Trustee Discussions

This weekend the Wesleyan Board of Trustees will be on campus for their annual retreat. This is an especially interesting time for the Board, given the economic crisis from which we are emerging, the planning framework for the next decade we have started to discuss, and the fact that Joshua Boger is beginning his tenure as Chair of the Board. Joshua (Wesleyan class of 1973) was a philosophy and chemistry major here, and after taking his Ph.D. at Harvard he pursued a career in science. After rising to the top of research at Merck Pharmaceuticals, he used his entrepreneurial skill to start his own company. He founded Vertex, which has been dedicated to building medicines ‘from the molecule up’ for serious diseases. Having stepped down as CEO last year, Joshua sits on the board at Vertex and at least another dozen other boards (mostly not-for profits). He has had two children graduate from Wesleyan and has been a tireless advocate for the university.

Joshua will lead the Board, including faculty and student representatives, in discussions that should help us discover a strategy for Wesleyan that will be relevant for the next decade. The word “discover” is important, and Joshua makes the point that it is a mistake to decide on a strategy. This weekend, we will instead talk through our core purpose and our values, and how we might realize them through integrated planning and effective action. There will be many sources for this discussion, including the Wesleyan 2020 document I posted on our website. On Sunday night (10/4) I will meet with the WSA at 8:00 pm to debrief on the board discussions, and I will continue to talk with faculty, staff, alumni and parent groups in the coming months about what we we have discovered about Wesleyan, and how we intend to build on that discovery. It should be an exciting process!

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Weekend Performances and Contests

Tomorrow is a big home day for some of our athletic teams. The football team’s season gets underway against Tufts on Andrus Field at 12:30 pm. Did you know that Andrus Field has been used continuously for football for longer than any other field in the country? Come out and cheer for the Cardinals!!

Before the football game you might check out the Cross Country meet or the field hockey contest. Cross Country gets going at 11 am, and field hockey at Smith Field at Long Lane at noon. There will be plenty of soccer action on Jackson Field, with the women’s team aiming to continue its shutout streak at noon. The men’s team tries to extend its winning ways at 2:30. Women’s tennis is also at home, beginning at 2 pm. As you can see, there are plenty of ways to root for the Red and Black! Come on out and cheer!!

Of course, there are more than athletic contests happening on campus this weekend. The Breaking Ground Dance Series is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a performances by the Stephen Petronio Company Friday and Saturday night at the CFA. Junior Ross Shenker is staging his one-man musical, “Being Joel” in the Patricelli Theater Friday at 8 pm and Sat at 5 and 8 pm. You’ll may want to check out the Westco courtyard to hear three funk and reggae bands on Saturday night, beginning at 8 pm. If the weather holds, that should be a fine place to celebrate our great performances.

Today I met with the senior interviewers and tour guides. These students give much time and energy to introducing some of the key attributes of the university to high school students and their families. Their jobs are so important because they help give prospective students a perspective on the distinctive personality our our school. Their thoughtful enthusiasm is one of the best indicators of what kind of wonderful place this really is!

I look forward to seeing some of that enthusiasm at the various performances this weekend. Go Wes!!

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Writing with Grace and Ease

On Wednesday, September 23, some of Wesleyan’s fine creative writers will be reading from their work at the Russell House. The evening will combine prose and poetry, and it promises to be engaging and surprising. Lisa Cohen is a creative non-fiction author and has recently completed a group biography. Lisa charts the unconventional lives of talented women whose defiance of their contemporary norms has informed our own notions of identity and freedom, celebrity, sexual choice and the economy. Deb Olin Unferth recently joined the Wesleyan faculty and is teaching courses in fiction writing. Her post-realist, award-winning novel Vacation explores how even “thin efforts at intimacy” fail painfully, and how even the slightest coincidences generate powerful consequences.  Elizabeth Willis has taught literature and writing courses at Wesleyan for many years, and recently was named to the new Shapiro-Silverberg Chair in Creative Writing. Elizabeth has accumulated many honors, including a recent prize (selected from over 4,000 entries) from The Boston Review. Fellow critic and poet Susan Stewart said of Elizabeth’s poems: They take up the sound of music and the surfaces of painting, yet clearly do what only poems can do. The voice of a person thinking, discovering, revising, is ever-present without any loss in grace or ease.

