Trustee Meetings: A Grand Gift, MoCon, Tuition, Liberal Arts

This past weekend the Board of Trustees was on campus. Despite the blizzard in the Northeast, trustees managed to get here for key meetings, engaging conversations and for some important decisions. One of the great moments of the weekend was the dinner to honor Wesleyan volunteers. At this celebration I was delighted to announce that Joshua Boger ’73, P ’06, P’09 and Amy Boger, M.D., P’06, P’09 have pledged 12 million dollars to our fundraising efforts. This will establish the Boger Scholarship Program and the Joshua Boger University Professorship of The Sciences and Mathematics. The first recipient of the chair appointment will be David L. Beveridge, professor of chemistry.

Here are some other highlights from the Board’s meetings.

The Campus Affairs Committee has an extraordinarily wide portfolio of concerns. They receive reports on Admissions (plenty of good news there!), co-curricular initiatives and core academic affairs. We discussed some of the current departmental models for assessing student learning and heard a report on the summer session pilot program. This committee also forwarded its recommendation to grant tenure to two stellar young scholar-teachers: Matthew Kurtz in Psychology and Typhaine Leservot in Romance Languages and the College of Letters.  Matt works on the neuroscience of cognitive rehabilitation for schizophrenia, and Typhaine’s research concerns changing modes of literary analysis (postcolonial, feminist) for contemporary Francophone writing. Congratulations to both!

The Finance Committee has a lion’s share of the work at the February meeting because it’s here that we propose our tuition for next year in the context of our budget projections. For next year the Board approved a 5% increase in tuition and fees, and we also project an 11% increase in our financial aid expenditures. We had plenty of discussion about how we might find ways to reduce costs so as to restrain future tuition increases without sacrificing the quality of student experience. This is a high priority going forward.

A topic that came up in various venues throughout the weekend concerned the future of McConaughy Hall. I knew the building well as a student, living just across from its front doors as a frosh. I remember with real fondness its grand staircase and wonderful light, and I also think back to some great parties and concerts I attended there. The building has been empty since I began my presidency, and since that time I’ve been trying to find an alternative use for it. The structure turns out to be terribly inefficient, and in great disrepair. Still, I had hopes that we might transform it (as we have done with Davenport and Fayerweather, and will do with Squash) for some community use.

I haven’t found an alternative use for MoCon. But given all the strong feeling, which I share, about trying to find alternative uses, I’ve delayed signing contracts for its demolition. The building has been here for almost 50 years, and I don’t take this decision lightly. But I also will not spend significant university funds every year without having a real function for the building. So, I am reviewing options (with appropriate professional guidance) one more time. I appreciate the input I’ve gotten, and I will be writing again soon on this subject.

At the main Board meeting we held an open discussion concerning changes in the liberal arts curriculum. How should we steer liberal arts learning in the future? I was particularly interested in hearing what fields the Board thought should be added to a liberal arts education, and which areas should be cut or reduced in importance. For example, I’ve been exploring the possibility of developing a liberal arts approach to engineering, and I’m also interested in how design thinking can have a more prominent role in our curriculum. Integrating our arts programs more fully into our academic programs (as with our new efforts in creative writing) is an important priority for many of us at Wes. I can ask readers here what I asked the Board: What would you like to see Wesleyan doing more of, less of?

Our conversation centered on three main areas for growth, and, truth be told, no real places for cutting: (1) public policy domestically and internationally, (2) engineering and design, (3) and the study of the impact of technology on culture and society. Dean Don Moon reminded us that while it might be good to have these general conversations at the Board level, each year the Wesleyan faculty develops dozens of new courses. The curriculum has been evolving and will continue to do so. We can thank our scholar-teacher model for that! It’s through their research that our professors develop new ideas that energize the classroom, and we are all the better for it!

Thinking of Summertime

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves have almost all fallen to the ground, and so naturally thoughts turn to SUMMERTIME!

In the summer of 2010 Wesleyan will offer students the opportunity to take classes that contribute to majors and broaden one’s experience. In addition to the individual courses across the three divisions, we are offering three two credit institutes: neuroscience and psychology, computer programming and music, and visualizing/creating theatrical performance.

