Trustees’ Statement on Equity and Inclusion

At its Annual Meeting just before Commencement, Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees’ Equity and Inclusion Task Force presented the full Board with a statement of principles. This task force’s work grew out of the board retreat in 2014 at which trustees made the commitment to pursue fairness and community building throughout the University’s functions. Here is the statement:

The Wesleyan University Board of Trustees is committed to a campus culture characterized by diversity, equity, and inclusion. We believe that in order to meet the University’s educational mission and provide a thriving educational environment, the University’s governance, curriculum, and operations should be regularly reviewed and renewed to ensure that they reflect and address the broad diversity of the Wesleyan community.

The members of the board commit to conversations regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, and to monitoring progress in promoting equity and inclusion in all aspects of University life, including:

Eliminating the comparative disadvantages in educational experience that may separate student groups on the basis of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and/or other factors; and

Honest conversations, openness, and metrics regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion and evidence reflecting student success, faculty and staff recruitment and retention, and institutional performance.

This morning I read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that noted that efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion can be most effective with strong commitment from the top of the organization. I am proud to work with trustees who have embraced these goals and are working to integrate them throughout our operations.


Winter Board Meeting and Ethical Investing

Last weekend the Board of Trustees was on campus for the winter meeting. In various configurations members addressed issues relevant to the academic program and the campus, facilities and finances, and communications and alumni relations. There are just over 30 trustees, and they are dedicated to helping to steer the university through these sometimes daunting times of change.

One of the most important sessions was focused on a presentation led by students from the Committee for Investor Responsibility. They delivered an excellent analysis of why the university should divest itself of any direct holdings in coal companies, examining social, economic and ethical perspectives. My fellow trustees were very impressed with the thoughtfulness of the report and subsequent discussion. As it turns out, Wesleyan does not have direct holdings in coal companies, but the committee wanted to engage with the CIR, going beyond this specific issue to create an explicit framework for future decisions regarding investments.

The board passed a resolution to integrate a statement on ethical investment into its guidelines, recognizing the university’s “obligation to consider environmental, social and governance issues as part of its investment process.”  Quoting from The Ethical Investor, the resolution instructs the Investment Committee to take into account social harm, “the injurious impact which the activities of a company are found to have on consumers, employees, or other persons, particularly including activities which violate, or frustrate the enforcement of rules of domestic or international law intended to protect individuals against deprivation of health, safety, or basic freedoms.” The resolution concludes that “in selecting external managers or considering direct investments, the Committee and staff will consider environmental, social and governance factors as part of their investment process.” I am so grateful for the CIR’s input into this process.

The Board also discussed (among other things) campus planning, support for research,  possibilities for refinancing outstanding debt, the Wesleyan Student Assembly report on campus issues, fundraising for internships during the final year of the ‘This is Why’ campaign, and building a solar “farm” on a section of the Long Lane property.

Overall it proved to be a productive and energizing meeting that focused attention on challenges and opportunities and rallied support for Alma Mater.


Trustees and the Future of Wesleyan

This past weekend the Board of Trustees gathered for its annual fall retreat. At this meeting, Trustees and Representatives to the Board discuss a range of issues important for the future of the University. We began on Friday night with conversations about equity and inclusion. Over the last year a task force of Trustees has been discussing how we can better ensure that all people on campus feel they are full members of our community and engaged in our educational project. Everyone at the retreat had taken implicit bias tests in advance of the meeting to better understand how even when we have the best of intentions, prejudice can affect our thinking.

We resumed our meetings Saturday morning with a discussion of the role of residential fraternities on campus, based on recommendations that I had made to the Board after a summer of collecting input. During the course of the weekend, the Board and I agreed on some changes described in a message that went out from Joshua Boger and me this morning. The message reads, in part: “With equity and inclusion in mind, we have decided that residential fraternities must become fully co-educational over the next three years. If the organizations are to continue to be recognized as offering housing and social spaces for Wesleyan students, women as well as men must be full members and well-represented in the body and leadership of the organization….Our residential Greek organizations inspire loyalty, community and independence. That’s why all our students should be eligible to join them.”

