Admissions and Recognition

As January is coming to an end, I am writing this on a plane back to Connecticut from Texas. I’ve been in Houston and Dallas the last couple of days, meeting with alumni, parents and even a few pre-frosh. When I began my presidency in 2007, we  increased our communications efforts in areas of the country where Wesleyan wasn’t as well known as it is on the Coasts, and we placed a special emphasis on Texas. We have many alumni there who work in the technology, education, medicine and energy fields, to name just a few. We’ve held well-attended events in Houston and Dallas the last two years, and this week’s gatherings were energetic and popular. The Roff family, our host in Houston, has had six family members at Wes, and the Barth clan there can count seven! We discussed the planning framework, Wesleyan 2020, in both cities, and even the torrential rains in Dallas didn’t dampen the high spirits at the reception hosted by the Wolins (P ’12).

I was pleased to report that in the last three years we have tripled the number of applicants from Texas. This is one chapter in a very impressive admissions story. Last year applications were way up, and so a reasonable person might have expected some pull back from these numbers in 2010. But the application pool has increased again, this year by about 6%. That means that our pool has grown about 30% in two years! Most important, the quality of the pool is very strong, and we are meeting our goal of increasing geographical diversity. Early decision applications are at an all time high. It’s a tribute to our community that so many talented people want to be part of it!

Why are so many more people applying to Wesleyan? It isn’t easy to point to any specific factors with confidence. Clearly, we have benefitted from positive press thanks to the great work of our faculty, students, staff and alumni.  Our admissions and communications departments have been in high gear making sure that we get the word out about what makes Wesleyan an extraordinary institution. The campus looks great, and investments in our physical plant have had compelling results. We have been emphasizing some of the distinctive aspects of a Wes education, and above all, students and their families have been talking to others about their own experiences. Enhanced recognition  is important not only because it allows us to put together ever more diverse and talented classes, but also because it increases the value of  Wesleyan diplomas for all our alumni.

We don’t need to “sell Wesleyan,” or develop some slick marketing messages. After all, by emphasizing our distinctiveness we are also saying that Wes isn’t for everybody. The culture of openness and experimentation, exuberance and achievement, creativity and focus…this culture is different from  the ones that have developed at other fine schools. We want to get the word out, but we don’t need to present ourselves as just another highly selective school for successful high school seniors.

Now that we have well over 10,000 applications for next year’s class, the admissions staff has to read each one of them with the time consuming care that comes with a holistic application process. I thank them in advance for all the hard work that will go into putting together the class of 2014!

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A Wealth of Opportunities

I spent much of Saturday at the Freeman Athletic Center watching our athletes compete. The women’s basketball team carried the day against Middlebury, and the men’s team along with swimming, women’s hockey and track put up strong efforts. The focus and discipline of the athletes is always impressive to me, especially when I recall that they have books to crack and problem sets to complete.

With the new semester just underway, we are now in the period when students check out different classes as they put together their final schedules. It’s a time of excitement and sometimes of frustration. Some of the required classes in the most popular majors fill up quickly. Academic Affairs can add sections when appropriate. Some popular classes work well because they are small, and happily almost all students report that they are pleased with their final schedules. Advisors and Deans are on hand to help students navigate this process.

Those of you far away from campus don’t have to feel left out of the wealth of academic opportunities. Go to the iTunes store and look up Wesleyan University. There you will find video recordings of great Wes faculty, visiting writers and scholars, and even some strength and conditioning tips. Check out the Wes YouTube channel for an even greater variety of uploaded video from campus.

Of course there’s nothing like being on campus to experience the diversity of offerings here. If you are looking at lectures online and want to remember the feel of the place, you can always check out a great book of campus photos, Welcome to Wesleyan: Campus Buildings.

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A New Semester!

I’ve been on the road for Wesleyan most of the time since New Year’s, and I am delighted to return to campus for the start of the new semester. My first class in “The Past on Film” (a course on philosophy, history and the movies) is today.

While I’ve been traveling, people have been busy here on campus preparing for the new semester. Many of our athletes have been involved in regular competition since the beginning of 2010. The men’s hockey team recently recorded its first win over Williams at home in many years. It was a convincing victory! Our men’s water polo team was recently named “Team of the Decade” by the Collegiate Water Polo Association. Congratulations to Coach of the Year Mac Clonan ’05.

Our faculty have been busy preparing new courses for the spring, many of which are part of the Small Class Initiative that has added dozens of seminars to our offerings. Manju Hingorani and Katja Kolcio are offering a class called “Body Language: Choreographing Biology,” while inaugural Koeppel Fellow, alumna and editor of the Forward Jane Eisner ’77 is teaching one of our first journalism classes “The Journalist as Citizen.” Sonali Chakravarti is teaching a government class on political theory and transitional justice, while the great vibraphonist Jay Hoggard offers “Language of the Jazz Orchestra.” As I look through the catalogue, I wonder if I can find the time to audit even as I work on my own class.

