Sustainability Beyond 2020

Shortly after arriving as President eleven years ago, I signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (now the Climate Leadership Campus Carbon Commitment), committing the Wesleyan campus to carbon neutrality by 2050. Our sustainability efforts are being guided (through 2021) by our Sustainability Action Plan (SAP). You can find a report on our progress in that regard over the past two years in the first SAP Progress Report. Below I give some highlights of steps we’ve taken recently toward our sustainability goals and steps beyond the scope of our current plan that we plan to make going forward.  We have a long way to go to get to that goal of carbon neutrality, and we will get there only if we quicken our pace. Because sustainability is central to Wesleyan’s planning, I’m framing these remarks using the three overarching goals of our most recent planning document, Beyond 2020. Those goals are: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; and to work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values.

Sustainability and Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience

The College of the Environment (COE), characterized by Wesleyan’s distinctive interdisciplinary ethos, continues to be a powerful locus of research, teaching, and practices that explore the connections between environmental work and social and political issues. This year, the Robert F. Schumann Foundation completed its funding of the Robert F. Schumann Institute, which is extending the reach of the COE across campus and the greater Middletown community by collaborating with other centers, colleges and departments within Wesleyan. These collaborations are providing joint and enhanced environmental programming, curricula and research across the campus – particularly in the areas of global studies; civic engagement; arts, environmental justice and sustainability; and food security and agriculture.

The Sustainability Office, in collaboration with the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, hosted the Sustainability Across the Curriculum program (SATC) in October 2016 and January 2018. The program was led by Prof. Suzanne O’Connell and has resulted in thirteen faculty participants amending 13 courses so as to incorporate sustainability as a learning objective. That’s terrific, and there is more to be done here. The Sustainability Office and Prof. O’Connell have convened interested faculty to discuss changes to SATC so as to enliven and grow its efforts to equip students across the disciplines with tools to help them connect their learning to global environmental, social, and economic challenges. Prof. Anthony Hatch will be taking the faculty helm of this program for 2019-2020, and we expect to see more and more courses every year with integrated sustainability content. We are also developing a sustainability and environmental justice course cluster to help students identify these courses and provide recognition for faculty working in this important area. Some of these courses will be First-Year Seminars, a new target for SATC. We hope to reintroduce sustainability into First Year Matters (perhaps by restarting Feet to the Fire). And we will conduct a student sustainability literacy assessment and follow-up assessment to determine what students are learning about sustainability during their time at Wesleyan.

Sustainability and Recognition of Wesleyan as an Extraordinary Institution

Wesleyan must contribute to a sustainable world not just by doing what it does so well – teaching and research – but also by being a model of sustainability itself. In 2013, Wesleyan received a silver rating from AASHE STARS (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System), a sustainability rating for colleges and universities, and that rating was re-certified in 2016. The Sustainability Office employs 20-25 students each semester working on student involvement in recycling, composting, energy conservation, and engagement with social and political issues bearing on environmental concerns. Our citywide recycling signage project (for which we received a grant in 2017) is creating unified signage connecting campus and Middletown community in the recycling effort. This year, Ingrid Eck ’19, intern at the Sustainability Office, prepared and submitted the City of Middletown’s Sustainable CT Bronze certification, and we expect to continue our support of the City’s sustainability efforts through our paid student internships. As our current Sustainability Action Plan guides us only through 2021, it will soon be time to think about the next plan, which must place more emphasis upon reaching carbon neutrality, integrating sustainability into the curriculum, and building a campus culture rooted in sustainability.

Sustainable Economic Model and Core Values

We continue to address what it means for Wesleyan to be a sustainable campus: in the administration (with respect to planning, engagement, health and well-being), in academics (curriculum and academic operations), and in operations (buildings, grounds, dining, energy, purchasing, transportation, waste, and water). And we’ve focused on sustainability in developing plans for new construction over the next decade, notably in Film, PAC and Science. Part and parcel of these efforts is our new Wesleyan University Building Sustainability Policy. This policy was developed by the Sustainability Office and Green Building subcommittee, working under the auspices of the Facilities Planning Committee and Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship (SAGES. It outlines guidelines and operating procedures for reducing Wesleyan’s carbon footprint, yielding cost savings through reduced operating costs, providing healthy work environments for students, employees, and visitors, and assessing life cycle costs. This policy was adopted in concert with the Purchasing Sustainability Guidelines and Energy Conservation Policy. We also just developed a Grounds Sustainability Policy to be reviewed annually as we integrate sustainability in the maintenance of our campus landscape.