Saturday’s discussion moved on to campus life generally and how we might make it as educationally potent as possible. As a residential liberal arts school, it is crucial that outside the classroom our students are being prepared for life after graduation. Trustees shared the ways in which their own experiences on campus have affected their lives beyond the university.

The retreat continued with discussions of how Wesleyan is perceived by prospective students, the campus community, alumni, parents and the academic marketplace. We had vigorous conversations about what Wes stands for today, and how we want our school to be perceived 25 years from now. What should we be doing now to ensure the brightest future for alma mater?

Over the weekend, I witnessed many ways in which loyal and hardworking trustees, students, faculty, staff and alumni are devoted to Wesleyan. It’s a devotion stemming from powerful experiences and strong memories joined with the aspiration to make our university even stronger and the experiences of students going forward even more powerful.

Bioethics and the Limits of Experimentation

Since coming back to Wesleyan in 2007, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Joseph Fins ’82, who was on the Board of Trustees (and the presidential search committee) when I was hired. Joe is a proud graduate of the College of Letters, a physician and a bio-ethicist. I just read his powerful critique of experiments in Romania on children who had the misfortune to grow up in that country’s orphanages. Joe questions the ethics of randomized studies with children, when it is very likely that those children will be harmed by the conditions being studied. In a recent Hastings Center forum he writes:

One of the salient lessons of twentieth-century bioethics is that scientists cannot always do the experiment they would like to do. When you are not in a lab and unable to control all the variables, if you try to control all the variables, people can get hurt. That is what happened in Romania. And it is a double tragedy because investigators could have had the same policy impact if they had done their research in a different way. They could have been more attentive to the fact that some of the children suffered harm from ongoing early exposure to the orphanages that could have been interrupted.

Joe quotes his COL teacher, philosopher Elisabeth Young-Breuhl:

It is the great task of human beings–the essential task–to understand what adults should give children; what is–to use a legal phrase–“in the best interests of the child.” The basic needs of all children are the same; there are universal needs. And it should be the task of any and all adults to understand those needs and meet them. Children depend upon adults for this understanding, and if it is not applied, not translated into the actions of child-rearing and education, children cannot grow and develop freely and become adults who, in turn, give such understanding and action to their own children.

I sit on the Board of Trustees of the Hastings Center with Joe and Joshua Boger ’73. I so value the way these Wes alumni (and other members of the Hastings Center) connect a deep knowledge of science with questions of politics, policy and ethics. This is at the core of a liberal education. You can read more of Joe’s essay here.
Joe Fins will be on campus to hold a WesSeminar on medical writing, consciousness and human rights over Homecoming Family Weekend. You can find out more here.

Board of Trustees on Diversity

One of the points that emerged from last year’s campus-wide discussions concerning diversity was that all constituencies of the university should think hard about what it means to create an inclusive, equitable educational institution. For its part, the Board of Trustees decided to devote its fall Retreat to this topic. We just finished our meetings yesterday, and they served to raise crucial issues and affirm core values.

The Retreat weekend began with a lecture by Al Young ’88, a distinguished professor and chair of the department of sociology at the University of Michigan. Al has done much research on issues of race and inclusion, research he began in a Wesleyan context by studying the Vanguard Class of African American men who attended Wesleyan in the late 1960s. He spoke at the Retreat about the challenges faced by the students then, and he compared them to the challenges faced by students from under-represented groups today. What will be our institutional response to these challenges, he asked? Chair of the Board Joshua Boger and Vice-Chairs Irma González and Ellen Jewett played leading roles in keeping us focused and productive, and they were well supported by staff, Wesleyan Student Assembly and faculty representatives.

Over the next 48 hours, Retreat participants addressed issues of diversity, equity and inclusion with respect to various aspects of the university experience. How does one weigh the imperatives of free speech against the offense caused to others by those words? How do we reflect the changing interests of students while retaining core areas of study? How do we select a student body in a highly competitive admissions process that makes the most educational sense for all?  How do we recruit and retain faculty and staff who exemplify talent, diversity, curiosity, empathy and achievement? How do we build a culture at Wesleyan in which all can thrive? …We didn’t expect to arrive at a consensus on answers, but we did commit to remaining mindful of the importance of these questions for our community.

