Thanksgiving and The First Taste of Snow

This past weekend Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees was in town for its first full meeting of the academic year. The Board is a devoted group of alumni and parent volunteers whose role it is to ensure the long-term health of the university. Some have been connected to Wesleyan for more than forty years; a few others are recent graduates. They meet with faculty and students, and they take on some issues facing the school: from fund raising to faculty welfare, from facilities to the quality of the student experience. In addition to the regular business of the Board, this time we also joined in signing the Campus Climate Commitment, which was a topic of many comments on an earlier issue of this blog. The Trustee Chair and I also met with a very thoughtful student group that is urging the university to divest from companies that manufacture weapons. We will be organizing substantial discussions of this issue with students and trustees later this semester.

During the formal board meeting, we’ve added time for an open discussion of an issue of general importance for the university. At this meeting we focused on Recruiting for and Admission to Wesleyan. We discussed at some length what kinds of students would really thrive here. What should Wesleyan be looking for as we recruit our next classes? Based on input from trustees prior to the meeting, we identified five broad categories: Intelligence, Demonstrated Achievement, Independence, Character, and Diversity. There were few surprises, really, but we benefited from a frank discussion of the personality of our campus community, how it is perceived, and how it is evolving. Words like “intensity,” “resilience,” and “experimental” came up often, and so did qualities like adventurousness, and a passionate engagement with ideas. My conclusion: Wesleyan students should have the courage to use their talents and intelligence to lead meaningful lives and contribute to the world.

After the Trustee meetings, we had the great pleasure of seeing the faculty-student production of Oedipus Rex. The play, directed by Theater professor Yuriy Kordonskiy, was staged with intensity and wit. The student actors brought out the political dimensions in their performance (Oedipus Tyrannus!) as well as the psychologically crushing confrontation of ambition and fate. Bravo!

Students in this shortened week have been taking exams, finishing papers, while faculty have been grading and preparing for the final push of the semester. Winter athletics is now underway, and I had great pleasure of watching our men and women swim against Amherst on Monday. Although we did not prevail against our Little Three opponent, we offered tenacious competition, and some races were downright thrilling. I was proud to see our swimmers and divers striving for excellence, and in the process they pushed themselves beyond what they had thought they could attain. Another Bravo!

The campus is beginning to empty out, as students head off to Thanksgiving celebrations around the country, and staff members take some vacation days to prepare their own feasts. The weather now feels like the New England autumns I remember. Yesterday we had our first light snow of the season, and my daughter Sophie ran outside with glee to catch a few flakes on her tongue. “This move to the East Coast isn’t so bad after all,” she smiled. As my family gathers at our new home at Wesleyan, I know we have much to be thankful for.


[tags] Board of Trustees, Campus Climate Commitment, recruiting, admission, Oedipus Rex, Yuriy Kordonskiy, athletics, Little Three [/tags]

12 thoughts on “Thanksgiving and The First Taste of Snow”

  1. Dear President Roth,
    What a great open letter to the community!
    On a personal note, everyone on the swim team and all of the families in the stands appreciated your presence.
    We’ve also heard about some recent security improvements at the Freeman Athletic Center–thank you for your attention to our concerns.
    With all best wishes,
    Carol & Ken Krems

  2. Dear President Roth,

    My two sons and I received a wonderful tour of Wesleyan on Wednesday, November 21. Your impact at Wesleyan was made evident during the tour since our guide made it clear he was a big fan of yours. It is rare for a college student to rave about his university president, so you are off to a great start.

    Wesleyan certainly is a good fit for my older son, Josh, a high school senior. We have a way to go before his younger brother, Ross, who’s 6, starts his college search. During the information session and in much of the literature distributed by the school, a big point was made about how students with family incomes below $40,000 now will receive grant based aid, rather than loans. That’s great. However, in light of the fact that Wesleyan does not offer merit-based aid, I have a question that I think can best be answered by the leader of one of the foremost liberal arts colleges in the nations, namely:

    In this day and age, with college costs outstripping inflation and incomes, why is Wesleyan’s committed to having only wealthy and lower income students attend the university?

    Yes, that is the practical impact of your policy. The failure to offer merit scholarships to bright middle class kids essentially locks the front door of Wesleyan to most students whose parents would qualify as middle class. I know what the college financial calculators say when you calculate the all-important family contribution, but even college financial aid officers acknowledge that they are not reality based. The federal government and politics drives what those calculators say a family should be able to contribute to a college education. Why does a university such as Wesleyan choose not to add a bit of reality to the mix, at least for the middle class?

