Getting In… Checking things Out

Last night admissions deans from eight schools gathered for an online forum at Wesleyan sponsored by Unigo and the Wall Street Journal. Thousands watched live as Jordan Goldman ’04 and members of the audience asked questions aimed at clarifying how highly selective institutions go about selecting a first-year class. Check out the video of the event (and some good footage of the campus).

The selection process is increasingly intense. Last year our applicant pool was as strong as ever, and it was more than 20% larger. Most university observers expected us to have some decline in apps this year, which is the normal rhythm at schools like ours. But the latest figures show that we have continued to grow — this year by more than 10% over last. The geographical and cultural diversity of the pool continues to improve, and the academic credentials of our applicants are truly impressive. I’m glad I don’t have to read the files!

One of the exciting aspects of last night’s event was the international web audience for it. The university has been using the web to share some of the great events on campus. Last year’s wonderful Navaratri Festival performance has now had more than 100,000 views on Youtube.

This weekend there are plenty of non-virtual chances to check out Wes culture. Friday at 8 pm, dance professor Nicole Stanton performs a piece created collaboratively with students and colleagues at Schönberg Dance Studio. Saturday at Freeman one can see several of our teams (track, swimming, squash, hockey) competing. I am looking forward to seeing Ariela Rotenberg’s ’10 senior thesis project, Our Day Will Come , at the Patricelli ’92 Theater. Maybe I can stay offline for a few days…

[tags]Unigo, Wall Street Journal, admissions process, applicant pool, Jordan Goldman ’04, Navaratri Festival performance, Professor Nicole Stanton, Ariela Rotenberg ’10[/tags]

Wesleyan and its “Peers”

On Wednesday evening eight Admissions Deans from some great schools will be visiting Wesleyan to discuss how they approach the admissions process. The event in the Daniel Family Commons (Usdan) is sponsored by UNIGO and the Wall Street Journal. UNIGO was founded by Jordan Goldman ’04, and he will be here to moderate the discussion. The University of Pennsylvania, Williams, Princeton and Grinnell are among the schools that are sending deans. The discussion will be broadcast live. Check out for details.

I will miss this event because I’ll be in New York for a meeting with the presidents from the Consortium for Financing Higher Education (COFHE). The purpose of the organization is to “examine how selective, private colleges and universities could discuss their commitment to providing exceptional educational opportunities for highly talented students as well as best practices in fiscal management.” There are 31 COFHE members, including some of our traditional peer institutions like Amherst and Williams. Among the liberal arts colleges, Carleton, Mount Holyoke, Oberlin, Pomona, Smith, Swarthmore, Trinity, and Wellesley are represented. The Ivy League universities, Northwestern and the University of Chicago are some of the larger schools included. We share best practices to promote student access and promote affordability, and we also can check in with one another about cultural and economic trends that have an impact on higher education in this country.

This is the season when high school seniors are busy preparing applications (or awaiting Early Decision results). Over Thanksgiving I spent some time with some Wesleyan international students who were reminiscing about how happy they were to get the “thick envelope” in the mail. I also saw parents whose kids have made the Early Decision commitment and now are anxiously awaiting the results. Given our great surge in applications last fall (which seems to be holding this year) the competition is very stiff, indeed.

There are still a few intense weeks left in the semester, so those of us carried away by our work on campus can forget how excited we were when first given the opportunity to join the Wesleyan community. Over the next few weeks there will be plenty of events to remind us of our good fortune: Eiko & Koma’s exhibition in Zilkha, the Ebony Singers in Crowell, theater in 92, hockey and basketball in Freeman…

It’s good to meet with our peer institutions, but there’s no place like home.

[tags]admissions process, UNIGO, Jordan Goldman, Consortium for Financing Higher Education, financial aid[/tags]

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:

[tags]summer, summer courses[/tags]

Writers Everywhere!

Yesterday I wrote on the Huffington Post about the ways that liberal arts institutions can combine intimate face to face learning with plugging into broad networks of information and creativity ( . We can see a great example of this “plugging in” as two important writers visit campus today.

Tonight (November 18th) there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to creative writing at Wesleyan. At Russell House at 8 pm Renee Gladman will be reading from her experimental work combining fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Author of books such as Not Right Now and Juice Gladman has been teaching in the literary arts program at Brown University.

In the new Shapiro Creative Writing Center on the third floor of Allbritton at 8 pm I will be interviewing Jay Cantor, one of my favorite American authors. Cantor has reinvented the historical novel by exploring how it can be a genre full of fantasy and psychological exploration. His novel Krazy Kat knocked my socks off, and I have been reading him with great pleasure ever since. We will be talking about politics, art, teaching (Cantor teaches at Tufts), history and fantasies of radical invention. Jonathan Cutler’s sociology class has read Cantor’s big novel about the 1960s, Great Neck, and I’m sure that we’ll talk about his depiction of that era.

Great writers are on campus tonight. Come check it out!

Here is a picture of last night's event!
P.S. Here is a picture of last night’s event!

