Welcoming Families!

Family Weekend comes early this year, and we anticipate a large crowd of visitors to campus. There will be lots of wonderful events, from art exhibitions featuring photographs and paintings to South Indian music, lectures and athletic contests. You can find plenty more information here.

Parents of new students are often surprised at how quickly their sons and daughters have formed intense friendships — they can sometimes feel like extended families. Whether it’s a cohort formed in sports, science labs, art studios or in a rock band… these new relationships can be profound. Some alumni remember their “Greek” experience as most important in this regard, and recently, we’ve again had searching discussions about the relationships created in these societies. We announced this week that the residential fraternities will have to work over the next three years to become fully co-educational, and we’ve already had lots of positive feedback concerning that decision. Of course, we’ve also had some strong pushback from folks who feel that fraternities represent important traditions that should be maintained. Along with the Board, I am hopeful that these traditions can find new forms as the societies welcome women members and women leaders. Sure, it will be different, as these societies are different in many ways from their incarnations in the 50s and 60s. Working together, I am confident that we can retain some of their best features while building new traditions for the future.

I think we may be creating a new tradition of launching Tony Award winning musicals. OK, we are trying. In the Heights author Quiara Alegria Hudes is now a distinguished professor of playwriting at Wes, and the creator and star of the show, Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, was back on campus this week to meet the cast of the production that will be staged this fall. By all accounts, he gave a great talk/performance Tuesday evening. Provost Ruth Weissman, Lin and I documented the evening with a selfie:

Lin, Ruth and me copy


The vibrancy of the art scene at Wesleyan is legendary. In recent years, we’ve added another tradition to it with The Mash, our music festival on the first Friday of the semester. This year I played a little with some friends, and I was introduced to many Wes bands and individual performers. Here’s a twelve minute sampler:



There will be plenty of music, friendships and even a little theater this weekend. It should be a great one!

Welcome Home!

Today marks the beginning of Homecoming/Family Weekend. There are many great seminars, concerts, sporting events and recitals planned. Some families will just want to spend time together enjoying Connecticut in the fall, and many alumni will simply want to re-visit their favorite haunts. Whatever your pleasure, I hope you find Wesleyan welcoming, stimulating and festive.

I’m particularly excited about the Dar Williams concert Friday night at 9 pm in Crowell Concert Hall. I’ve been listening to Dar’s CDs for a long time, and recently I’ve been able to hear her play live on campus. It’s great to have her back at alma mater, especially since this concert is a fundraiser for financial aid. We are all working hard to establish more scholarships that meet student needs without high loans, and this concert is an important addition to our efforts.

There are some great seminars, panels and lectures during the weekend. One of the highlights: the 21st Annual Dwight L. Greene Symposium: Women of Color: 40 Years at Wesleyan, and Beyond will take place at 4 pm in the Chapel. You can find a list of events here.

There will be plenty of sports excitement over the weekend. The volleyball team will be in the Silloway gymnasium battling Little Three Rivals, while cross country, women’s soccer and field hockey are playing in NESCAC tournaments on the road. Men’s soccer will have a home contest in the tournament on Jackson field Saturday at 12:30. The mighty Wes football team will take this year’s undefeated streak into a battle against Williams. The game starts at 1:00 pm at Corwin Stadium. Connecticut Public Television is broadcasting the game, and we will have a video link here.

I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. THIS IS WHY!



Coming Home to Campus

After the “mock vacation” of Fall Break, the campus is abuzz with increasingly frenetic activity. We’ve passed the mid-point of the semester, and that means research projects, performances, exhibitions and exams are rushing upon us. I just came home to campus from a fundraising trip for Wesleyan, and it was inspiring to see the generous support among our alumni and parent community for financial aid and our core academic programs. While the energy on campus is ramping up, thousands of high school seniors around the country are anxiously preparing applications as the Early Decision deadline is just about a month away. I met some of them at a spirited admissions event in Los Angeles.

Speaking of energy, this weekend we are going to be creating quite a lot of it as we welcome our athletic teams and families back to campus for Homecoming Family Weekend. The volleyball team will be busy with matches against Southern Vermont at 7:30 pm on Friday, and against Worcester Polytechnic at 3:00 pm on Saturday. Amherst, whose aspirations to become a college renowned for athletics grow each year, comes to Middletown for a series of contests. The Lord Jeffs will be facing off against the Cardinals in a suite of sports beginning with field hockey and women’s soccer at noon. Football puts its undefeated record to the test at 1:00 pm, and the men’s soccer contests the Little Three crown at 2:30. Our mighty crew teams will be off campus at the Head of the Charles Regatta.