As I reflect back on the meeting, three streams of concern are paramount: Admissions, Campus Learning, Alumni Engagement. I share in the most general terms my own thoughts about our goals in these areas.

1. Admissions. We should recruit extraordinarily talented students with a commitment to find people with the kind of deep potential that will enable them to learn in a residential community dedicated to “boldness, rigor and practical idealism.”

2. Campus Learning. We should ensure that all at our university have the maximum opportunities to realize their potential and to make use of untapped resources they hadn’t previously recognized. This exploration takes place in a context that amplifies personal benefits by creating possibilities for their social resonance and relevance. People discover what they love to do; they get better at it; they share it with others.

3. Beyond Campus. We should engage alumni so they are a resource to help support goals 1 and 2, and we should make the university a resource for lifelong learning. This commitment to lifelong learning is reflected in the support of research and creative practice that makes a contribution to “the good of the world.”

Diversity and Inclusion, as I wrote in a series of blogs in August, touch on almost all aspects of the university. By addressing these issues at its Retreat, the Board of Trustees re-affirmed the institutional commitment described in the Mission Statement: “to build a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.”


Conversations, Consultation and Feeling Thankful

This past weekend, the Board of Trustees was in town for its annual November meeting. Some trustees arrived Thursday to attend classes, and in the evening they met with a group of faculty over dinner to discuss skill building and career preparation. I had the pleasure of seeing a group of inspired students and Rinde Eckert in the Theater Department’s production of The Last Days of the Old Wild Boy. I went with Kari, who had been in conversation with Rinde about the human/animal distinction for the last several months. It was an extraordinary evening, the product of great teamwork, extensive preparation, and intense performance. I was so thankful to be there and to be part of a university where this kind of work takes place.

On Friday morning, a group of women on the faculty got together with the women on the Board of Trustees. I’m told that they had very productive conversations about the challenges facing women on our campus, and that they will continue to try to find ways to make our campus a place of true gender equality. During the day on Friday, trustees, along with faculty and student representatives to the Board, worked in committees on topics ranging from energy to the honor code, from fundraising for financial aid to the use of online courses to expand the reach of our educational mission. At the end of the afternoon, several board members met in an open meeting with a few dozen students to discuss financial aid. There were good questions raised, I thought, that clarified many of the issues we’ve been discussing since February. Over dinner that night, we celebrated newly elected trustees emeriti, and student, faculty and staff accomplishments. It was a joyful evening. Reading through the remarkable work that students were doing, I felt thankful that Wesleyan continues to attract and nurture such talent.

The Board concluded its work on Saturday, and we spent a good deal of time talking about the issues that had arisen at last week’s forum on diversity. We didn’t come up with a magical solution, but there was a commitment to continue to make our campus more inclusive. I headed to the gym with Sophie to get a little exercise, and then to watch the men’s basketball team (led by Derick Beresford ’13) win the Herb Kenny Tournament in convincing fashion. Dreisen Heath ’15 powered the women’s basketball team to a big win at St. Joseph’s tip-off tournament. The men host Williams tonight (Tuesday).

On Sunday evening, I was able to attend the first half of the African Students Association’s fall presentation. There were stirring performances of poetry, drumming, music and dance. I also learned a lot from the presentations. I left to attend the WSA meeting to go over our Board of Trustees discussions with the students gathered there for their weekly meeting. The student representatives spent hours (after I left) discussing key issues facing the university. We should all be thankful for their efforts.

My final meeting Sunday night was with more than 70 high school juniors and their alumni, staff and faculty parents, who are beginning the college search process. I could see the anxiety in some faces, and in some the hopeful anticipation of young people ready to begin a new stage in their lives. I extolled the virtues of liberal arts education today, and I emphasized that in our changing economy and culture this form of learning is more relevant than ever before. Looking around the room and thinking about my interaction with students over the last several days, I told the high school students that I hoped they would find a campus community where they were able to thrive, NOT because they were with people like themselves, but because they were in a diverse, dynamic and affectionate community from which they could learn. When they found such a community, I concluded, they would be very thankful. I know I am.

