They’re coming home!

Just a quick note to say how wonderful it is to see the campus beginning to fill up with the smiling faces of Wesleyan parents and alumni. This morning I met with the Athletic Advisory Council, a group of dedicated alumni who have helped us to raise the profile of our sports programs at the university and to strengthen the quality of the students’ experience on all our teams. This afternoon I met with a group of parents and alumni who talked with me about Wesleyan 2020. It was most interesting to hear from this group about the distinctiveness of the Wes experience, and how to make its lifelong learning aspects more visible and compelling. One of the key ingredients emphasized by all the participants is the extraordinary quality of the faculty-student interaction. Our Scholar-Teacher model inspires new ways of thinking that permanently and positively affect our community.

The link on the Wesleyan homepage shows the full range of alumni programs this weekend. Of course, there is big game in football against Williams tomorrow, and we are hosting the NESCAC Conference Championship in men’s soccer. There are great seminars, screenings and exhibitions. I am particularly excited about Majora Carter’s talk tomorrow at 4 pm in Memorial Chapel. Majora has been a force for good things since graduating from Wesleyan in 1988, and her work on sustainable community development has been widely celebrated. Given our plans for the College of the Environment and for Civic Engagement, she is the perfect speaker for the Dwight Greene Symposium.

The College of Letters and the College of Social Studies are celebrating their 50th anniversaries this weekend. These great, innovative programs have introduced students to literature, philosophy, and history, economics, political science and social theory. The demanding comprehensives, the expectation of independent thinking, and the forging of close personal ties have been hallmarks of these programs that helped to define the very meaning of interdisciplinarity. HAPPY 50TH to COL and CSS!

If you are not able to get back to Middletown for Homecoming, I hope that our webcasts, videos and blogs give you a taste of what its like to be here on this beautiful Fall weekend.

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Discovering Strategy

This past weekend the Board of Trustees, including its faculty, student and staff representatives, spent hours discussing some of the key themes that will form the strategy for Wesleyan going forward. We discussed together elements of our core purpose, and some of the crucial values that have guided the institution for years. Many of the key words will be familiar to Wesleyan folks: transformative liberal arts experience, service, creative and critical thinking, inspired teaching. We quickly developed a consensus around the central elements of our core purpose.

We then settled on four main elements of strategy: Energizing Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience; Achieving Recognition as an Extraordinary Institution; Delivering Excellent Stakeholder Experiences (for students, alumni, faculty, and staff); Working Within a Sustainable Economic Model. Within each of these areas we developed some key aspects on which we will be working over the next few months to focus our use of intellectual energy and financial resources.

The work we did this past weekend helps refine the framework for planning that I’ve distributed as Wesleyan 2020. On Sunday night I met with the Wesleyan Student Assembly to discuss the retreat and any concerns students might have. As usual, there were great questions concerning the curriculum, budget and other campus issues. I always learn a lot from meeting with the student leadership.

We are refining our ideas for the future and working together to coordinate all our efforts to help Wesleyan live up to its potential. This afternoon I met with the faculty ad hoc committee to discuss more short term budget priority issues. There was much common ground, but still some difficult choices ahead. With our shared sense of purpose, I am confident that we will be successful in steering our school through these uncertain economic times.

Over the weekend we took a break to dedicate the new Sukkah designed by Prof. Elijah Huge and his students in an architecture studio class. It was a joyous occasion, and the sight of the beautiful temporary bamboo structure on Foss Hill makes me smile each time I see it. You can wander into the Sukkah to study, or to play music, or just to lie on the grass to see the light shine through the bamboo. It’s a shelter and an inspiration. In this way, it reminds me of Wesleyan.

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Trustee Discussions

This weekend the Wesleyan Board of Trustees will be on campus for their annual retreat. This is an especially interesting time for the Board, given the economic crisis from which we are emerging, the planning framework for the next decade we have started to discuss, and the fact that Joshua Boger is beginning his tenure as Chair of the Board. Joshua (Wesleyan class of 1973) was a philosophy and chemistry major here, and after taking his Ph.D. at Harvard he pursued a career in science. After rising to the top of research at Merck Pharmaceuticals, he used his entrepreneurial skill to start his own company. He founded Vertex, which has been dedicated to building medicines ‘from the molecule up’ for serious diseases. Having stepped down as CEO last year, Joshua sits on the board at Vertex and at least another dozen other boards (mostly not-for profits). He has had two children graduate from Wesleyan and has been a tireless advocate for the university.

Joshua will lead the Board, including faculty and student representatives, in discussions that should help us discover a strategy for Wesleyan that will be relevant for the next decade. The word “discover” is important, and Joshua makes the point that it is a mistake to decide on a strategy. This weekend, we will instead talk through our core purpose and our values, and how we might realize them through integrated planning and effective action. There will be many sources for this discussion, including the Wesleyan 2020 document I posted on our website. On Sunday night (10/4) I will meet with the WSA at 8:00 pm to debrief on the board discussions, and I will continue to talk with faculty, staff, alumni and parent groups in the coming months about what we we have discovered about Wesleyan, and how we intend to build on that discovery. It should be an exciting process!

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Toward a Framework for Planning

I made this year’s first trip to an alumni reception at the end of last week, a great gathering of generations of Wes fans in Denver. We doubled the number of applications from the Mile High City this past year, and I can see that we have many fervent ambassadors in Colorado. Business leaders, teachers, entrepreneurs and communications specialists with Wes degrees have made Denver their home. Standing out even among our talented alumni group are two of the states most interesting political leaders: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper ’74 and US Senator Michael Bennet ’87. And there are many other alumni engaged in public service: from art museums, to schools, to alternative energy — Wesleyan grads and their families are making a difference in the public arena in Denver as elsewhere.

This year instead of talking about “how it feels to come home to Wesleyan,” or “what’s changed in Middletown since the 1970s,” I thought I ought to talk about the future of the university I’ve now gotten to know again. Of course, everyone is rightly concerned with how we are weathering the economic crisis that has significantly reduced our endowment. We are having conversations about the budget with both the Budget Priorities Committee – a committee which represents  faculty, students and staff   –  and an ad hoc faculty committee to advise me on current budget matters. Our immediate task is to cut spending by an additional 2.5%. Although we are not out of the woods yet,  I am confident that we can make the necessary cuts to balance the budget this year while protecting financial aid and the academic core.

So in Denver I talked briefly with the group about my work this past summer on a framework for planning the next decade at Wesleyan. I’ve taken the input I’ve received over the last two years from trustees, faculty, students, alumni and staff, and combined that with my own sense of how we might build on what is most distinctive about the Wesleyan experience. For the last year or so I’ve talked about “seven initiative areas,” and I have woven those into a plan that charts a direction for our university over the next several years. I’ve also emphasized that we must develop the sustainability of our economic model — that means there won’t be any spending sprees in the coming decade. But there will be an ever greater effort to energize those elements most distinctive in the Wesleyan experience, create ongoing economic support for those elements, and develop effective ways of communicating to the world about them.

On Wednesday (9/16/09) this week I’ll post the framework for planning on a new Weblink: Wesleyan 2020. We will be having extensive conversations on campus about the ideas in the posted document, and  I invite you to send in your feedback either via email or directly to the site. We will continue to revise  our plans for the future until we have a framework we can use for developing our curriculum, recruiting students, allocating resources and raising endowment support for the future.

We are almost ready to move from crisis management to opportunity seeking. I look forward to engaging conversations on how we can build a Wesleyan for the future that will grow out of the finest accomplishments of our proud history.

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