Home Games, Great Performances

This is the first weekend in more than a month that I’ve been able to be on campus. I thought it would be pretty quiet, but it was anything but. The excitement came through the great performances of our lacrosse, baseball and softball teams, all of which turned in outstanding efforts here at home.

The baseball team looked extremely impressive in taking a double-header from Amherst. Pitchers Brett Yarusi ’12 and Derek Lukin ’13 kept a lid on the powerful team from the north, and Chris Bonti ’13 smashed a three-run homer. The game ended with a perfect double-play to snuff out an Amherst rally.

Great endings also ruled in men’s lacrosse and women’s softball. The lacrosse team had an improbable come-from-behind win over Bates, with three goals in the final minutes. When Teddy Citrin ’12 scooped in the game-winner with just over 3 seconds left, we all went wild.

We did the same on the frozen field as the Wes Women beat Bates in extra-innings in game 1 of a double-header. Each time Bates went ahead, the Cardinals came up with our own great plays. Meaghan Dendy ’10, who always comes through in the clutch, scampered home on a wild pitch. In the second game, Wes erased a 12 run deficit and Dana Levy ’12 punched in the winning run in the 7th inning.

From athletics to the arts, this has been an exciting couple of days. But no rest for the weary. Kari and I are looking forward to hearing Hansel Tan ’10 and the Wesleyan Ensemble Singers tomorrow at 8 pm in Memorial Chapel. It should be a great evening of adventurous music. There are sure to be more great endings!

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Spring is Finally Here, Get Ready for Summer and Fall

Although we are just in the thick of the spring semester,students next week will be asked to plan their classes for the coming semester. This year we have the added choices offered by Wesleyan’s Summer Session, which runs from June 7 – July 9. The program not only promises opportunities to take required classes (like pre-med staples Calculus and Organic Chemistry) in small courses with great faculty, but it also includes studies in financial analysis, economic theory, photography and fiction writing. I am particularly excited about the “Institutes” that combine two related classes: Computer Science and Experimental Music; Cultural and Biological Approaches to Psychopathology; Acting and Directing. Students will receive two course credits for completing the Institutes in the early part of the summer. See http://www.wesleyan.edu/summer/courses.html for more information.

The curriculum at Wesleyan is always evolving, and I recently received lists of new courses from our Divisional Deans.

  • Biol 173: Global Change and Infectious Disease — Fred Cohan is currently teaching this new Gen Ed course, which comes out of his research interests in the evolution of bacterial species (and involves a significant dance component!).
  • Chem 378:  Materials Chemistry and Nanoscience — Brian Northrop’s research is directed at understanding molecular interactions and self-assembly processes that might be used in nano-scale devices – e.g. molecular sensors or motors.
  • Psyc 392: Behavioral Methods in Affective Neuroscience- Charles Sanislow is currently teaching this course linked to his research in post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and other affective disorders.

Assistant Professor Laura Stark, Science in Society Program, has proposed a course called Reading Medical Ethnography (a study of different ways of approaching the study of health and illness); Professor Ann duCille has proposed an African-American Studies class called Love in the Time of Slavery (drawing on songs, poetry, fiction, and examining representations of love, intimacy, and marriage in early African American literature); Assistant Professor Michael Nelson, has proposed Government, Global Environmental Politics (which covers a variety of environmental issues, along with the design and use of international institutions for managing cooperation and conflict on these issues). The Center for the Humanities will be sponsoring a group of courses examining Genealogies of Reason, with seminars on ghosts of the Enlightenment and the history of human rights.

I’ve developed a lecture course for the fall called The Modern and the Postmodern. We’ll read literature, philosophy and critical theory to try to better understand how the idea of the modern came to inform our sense of ourselves and of our history in the West.

The curriculum has been evolving and will continue to do so. We can thank our scholar-teacher model for that! It’s through their scholarship and creative practice that our professors develop new ideas that energize the classroom, and we are all the better for it, in every season!

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Quiet Campus….People Working

I have been traveling for Wesleyan a lot recently, and it’s always good to return home to campus. During mid March, though, the place is startlingly  quiet. Many of the administrators take some vacation time before the final big push to Commencement, and faculty are busy grading papers or exams and trying to make progress on research projects. Looking out my office window toward Foss Hill, I see the physical plant staff (led by Dave Hall) getting the field ready for the baseball team, but otherwise there is  little visible activity.

But many students have been extremely busy during the March break. Let’s start with the athletes. Baseball is off to a great start, winning its first eight games against an impressive variety of opponents. Julian Sonnenfeld ’11 has been hitting up a storm, as has Talia Bernstein ’11 on the softball team. Softball also won its first eight games! The tennis teams are also starting off strong, with Genevieve Aniello ’13 for the women and Michael Piderit ’12 for the men having fine early seasons. The lacrosse teams have been hard at work, with Teddy Citrin ’12 for the men and Jess Chukwu ’11 and Erin McCarthy ’10 for the women playing like scoring machines. Crew is rowing back in CT after a very successful southern swing.

My athletic activities are just to keep the pounds off, and in the gym yesterday I ran into Greg Hurd ’10, who just finished a great wrestling career at Wesleyan. But no rest for the weary, as he’s now hard at work on his senior thesis in Earth and Environmental Science. Greg has spent a considerable amount of time doing fieldwork in the Southwest and is now writing up the results. There are many thesis writers on campus making the final push. Art projects will be going up soon, and I especially look forward to seeing Gregory James’s ’10 installation. Rebecca Krisel ’10 is writing on counter-insurgency, while Emma Van Susteren ’10 is focusing on the slow food movement. Kalen Flynn ’10 is writing about holocaust historiography and its effect on how we think about the representation of the past more generally. These are just a few of the theses that young scholars, artists, writers and scientists are busy bringing to completion. No spring break for them!