There will be plenty of work to do when we come back from break. For now, Happy Thanksgiving, Wesleyans!

Thinking of the Extended Wesleyan Family

Over the last 10 days I’ve traveled to Houston, Dallas and Chicago, with teaching and storm preparation on campus in between trips. The travels are opportunities to discuss with parents and alumni what’s been happening on campus, and to continue raising money for our highest priority, financial aid. It’s been good to meet members of the extended Wes family while also reconnecting with old friends. Their generosity and affection for Wesleyan is inspiring.

Among the most inspirational alumni and dearest friends to Wesleyan was John Woodhouse, who passed away earlier this week. John was a member of the class of ’53, a parent ‘79, and a trustee emeritus of Wesleyan.

Two true Cardinals

John served as a member of the Board of Trustees from 1976 through 1979 and again from 1980 through 1992. After retiring from the Board, John chaired the Wesleyan Campaign from 1997 through 2005, meeting with countless alumni all over the world to seek support for Wesleyan. Following the Wesleyan Campaign, John was an active member of the Development Committee (2005-2008) and, most recently, the current Campaign Council (2008-present). In recognition of his loyal service to Wesleyan, John was honored with the Baldwin Medal in 2005. He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1993 during his 40th Reunion and he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Wesleyan in 1997.  He will be deeply missed by his family and friends, and all of us fortunate enough to have worked with him.

Over the last few days I’ve been hearing from Wesleyan friends who are still dealing with the aftermath of super storm Sandy. While things on campus have returned to normal, we realize that for many the hardships caused by the storm are very far from over.  Our hearts go out to all those who suffered devastating losses, and we look with admiration on the work being done to restore normalcy in these challenging times.


Fall Plans, Hopes, Hard Work

This past weekend the Wesleyan Board of Trustees was in town for its annual retreat. The Board’s 32 members – plus representatives from students, faculty and staff – discussed two topics in particular: online education and the plans for the fundraising campaign. We spent the first hours of the retreat listening to reports from two of the top officials from the Harvard-MIT-UC Berkeley collaboration: EdX.  They described how the three universities planned to disseminate knowledge through free, open courses and through this venture to better understand online learning and its potential – an understanding they expect to inform the evolution of education on their campuses. We also heard from a partner at McKinsey and Company, who spoke with us in broader terms about the promise and the challenge of online education. He placed online education in the context of the growing demand from around the world for higher education in the United States and also of the growing demand for skilled employees likely to be needed by companies in the coming decades. He had no doubt that online education will grow exponentially to meet those demands.

During the afternoon of our retreat, Professors Michael Weir, Lisa Dierker, Manolis Kaparakis and Eric Charry introduced us to courses that use technology to teach large numbers of students. The trustees had been given homework, freeing up their “class time” for a lot more than just listening to the sage on the stage. Of course, the great majority of classes at Wesleyan are very interactive, and our trustees were reminded (by the performance of our four professors) that no matter how great the use of technology, a great teacher makes all the difference in the world. The strength of our faculty has been and will continue to be key to the power of the Wes experience in the classroom and in research collaborations.

In the second day of the retreat, we discussed plans for our fundraising efforts over the next few years. We are focused on raising endowment funds while maintaining robust annual giving each year. We have already raised over 260 million dollars, and our highest priority in this campaign is financial aid. Recent changes to our budgeting for scholarship only put more emphasis on that priority. Financial aid: Now more than ever.

After the student and faculty representatives left the Board meeting, a group of Wes undergrads concerned about our financial aid policy interrupted the session to make the point that they, too, should be part of that conversation. This interruption could be seen, I suppose, as a sort of prelude to the open forum on financial aid that Wesleying had planned with me for the following day. Monday night we did, in fact, have that conversation, and the students had many good questions about how to mount a sustainable scholarship program that preserves access, enhances diversity, and contributes to the quality of the educational experience on campus. You can watch a recording of the webcast of the hour-long conversation here.

