Student Workers

We see them all the time around campus: students who are holding down jobs either as part of a financial aid package or just to make ends meet while they pursue their studies. They may be sitting at the information desk at Usdan, passing out appetizers at receptions, assisting faculty or athletic teams, or working as RAs or in Admissions helping others find their way. These jobs can be pretty challenging, and it’s important to remember that many hold more than one – and all are full-time students.

I worked in the kitchen at the Star and Crescent Eating Club when I was a student, and it was an important part of my undergraduate experience. I usually had a pretty good time with my fellow dishwashers and waitresses, but once in a while we had to deal with the ‘unpleasantly entitled.’ Recently I was hearing from student workers about how things are today on campus. The anecdotes below are (loosely) derived from what I’ve been told.

Think of the student, “Enrique”, who passes out appetizers at receptions, usually wearing a crisp white shirt and a bowtie. Sometimes he sees classmates at the receptions and often his teachers. Usually these interactions go smoothly, but occasionally people he thought he knew pretty well act strangely. They aren’t exactly rude, but they look right through him. Enrique likes his job, the other waiters are fun, and the boss makes sure they eat well. But it’s disturbing when students or faculty seem embarrassed to see him or just pretend they don’t seem him.

Or consider “Anna,” who works at the information desk at Usdan. Most of the time things are pretty slow. She gives directions, helps folks find the restrooms, matches visitors to campus with some of the things going on that might interest them. Other student workers hang out from time to time, and they can even get some schoolwork done. But sometimes on the weekend shifts, drunk students come through and act like jerks. Anna says that isn’t as upsetting as the fact that the sober bystanders just stand there and pretend not to notice. She isn’t invisible, she knows.

“Alex” works two jobs –she is a research assistant in a lab on top of being a Resident Advisor. Most of the time she manages to juggle her various obligations, but recently there was a crisis in her residence unit and she was up much of the night talking a first year student out of doing something really stupid. The frosh gave her a big “thank you” and a bigger hug, but by that time it was 4 am. Even coffee didn’t allow her to mask the yawns the next day in the lab. “Too much partying, Alex?” asked her professor. This was the first personal comment he’d made that semester. No big deal, Alex said, but she felt rotten the rest of the day, and she didn’t have the energy to study for her history exam.

On a daily basis student workers just do their jobs, finish their homework, write their papers, but once in awhile, the conditions on campus make it extra difficult for them. Some of us forget that many here are under more than the usual pressures. What should we do about that? For starters, let’s just treat student staff, like all who work here, with respect and kindness. The whole university benefits from their contributions. Taking the time to acknowledge those contributions is a benefit as well.

 

Do it in the Dark for Financial Aid

A group of Wesleyans have gotten together to address two core priorities: sustainability and financial aid. Their idea is that students compete to save energy — turn off those lights and turn down the heat or a/c. The money on energy that the university saves by reducing our carbon footprint will be put in a special scholarship endowment so that more students in the future will have access to financial support (not loans). Pretty cool. Kate Weiner ’15 sent me a video that showcases their project.

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You know why? This is Why.

New Semester, New Year

While I sat in schul this morning to mark Rosh Hashana, my office sent out an all-campus email with some updates for the beginning of the school year. I’ve pasted it in below. Tomorrow afternoon we continue building a new tradition at Wesleyan — a music festival (The Mash — video from last year) on the first Friday of the academic year. There will be plenty of student bands playing around campus, and I’ll be joining Dean Louise Brown, Prof. Barry Chernoff and a couple of their bandmates from the Smokin Lillies to kick it off. We’ll be rockin out on the Church Street side of Olin Library.

 

Dear friends,

The new year is underway, the humidity has lifted… books are being read, experiments are being conducted, music and sports are being played, films and paintings are being viewed, poems and stories are being written… Welcome to 2013-2014! Here are a few updates.

Financial Aid and the ‘THIS IS WHY’ Campaign. We are working hard to deploy our financial aid resources as effectively as possible – keeping loans to a minimum while meeting the full need of students. At the same time we’ve made financial aid the centerpiece of our fundraising efforts. And this past year I’m so pleased to announce we raised more money than ever before!  As of August 21st, the Campaign is at $306,130,869 in gifts and pledges, well on our way toward our fundraising goal of $400 million. Most of the money is going to the endowment. Financial aid – now more than ever!

Posse Partnership. Wesleyan values a diverse campus culture and actively recruits talented needy students through partnerships with community groups and foundations. I’m pleased to announce a new partnership, this one with the Posse Foundation. Beginning next fall we will annually bring a cohort of ten military veterans to our campus.

