Welcome Back!

It’s great to see students back on campus despite the bad weather, and I’m looking forward to the start of classes – as I always do! The cold over these next days will doubtless provide an encouragement to stay indoors and get a good start on the kind of highly productive work that distinguishes faculty and students at Wesleyan.  🙂

Over the break the Wes community has surely done some celebrating, but faculty have also been preparing their classes, doing their research, and working on various educational projects. I’d like to extend a special thanks to those faculty who have been spending some time on camera to help us prepare our new Coursera class: How to Change the World.

Some students got an early start to the semester with our Winter Session and Winter on Wyllys programs. The interest shown by students augurs well for the future of these programs. And of course many of our athletes have been here competing vigorously.

Great teaching makes Wesleyan the outstanding liberal arts institution that it is, and in that regard I’m so pleased to announce that Quiara Alegría Hudes, a Pulitzer Prize recipient, will be the new Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater for three years beginning in the fall of 2014. Quiara served as a visiting playwright in 2012, and I have no doubt those of you who met her then will share my excitement about the return of this gifted artist. Also, noted New York Times film critic A.O. Scott will be teaching this semester in our brand-new College of Film and the Moving Image, a marvelous opportunity for the students selected for his criticism class.

Last week I joined leaders from 100 universities and 40 nonprofit groups at the White House to discuss improving access to higher education. There is no greater challenge facing higher education because research has shown that far too many highly capable students from lower-income families are not enrolling in selective universities and colleges. It’s essential that we do a better job of finding and enrolling these students if we’re going to make progress in addressing the growing economic divide in this country.

Wesleyan will do its part. We are committed to increasing the number of QuestBridge scholars on campus – low-income and first-generation students who receive full scholarships.

We will work to expand efforts to retain students from under-represented groups in STEM fields, including development of a summer bridge program and more introductory science courses revamped to support retention, as successfully demonstrated by the biology department. We’ve also partnered with the Posse Foundation to enroll 10 military veterans each year, and last week I celebrated with our first “posse” in New York. These students will join the class of 2018 in September, adding to the rich diversity of our student body.

As the new semester begins, Wesleyan renews its commitment to boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.  Welcome back!