At Wesleyan we have myriad interests and different opinions about liberal arts education now and in the future, but I’m confident that we can all agree on the importance of raising money for scholarships. Financial aid: Now more than ever!

Building on our Conversations: From Economics to Education

University Budget discussions take place over several months, with a variety of committees weighing in before the final document is approved by the Board of Trustees at its May meeting each year. Since 2008, we have tried to make much more information available to faculty, staff and student representatives. There is a budget priority committee, a compensation and benefits committee, a budget working group, and then the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees. There are students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents on these different committees so that we can benefit from their input. The Board, mostly Wesleyan alumni with student, faculty and staff representatives, approves the final budget.

We have been discussing the budget with faculty, student, alumni and staff representatives all year — with a series of focused conversations since February. Of course, not each and every member of these groups has been personally consulted, but representatives have had access to all the data we have. These discussions have been reported on in the Argus, Wesleying, and on this blog.

There have been some folks who want to cut the arts, or athletics, or research support, or sabbaticals, or landscaping, or food quality, or the level of air conditioning. Any meaningful cuts are cuts to compensation levels or to the number of employees at the university.

There have also been folks who want to increase revenue. Come to think of it, nobody has been against increases in revenue! But there are people who are against hiking tuition even more aggressively than we have done in the past, against increasing the number of students leading to crowded classrooms, against selling buildings and land, and against the further commercialization of the university.

There are people who think we shouldn’t worry about the endowment. Rather than put money into the endowment for the future, worry about the needs today. This view has played an important role in Wesleyan’s history, but in recent years we have asked our donors to direct their gifts to the endowment even as we have reduced spending from the endowment. I think this is especially important given the significant losses our investments sustained in 2008. We have yet to recover from those losses, and we still must prepare to begin repaying the $200 million of debt on our books from the early 2000s.

Despite all of these issues, Wesleyan is in an enviable financial situation. We have a balanced budget every year, a beautiful campus and great facilities. As compared to our peer institutions, we are very lean in regard to administrative expenses, thanks to our hardworking staff. Our faculty is second to none: dedicated teachers who also advance their own fields through research and creative practice. We have many resources on which to draw, the most important of which is an extraordinarily talented group of people who care fervently about the health of the institution.

I believe we have charted a sustainable path to maintain for the long-term the highest quality educational experience for our students. This includes supporting the teacher-scholar model that has served us so well, and seeking a diverse student body whose talents, independence and work ethic will enable them as graduates to build on the transformative impact of their Wesleyan years and make a lasting contribution to the world around them.

We will continue to discuss this path, and how we can improve it, with all members of the Wesleyan family. Beginning again in the fall we will continue to meet on campus with student, staff, alumni and faculty groups to gather their best ideas, and we will  integrate these into our planning. We will post information online, and we will meet with alumni groups around the country. We will be discussing more than university finances. We will be discussing how Wesleyan’s approach to liberal arts education can continue to make a positive impact on our graduates and on our society. We will be discussing how our curriculum should respond to the challenges and opportunities of today, so that our alumni are in a position to help shape the culture of the future.

I look forward to these conversations, and I expect to learn from them. After all, there is a lot at stake — not just for Wesleyan but for the future of progressive liberal arts education.

Sustainable Affordability

Just before Reunion-Commencement weekend, I discussed changing some of our assumptions for budget planning with the Board of Trustees. This followed several months of discussions with faculty, students and staff on campus. After the February board meeting, I met in an open session with the Wesleyan Student Assembly, as did the treasurer and chair of the faculty in subsequent weeks. I also led a discussion of budget priorities in an affordability meeting with students, and reported on our economic planning to faculty at various meetings. Throughout the year, Joshua Boger and I have been discussing these ideas with alumni groups.

At the Board meeting we discussed planning the 2013-2014 budget with some new assumptions, which are described below. Our goals are to make Wesleyan more sustainable and affordable while maintaining our commitment to providing the very best liberal arts education. In the fall, I will continue discussions with the various members of the Wesleyan family. Together, we will chart a path that creates the conditions that will enable the university to thrive long into the future.