Not all senior projects take the form of theses. Some are writing stories, essays, or engaged in community service projects. Sam Hart is majoring in Chemistry and Molecular Biology, but he decided to do an art project that brings together his scientific and aesthetic interests. In addition to building the piece, he has written a computer program that will bring his sculpture to life through moving color field patterns. Check it out in the Zilkha Gallery in mid April.

Good work is its own reward, but sometimes there’s more.   Wes senior Liana Woskie has just won a Watson Fellowship ($25,000!) in support of her project entitled “Bringing Primary Healthcare Home: The Community Health Worker, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Tanzania, Lesotho. In the words of  Cleveland Johnson, Director of the Watson Fellowship Program, “Watson Fellows are passionate learners, creative thinkers, and motivated self-starters who are encouraged to dream big but demonstrate feasible strategies for achieving their fellowship goals.”  No surprise to me that a Wes student is one of this year’s winners!

Congratulations to Liana and to all Wes students who are giving their all!

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Congrats Rae Armantrout and Wes Press!

The National Book Critics Circle award in poetry went to Rae Armantrout’s Versed. The announcement praised the book “for its demonstration of superb intellect and technique, its melding of experimental poetics but down-to-earth subject matter to create poems you are compelled to return to, that get richer with each reading.” Rae Armantrout has been celebrated as a great American poet, and we are proud to publish her at Wesleyan University Press.

Our small but mighty Wes Press has been making a distinctive and powerful contribution to American poetry for decades. Congratulations to all for this latest recognition of the extraordinary quality of Wesleyan University Press!

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Trustee Meetings: A Grand Gift, MoCon, Tuition, Liberal Arts

This past weekend the Board of Trustees was on campus. Despite the blizzard in the Northeast, trustees managed to get here for key meetings, engaging conversations and for some important decisions. One of the great moments of the weekend was the dinner to honor Wesleyan volunteers. At this celebration I was delighted to announce that Joshua Boger ’73, P ’06, P’09 and Amy Boger, M.D., P’06, P’09 have pledged 12 million dollars to our fundraising efforts. This will establish the Boger Scholarship Program and the Joshua Boger University Professorship of The Sciences and Mathematics. The first recipient of the chair appointment will be David L. Beveridge, professor of chemistry.

Here are some other highlights from the Board’s meetings.

The Campus Affairs Committee has an extraordinarily wide portfolio of concerns. They receive reports on Admissions (plenty of good news there!), co-curricular initiatives and core academic affairs. We discussed some of the current departmental models for assessing student learning and heard a report on the summer session pilot program. This committee also forwarded its recommendation to grant tenure to two stellar young scholar-teachers: Matthew Kurtz in Psychology and Typhaine Leservot in Romance Languages and the College of Letters.  Matt works on the neuroscience of cognitive rehabilitation for schizophrenia, and Typhaine’s research concerns changing modes of literary analysis (postcolonial, feminist) for contemporary Francophone writing. Congratulations to both!

The Finance Committee has a lion’s share of the work at the February meeting because it’s here that we propose our tuition for next year in the context of our budget projections. For next year the Board approved a 5% increase in tuition and fees, and we also project an 11% increase in our financial aid expenditures. We had plenty of discussion about how we might find ways to reduce costs so as to restrain future tuition increases without sacrificing the quality of student experience. This is a high priority going forward.

A topic that came up in various venues throughout the weekend concerned the future of McConaughy Hall. I knew the building well as a student, living just across from its front doors as a frosh. I remember with real fondness its grand staircase and wonderful light, and I also think back to some great parties and concerts I attended there. The building has been empty since I began my presidency, and since that time I’ve been trying to find an alternative use for it. The structure turns out to be terribly inefficient, and in great disrepair. Still, I had hopes that we might transform it (as we have done with Davenport and Fayerweather, and will do with Squash) for some community use.

I haven’t found an alternative use for MoCon. But given all the strong feeling, which I share, about trying to find alternative uses, I’ve delayed signing contracts for its demolition. The building has been here for almost 50 years, and I don’t take this decision lightly. But I also will not spend significant university funds every year without having a real function for the building. So, I am reviewing options (with appropriate professional guidance) one more time. I appreciate the input I’ve gotten, and I will be writing again soon on this subject.

At the main Board meeting we held an open discussion concerning changes in the liberal arts curriculum. How should we steer liberal arts learning in the future? I was particularly interested in hearing what fields the Board thought should be added to a liberal arts education, and which areas should be cut or reduced in importance. For example, I’ve been exploring the possibility of developing a liberal arts approach to engineering, and I’m also interested in how design thinking can have a more prominent role in our curriculum. Integrating our arts programs more fully into our academic programs (as with our new efforts in creative writing) is an important priority for many of us at Wes. I can ask readers here what I asked the Board: What would you like to see Wesleyan doing more of, less of?

Our conversation centered on three main areas for growth, and, truth be told, no real places for cutting: (1) public policy domestically and internationally, (2) engineering and design, (3) and the study of the impact of technology on culture and society. Dean Don Moon reminded us that while it might be good to have these general conversations at the Board level, each year the Wesleyan faculty develops dozens of new courses. The curriculum has been evolving and will continue to do so. We can thank our scholar-teacher model for that! It’s through their research that our professors develop new ideas that energize the classroom, and we are all the better for it!