I am meeting with a group of alumni away from campus Wednesday night, so I’ll have to settle for a tape of the proceedings. I can only hope the abundant grace and ease of the evening won’t be lost! The readings begin at 8 pm.

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Toward a Framework for Planning

I made this year’s first trip to an alumni reception at the end of last week, a great gathering of generations of Wes fans in Denver. We doubled the number of applications from the Mile High City this past year, and I can see that we have many fervent ambassadors in Colorado. Business leaders, teachers, entrepreneurs and communications specialists with Wes degrees have made Denver their home. Standing out even among our talented alumni group are two of the states most interesting political leaders: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper ’74 and US Senator Michael Bennet ’87. And there are many other alumni engaged in public service: from art museums, to schools, to alternative energy — Wesleyan grads and their families are making a difference in the public arena in Denver as elsewhere.

This year instead of talking about “how it feels to come home to Wesleyan,” or “what’s changed in Middletown since the 1970s,” I thought I ought to talk about the future of the university I’ve now gotten to know again. Of course, everyone is rightly concerned with how we are weathering the economic crisis that has significantly reduced our endowment. We are having conversations about the budget with both the Budget Priorities Committee – a committee which represents  faculty, students and staff   –  and an ad hoc faculty committee to advise me on current budget matters. Our immediate task is to cut spending by an additional 2.5%. Although we are not out of the woods yet,  I am confident that we can make the necessary cuts to balance the budget this year while protecting financial aid and the academic core.

So in Denver I talked briefly with the group about my work this past summer on a framework for planning the next decade at Wesleyan. I’ve taken the input I’ve received over the last two years from trustees, faculty, students, alumni and staff, and combined that with my own sense of how we might build on what is most distinctive about the Wesleyan experience. For the last year or so I’ve talked about “seven initiative areas,” and I have woven those into a plan that charts a direction for our university over the next several years. I’ve also emphasized that we must develop the sustainability of our economic model — that means there won’t be any spending sprees in the coming decade. But there will be an ever greater effort to energize those elements most distinctive in the Wesleyan experience, create ongoing economic support for those elements, and develop effective ways of communicating to the world about them.

On Wednesday (9/16/09) this week I’ll post the framework for planning on a new Weblink: Wesleyan 2020. We will be having extensive conversations on campus about the ideas in the posted document, and  I invite you to send in your feedback either via email or directly to the site. We will continue to revise  our plans for the future until we have a framework we can use for developing our curriculum, recruiting students, allocating resources and raising endowment support for the future.

We are almost ready to move from crisis management to opportunity seeking. I look forward to engaging conversations on how we can build a Wesleyan for the future that will grow out of the finest accomplishments of our proud history.

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The Semester Begins! Celebrations and Classes

This week is the 100th anniversary of the  birth of one of America’s great film directors, Elia Kazan, and Wesleyan will mark the occasion with a series of films. We begin on Saturday, September 12th at 8:00 pm with Boomerang! (1947). Kazan, whose work with theater was also of decisive importance, presented his papers to Wesleyan in 1968, and for some time he had an office in Olin Library. For decades scholars have been using the papers in their research, one of the many extraordinary collections in the Wesleyan Cinema Archive. You can hear more about Kazan and the Archive on Saturday when Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, introduces Boomerang! at 8 pm. For more information on the Kazan festival, see http://www.wesleyan.edu/filmstudies/specialevents.html.

In conjunction with the Kazan celebrations Mark Longenecker is teaching a film studies class based in the archival holdings. This is one of the dozens of classes added to the curriculum this year, most of them with enrollments under 20. I remember as a student feeling frustrated when I didn’t get the class I most wanted, but then I wound up in another course and it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me that semester. Perusing the course catalogue, I’ve seen offerings that combine science and service learning, politics and history, literature and music. Barry Chernoff, who is leading our efforts for planning the College of the Environment, is teaching “Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems.” This a science class that requires students to devote a few Saturday mornings to fieldwork to complement lectures and labs. Fieldwork in a boat sounds like a great way to spend a Saturday.