[tags]Huffington Post, Renee Gladman, Jay Cantor, Shapiro Creative Writing Center[/tags]

Sweet 16 for Men’s Soccer!

Yesterday I saw one of the the most exciting athletic contests I’ve ever witnessed. Our soccer team was in the second round of the NCAA tournament, having dispatched Saint Joseph’s on Saturday. We had come from behind against WNEC and the score was tied at 1 a piece at the end of a very even match. Each overtime period was tense with end-to-end action, and Wes had a few very close chances. But it was still tied after two overtimes, and so we went into the penalty kick round. Our first-year all NESCAC goalie, Adam Purdy, made a great stop on the sixth WNEC player, which sealed the deal for Wesleyan. We were moving on!

For the first time, Wesleyan’s Men’s Soccer Team will participate in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tourney. We play Rochester at Messiah College in PA on Saturday.

This has been a great year for the team. Seniors Nick Whipple and Woody Redpath were named to the All-NESCAC first team, along with Adam Purdy, who was also named Rookie of the Year. Wes had another three players named to All-NESCAC second team: seniors Asante Brooks and Keisuke Yamashita, and junior Jacob Mergendoller.

Coach Geoff Wheeler deserves high praise for putting together this great team, and he was just recognized with the NESCAC Coach of the Year award. GO WES!!

[tags]men’s soccer, NESCAC, Adam Purdy, Nick Whipple, Woody Redpath, Asante Brooks, Keisuke Yamashita, Jacob Mergendoller, Geoff Wheeler[/tags]

History and Theory

Today and tomorrow some of the world’s leading philosophers and theorists of history will gather in Middletown to discuss key issues concerning the meaning and direction of the past and how we make sense of it. The seminar is sponsored by History and Theory, the world’s leading journal in the philosophy of history, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010. Since 1965 H&T has made its home at Wesleyan, and it has long attracted gifted thinkers to campus who are eager to explore how we know or tell stories about the past, and what we can do with the knowledge or stories we make out of history.

Brian Fay, William Griffin Professor of Philosophy, has edited the journal since 1993. Before Brian, Richard Vann, Professor of History and Letters, emeritus, was at the helm from 1965, and remains as Senior Editor. A small group  of Wes history faculty lead a very distinguished editorial board: Philip Pomper, Gary Shaw and Ethan Kleinberg. Julia Perkins, Administrative Editor, has been an essential part of the team for decades. The journal is read all over the world, and the editors only accept about 10% of the articles submitted for consideration.

In addition to topics in the philosophy of history ranging from mathematical modeling to the presence of the past, the journal publishes theme issues on subjects like Religion and History, Ethics and the Historian, Evolutionary Theory and History, and, most recently, Photography and History (edited by Wes faculty member Jennifer Tucker). The subject of this weekend’s seminar asks the guests to think about which issues will be crucial over the next 50 years in philosophy of history.

I’ll always remember when a teacher of mine in graduate school suggested that I publish an essay I’d written for his seminar. I immediately thought of History and Theory, though I was more than a little intimidated to submit my piece. My essay on Foucault’s ‘History of the Present’ came out almost 30 years ago, and since that time I’ve been a faithful reader of (and frequent contributor to) the journal.

I was very proud to receive my acceptance of that first publication on Foucault, and I am delighted to salute History and Theory as it celebrates its first 50 years by turning its attention to the future of how we make sense of and live with the past!

[tags]philosophy of history, History and Theory, Brian Fay, Richard Vann[/tags]

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.

[tags]Athletic Advisory Council, NESCAC, Majora Carter, College of Letters, College of Social Studies[/tags]

Western Swing and Local Excitement

Last week I took advantage of Fall break to make a trip out to the West Coast to visit with alumni and parents. This year I attended a series of receptions in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Honolulu with alumni from the 1950s to the 1980s, with special attention devoted to those who will be celebrating their 25th reunions. It was a gratifying trip because the groups I met with were so enthusiastic about what’s happening here on campus. I was pleased to report on the new Shapiro Creative Writing Center, the opening of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the recent faculty approval of the College of the Environment, and the additions of 20 new faculty members and of dozens of new classes through our Small Class Initiative. All of this during one of the most challenging economic crises in memory!

Discussing the framework for strategic planning, we talked about what it means to energize the distinctive aspects of the Wesleyan experience. Some of our conversations focused on how technology is changing education. What will libraries look like 15 years from now? How will social networks impact continuing education and alumni engagement? We talked about our teacher-scholar model combining wide ranging educational choices with deep research, and how to support that model with a sustainable economic platform.  Of course, the ongoing support of our alumni and parents is a key aspect of that platform. Their thoughtful generosity is inspirational!

During my trip I was encouraged by meetings with high school seniors who were considering applications to Wes. This was the most encouraging part of my long trip. It is clear that many of the most talented students at fine schools are making Wesleyan their #1 choice. Indeed, so many are eager to make their way to Middletown that I have to warn them that the competition to get in is getting increasingly tough. Those who have met faculty, alumni and current students seem undeterred. They’ve heard about Wesleyan, and they want to be part of it!

