One of the most interesting aspects of returning to Wesleyan is the combination of tradition and change that I experience in meeting with members of the university family. This week that combination was especially powerful.
Looking back. This week I met with alumni groups in Philadelphia and Washington. The discussions were lively and heartening. It was great to hear an alumnus who graduated 50 years ago talk about diversity as a value he has learned through his long-term connection to our alma mater. We all agreed that we valued an education that taught you how to have an open mind – how to keep listening to ideas that were disturbing or that caused you to “stretch” from your assumptions, your comfort zone. We also agreed on how important faculty relationships had been to our learning experience, both formal and informal. And we agreed that we were committed to giving Wesleyan the resources to continue to offer robust financial aid so as to remain accessible to anyone who has the talent and ambition to thrive here.
Looking forward. Before heading to Philadelphia I attended my second faculty meeting. I talked about the planning process of the next few months, and how I hoped that after consultation with key university stakeholders we would develop a handful of key priorities on which we can work for the next five years. There were important questions concerning the process (will it be inclusive enough? will there be opportunities to critique results before they become finalized?) and the results (what happens to elements of our curriculum that don’t make it into the final handful of priorities?). I am looking forward to ongoing discussions of these issues so that we can focus on some key objectives in our fundraising, but also so that we can continue to support a wide-ranging curriculum with plenty of room for studies that don’t cultivate popularity or donors.
Looking back. On Friday I participated in a memorial service in the Chapel for Stephen Crites, for decades a beloved professor of religion and philosophy at Wesleyan. Although I didn’t study with Steve, we knew one another when I was a student in the 1970s. Somehow, he knew that I was interested in Hegel (he was a great scholar of Hegel and Kierkegaard), and we would chat about this from time to time. He offered me suggestions on some key texts, and I would always look forward to his interventions at public lectures. He was generous and jovial, acute yet open. At the memorial I met his former students, some of them now professors with their own followings. We heard from colleagues from Wes and elsewhere, and their eloquence was matched only by their affection for our departed colleague. The glorious music (Steve was a formidable singer) brought us together in a community of remembrance and gratitude. As a philosopher, Steve had explored how narrative shapes our very experience. As a faculty member, he is forever part of this university’s narrative, and his legacy still shapes and deepens the many lives he touched.
Looking forward. I was delighted to learn that a faculty/staff/student committee recently met and unanimously recommended that I sign the Presidents’ Statement on Sustainability. The committee is also looking for ways that we can go beyond this statement, so it’s not just my signature on a document, but a community-wide commitment to becoming more environmentally responsible. Once I receive the recommendations, I will be able to write more specifically on what we will be doing. Meanwhile, I am grateful for all the input on the blog, and I am looking forward to signing the document in the context of a wide-ranging effort to ensure that Wesleyan has a more positive impact on our environment.
Our campus community exists to educate students to think more deeply and effectively, and then to connect that thinking to the world in ways that are fulfilling and effective. That’s at the core of what makes an education at Wesleyan meaningful decades after graduation. The president, too, must find ways to stretch his mind, and to keep it open! I have been reading with great interest the comments on my blog posts, and I am trying to learn from them. Our campus community is a learning community. And it’s making me think harder about how we can be more effective in our teaching, and in our engagement.