural developments. Recruit more students from beyond the US.
5.    Creativity across the curriculum. Ensure that our reputation for attracting creative students is linked to a curriculum that enhances innovation.
6.    Civic engagement. Build on the tradition of activism at Wes to develop a curriculum that allows students to become more effective citizens.
7.    College of the Environment. Develop the new “linked-major” in environmental studies into one of our multi-disciplinary Colleges.

The combination of traditional strengths and new initiatives should help Wesleyan maintain our leadership position in progressive liberal arts education in the coming decades. Over the next several months we’ll be talking with students, faculty, alumni, trustees and staff to determine what we want “progressive” to mean in the future.  We will help ensure that “what Wesleyan stands for” in American higher education will be matched by the experience we provide our students on campus.

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