Going forward, we plan to integrate sustainability education into the Residential Life curriculum: Res Life and Sustainability Office student staff will work together on informing students about such things as recycling, composting, and energy conservation. As we integrate sustainability into upcoming new construction and major renovation projects, we will strive to get as close as possible to net zero energy certification, incorporating principles of Living Building Challenge and making these changes visible through educational signage. We expect to continue our annual investments in comprehensive energy projects, now entering their 12th year, to address lighting, mechanical equipment, windows, and insulation so as to decrease energy consumption. Finally, with the help of consultants, we will develop a framework, list of actions, phasing, estimated cost and proposed dates to achieve carbon neutrality for the core campus by or before the established 2050 target date. But we can’t just think about projects in the long term. We must also identify, design and implement near-term projects in moving us closer to our sustainability goals – including, for example, piloting a hot water heating loop, as using hot water rather than steam will better enable Wesleyan to switch to solar, geothermal, fuel cell, or other renewable technologies in the future.

Yes, 2050 is a long way away, but there is so much to do before then. The environmental challenges facing the world are monumental, and they are bound up with social and economic issues difficult to resolve. Our university – though its research, its teaching, its outreach and in modeling sustainability itself – is in a position to make an outsize impact. And that’s what we’ll do.

 

Wes-Tech celebrates Dana Royer

Not long ago I wrote about Wade Hsu, a recent grad who was honored as having done the best undergraduate physics work in the country. This past weekend Dana Royer, an assistant professor in the Earth and Environmental Science department received the Donath Medal from the American Geological Society. The award recognizes young scientists (aged 35 or younger) for outstanding original research marking a major advance in the earth sciences. I’m delighted to cite the press release announcing the award.

“Dana is a true innovator who successfully tackles extremely important questions in paleoclimatology and paleoecology, in part using paleobotanical proxies calibrated with a remarkable series of careful modern analog studies,” said Peter D. Wilf of Pennsylvania State University in nominating Royer for the honor. “He often connects the deep-time climate and CO2 record to the present day in highly societally-relevant ways that are widely cited in the ‘modern’ climate change literature.” Wilf also said, “Without Dana’s contributions we would know much less about Earth’s climate history and its great importance to today’s world.”

“In the rapidly developing field of plant paleoecology and ecophysiology, Dana Royer stands out in terms of innovation and sheer breadth and depth of knowledge. He is truly an emerging leader in the geological sciences,” said Leo Hickey, professor of geology and Curator of Paleobotany at Yale University.

Dana is also part of our new College of the Environment. He describes his research as exploring “how plants can be used to reconstruct ancient environments and the (paleo-) physiological underpinnings behind these plant-environment relationships.” This basic research about our deep past is very relevant to understanding our contemporary ecological context. Isn’t that what our scholar-teacher model is all about? A dedicated teacher doing advanced research that opens onto pressing issues relevant to all of us.

And Dana received his award in Colorado, where a former Wesleyan geology student is the mayor of Denver and (today!) collecting votes in hopes of becoming the state’s next governor. How cool is that!

Coming Home to Wesleyan

I returned to Middletown late Tuesday night after my annual fall break trip out West. This year I spent a couple of days in Denver visiting with alumni before heading to my old stomping grounds in the Bay Area. In Colorado I saw some happy Wes parents and our two candidates for state-wide office, Michael Bennet ’87 and John Hickenlooper ’74. They both have serious races on their hands, and I was impressed with the fervor and the organization of their teams. I met some recent graduates who are committed to public service as well as alumni from decades ago who have combined very successful careers with deep civic engagement. Colorado is Wesleyan country.

In San Francisco Jack Mitchell ’61 hosted a Wes gathering in his store, Wilkes Bashford, in the Union Square district. About 100 local Cardinals came out to hear what’s happening on campus. They are eager to learn more about what faculty and students are up to — eager to understand how what made Wesleyan such a special place in their day is continuing now in new and exciting ways. As I returned to campus, I was busy re-reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which I had assigned my students for The Modern and the Post-Modern. Going to class Wednesday morning to talk about knowledge and intimacy, consciousness and gender, dynamic change and aesthetic contemplation, I was so grateful to be back on a campus where literature, ideas and history could be expected to prompt intelligent, sustained engagement from a large group of students.  At a time when one reads a lot about the crisis in the humanities, I am always encouraged by my encounters with Wes students.

