Beginning the work of 2020!

This morning I sent the following message to the campus community. Classes have begun, and we are looking forward to a great semester.

Over the past weeks, a number of our students have been traveling around the country as part of the new Wesleyan Engagement 2020 Initiative (E2020), which offers internship funding and credit to work in the public sphere during academic breaks. By facilitating students’ direct participation in civic life—and we expect many more to take advantage of E2020 in the spring and summer—we believe Wesleyan can help them gain valuable organizational skills and learn to engage more productively with others, even (or especially) those with whom they disagree.

While E2020 is a new initiative, its spirit has been part of Wesleyan’s DNA from the very beginning. In 1831, Wesleyan’s first president aimed our mission at both the good of the individual and the good of the world. In 1963, nine Wesleyan students traveled to the Deep South to assist with voter registration, the establishment of Freedom Schools, and their larger stated goal of “breaking the system of segregation in Mississippi.” Just last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of African American Studies at Wesleyan and the Vanguard Class of 1969, members of which advocated for more university support for the Black community here on campus and beyond. In recent months, we have eliminated our fixed investment allocation to fossil fuels, and in the coming year we will develop a new Sustainability Action Plan.

A decade ago, we named our strategic plan Wesleyan 2020, and now here we are! We’ve made important progress on all three of its overarching goals—enhancing the distinctive education we offer, growing the reputation of our extraordinary University, and making our economic model more sustainable. Faculty have spearheaded several new interdisciplinary colleges and exciting collaborations; Communications and Admission staff have effectively cultivated and recruited many new members to our community; and all those involved in the hugely successful THIS IS WHY fundraising campaign helped us strengthen our financial footing and position ourselves for a bright future.

Of course, some of the goals of Wesleyan 2020 are really FOREVER goals. Professors FOREVER seek to improve classroom success; Academic Affairs FOREVER seeks to make the curriculum more powerful and relevant; Student Affairs FOREVER seeks to ensure the student experience is meaningful and inclusive; and all those involved with University infrastructure and resources FOREVER seek to provide a stable platform for it all.

But we must also align our pursuit of these goals with our current circumstances and ambitions. As we work to update our strategic plan by the end of the calendar year, we must keep in mind that higher education—and Wesleyan, specifically—has always been fertile ground for bold and productive experimentation. We have a responsibility to find new ways to empower our students and our broader community to act for both the good of the individual and the good of the world. E2020 is one of the first steps in that direction, and the imperative to integrate civic engagement with liberal learning has rarely had the urgency that it has today. You can find out more about E2020 here.

In this spirit of developing civic preparedness, we will be honoring the civil rights legacy of the courageous activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Friday, January 31 (12:15 pm – 1:15 pm in Crowell Concert Hall). This year, our keynote speaker will be writer, producer and activist Bree Newsome.

I thank you for all your efforts and look forward to the exciting work ahead!