Leah Wright, who has just joined the history department, is teaching a class on Black Conservatism. The class examines how black conservatism shifted, transformed, and evolved over the course of American social and political development. Lynn Westling teaches an introductory Physics course for non-majors called “Physics for Presidents.” It examines “mathematical and physical models that explain quantitatively how our world works.” The course discusses issues in the political sphere that depend on an understanding of physics, from nuclear weapons to alternative energy.

I’m teaching a new class this term: Topics in the Philosophy of History. It’s a small seminar to complement my large film class in the spring. We’ll be working on issues connecting memory and history, psychoanalysis and trauma, and photography and representation.

I had lunch today with Howard Needler, who has been teaching in the College of Letters since the late 1960s. We talked about Wesleyan old and new, sometimes emphasizing the great changes and at other moments marveling at the continuities. The College of Letters (like CSS and CHUM which all celebrate their 50th anniversaries this year) has always attracted talented, creative students interested in ideas and how they take shape over time. Professor Needler is teaching Dante’s Divine Comedy this year: a full year on this landmark text. The class is fully subscribed. Lucky students, I thought!

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Arrival Day (Part Three)

Well, this isn’t really about arrival day, but about the “common moment” evening of orientation. The theme for the first year students followed our “Feet to the Fire” program concerning climate change, and this year students focused on issues about water. Readings, lectures and discussion groups examined the cultural, economic, and spiritual dimensions of water, with some important focus points on purification and distribution.

Friday night at least 500 of the frosh gathered at the base of Foss Hill to learn dances with a water theme from different cultures around the globe. The great Wes drummers and dancers led the event, and the rhythms were stirring. Prof. Barry Chernoff, who has been inspiring our efforts in environmental studies and our planning for the College of the Environment, helped stir up enthusiasm for the event with Pam Tatge, Director of the Center for the Arts. Dance professor Nicole Stanton was joined by grad students, faculty and staff in keeping the crowd moving. There was joyful participation (and great ice cream!). The program concluded with the fire dancing students of Prometheus. My camera phone isn’t adequate to capture the powerful scene, but here are a few snaps:

Fire Dance at Foss Hill

Fire Dance at Foss Hill

Fire Dance at Foss Hill (2)

Fire Dance at Foss Hill (2)

The frosh are now being joined by the rest of the students, with classes beginning Tuesday. This fall we will see the results of our small class initiative, which has added dozens of new classes to the curriculum. My own small seminar meets on Mondays, so I’ll have a bit more time to prepare, inspired by how Andrus Field and Foss Hill came alive Friday night.

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Arrival Day (Part Two)

I’ve been strolling around, carrying the odd (and light) box, meeting new frosh and their families. Lots of fun to run into alumni parents bringing their sons and daughters to Wesleyan, as well as those who are totally new to the Wes experience. I’ll post a few more photos later in the day.

Cars filling up the field

Cars filling up the field

arrival200910

lunch

New Home

New Home

Unloading

Unloading

Unloading #2

Unloading #2

Prof. Weil moving the students

Prof. Weil moving the students

All but the first photograph courtesy of Olivia Bartlett

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Arrival Day (Part One)

It’s a beautiful late summer morning here at Wesleyan as we begin to welcome the class of 2013 to campus. Nervous parents and eager pre-frosh (or is it the other way around?) are clogging the streets with their cars and vans chock full of boxes, suitcases, musical instruments and sports equipment. Most new international students arrived a few days ago, and we welcomed them with a dinner in Beckham Hall. It was delightful to meet students from Japan, India, Germany and China — all within a few minutes. Today there will be lots of staff helping with the move in, a great Wesleyan tradition. We’ll see if my chronically sore back can take it.

Calm Before the Arrival Storm

Calm Before the Arrival Storm

I will post more pics and links at the end of the day or tomorrow.

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