There are seminars, performances, exhibitions, tours and parties throughout the weekend. You can find a full schedule here.

It’s a great time to come home to Wesleyan!


Fall Break

Students are winding up midterms, writing papers and preparing for performances. The semester has been growing more intense, and that’s why it’s good to have a moment to catch one’s breath during Fall Break. It’s just a couple of days tacked onto this weekend, but for professors and their students it offers a happy holiday before the pressures of the second half of the term kick in.

Lots of folks, though, don’t get much of a break at all. Tennis, cross-country, volleyball and football will all be busy competing. The gridiron crew heads back to Maine after earning a tough victory there last week. Sebastian Aguirre ’14 earned special team player of the week honors for kicking the winning field goal with less than a minute to play. Coach Whalen’s boys are undefeated going into the fourth week of the season, something we haven’t seen around here for many a year. Wes plays Bates this weekend, and they promise to be a challenging opponent.

Here on campus, Dean of the Arts and Humanities Andrew Curran is welcoming more than 100 18th century scholars for a conference that focuses on the Enlightenment. I understand they kicked things off with a plenary talk on the banjo! There are many people on campus getting ready for the Navaratri festival, which gets underway on Wed, October 16. That will lead us right into Homecoming Family Weekend!

I’ll be spending time meeting with alumni and parents, raising money for scholarships and the curriculum. Some of those meetings will be with Jeanine Basinger, recently singled out in Variety’s “Women’s Impact Report” as one of only two academics for her work at “helping turn [Wesleyan’s] film program into one of the best in the nation, as well as developing some of the industry’s most powerful talent, with protégés like Joss Whedon ’87, Paul Weitz ’88 and Alex Kurtzman ’95.” I’m star struck!

The extended Wesleyan family loves hearing news from campus. I hope to be able to return with some news (and support) from them!

Power Update: Classes Resuming…Homecoming/Family Weekend on the Horizon

11/2/11 6:30 PM

Dear Friends,

Life at Wesleyan is returning to normal, but the aftermath of the storm is still very much with us, including lack of power and heat for a significant number of students on campus – and for many faculty and staff in the region. Connecticut Light and Power states on its website that power will be restored to all of Middletown by the end of the day Sunday; we’ve been told that power along Church and High streets may be restored as early as tomorrow.

I’d like to reiterate what I said yesterday evening: We are making alternative sleeping quarters available for these students who need them. Those who want to bunk with friends in the residence halls are encouraged to do so. Those who would like the university to find them a place to sleep until power is restored should contact Residential Life at: 860 685-3550. We will use common spaces and lounges in our residence halls and will open other venues as needed.

The Science Library will be open 24 hours today and tomorrow for students, faculty, and staff needing a warm place to work. The Freeman Athletic Center now offers the Wes community the possibility of really getting warm by getting some exercise. After some initial difficulties with the water heaters, I think we can now offer decent showers, too! Faculty, staff and students in need of a hot shower (even if they don’t want to exercise) are welcome to use the Freeman facilities.

Some Wes students have had the good idea of asking what else we can do for employees who need a helping hand during this crisis. Much of this is already being done informally and effectively, but if faculty or staff have particular requests, they can address them to Human Resources. We will do our best to be helpful.

Classes resumed today, and I was very pleased to hear from some colleagues that the attendance was very good. In my own class, I was delighted to see the eighty-some-odd students ready to talk about Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I guess I am an old-fashioned teacher who can’t think of anything he’d rather do than talk about a great book with a group of thoughtful students.

To all the faculty, staff, and students who have pitched in to help in many ways, and to the many others who have provided us with essential support services — thank you! I also want to convey my gratitude to the families of students and to our alumni who have expressed their care and concern. I deeply appreciate your patience and the support you have been showing one another.  It is good to acknowledge that ours is a compassionate community, and that this becomes especially visible in times of need.

We are excited to be welcoming many visitors during Homecoming/Family weekend. There is a big football game against Williams, and many interesting lectures and programs. The Mighty Wes Women’s Soccer Team will be playing at Amherst in the semifinals of the NESCAC tournament. They have had a great run, and we wish them all the best. GO WES!