Student housing and meals will be available, as is limited financial aid. The campus will be a great place to spend part of the summer with Wesleyan faculty and classmates. Check out the website to see the list of classes:

http://www.wesleyan.edu/summer/courses.html

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New Plans and Old Connections

Today is the first day of Wesleyan’s 2009-2010 fiscal year, a time for planning and also for a continuing review of how we performed in the year just coming to an end. That’s characteristic of summer work here: evaluating past performance and working on plans for the future. Glancing out my window at a rain-soaked Andrus Field, I look forward to summers when we will have more students on campus. As soon as faculty return for the fall semester we will brief them on our plans for a pilot for a Wesleyan Summer Session in 2010. We expect to have classes across all three divisions of the university, giving students an opportunity to pursue studies they haven’t been able to get to in the regular semester framework. I’ll be writing more about the summer program as we continue our consultations with faculty.

photo12As is often the case, as we think about new programs we are also reminded of our past. In the final days of the fiscal year Wesleyan was the beneficiary of a significant bequest. John Pallein graduated with an English major in 1950, and spent the next two years in the US Army, serving in Japan and Korea. He began working as a technical writer, first for Pratt and Whitney and later for Beckman Instruments. I met John in California just before I moved back to Middletown, and it was clear that he felt a strong loyalty to alma mater. We talked about his work in the President’s House for Victor Butterfield’s family, and his enthusiasm about recent Wes students he had met. A gentle and amiable person, we spoke about the difficulties of leaving the West Coast after so many years. John had settled in one of the most beautiful spots I’d ever seen, Dana Point, but it was clear that Middletown was a locus of cherished memories for him.  John’s bequest of more than $3 million will endow financial aid packages for Pallein Scholars in perpetuity, so that deserving students can also have access to the kinds of transformative educational experiences that served him so well.

New plans and and old connections. Early July at Wesleyan.

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Wes Faculty: Scholars, Scientists, Artists…Mentors All!

As our semester winds to a close, and as students prepare experiments, performances, papers and presentations, I often see my faculty colleagues literally running across campus. They are racing to  lectures and seminars, committee meetings on the curriculum or the budget, or advisory meetings  with students. This last activity is often the most rewarding part of what they do as faculty at Wesleyan.

On Tuesday I taught my penultimate class for The Past On Film. We talked about a British film, Distant Voices, Still Lives, and I suggested to my rather skeptical group of undergraduates that this film offers a serious perspective on the painful construction of desire inside the modern family. After class,  I ran to the faculty meeting  where there were at least 100 professors eager to take part in a serious discussion of a possible summer session at Wesleyan for 2010. I marveled at their energy. The chemists, fresh from their labs, were focused on the educational and financial issues, as were the historians who had just finished their seminars. The artists and the social scientists, after working with students throughout the day, were eager to lend a hand in crafting an approach to a new program that would have educational integrity and be economically sustainable.

Recently I blogged about a poster session in which undergraduate science majors presented research that was sophisticated and professional. Last night I attended part of an event at the College of Letters where students presented brief summaries of their theses to their teachers and to sophomores and juniors. I’ll mention just a few examples to give a sense of the diversity of subjects. Chris Patalano wrote a novella and Benjamin Sachs-Hamilton translated and directed a play – both projects were grounded in premodern texts. Sofia Warner examined changing modes of psychiatric worldviews from the patient’s perspective.  Russell Perkins, whom I had gotten to know because of his important work on bringing classes into prisons, had his thesis on art and philosophy described to the audience by another senior, Jason Kavett (recent winner of Fulbright and DAAD scholarships). Russell returned the favor by providing an account of Jason’s thesis on romanticism.

As I walked home with Sophie, I marveled at how wonderful these projects were. And then I thought that each and every one of them – like all thesis projects at Wesleyan — – had been supervised individually by a faculty member. In conversation and in their presentations, students show that their theses are often labors of love as well as of worldly investigation and self-discovery. In each case they are guided by a faculty member who takes the time and care to help them along the way. Truly, these are labors of love!

There is a long tradition of this kind of faculty devotion at Wesleyan. While individual professional rewards are often given for other kinds of “production,” our entire community is the beneficiary of this ongoing, thoughtful generosity.  As we come to the end of the spring term, it is such a joyous experience to see our graduating students exemplify the creative intellectual virtues that their teachers also embody.

I still remember my feelings of anxiety and pride as I finished my own thesis here. As a student, I was profoundly grateful for the mentoring (and editing!) I received. As a teacher, I know how gratifying it is see these strong examples of mature, independent work. BRAVO!

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