Residential Innovations: More than 60 Proposals Received!

We have received more than 60 proposals for improvements to the campus that would enhance the university’s ability to make the most of our residential dimensions. These range from very specific facilities improvements to programs that would allow students to learn all sorts of specific skills. I’m delighted to see the range of topics covered, and the input from staff, students, faculty — and even some alumni.

Provost Ruth Striegel Weissman will lead a group from various constituencies to discuss the merits of the proposals. When we narrow down to a group of “semi-finalists,” we will ask for more detailed proposals. After getting input from students, faculty and staff, I expect to be announcing some pilot projects early in 2014.

Wesleyan’s residential dimensions foster a learning, research and creative culture that is one of our greatest assets. We will use those strengths in even more intentional ways in the future. Stay tuned!

Re-Imagining the Residential

In mid-September I put out a call to faculty, staff and students for “1-2 page proposals for initiatives that have the potential to significantly improve the distinctive educational experience of Wesleyan students by leveraging its residential dimensions. What kinds of programs should we strengthen or create to offer our students deeper opportunities for learning? What kinds of programs should we create or strengthen to extend the impact of the years spent on the Wesleyan campus?” We already have heard about some exciting ideas, and we look forward to receiving more proposals by the end of this week.

During a time of enormous change in American higher education, there is a great opportunity to rethink how we can make the most of our work together on campus. How do first-year students become part of an inclusive, creative community? How do the possibilities for campus learning change as students move through the curriculum? What is the role of the faculty in the residential life of the university? How do student interests while they are on campus affect the evolution of the curriculum, or specific course offerings? How are the arts, athletics, and independent research encouraged by our residential facilities, and how can we do even more in these areas?

These are only some of the questions we will be thinking about as we read the proposals. If you are thinking about submitting your ideas, please get your 1-2 pages in by the end of the week to 2020@wesleyan.edu!

 

 

 

Input, Innovation and the Residential University

Yesterday I sent messages to faculty, staff and students asking for new ideas to enhance the distinctive educational experience of Wesleyan students by making the most of our residential dimension. Our new Provost, Ruth Striegel Weissman, will be working with other Cabinet members to vet the short proposals we will receive. When I asked for input for big projects six years ago, we received ideas that enabled us to create new writing programs (eventually the Shapiro Writing Center), research stipends, and the College of the Environment. I can hardly wait to see what new ideas come forward this time!   

Here’s the faculty version of my email:

Dear Colleagues,

At last week’s faculty meeting I announced that we are inviting faculty members to submit 1-2 page proposals for initiatives that have the potential to significantly improve the distinctive educational experience of Wesleyan students by leveraging its residential dimensions. What kinds of programs should we strengthen or create to offer our students deeper opportunities for learning? What kinds of programs should we create or strengthen to extend the impact of the years spent on the Wesleyan campus?

Someone pointed out to me that I barely mentioned MOOCs in my remarks to the faculty. That’s because although our experiments in online education continue in modest ways, these are in no way substitutes for innovation on campus. Rather, they put into sharper relief what is so very valuable about residential education. I realize that our curriculum evolves organically, and that many departments are regularly renewing the offerings. But Ruth and I agree that this is a particularly propitious time to launch experiments aimed at enhancing our work as a residential liberal arts university. From advising to the First Year Seminars, from interdisciplinary programs to capstones, our work here should build on our residential foundations. How can we do so more effectively?

We need your ideas. We hope to receive 1-2 page proposals from faculty members by November 1. Proposals may be submitted to 2020@wesleyan.edu. We will also be soliciting ideas from students and staff. The Provost’s Office will convene a group to evaluate faculty proposals and choose a short list of contenders. At that point we will request more detailed proposals.

Thank you in advance for thinking about how we might even further energize the distinctive educational experience of Wesleyan students.

 

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!

Re-Accreditation Thoughts

This week I met with staff at a convocation for the new semester. We shared the good news that the Old Squash Building has been beautifully reconstructed (on time and on budget!) as the new home for the Career Resource Center, the College of Letters and the Art History department. We also talked about the continued growth in our application pool and the flurry of generous giving that came at the end of the calendar year. The Physical Plant team, the Admissions Office and the University Relations Office have been awfully busy during this long winter “break.”