I don’t plan any further updates for now, but I do look forward to blogging about China, liberal education, theater and athletics. Anything but electricity.

Bringing the Sounds of the World to Wesleyan

Wesleyan has long been a center for ethnomusicology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Many think that the very idea of “world music” began here in Middletown, and our students and faculty have been active participants in playing and doing research on music from all over the world. When I was a student, Javanese Gamelan and African Drumming were very popular among my friends, and it has been wonderful to see how these programs remain vital parts of our campus culture. Over Homecoming/Family Weekend, the Wesleyan Taiko drummers were out in force at the soccer game — a wonderful example of the integrated nature of arts and athletics here at Wes.

This weekend Wesleyan hosts the 34th annual Navaratri Festival. This may be the largest gathering of Indian arts and music outside the subcontinent. There will be world class players, singers and dancers performing from Thursday through Sunday, with concerts by students as well as by some of the great emerging artists in India.

When I traveled in India last year, I heard that a video of some of our students performing South Indian music had been seen by tens of thousands of viewers there. Someone asked me how it was possible that these students in Middletown CT had mastered the intricate melodies and rhythms of this music? Had they really been studying in India, I was asked?

In Mark Slobin’s recent book on the history of the Wesleyan music program, he shows how the infusion of world music and avant garde Western music transformed our curriculum and our culture. This year’s Navaratri Festival continues the tradition with a stirring array of performances in a variety of genres. There’s even a dance party Saturday afternoon at 2 pm in the World Music Hall!

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!


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]

Coming Home

As I walked across campus on Friday I marveled at the beautiful, crisp fall day. The Wesleyan campus looked spectacular, and there was excitement in the air as we prepared for visits from families and alumni for Homecoming/Family weekend. Students were busy finishing midterms or getting essays written, athletes were gearing up for Little Three rival Amherst, and faculty and staff were, I think, feeling pretty lucky to be working in this charmed environment.

I had plenty of opportunities to talk with parents, grandparents and siblings throughout the weekend. One of the dominant themes in their comments to me: how happy and welcoming these Wes students seem to be! We joked about how often it is that smart young people show their braininess by also showing their discontent. At Wesleyan by contrast, students are smart, hard working, often very angry about the status quo (including the administration right here), but they display exuberance in their studies, in their sports and cultural activities, and in the way they build their constellation of friends.

The athletic contests were great fun to watch, as our competitors fought hard against a tough opponent. Our scholar-athletes improve with each practice, with each contest, and I am proud to see them strive for excellence in these competitions. And I was far from alone in my pride. At each game there were crowds of family and friends showing school spirit as we cheered on the Red and Black.

Wesleyan Women's Soccer v. Amherst, Oct. 18, 2008 ; photo by Bill Burkhart
Wesleyan Women’s Soccer v. Amherst, Oct. 18, 2008 ; photo by Bill Burkhart

There were many great events over the weekend, from seminars on the current economy, on global warming, and on various aspects of our curriculum. I only wish I could have attended more of the stimulating discussions. I heard from many that the conversations on the current economic crisis and on the presidential campaign were enlightening, and that talks about robots, about anthropology and going home, and about the forces that shape contemporary film left our alumni and parents eager to return to a liberal learning environment.

Another highlight of the weekend was the a cappella concert in the Chapel Saturday night. Several student groups sang a variety of traditional and contemporary songs with talent, precision, and lots of humor. How very Wesleyan that a student group would make up its own rendition of “Tempted by the Fruit of Another.” For this Family Weekend occasion the song was rewritten as “Tempted by the Fruit of Your Mother”! The concert helped raise money for the after-school programs at Wesleyan’s Green Street Art Center in the North End of Middletown.

Wesleyan Spirits, Oct. 18, 2008; photo by Bill Burkhart
Wesleyan Spirits perform in Memorial Chapel, Oct. 18, 2008; photo by Bill Burkhart

The sweetness of the welcome given to our families and alumni is another sign of our generous, open community. An alumnus returning to Middletown after decades of working in Abu Dhabi told me how moving it was to find he still had a home here, and that alma mater continues to be a beacon for liberal arts education. He is proud, and so am I!

[tags] Homecoming/Family Weekend, Little Three rival, Amherst, scholar-athletes, seminars, liberal learning, conversations, economic crisis, a cappella, Green Street Arts Center, liberal arts education [/tags]