    With an endowment exceeding half a billion dollars, it makes one wonder why the school can’t find it consistent with its vision to aid those bight middle class students that will be forced to go elsewhere. Yes, there are other excellent, renowned liberal arts institutions that differ with Wesleyan and do offer merit-based scholarships. Of course, Wesleyan has given much thought to these matters, but if you and your board are going to be honest about the net effect of your decision, you should accept that you are telling middle class kids to go elsewhere. Frankly, I think that middle class students have a place in a diversified student body.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Jay G. Miller

  3. Does the good president not read comments or is he just taking a pass on this one. Hmmm, from what the tour guide said about him, I would have expected him to respond. Guess he ahsn’t ahd to time to step down from that ivory tower. As a matter of fact, the ivory tower may be the response to my comment. How many college presidents and boards actually understand the reality of today’s middle class? They may give lip service, but in terms of that practical impact of their decisions, I’d venture a guess that many are very much out of touch. Gee, they sound like politicians, don’t they?

  4. Did the tour guide mention the other piece of the puzzle. At Wesleyan, most students whose annual family income is $40,000 or less will graduate debt-free. For all other financial-aid recipients, individual loan indebtedness will be reduced by an average of 35 percent. Those students will also have their loans packaged in the form of a single federally subsidized Stafford Loan. Until now, aid packages at the college have included the assumption that students would borrow $26,000 over four years. This new approach to aid will result in other students’ loans being between $10,000 and $19,000 over four years.

    It’s not perfect…and Wesleyan still wants to do more. But it is a start.

  5. For many in the middle class, especially here in the northeast where our cost of living is higher than elsewhere, based upon the aid calculators, we will not qualify for much, or maybe any need-based aid. We are not wealthy. We are not poor. We just can’t afford what the politicians in Washington create based not upon our true need, rather based upon what they want to fund. When colleges use that as their starting point, they are embracing a false premise and as a result just perpetuating the inherent unfairness of it all. If Wesleyan relly wanted to do more and be FAIR, it wouldn’t just look to the real need of some of its students, but would embrace ALL of them, even those in the middle. Parse it any way you want, currently, Wesleyan does not. For many middle class students that fall into this never-never land created by a politically based federal formula and the schools that use it for cover, merit aid is the only way their families will be able to afford to send them to a private shcool. Wesleyan, and it is not alone, though there are schools that take a differnet view, is electing to turn its back on the majority of excellent students that have the credentials and would like to apply. I wonder how many students choose not to apply because of the lack of merit aid.

  6. Jay,

    I sympathize with your position—when I was applying to colleges, my parents fell into the “middle class” category, and the prospect of tuition and loans was daunting. I hope you realize how much influence you have on your son’s decision. When my parents strongly encouraged me to take a full, merit-based scholarship at a school I did not feel passionately about, I did it out of a sense of obligation (not wanting to oppose my parents or put them in the poorhouse!). My college experience was good, it didn’t hold me back–but it also did not compare with the atmosphere of intellectual, social and civic engagement I observe on a daily basis through my job at Wesleyan.

    There are a lot of choices out there. I applaud you for at least taking your son to tour Wesleyan, despite your issues with the aid policy.

  7. It’s interesting to hear the different points of view, however, the system is wrong, if the quality of your childrens education, boils down to money.Many students have to take out loans to complete their education, which puts them at a disadvantage straight away, because they are saddled with debt. Unfortunately we live in a world where money rules, and i feel it is a sadder place because of it.

  8. I must agree with Alan where he states that, “Many students have to take out loans to complete their education”. I know many students that have gone on to further education, however their fmily can not afford to support them through the time that they are learning, and so the student has to borrow money to finance their own education. If only more help was given to our future professionals to enable them to come out of education without the debt of learning to make our world a better place.

  9. I would also like to add that I did not go on to further education because my family did not have the means to pay for my education. However I did go to work, and manage to go to an evening school, where I managed to get the qualifications that I needed to do what I had aspired to do for many years, so the economy is not such a bad place.

  10. My daughter was sent e-mails from your institution, the first thing I looked for where the availability of merit scholarships. We too fall in that middle class that is not eligible for aid and can’t afford to pay for the school. We can only allow our daughter to apply to schools where she has a reasonable chance of attending and although your institution looks to fit her in every other respect, it is a shame we have to eliminate it.

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