Searches. Two administrative positions central to the university, the Chief Diversity Officer and the Director of Public Safety, remain open, but the searches have made great progress and interviews are taking place over the next weeks. The first of these is a Cabinet position (being ably held on an interim basis by Dean Marina Melendez), and the second now reports directly to Mike Whaley, Vice President for Student Affairs. The external review of Public Safety begun last spring is expected shortly, and we plan to share a summary with the community as we begin to vet and implement the recommended changes.

Campus Climate Report.  Last spring, two campus climate surveys were conducted: one for students and one for faculty, staff and graduate students.  The results of the first will not be ready for some weeks, and unfortunately there is some question as to how useful they will be due to low participation. Participation in the second survey was greater, and those results are presented HERE.

The findings of this survey indicate that the area in which we need to improve is the effects of hierarchy on inclusion. Those of lower position within our hierarchies tended to have a less favorable view of the campus climate. This should alert us to ensuring that we treat everyone on campus with respect, regardless of their position and our own.

MASH. This Friday it’s the MASH, a festival that highlights the student music scene on campus, showcasing some of Wesleyan’s most popular student bands and musical groups. I’ll be joining (on keyboards) with the Smokin Lillies to kick things off in front of Olin Library at 2:00 PM. There will be different stages for performances, culminating in bands serenading an all-campus BBQ at the base of Foss Hill Friday evening.

Night Game and Middletown Day. We are inviting our neighbors to campus for a day of athletic contests and fun on September 21. We’ll finish things up with the first night football game in NESCAC history. It’s against Tufts. Go Wes!

Welcome to 2013-2014! May the new year be filled with sweetness, exuberance and joy!

Affordability, Sustainability and Diversity: Class of 2017

The class of 2017 arrives on Wednesday. The competition to be a member of that class was more fierce than ever given our record number of applications, and to no one’s surprise the class is remarkably strong. Given the metrics we use for judging academic preparation, this is the most well-prepared class we have ever admitted. The average SAT scores are just above 700 (on all three tests), and most of the first-year students have already been successful in advanced foreign language study, mathematics and the sciences. They are a socially conscious group, and we expect them to continue their already impressive track record of turning their talents to helping those around them. Their achievements and qualities are reason for optimism for all those who care about Wesleyan and its future.

This was the first class admitted under our new need-sensitive admissions policy, and we proceeded exactly as we said we would: We read all files in a need-blind fashion and, as predicted, ended by being need-blind in roughly 90% of the decisions. Details about the class will be posted presently on the Admissions site. As always, we are meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all our students, and since there were considerably more financial aid applicants this year than ever before (6,660 in total), it does not seem that the change in our admissions policy (to be need-aware for roughly 10% of the applicants) discouraged interest in Wesleyan.  And there’s no doubt that, from a financial point of view, our new policy puts us in a much better position to secure Wesleyan’s future by helping us to control costs. That future had also been clouded by the question of affordability with Wesleyan nearing the top of the list of most expensive schools in the country, and here too we’ve made progress, with smaller tuition increases, drops in student loan levels and loans replaced by grants for the highest-need students. More reasons for optimism.

At the same time, our “yield” this year with respect to admitted students with highest need turned out to be less than what we expected. Why is a bit of a puzzle. Students to whom we offered the most aid (meeting their full need) were the ones who disproportionately chose to go elsewhere. Based on what we know about our admission and financial aid model this year, it would be hard to argue that the drop was due to our policy change. Also this year, albeit with a much smaller group, we had dramatically more success in yielding Native American students. We have no explanation for the drop (or the increase), and we don’t have the data to do more than speculate. But the drop concerns us. Is it an anomaly?

Given what we know about inequities and income distributions in the US, having fewer than anticipated highest-need students also means a drop (about 2%) in minority representation. That particular drop is small, but it’s not what we want. At Wesleyan, we are committed to affordability, sustainability and diversity.

There is some guesswork (and many statistical models) involved in putting any class together. This has been the first year operating within the parameters of our new admissions policy, and we have already begun revising our models for the future. How financial aid plays out in individual years will vary (slightly), but Wesleyan will remain among the most generous schools in America, devoting some $50 million to financial aid each year.

We are already proud of the Class of 2017’s preparation, and we eagerly anticipate their contributions to Wesleyan and the Middletown community. With boldness, rigor and practical idealism they are sure to shine!

Student Loans: Congress Must Act!

Over the last five years at Wesleyan we have reduced the use of loans in our financial aid packages because we realize that debt can play havoc with one’s choices after graduation. We are committed to keeping loans as low as possible, and we no longer ask our neediest students to borrow anything at all.