I was in in Washington the last few days visiting with alumni there and in Baltimore. Kari and Sophie joined me for the weekend, and now we are all trying to catch up on our homework! A highlight of the trip was a tour of the White House on Saturday. It brought us back to the hopeful energy of a year ago, and it also reminded us of the challenges now facing the whole country. This morning, as I post this blog, I confess to a few doubts as to whether we will be able to pull together to meet those challenges, but then as I see the picture of Kari, Sophie and myself, optimism revives.  How happy we were to be there at the White House!


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Ongoing Need for Help

Many of our friends and colleagues have been profoundly impacted by the ongoing tragedy in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake. Just this morning, a large aftershock sent people fleeing from the damaged places in which they’ve sought shelter. I know that Wesleyan students, faculty and staff have responded generously to calls for help. Some of the organizations that have been recommended to me are:

  • Texting “HAITI” to “90999” to donate $10 to the Red Cross.  The US State Department very quickly put together this number to channel relief contributions directly to first responders who will be on the ground there.
  • Partners in Health.  PIH ( is already on the ground in Haiti and mobilizing their relief efforts. PIH has worked in Haiti to provide health care and education to the poorest of Haiti.
  • Save the Children (

There are many more fine organizations on the ground in Haiti providing assistance. Please help!

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Investment Office Update

This morning we had the all staff meeting kicking off the new semester. I thanked everyone for their hard work over the course of the year, and acknowledged the difficulties we’ve faced in this challenging economic environment. Faculty and staff are working harder than ever to keep Wesleyan at the forefront of higher education.

The  unpleasant task I had this morning was to provide a brief update on the university’s lawsuit against former Vice President and Chief Investment Officer Thomas Kannam. This afternoon I have emailed the following update to the campus community, and I thought it best to share it with this blog’s readership:

Many of you are aware that Wesleyan has commenced litigation against former Vice President and Chief Investment Officer Thomas Kannam. For those of you hearing about this for the first time, here are the basic facts: On September 30, 2009, Wesleyan received a report through its Whistleblower Policy concerning Mr. Kannam’s potential violation of Wesleyan’s Conflict of Interest Policy. This report was fully and promptly investigated. We believe that Mr. Kannam was a principal in one or more other substantial business ventures and that his work was potentially in conflict with his responsibilities at the University. As a result of this activity, Wesleyan believes that Mr. Kannam had, at a minimum, violated the Conflict of Interest Policy and his employment agreement with the University. Mr. Kannam was terminated on October 13, and on November 24 Wesleyan brought suit in Connecticut Superior Court against him and related parties.

An unpleasant matter like this one, touching a community like ours, stimulates questions and speculation as a matter of course. In this case our strong desire for transparency must be weighed against both legal interests and institutional policy regarding personnel issues. Given the pending litigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at length. What I can say is that the situation, while disappointing, is no cause for alarm. However, the University has an obligation to all those who have supported it over the years to hold members of the campus community to the high standards expected of them, and this litigation reflects just how seriously the University takes its fiduciary responsibilities and adherence to its policies. Once the nature and scope of Mr. Kannam’s activities were revealed, we acted quickly and judiciously.

Wesleyan’s endowment is being overseen by the Treasurer’s Office in close consultation with the Portfolio Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees. A search process is underway that will result in new leadership for endowment management, and I will be able to report on this in the spring. In the meantime, I am gratified by the continuing support the University has been receiving from its alumni and others.

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Studying Abroad

I’m traveling with Board Chair Joshua Boger and his wife Amy this week to meet with some alumni overseas. We’ve been in Bangalore the last few days and had an extraordinary visit with Azim and Rishad Premji at their Wipro headquarters. Rishad graduated from Wesleyan in ’99, and just last year we awarded his father Azim an honorary doctorate for his outstanding philanthropic work. The Azim Premji Foundation is focused on making a national impact on the educational system here – with particular attention given to helping girls erase the literacy gap. I also learned about the Foundation’s programs helping very young children of migrant workers, as well as an ambitious plan to open the Azim Premji University in a few years. This university will have teacher training as its core mission. I’ve been deeply impressed by the foundation officers and their work.  They taught me so much in a short time, and I’m optimistic about their chances of success.

Wipro is a major international technology services company based in India, and it is increasingly taking on work in “green industries.” Joshua, Amy and I met with a group of Wipro executives responsible for the professional development of the staff (over 100,000 employees!). They are practically running a university at Wipro, and it was fascinating to hear about their approach to continuing education through seminars, lectures and mobile device access. I took plenty of notes!

Our conversations with Azim Premji and Rishad Premji focused on how to raise Wesleyan’s profile in India and on how a liberal arts education can prepare graduates very well to become imaginative engineers.  I look forward to continuing these conversations as we enhance internationalization at Wes and develop connections between our programs and the broad spectrum of engineering (from infrastructure to technology and sustainability).

We had the chance to see a bit of Mysore today, and we’re off tomorrow before dawn. Next stop, London, for a brief visit with the Wes community there.



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