In just a day or so there will be a few thousand folks coming home to campus for Homecoming/Family Weekend. Here are just a few of the events we have planned: the opening celebration for our new College of Environment that includes a Friday reception and two seminars on Saturday; an evening with Bill Cosby to support the Green Street Arts Center (Sold Out); The Dwight L. Green Symposium “Media Innovation and Democracy” featuring Alberto Ibarguen ’66;  Athletics Hall of Fame induction/dinner on Saturday night (Sold Out); and 17 Wes Seminars on Friday and Saturday on subjects ranging from music to war, from food to archaeology in Middletown. Broadway star Lin Manuel Miranda brings his  Freestyle Love Supreme on Saturday for a sold out hip-hop, improv, rap, concert. The complete schedule is online.

On Friday I have the pleasure of welcoming Trustees Emeriti back to campus for a reunion and a series of discussions. In addition to getting their advice on a number of the important issues facing Wesleyan, I’m sure we will catch some of the action as our Wes athletes take part in a great weekend of competition. Things get underway in the Silloway Gymnasium Friday night as the volleyball squad takes the court against Trinity. Runners, field hockey, soccer and football players will all be fighting for the Red&Black, while the crew teams are busy this weekend at the Head of the Charles Regatta.

If you can’t make it back to campus this weekend, look for clips of the various events online in the coming weeks. We’ll use the Wesleyan YouTube channel and iTunes University to share the excitement!

 

Campus Renovations

After an extended time away from Middletown, I always enjoy coming back to see the changes to various parts of campus. This summer there are many, from the sad dismantling and recycling of MoCon to the freshly painted dome of the historic Van Vleck observatory that shines anew atop Foss Hill.

We continue to make steady progress on renovating our science facilities. New fire alarms and sprinklers were put into Hall-Atwater and Shanklin; new ceilings and energy efficient lighting are being installed in the Hall-Atwater corridors; three Chemistry teaching labs are almost unrecognizable after being newly outfitted; and various improvements to other labs will support their high levels of research.

We are finishing a major project at the CFA Crowell Concert Hall. A handicap ramp has been added to the main entrance, and a new elevator being installed inside a former stairwell is going to provide easy accessibility to all levels of the Concert Hall.

Housing renovations accommodate more than 40 new beds for undergraduates.  Most notably, 156 High Street has a brand new suite of 10 beds on the main floor including handicap accessible restrooms and card access for everyone at the main entrance. 109 Cross Street and the former Community Service Office at 162 Church Street have been transformed into senior housing. The Womanist House is relocating to 44 Brainard Avenue, the German Haus is moving to a newly renovated 65 Lawn Avenue, and 260 Pine Street has been converted into a 6-bedroom house for seniors.

Energy conservation projects continue to be implemented across campus.  Residence halls have been furnished with a new energy metering and monitoring system. The new system will allow the expansion of the student run Do-It-In-the-Dark program which has been so successful in reducing energy consumption in student houses. Monitors located in residence halls will display real time data on energy consumption.

Several programs moved this summer to spaces better suited to their needs. The College of the Environment has moved to 284 High Street (formerly GLSP). The Graduate Liberal Studies Program is now at 74 Wyllys Avenue (formerly the Investment Office), right next door to the Admission Office. The Investment Office has relocated to the 4th floor of North College alongside the Treasurer and Finance and Administration offices, and some staff from Finance and Administration are moving to 287 High Street (formerly the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies building).

The Physical Plant staff has been working hard and productively all summer long. You’ll see the happy results when you come back to campus.

 

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Wesleyan in Washington

Before heading off for some summer vacation, I spent the early part of this week in Washington, D.C.. The American Association of Colleges and Universities was hosting a gathering of presidents to discuss the impact of liberal learning on participation in the political sphere. This is a group devoted to the liberal arts experience, and led by President Carol Schneider AAC&U has presented very compelling information showing the public and private importance of the broad-based, participatory education offered at institutions like ours. Since I have been writing about these issues on the Huffington Post and elsewhere, I was glad to touch base with colleagues eager to make the case for liberal learning.