As many of you know, Congress began its 4th of July recess without taking action in regard to the interest rates paid on student loans. The result is that student loan rates will double — from 3.4% to 6.8%. While it’s hard to be surprised anymore by a deadlocked Congress, in this case the inaction is particularly galling.  Young men and women who need to borrow to meet their college expenses face dramatic increases in their payments, and some will choose not to pursue their education as a result. This increase in rates is especially unfortunate because the premium in wages for those who get a college degree (as compared to those with only a high school diploma) has never been greater. Moreover, there are reasonable alternatives before the Congress right now, and any one of them is preferable to inaction. Some propose market-based frameworks for the long term, others propose caps on interest rates for those most in need of assistance. Here is a chart from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators:

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Is it too much to expect Congress to reach a compromise to help student and their families? Reasonable solutions are out there. Demand that Congress act now!

From Mississippi to Middletown

Coming back from lunch Friday, I saw two people having their picture taken on the steps of South College. Ollie L. Hamblin Jr ’74 and his wife Virginia Hamblin were back on campus for the first time in almost forty years. Ollie is a teacher in a small town in Mississippi, and he and Virginia wanted to visit Wesleyan to renew old memories and see what’s changed. He explained that he had been recruited to come to Wes in 1969-1970, and that he seized on the opportunity even though he didn’t know anything about the university. The full scholarship he received was life-changing, and his career as a teacher is grounded in the educational experience he had as an undergraduate. Ollie joked that he didn’t have a million dollar check to hand over, but that he wanted to express his gratitude for the opportunity that his scholarship provided. I explained that his account was priceless, and that fundraising for scholarships was our highest priority. He and Virginia (they married in Ollie’s senior year) were happy to take a pic with our BECAUSE poster.

BECAUSE Wesleyan is our cause
BECAUSE Wesleyan is our cause

Ollie L. Hamblin, Jr. ’74 — math teacher extraordinaire in Canton, Mississippi. THIS IS WHY.

 

Hollywood THIS IS WHY Event: Politics and Entertainment for Financial Aid

Last night we had an energetic kickoff event in Hollywood. About 100 Wesleyans showed up to drink a toast to alma mater and listen to a conversation with Julia-Louis Dreyfus P’14 and Governor John Hickenlooper ’74. Julia talked about her career in comedy — leaving Northwestern before her senior year to pursue theater and television in Chicago (and SNL).  John discussed his amazing variety of jobs: from geologist to brewer/restaurateur to mayor of Denver and now governor of Colorado. What’s next for Julia?  She loves her award-winning HBO show, VEEP, and with some film work between seasons is plenty busy. And what’s next for John?  He is very happy being governor and will be running for re-election next year.

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It was great fun to see old LA friends and to meet new ones. Julia and John had much to say about contemporary politics, education, and the connection of cynicism to laughter. In their case being funny is just part of  being engaged in their communities. They came out last night to help us raise more money for financial aid. The group there has already donated more than $1.4 million for scholarships.

THIS IS WHY.

 

Mad About Wes

Last night a few hundred Wesleyans gathered at the Director’s Guild Theater in New York to hear from Matthew Weiner ’87, creator of Mad Men. This was one of the kickoff events for our THIS IS WHY fundraising campaign, and the energy was terrific. I met some recent graduates who were eager to hear how Matt went from being a College of Letters major to a film and television writer. Older alumni were comparing notes with me about how the mania for period detail in Mad Men got the epoch just right.

Matt told a hilarious story about his poetry thesis and spoke warmly of the creative friends and teachers at Wesleyan who helped launch him into the world of ideas and media. Was it the Freud seminar taught by Elisabeth Young-Breuhl and Paul Schwaber, or the work in writing seminars with Anne Greene? COL director Kari Weil seemed to think that it was all those discussions about books that matter, and Matt provided plenty of evidence for that when he talked about Don Draper’s tenuous existentialism. It was a wonderful evening, and at the end we announced a new $600,000 donation to financial aid from an alumnus who wanted to celebrate the occasion. It was a great night for alma mater!

I’m heading back to campus today. There is so much happening on campus this weekend — from music and public life in Indonesia to great international theater at the CFA (not to mention Company at the Second Stage). Lots of great athletic action, too! Check out the calendar and find out why we keep saying, “THIS IS WHY.”

How to Choose a (Our) University

WesFest is over, and in the next ten days all those folks who are fortunate enough to have choices about what college to attend will make a big decision: choosing the college that is just right for them. They are trying to envision where they will be most likely to thrive. Where will I learn the most, be happiest, and form friendships that will last a lifetime? How to choose? I thought it might be useful to re-post my thoughts on this, with a few revisions.

Of course, for many the decision will be made on an economic basis. Which school has given the most generous financial aid package? Wesleyan is one of a small number of schools that meets the full financial need of all admitted students according to a formula developed over several years. There are some schools with larger endowments that can afford to be even more generous than Wes, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of others that are unable even to consider meeting financial need over four years of study. Our school is expensive because it costs a lot to maintain the quality of our programs. But Wesleyan has made a commitment to keep loan levels low and to raise tuition only in sync with inflation in the future.