I shared with the staff some quick thoughts about the re-accreditation process now underway with the Northeast Association of Schools and Colleges. During our self-study, we are asked to assess and reflect on our progress on 11 “standards”. We are using this process to find places where we can improve the university’s operations, and in that spirit I mentioned a challenge for each of NEASC’s standards.

Mission and Purpose

In a joint community effort we created a Mission Statement about two years ago. This is it:

Wesleyan University is dedicated to providing an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism. At Wesleyan, distinguished scholar-teachers work closely with students, taking advantage of fluidity among disciplines to explore the world with a variety of tools. The university seeks 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.

Planning and Evaluation

How do we plan with data? How do we maintain tradition without carrying dead weight?

There are many things we do at Wesleyan because we’ve “always done them this way.” We must use data in order to plan programs that will give maximum support to learning and research.

Organization and Governance

How do we involve faculty and staff in planning for the future of the organization when contemporary needs are so pressing?

We have seriously reduced annual spending and the size of the support staff. This makes day-to-day operations more challenging. In this context it is imperative to involve faculty and staff in planning the long-term future of the university.

Academic Program

How will the liberal arts remain relevant for the future? What is curricular coherence?

In 2007 we were challenged by NEASC to articulate our view of the coherence of the curriculum. We believe that students at Wes should own their own education, but to do so requires serious advising and mentoring. By giving students the tools to develop their own education, we strive to provide intellectual cross-training –liberal learning that will shape the future.

Faculty

How do we support a scholar-teacher model in a world increasingly concerned with immediate results?

We believe that students learn from the example of dedicated scholar-teachers. But much of scholarship is not immediately relevant to the classroom, and we know that deep research is not best judged by popularity. Our challenge is to maintain the subsidy for advanced research as a vehicle for first-rate undergraduate education.

Students

How do we maintain vibrant student life in the face of a culture of entitlement and excessive drug and alcohol use?

Wesleyan has long been known for its progressive, creative and productive student culture. Like most colleges and universities, we also have a student culture plagued by abuse of alcohol and drugs by people who feel that this is “their time” to do whatever they please. How can we balance the forces of creativity and our responsibility to maintain a safe, educational environment?

Library and Info Resources

How do we maintain vibrant up-to-date access to the best information across a wide variety of fields?

The Wesleyan Library is one of the jewels of the campus, and it remains a great study space and intellectual resource. It is also part of a network of resources that connect student and faculty to the materials they need for study. Increasingly, this means access to information rather than ownership of materials.

Financial Resources

How do we rebuild our endowment base while competing right now?

For the last few years we have been focused on building our endowment, so that the financial strength of the university will be at least as great 25 years from now as it is today. We must balance that long-term building with the needs of the students, faculty, and staff today.

Public Disclosure

Can we maintain a culture of transparency in a highly political environment?

Since the financial crisis, we have been making all our financial and planning materials as public as possible. We must continue to do so, even in a context of competition and critique.

Physical Resources

We have a beautiful campus that thousands consider home. It is aging. How do we maintain it and modernize it?

Many say that Wesleyan’s campus has never looked more beautiful, and the new buildings work well side-by-side with our historic structures. We must continue to maintain our history even as we modernize our physical plant to become more energy efficient and networked to the wider world.

Integrity

How can we be honest about our challenges and forthright in our commitments?

I am very proud of the achievements of our university — from staff and faculty members who go far beyond the call of duty to students who achieve focused excellence while broadening their educational experience. I am also proud of the ways that our community prods us to do even more, pointing out where we fall short and encouraging us to live up to our mission to: think critically and creatively and… value independence of mind and generosity of spirit

In a few weeks, new drafts of our accreditation self-study will be posted online. I hope many of you will comment on our work thus far. Together, we will make Wesleyan a university that can be an ever deeper resource for its students, alumni, faculty and staff — a university that can be an admirable example of the best in American progressive liberal arts education.