Over the last few years there has been a marked increase in attention given to college affordability. As the cost of higher education (both public and private) has continued to climb, and as the prospects for economic growth continue to dim, many have wondered about the value of an undergraduate degree.

Despite this disquiet about college generally, during this same period the number of students trying to gain admission to Wesleyan has increased dramatically. Thus far this year we’ve accepted fewer than 20% of the students who applied. Our total student charges will increase by 4.5% next year, reaching $58,000, which provides about 74% of the revenue it takes to run Wesleyan. Our financial aid budget is projected to increase by 15%, which means we will be allocating about $50 million to scholarships in 2012-2013.

For years, we have followed this same pattern: tuition increases well above inflation, and financial aid increases that go far beyond that. Although this works well enough for families from the highest and lowest income brackets – the former don’t worry about a budget and the latter don’t have to pay – we’re squeezing out middle and upper-middle class families. Furthermore, this budget model isn’t sustainable.

Over the past 20 years, the percentage of the tuition charges that goes to financial aid has risen steadily. In the past, Wesleyan has dealt with this issue by raising loan requirements (replacing grants with loans), and by taking more money out of the endowment (or just spending gifts rather than directing them to the endowment).

One way to change this dynamic is to cut costs, and we have substantially reduced expenses without undermining the academic core of the institution. In my first year as president in 2007-2008, we canceled almost $200 million in planned capital expenditures. We also made difficult decisions that resulted in $30 million in annual budget savings and increased revenues. We have improved energy efficiency and re-negotiated our health insurance coverage.  We have also reduced our exposure to increases in our debt service costs while developing a program to begin repaying some of the debt the university incurred in the 1990s.

But I have also introduced measures that increase pressure on the operating budget. In 2008, we reduced loans for most students by about a third, which I still believe was the right thing to do given our claim to “meet full need.” And we also began placing a much higher percentage of the money we raised each year into the endowment. Our endowment per student is well below most of our peer schools, and it seemed vital to build Wesleyan’s economic foundation. While we do this, it is also essential to have funds to run a great university right now.

This year I have proposed a plan to trustees and the campus with three new components to make Wesleyan more affordable in ways that can be sustained. The first is to establish a “discount rate” that is as generous as possible, but that is also one we can afford. The discount rate refers to the amount of tuition the university does NOT collect, and it is the key measure for financial aid. For Wesleyan this means just under a third of our tuition charges will go to financial aid. This is approximately the percentage of the budget devoted to aid from 2000-2008.

We remain committed to meeting the full financial need of the students we enroll, and to do so without increasing required student indebtedness.  This may mean that we will have to consider the capacity of some students to pay, as we do now with transfer and international students. We will read all applications without regard for the ability to pay, and we will be need-blind for as many students as possible. Currently we project this to be about 90% of each class (depending on the level of need). We could retain the label “need blind” by raising loan levels or shrinking grant packages – but this is the wrong thing to do. We feel it is crucial for the education of all our students to meet the full need of those who are enrolled without increasing their debt. As we raise more funds for the endowment, we will be able to build a more generous and sustainable financial aid program.

The second component of our affordability effort will be linking our tuition increases to the rate of inflation. We have already moved into the realm of the country’s most expensive colleges, and this is not a list on which we want to remain. Restraining tuition increases will require us to maintain our search for efficiencies while also investing in educational innovation across the curriculum.

The third component is to emphasize a three-year option for those families seeking a Wesleyan experience in a more economical form. We will help those students who choose to graduate in six semesters get the most out of their time on campus. The three-year option isn’t for everyone, but for those students who are prepared to develop their majors a little sooner, shorten their vacations by participating in our intensive Summer Sessions, and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities on campus, this more economical BA might be of genuine interest.  Allowing for some summer expenses, families would still save about 20% from the total bill for an undergraduate degree.

I am convinced that these measures will enable us to preserve access to Wesleyan for capable, creative students while preserving the essential qualities (great faculty, diverse community, excellent facilities) that these students want. We are justly proud that so many who are so talented want to be part of the Wesleyan educational experience. With thoughtful planning, which will involve continued discussions with students, faculty and alumni, we can ensure that this remains the case for generations to come.