Since my stay in steamy DC was brief, I only had an opportunity to touch base with a few members of the Wes family doing interesting things in our nation’s capitol. We have alumni working in various sectors of government, but during this trip I met with a new Wesleyan parent, Mark Tercek, who is running The Nature Conservancy. TNC is one of the great international environmental organizations, and we talked about ways that this group might work together with our new College of the Environment. Mark was excited to hear about our plans for this interdisciplinary program, and I am confident we will find ways to make common cause. I also met with Dan deVise ’89, an education writer for the Washington Post. Dan and his wife Sophie ’88 met at Wes, and they have been pursuing journalism pretty much since graduation. I also had the chance meet with Col. Dunbar Gram and other members of the board of the James M. Johnson Trust. This foundation has generously supported Wesleyan’s financial aid program for many years, and I was delighted to report on our efforts to maintain need blind admissions in the face of all the economic pressures that challenge us.

I had interesting conversations about economic pressure, politics and education with our star Congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro. Rosa has been an energetic ally for educators for many years, and she continues to fight the good fight. I was so happy to see that she has a couple of Wes interns in her office this summer. Before returning home, Carol Scully and I had a productive meeting with a program officer from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some say that the humanities are declining or are under siege, but I was pleased to share information on some of the real innovations going on at the Wes campus, especially at the Center for the Humanities.

During our time away Kari and I hope to finish a few writing projects, hear some great music and spend as much time outdoors as possible. That way we’ll be ready to greet the class of 2014 at the end of the summer!

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Freeman Travels 2010

For the last week I’ve been in Japan and Korea with Graeme Freeman from the Freeman Foundation and Terri Overton from Admissions interviewing students for our Freeman Scholarship program. The program has now been going for 15 years, and it has brought to Wesleyan many exceptionally talented young people from 11 different Asian countries. Year in, year out they arrive on campus with a thirst for learning, faith in a liberal arts education, and an extraordinary capacity for focused, challenging work.

This was my first trip to Tokyo and Seoul, and it also included a number of alumni gatherings. I had the pleasure of meeting Katsuhiko Hiyama ’60 (Kay) who is hoping to come back for his 50th reunion this year. Kay described to me how his Wesleyan education has been a lifelong resource for him as he worked in four different continents, and he also shared with me his love of jazz. I also met some recent alums, including Joyce Haejung Park ‘04, who majored in math and is now working for Chartis in Seoul. Although Sam Paik ‘90 and Professor Jung-Ho Kim ‘85 are frequent visitors to campus, it was great to see them on their home turf. And I met with alumni working in media, finance, education and public service. All described to me how they continue to draw on their Wes education.

Interviewing Freeman finalists is a great cure for cynicism. These high school seniors display a love of learning and a devotion to education that is truly inspiring. Although in many cases they have already registered significant success in school (I’ve never met as many perfect 800 scorers in a short period of time), the dominant theme was the desire to explore new areas of inquiry and to encounter a variety of cultural experiences. They were interested in CSS, COL and the new College of the Environment, in addition to our offerings in music, science, philosophy, and, yes, even East Asian Studies. One young woman was led to her interest in the liberal arts through reading Aristotle on her own; another student was passionate about break dancing and religion. All in all they are an amazing group!

In my first year as President I set a goal of doubling the number of international students at Wesleyan. The financial crisis has slowed this down, but after a trip like this one, I am more convinced than ever that bringing students from outside the United States is a great benefit to them and to the entire Wes community.

Here are a couple of pictures of my recent alumni guides, who also helped out with interviews.

Alumni guides in Tokyo
Kohei Saito ’09 & Toshihiro Osaka ’09
Seoul Alumni Guides
Hyung Jin Choi ’07 & Sunho Hwang ’05

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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!!

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Wes in the Midwest

I write this from the Minneapolis airport, as I prepare to head home to Connecticut after a few days of visits in the Midwest. We had around 60 alumni, parents and a few guidance counselors today at lunch, all gathered to meet one another and to hear about what’s happening at Wes. We originally thought we’d have fewer than 20 for this event, and so it was heartening to see the enthusiasm for Wesleyan and the eagerness to discuss its future. I met teachers and business people, child advocates and city planners; many expressed their own surprise at the size of the Wes network in Minnesota.

