Coming Home

I am finally coming down from the amazing experience of the events of the inauguration weekend. I was delighted to see how many people attended the ceremony in the Silloway Gymnasium, and I was especially grateful that my family and some of my childhood friends were able to attend. There were also some Wesleyan classmates whom I hadn’t seen in decades. Having my teacher, Carl Schorske (from my frosh year at Wes, who later supervised my dissertation), introduce me at the ceremony was intensely moving for me. Carl is now in his 90s, and his perspective on Wesleyan and on me was memorable. The combination of tradition and experimentation in the ceremony was so Wesleyan! I loved seeing the academic procession in regalia to the funky beat of Jay Hoggard’s great music.

An inauguration ceremony itself is an affirmation of both institutional legacy and new beginnings. I was privileged to have three former Wes presidents in attendance, each of whom had an investiture with many similarities to my own. The alumni, faculty, and the board of trustees are also a powerful expression of institutional continuity. On the other hand, the marking of a new presidency, combined with the students’ incredible energy, are potent symbols of the importance of change. I tried to reflect on both of these dimensions in my speech. I spoke about the ideals behind Wesleyan’s approach to the liberal arts, but also about concrete initiatives (on the environment, on financial aid) that we are getting underway now. There is a link to my speech on the Wesleyan Web site: http://www.wesleyan.edu/president/speech.html. I must have made nine speeches over the weekend to various groups, but the most nerve-wracking performance was playing “I’m Old Fashioned” in front of all those people. I was sweating bullets!!

There were so many memorable moments. The football team put up a valiant effort in very difficult conditions. The Wes seminars were incredible, and I had the treat of hearing my former student, Darcy Buerkle, and former teacher, Henry Abelove, give back-to-back seminars. Walter Mosley was a very powerful speaker as we dedicated Beckham Hall during the Dwight Greene Symposium. I was delighted with the fundraiser for the Green Street Art Center, and my old friend Andrea Marcovicci gave a lovely concert of WWII songs to benefit our work in the North End of Middletown. I thought I was going to faint when she sang to me on stage, but instead I just took it all in.

Another highlight of the weekend for me was strolling over to Psi U with my brother, sons, and nephews around midnight on Saturday night. I got to sit in for a blues number with the amazingly talented Wesleyan faculty musicians of Busted Roses. It was great fun, and the students’ enthusiasm was exhilarating. The last time I was in Psi U was probably in the 1970s. I certainly never imagined back then that I would one day become the president of Wesleyan. I would have been more likely to fantasize about being in a rock and roll band. So, this weekend I got to rock a little as the prez. Pretty cool…. at least for one song!

I want to thank the Wesleyan community for the incredible welcome of these last few months, which all seemed to be crystallized in the weekend’s festivities. On this Homecoming Weekend, I really felt as though I had come home.

On a more sober, scholarly note: On Sunday the San Francisco Chronicle published my review of John Brenkman’s recent book in political theory. Here’s the link:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/11/04/RV0BRUT9V.DTL&type=books

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Old Haunts, New Challenges

I am writing this blog entry from San Francisco, where I went for a quick trip to participate in the centenary celebrations of California College of the Arts, where I was president from 2000 to 2007. CCA had organized an alumni reunion for the weekend, and it was a treat for me to catch up with faculty, my colleagues in the administration, board members, and my old students. The school seems to be thriving, and I was especially pleased to see the new Graduate Center, which was recently completed in the South of Market section of San Francisco. This was a project that we had planned over the last few years, and it was exciting to stand in the new buildings that look over what is now an SF campus that also offers a perspective on downtown San Francisco. CCA emphasizes learning through the arts, and I know that some of our Wesleyan alumni have gone onto its graduate programs in design, architecture and fine arts. Larry Sultan, who has taught photography there for years, told me that his studio assistant is coming to Wes to teach in the spring.

Before heading out to California I visited with alumni in New York to talk about, among other things, our plans to enhance financial aid. This is a project that the Wesleyan family can support no matter when they graduated, no matter what their particular majors. We want our school to maintain rigorous admission standards, and these are only meaningful to us if we are sure that access to the university is open to people regardless of their ability to pay. Fellow blogger (and Sun CEO) Jonathan Schwartz encouraged me to ensure that our students have the support they need to succeed. He reminded me that he had no resources when at Wesleyan, and that if not for a scholarship he would never have graduated. Alumni support equitable access, and their financial contributions actually make it possible. Tuition only covers about 2/3 of the cost of a student’s education, and so we are dependent on the generosity of our alumni, parents and other supporters to subsidize the college careers of all our students. This generosity is especially important to ensure that our financial aid packages allow students with high economic need to thrive once they enroll (and not to graduate with too much debt!). Later this semester I hope to be writing more about new initiatives at Wesleyan in this regard.

While I was away (and many of our students are away on fall break), our student athletes had another great weekend of contests. I was able to watch parts of the football game on the web, and I heard about the other contests from excited fans who emailed me. Congratulations to all, and let’s all of us maintain the momentum in the second half of the semester. GO WES!!

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