Summer Rhythms

After the frenzy of activity over the last month, the campus is oddly quiet. As I stroll across Andrus Field I expect to greet students heading to class, or going for coffee and conversation at the Usdan Center. Instead, I am more likely to run into a lone jogger or a dog walker taking in the open space, very green now with the spring rains.

But the calm in the center of campus belies an intense level of activity in a variety of areas. Graduate students are busy working on experiments, theses and dissertations. There are a surprising number of undergraduates here, too, some focusing on research in the sciences, others studying Arabic or Russian. The staff at the Graduate Liberal Studies Program is gearing up for classes. This remarkable program welcomes students from all walks of life. There are undergrads mixed with teachers, professionals and various people from the area just eager to continue their education. There is still time to register for some classes at:
http://www.wesleyan.edu/glsp/courses_registration/course_information/Summer_2008/summer08_concentration.htt

The Wesleyan Writers Conference will be underway in less than two weeks. You can read about this exciting program at:
http://www.wesleyan.edu/writing/conference/

This afternoon I will meet with elected student leaders to discuss our follow-up to the Fountain Ave. incident. Our interest is twofold. On the one hand we want to understand what went wrong that night, and who should be held accountable. On the other hand, we want to put in places policies and practices to ensure that this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.

At the end of the semester I received reports from the task forces working on the planning themes that emerged during the winter. There are five areas: strengthening the undergrad experience; internationalization; creative campus; civic engagement; College of the Environment. I will be reviewing the reports and preparing for next steps for moving forward in each of these areas. We are also focused on developing resources for enhanced financial aid and to stay on track for building our new complex in the molecular and life sciences.

One of the projects that has already emerged from our planning talks is the need for more support for undergraduate research during the summer. We currently have McNair, Hughes and Mellon foundation support for scientific research that supports the work of several students in the life sciences. These are great programs that open opportunities for students who might not otherwise have the chance to engage in advanced research. The programs are emblematic of what Wesleyan stands for more generally: helping students make a positive contribution through excellent academic work.

Now that I’ve taken stock of only a few of the activities on campus, it no longer seems so calm! I’d better get back to work!!

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Trustees and Themes for the Future

At the end of the past week the Wesleyan Trustees were on campus for their winter meeting. This is an exceptional group of volunteers (alumni and some parents) who have fiduciary responsibility for the university and a great ambition for its future. The most significant business for this meeting was a resolution to approve moving to the next design stage for the buildings in Molecular Biology, Biology, and Chemistry. The architects from Payette Associates gave a great presentation, and we have raised the money necessary to continue the design program. The trustees unanimously approved that we continue with the process.

There were many other topics for the committees to discuss. The Governance Committee evaluates how the board is currently operating and considers the possibility for new members. The Finance Committee approves budgets, and it monitors our long-term financial health. The Campus Affair Committee considers everything from academics to residential life, and this time it also reviewed some tenure cases that I had recommended to the board. The University Relations Committee discussed fund-raising plans, alumni engagement and our communications strategy. Trustees also have an opportunity to meet (formally and informally) with faculty and students. They work hard while here, and they are ambassadors for Wesleyan between meetings. A full list of board members can be found at: http://www.wesleyan.edu/administration/trustees.html

At the heart of the full board meeting was a discussion of some of the key ideas that have emerged from the faculty as we discuss strategic planning and curricular innovation. We want to ensure that Wesleyan continues to make a positive and lifelong contribution to the lives of our students and alumni; that we have an impact on higher education in the United States; and that the knowledge and skills of students, faculty, and alumni have a crucial role in productively shaping the culture of the future.

I’d asked the faculty to send in brief papers discussing how they would use more resources for academic innovation. We receive more than fifty papers, and here are the key themes:
1. Strengthening the Undergraduate Experience

How can Wesleyan be better appreciated as an institution in which undergraduates thrive in a context of freedom, mutual support, rigorous academic demands, and liberal learning with practical consequences?

I am asking the faculty to concentrate especially on strengthening the “Wesleyanish” aspects of the first and last years of a student’s career. Our focused freshman seminars are popular, and we are now exploring how to link them with one another and with co-curricular initiatives. I have asked the faculty to explore how we might institute a university-wide capstone experience, whether it be a thesis, a recital, a community project, or some other senior project that completes the on-campus work and launches our graduates into the world.

2. Internationalization

How can Wesleyan become a magnet for international students who want to excel through active learning, as we become a destination for students who want a cosmopolitan educational experience at a scale that promotes deep relations with teachers and fellow students?

There were two main areas in which we can strengthen our international efforts. The first concerns the curriculum and the second concerns the composition of the student body. We must work on both fronts.

3. Creative Campus

How can Wesleyan fulfill its legacy as a school that values creativity, rewards intelligent risk-taking, and produces graduates who go on to reshape the culture around them?

Wesleyan should build on its creative reputation and seed innovative energies across all the divisions. From promoting access to studio classes for all students, to encouraging entrepreneurship as a habit and a subject, we should be known as a magnet for creative students and as an incubator of exciting projects. Creativity should flow from the CFA across the campus to the new science facilities (and back again!).

4. College of the Environment

Decades ago Wesleyan founded COL and CSS as path-breaking interdisciplinary programs in the humanities and social sciences. Is it now time for the College of the Environment, which would bring together all three divisions?

One of the most exciting proposals called for the creation of a College of the Environment that would give students a focused and intense education about the complex issues associated with global environmental issues. A College of the Environment would have important connections with the new Life Sciences buildings and be a beacon for interdisciplinary study grounded in the sciences and extending to the social sciences, humanities, and arts.

5. Civic Engagement

Wesleyan has been known for its activist culture. How can we build on that culture to create learning opportunities that make a difference?

The Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life will facilitate students becoming more engaged in real-world problem solving. How can Wesleyan integrate these activities and its traditions of engagement into a distinctive learning environment? How can we build on them to make our institutional voice heard in the governmental arena and in international discussions concerning the future of the liberal arts? Wesleyan should become well known as a place for connecting the liberal arts with a broad spectrum of activities that shape the culture and economy of the future.

Over the next several weeks, we will be creating faculty task forces to examine these themes and proposals. In addition to these themes, we will be raising endowment funds to enhance financial aid, and to put the university in a position to finance a significant part of the new life sciences complex. What do you think of these general themes and specific projects? What do you think is missing? The trustees gave us plenty of input, but we need more. You can send comments to this blog, or directly to the trustees at:

The Board of Trustees
Wesleyan University
WesBox 91666
Middletown, CT 06459.

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