While I was flying out west, the football team was doing some high flying of their own. Blake DuBois ’12 hooked up to Paulie Lowther ’13 for a last minute score to down Bowdoin in an amazingly exciting game.  Meanwhile, Ravenna Neville ’10 was racing to a Little Three Crown and a very strong NESCAC second place finish in the 5k event.  After my long trip back to Middletown, I was able to catch some of the second half of our men’s soccer game against Colby. What a team we have! After finishing a historic undefeated season, the Cardinals began the NESCAC tournament with a smashing victory. Come out this weekend to cheer for the soccer team at 11 am at Homecoming on Saturday. GO WES!!

[tags]Shapiro Creative Writing Center, Allbritton Center for Public Life, College of the Environment, Blake DuBois, Paulie Lowther, Ravenna Neville, football, NESCAC[/tags]

From Clubbiness to Cosmopolitanism

I was talking to someone recently about one of my favorites subjects: the future of the residential liberal arts college. In an age where online communication is increasingly the norm, an age in which face-to-face contact is seen as inefficient or “uncomfortable,” why should families make the great investment of spending four years in an artificially controlled community aimed at regular, intense personal interaction? Decades ago students who went to liberal arts colleges were likely to find people much like themselves. The schools drew on a fairly homogeneous population, and the relationships one developed while a student were supposed to enhance the family networks and local connections one brought to undergraduate life. The liberal arts education was broadening (at least in terms of an introduction to the cultures of Europe and North America), and the social environment provided the “finish.”

All of this began to change in the wake of World War II, and conditions were dramatically altered when schools made fair access a priority. The combination of proactive outreach to under-represented groups and the expansion of curricula far beyond the high culture of the West changed the demographics and the content of liberal education. Wesleyan was a leader in this regard, aggressively looking for talented students from groups previously discriminated against, and creating classes that went far beyond the traditional offerings.

Let’s take the Music Department at Wesleyan as an example. At many schools the Music Department would have been the most tied to European high culture, and the least likely to stray too far from the traditional canon. Wesleyan had long been a very musical campus – even known as the “Singing College of New England” because of its talented a cappella groups and championship Glee Club. A few music professors went to President Butterfield in the 1960s to get support for advanced work in ethnomusicology, a field almost unknown at our peer institutions. Soon, musicians from across Asia and then Africa would find students and audiences at Wesleyan. Professor Mark Slobin, whose interests range from his fieldwork in Afghanistan to Klezmer to movie music, continues to exemplify this voracious appetite for cultural diversity at the highest level of skill and performance. So does Su Zheng, now Chair of the department, a scholar of traditional Chinese and Japanese music as well as contemporary music of the Asian Diaspora.

Around the same time as Wesleyan students were learning Gamelan and African Drumming, Wes was also drinking deeply at the well of experimental music and jazz. John Cage’s time in residence here had a profound impact on teachers and students, and the tradition of experimentation continues with current faculty such as Anthony Braxton, Alvin Lucier and Ron Kuivila.  This doesn’t mean we’ve ignored the European tradition, though. Professor Jane Alden’s work on medieval singing traditions, and Neely Bruce’s on more contemporary ones, have had an important impact on the field as they inspire our current students.

The cosmopolitanism of the music department is in tune with the wonderful musical diversity of student life. From Eastern European song, to ska, from “surrealist pop” to the mighty Pep Band, our students make music with passion and joy. This kind of musical culture, in and outside the classroom, has evolved in our residential liberal arts context —indeed, it depends on that context. The thirst for experimentation, the ability to cross disciplinary or cultural borders, the scale of our residential life, all of these factors are as key to music at Wesleyan as they are to our curriculum more generally. In Religious Studies or in English, in History or in Government, the course offerings have moved beyond the comfortably familiar to open cosmopolitan networks of learning. Programs such as American Studies and East Asian Studies have gone beyond the national paradigms of education to reframe problems and explore possibilities.

The great advantage of our cosmopolitan liberal arts education is that it allows students to explore international, virtual networks of knowledge while learning the virtues (the pleasures and productivity) of face-to-face conversation, participation and cooperation. Whether learning music or biophysics, consistent personal contact with teachers and fellow-students deepens the education. The university must continue to be proactive about finding students from diverse backgrounds because this enhances everyone’s education in a residential community. And we must continue to enrich our curriculum by developing classes that sometimes go beyond traditional canons because by doing so we open up new possibilities for learning and life. Today’s Wesleyan students do plug into expansive virtual networks, of course, but they do so without sacrificing campus interactions that give these networks additional intensity and relevance.

There are serious challenges to our residential liberal art school model. But I take heart from the example of music, which shows how we might meet them by becoming ever more open to the wider world while valuing the vitality of our campus community.

[tags]ethnomusicology, liberal arts education, Mark Slobin, Su Zheng[/tags]