Housing Policy and Threats to Student Freedom

At the beginning of this month, we announced a revision to Wesleyan’s housing policy to clarify off-campus options for undergraduates. Our goal was to remove a dangerous ambiguity that has existed for more than five years: the Beta Fraternity seems to be a Wesleyan organization, but the university has no oversight over the house. We wanted to accomplish two things with this change: 1. to encourage Beta to join the other fraternities and societies in working together with the school; 2. to prevent similar situations from arising in the future with private homes adjacent to campus. Since this was not only about Beta, we used broad language, and we also wanted to announce this change before the housing process got underway so that students could plan accordingly.

I made two mistakes in this. First, the language (as many students have pointed out) is just too broad. Many students appear to see this as a threat to their freedom, and I want to be sensitive to that. The university has no interest in regulating the social lives of our students when they are away from campus, and the language we used suggests otherwise. We will change the language. My second mistake was not consulting enough with students. I did meet with some of the Beta undergrad leaders (and we have been talking about this with their alumni representatives for four years!), and I was hopeful they would join Psi U, DKE and ADP. Alas, they decided otherwise.

I told the WSA leadership yesterday that I would ask Dean Mike’s team to meet with the relevant committees to craft language that conveys that residential Greek societies adjacent to campus must be recognized by the university in order to remain open to Wesleyan students. This is the only way we can continue to have a safe system that includes our historic residential fraternities. That’s all we want to achieve with this revision.

I want to be as clear as possible: if the Beta Fraternity does not join with the other Greek fraternities and societies, it will be off-limits to undergraduates next semester. Students who violate this rule will face significant disciplinary action, including suspension. This is not an attempt to regulate the expressive activities of our students. It is an attempt to minimize unsafe conditions adjacent to campus.

I want to thank the vocal Wesleyan undergraduates for reminding their president to be more careful in his use of language, and to be more attentive to student culture. Of course, I should have known this already, but hey, I try to keep learning.

At Friday night’s trustee dinner we will be celebrating recent campus activism, such as efforts to combat sexual violence on campus, to confront housing and poverty issues in Middletown, to promote flood relief in Pakistan, and to create educational opportunities and free health care in Kenya. I know that there is a protest planned Friday about the fraternity housing policy, and there are other opportunities for making student voices heard. The state of Connecticut and the federal government both have proposed dramatic cuts to financial aid. Hundreds of current Wesleyan students depend on the programs that are threatened. This seems to me a dramatic threat to student freedom, and we are joining with other colleges to make our voices heard in Hartford. Planned Parenthood supporters plan to hold a rally here on campus Saturday afternoon to combat recent attacks on reproductive rights, another important threat to our freedom. Of course, students don’t take activism instructions from the president, and they may still want to protest for the right to have Beta remain outside the fraternity program at Wesleyan. That’s up to them.

Near the end of my first year as president of Wesleyan, I wrote a blog post about the role of fraternities and societies at Wesleyan: I have found them to be energetic, vital student organizations capable of making contributions to the campus as a whole. I know many Beta brothers; I cheer for them at games, and I enjoy having them in my classes. I hope their fraternity decides to join with the other residential student organizations. That’s up to them.

Campus Renovations

After an extended time away from Middletown, I always enjoy coming back to see the changes to various parts of campus. This summer there are many, from the sad dismantling and recycling of MoCon to the freshly painted dome of the historic Van Vleck observatory that shines anew atop Foss Hill.

We continue to make steady progress on renovating our science facilities. New fire alarms and sprinklers were put into Hall-Atwater and Shanklin; new ceilings and energy efficient lighting are being installed in the Hall-Atwater corridors; three Chemistry teaching labs are almost unrecognizable after being newly outfitted; and various improvements to other labs will support their high levels of research.

We are finishing a major project at the CFA Crowell Concert Hall. A handicap ramp has been added to the main entrance, and a new elevator being installed inside a former stairwell is going to provide easy accessibility to all levels of the Concert Hall.

Housing renovations accommodate more than 40 new beds for undergraduates.  Most notably, 156 High Street has a brand new suite of 10 beds on the main floor including handicap accessible restrooms and card access for everyone at the main entrance. 109 Cross Street and the former Community Service Office at 162 Church Street have been transformed into senior housing. The Womanist House is relocating to 44 Brainard Avenue, the German Haus is moving to a newly renovated 65 Lawn Avenue, and 260 Pine Street has been converted into a 6-bedroom house for seniors.

