For the last several years the Provost and I have periodically hosted luncheons at which a professor gives a short talk about his or her research to dozens of colleagues. I look forward to these events because I have the opportunity to break bread with faculty I may not often see and because the talks are always stimulating. The faculty who attend do so, I think, for the same reasons.
Each year at one (or two) of these luncheons I share some of my thoughts on Wesleyan’s future, particularly with respect to the academic program and faculty mentorship of students. My goal is to solicit input on what we can do together to improve the distinctive educational experience of Wesleyan students. At our most recent gathering, I spoke in general terms about the importance of having enough faculty so that students can have a mentored research experience. David Westmoreland (Chemistry) pointed out that we already have effective programs that allow students to do summer research with faculty, but we don’t have the funds to support all the qualified students who want to do this. Finding more funds for these programs would be a quick, concrete and powerful way to enrich teaching and mentorship. I’m on it. We should be able to raise additional funds quickly for this purpose. Another, somewhat broader idea, was shared by Stephanie Weiner (English). She thought Wesleyan, already renowned for its creative writing, could be better known for writing in general. Clarity of expression is so crucial to clarity of thought. Writing could be emphasized more across the curriculum and become part of our identity in the academic marketplace. Stephen Angle (Philosophy) expressed interest in how the Center for Pedagogical Innovation might bring research on best teaching practices into productive conversations among faculty. Even professors who have been teaching for many years are eager to explore the data on how students learn in different settings.
This input from faculty complements what we have been hearing from students and alumni. Engaged education, intellectual cross-training, and understanding how what we learn in classrooms can be translated beyond the university remain high priorities as we plan Wesleyan’s investments in providing our community with a curriculum and pedagogy that is bold, rigorous and inspired by practical idealism.