We talked about some of the attributes that Wesleyan students continue to share over the generations. At my table was Jim Andrus ’66 whose Uncle John Andrus ’33 recently turned 100! John wasn’t able to make it today, but we spoke on the phone about the vitality of the faculty and curriculum, the economic challenges facing the university, and our beloved Alpha Delta Phi. At our lunch reception I talked about how we must strengthen the distinctive aspects of the Wesleyan curriculum, and there was particular excitement about the College of the Environment soon to get underway. In Minneapolis and Chicago (where I had been the day before) the Wesleyan commitment to serving the public good is very much in evidence. Alumni who have made their careers on a variety of paths in the private sector and others who have been involved in education and the professions so often share a commitment to contributing to the public good. Throughout Chicago and Minneapolis I could see that key cultural organizations benefit from the generosity and hard work of Wesleyan alumni. This civic engagement is not politically partisan. It just serves the public good.

In my talks with alumni I also emphasized the difficulties of working within a sustainable economic model, as well as my confidence that we could do so while maintaining a robust financial aid program. The Wesleyan community knows that our scholarship students add value to everyone’s educational experience. We are proud to admit students because of talent, not because of their ability to pay, and alumni and parent support is crucial to that endeavor.

I’ll be glad to get home. Sophie tells me it snowed in Middletown today — here, too. I know that I’ll be bringing back to campus the warm wishes and loyalty of the extended Wesleyan family.

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Economic Realities and Wesleyan Hopes

The economic turmoil of the last several months has shaken our confidence in the future. As we turn to see our retirement savings depleted, or as we recognize job loss and diminished expectations, it is difficult to know where to turn for a reasonable basis for hope.

At Wesleyan, I have spent a good part of the last year planning for the future, working with colleagues to put the university on a more secure economic foundation, to develop new curricular initiatives that are exciting and dynamic, and to expand our facilities in the sciences in a dramatic way. Some of these projects (the Molecular and Life Sciences Building being the largest by far) have been discussed by faculty, alumni and trustees for many years. Others, like the decision I made last year to expand our financial aid program to reduce our reliance on required loans, are new programs that promote a core university value. We have created faculty working groups to promote creativity, civic engagement and internationalization, and to develop ideas for a College of the Environment. In this time of economic disruption, what happens to all these plans?

I don’t want to minimize the impact of the economic situation on Wesleyan. A good portion of our annual budget comes from the generosity of our alumni and parent base, as well as the return on our endowment. Fundraising will be difficult this year, we expect, but we remain confident that the extended Wes family will recognize how important their gifts are in this climate. Our endowment, already down last fiscal year, has taken a hit in the first quarter of this one. Although we fully expect the investments to recover over time, there will be a period of smaller returns from the endowment going to support the operating budget.

This means there will be cuts in the Wesleyan budget, but, as I said in my last post, I will do my best to protect teaching, research and the student experience from the impact of our cost cutting measures. Over time, we will shift more of our fundraising efforts toward building the endowment, rather than supporting current spending. This will allow us to build economic capacity for the long term. We will continue to offer our community the very best liberal arts education, but we must do so in a more cost effective way. We must delay for some years our major facilities projects, like the Molecular and Life Sciences Building, and we are looking at every department at the university for budget savings. We are also looking for revenue opportunities, particularly in the summer months

What happens to the great hopes and plans of the last year? I believe we must continue to be ambitious, and that we must develop new programs through, when necessary, a reallocation of resources. We will continue to offer a robust financial aid program, and we remain committed to hiring and retaining a faculty dedicated to advancing their own fields while they make a powerful impact on the lives of their students. I believe we can continue to internationalize our campus while enhancing creativity and civic engagement in the curriculum and in the community. We will continue to focus attention on enhancing the experience of our students, especially in their frosh and senior years. And though there may be delays in realizing the vision for a College of the Environment, I am confident in the merits of developing this broad based, interdisciplinary environmental studies program.

In challenging economic times, it is more important than ever to enhance one’s core competencies and build a platform for innovation. These next few years will be difficult ones, but with the talent, energy and generosity of the Wesleyan community, we will emerge from this economic turmoil an even stronger, more dynamic institution. This is our reasonable basis for hope.

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