Energy conservation projects continue to be implemented across campus.  Residence halls have been furnished with a new energy metering and monitoring system. The new system will allow the expansion of the student run Do-It-In-the-Dark program which has been so successful in reducing energy consumption in student houses. Monitors located in residence halls will display real time data on energy consumption.

Several programs moved this summer to spaces better suited to their needs. The College of the Environment has moved to 284 High Street (formerly GLSP). The Graduate Liberal Studies Program is now at 74 Wyllys Avenue (formerly the Investment Office), right next door to the Admission Office. The Investment Office has relocated to the 4th floor of North College alongside the Treasurer and Finance and Administration offices, and some staff from Finance and Administration are moving to 287 High Street (formerly the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies building).

The Physical Plant staff has been working hard and productively all summer long. You’ll see the happy results when you come back to campus.

 

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MoCon Decision

When I began my tenure as President of Wesleyan in the summer of 2007, I strolled over to my old Foss Hill room just across from the entrance to McConaughy Dining Hall. Standing in the circular driveway between my frosh dorm and the dining hall, I could almost hear the music that my roommate Richie and I blasted through the speakers we’d set in the window. On that Arrival Day in August 1975, we decided to announce our start as Wesleyan students by turning up the volume on Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone: How does it FEEEEL?

But in the summer of 2007 MoCon stood empty, and I wondered what the previous administration had envisioned for it. I soon learned that in planning the Usdan University Center, various uses for MoCon were studied but that none seemed feasible.  I began making my own inquiries: MoCon as small theater? art gallery? studios? residence?  Nothing seemed to work either economically or architecturally. The building just didn’t accommodate the needs we had, or, if we tried to make the structure fit those needs, it became just too expensive.

Still, I really hoped to solve this riddle. I thought back to the great Pete Seeger concert I saw in MoCon, or to the night that Keith Jarrett walked off stage because a bottle rolled down the stairs. (He came back. We listened.) I don’t remember any particular meals, but I have plenty of memories of the great people I met in the building. And I know that thousands of other Wesleyan alumni have their own memories anchored to the same spot.

So this winter I went back to the numbers and to the architects (and I walked through the building). We are presently undertaking an exciting renovation of the Squash Courts, and we just finished a revitalization of Davenport-Allbritton that is a great success. I’d hoped to find something parallel with MoCon. I talked with a friend who is a campus architect and my architectural collaborator at California College of the Arts. We had done wonderful re-use projects in San Francisco, and I thought we might come up with something for Wesleyan. But our brainstorming about MoCon didn’t prove fruitful as we drilled down on a variety of ideas. I again consulted with alumni in the field as well as with knowledgeable people on our own faculty. The conclusions, alas, were the same.

In order to keep McConaughy as an active part of campus we either have to invent a need that the current structure could meet, or we have to re-build the dining hall as something else in order to “preserve it.” Dividing up its great open space for some specific purpose that is antithetical to its design doesn’t really keep MoCon, nor does replacing all its essential components for use as an outdoor pavillion. And the expense would be staggering….millions over the next few years.

Ideas for reusing MoCon have been solicited for years, and delaying a decision any further seems to me irresponsible. So, with great reluctance I have reached the conclusion that we will not be able to maintain McConaughy. Instead, we’ll disassemble the building and recycle almost all its materials. Sometimes buildings reach the end of their lives, and this is what has happened with MoCon.

I know some students and alumni will be disappointed, and, like me, they will miss the cool circular structure that was part stage, part ballroom, part spaceship. We will find another space to dedicate to the memory of President McConaughy. In a week or so, we will post on the homepage a link to a site that highlights the events that took place at MoCon while encouraging readers to post their own memories of the dining hall.

I remember Dylan’s question: “How does it feel?” The answer is, “It stinks.” But the alternatives feel even worse.  So, this summer we will say goodbye to McConaughy Dining Hall. As for that spot in front of my old Foss Hill room, we will restore the hillside.  As Construction Services Consultant Alan Rubacha noted in The Argus:  “We will allow water that used to run into storm drains to percolate into the earth. We will provide a much needed open space for birds.  This open space will provide spectacular views into and out of Foss Hill.”

I will surely miss McConaughy. But I try to look forward to those new perspectives.

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