After answering the question of which schools one can afford, how else does one decide where best to spend one’s college years? Of course, size matters.  Some students are looking for a large university in an urban setting where the city itself plays an important role in one’s education. New York and Boston, for example, have become increasingly popular college destinations, but not, I suspect, for the classroom experience. But if one seeks small classes and strong, personal relationships with faculty, then liberal arts schools, which pride themselves on providing rich cultural and social experiences on a residential campus, are especially compelling. You can be on a campus with a human scale and still have plenty of things to do. Wesleyan is somewhat larger than most liberal arts colleges but much smaller than the urban or land grant universities. We feel that this gives our students the opportunity to choose a broad curriculum and a variety of cultural activities on campus, while still being small enough to encourage regular, sustained relationships among faculty and students.

All the selective small liberal arts schools boast of having a faculty of scholar-teachers, of a commitment to research and interdisciplinarity, and of encouraging community and service. So what sets us apart from one another after taking into account size, location, and financial aid packages? What are students trying to see when they visit Amherst and Wesleyan, or Tufts and Middlebury?

Knowing that these schools all provide a high-quality, broad and flexible curriculum with strong teaching, and that the students all have displayed great academic capacity, prospective students are trying to discern the personalities of each school. They are trying to imagine themselves on the campus, among the people they see, to get a feel for the chemistry of the place — to gauge whether they will be happy there. That’s why hundreds of visitors came to Wesleyan last week for WesFest. They went to classes and athletic contests, musical performances and parties. And they asked themselves: Would I be happy at Wesleyan?

I hope our visitors have gotten a sense of the personality of the school that I so admire and enjoy. I hope they feel the exuberance and ambition of our students, the intelligence and care of our faculty, the playful yet demanding qualities of our community. I hope our visitors can sense our commitment to creating a diversity in which difference is embraced and not just tolerated, and to public service that is part of one’s education and approach to life.

Whatever college or university students choose, I hope they get three things out their education: discovering what they love to do; getting better at it; learning to share it with others. I explain a little bit more about that in this talk:

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We all know that Wesleyan is hard to get into (even more difficult this year!). But even in the group of highly selective schools, Wes is not for everybody. We aspire to be a community committed to boldness as well as to rigor, to idealism as well as to effectiveness. Whether in the sciences, arts, humanities or social sciences, our faculty and students are dedicated to explorations that invite originality as well as collaboration. The scholar-teacher model is at the heart of our curriculum. Our faculty are committed to teaching and to shaping the fields in which they work. The whole country seems to be in a debate about MOOCs, massive on-line classes in which many thousands of students enroll. At Wes most of our classes are small, but we are also the only liberal arts college currently offering several MOOCS. While the Homerathon was taking place on campus these last few days, thousands of students around the world were listening to Andy Szegedy-Maszak’s lectures on Greek History. Lisa Dierker’s statistics class, to take another example, is being used in graduate programs and businesses, with students enrolling from all over the world. Here in Middletown, Prof. Dierker’s students are working to improve local schools with the lessons they learn from analyzing the district’s data. Good teaching all around. Effective scholarship that makes a difference in the world and right here on campus.

The commitment of our faculty says a lot about who we are, as does the camaraderie around the completion of senior projects that we’ve seen these past weeks. We know how to work hard, but we also know how to enjoy the work we choose to do. That’s been magically appealing to me for more than 30 years. I bet the magic will enchant many of our visitors, too.

GOLD Parties and a Great Day in NYC

I was in New York yesterday meeting with alumni and parents who are supporting our financial aid program. It was a great day; I am always so inspired by members of our extended family who dig deep to provide scholarship support so that talented students in the future will be able to experience fully the benefits of a Wesleyan education.

Last night there were alumni parties for graduates of the last decade. John Usdan ’80, P’15 sponsored our gathering in Hell’s Kitchen, and we had more than 200 attendees. Ellen Jewett ’80, P’17 very generously agreed to match gifts given last night, and there were lots of credit cards being swiped.

I’ve been president long enough now so that about half of these alums graduated while I’ve been at the helm. It was great to see some familiar faces and to meet new people doing exciting things in New York. There were even a few alumni there who were student members of the search committee that hired me in 2007. Any regrets, we asked one another? None on my side, that’s for sure.

Actors, teachers, financiers, librarians, community organizers and county prosecutors…Wesleyan folks doing it all.

THIS IS WHY.

GOLD party in N.Y.C.
GOLD party in N.Y.C.
GOLD party in Denver.
GOLD party in Denver.
GOLD party in Providence.
GOLD party in Providence.