Gratitude and Legacy

An e-mail message is going to the campus today summarizing some of the conversations we had over the past weekend with the Board of Trustees. Our major theme at the board meeting was the challenge of the current economic climate. We are faced with reduced income from our endowment over the next few years and a challenging environment in which to raise money for our financial aid program. We have proposed a group of budget cuts, a salary freeze for next year, and a modest and temporary increase in the size of entering classes for four years. More information on these proposals can be found at the Securing the Future website: http://www.wesleyan.edu/administration/securingthefuture/112508.html.

The trustees have a tremendous responsibility for Wesleyan. Our job is to ensure that the quality of the education we offer remains at the highest level, and that it is sustainable for generations to come. We are protecting our core values: access to Wesleyan regardless of ability to pay, and first-rate curricular and co-curricular programs for faculty and students who are advancing their fields through research and creative work. This is the legacy we have inherited, and it is the future we are building.

After the long and tense discussions of the weekend, I went to the Freeman Athletic Center for a little exercise. As I looked back across the campus on a beautiful and brisk fall evening, I felt very lucky to be at Wesleyan. Working together with a talented group of faculty, staff, students and trustees, we will chart a course in these turbulent times that combines prudence and ambition, idealism and practicality. We will not only preserve the precious legacy of this university, we will build upon it. The progressive liberal arts education that we offer, an education that enables graduates to lead meaningful lives and contribute to the world around them, has inspired generosity and hard work from families and faculty, from staff and from students.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I am so grateful that I work in a community with a legacy and prospects for the future like ours. Happy Thanksgiving!

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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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A Great Night for Wesleyan

Friday was a great night for Wesleyan. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, we were able to raise 1.5 million dollars for scholarships and treat more than 1,300 students, alumni and friends to a high energy, moving night of musical theater. The donor gave us all the seats to the September 5 performance of In the Heights so that we could re-sell the tickets for scholarships. In the Heights, which won the Tony for Best Musical this year, was originally created at our own Patricelli ’92 Theater. The creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, was joined by director Tommy Kail ’99 and co-orchestrator Bill Sherman ’02 in creating a show that has expanded the genre of musical theater on Broadway. On Friday night they brought on the stage other Wesleyan alumni who helped them: Gilbert Parker ’48, John Mailer ’00 and Neil Stewart ’00

I can’t tell you how joyful it was to see W46th Street filled with Wesleyan folks – and even the Cardinal! After the performance many danced to the stupendous Wes Band, Kinky Spigot and the Welders, who were rocking the Edison Ballroom. It was a high-energy celebration, and we funded 38 new scholarships.

As Kari and I took the train back on Saturday, I learned that our women’s volleyball team had beaten Williams on Friday for the first time since 2001. GO WES!!

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And the Semester Begins

Yesterday I met with my first class, and it was wonderful to join students and faculty racing across campus to begin focusing on Enzyme Mechanisms or on Emerson, on Film Noir or on French Intellectual History. The students in my seminar are mostly seniors, and there are majors from all three divisions enrolled. It’s a stressful time for some students, as they figure out their schedules and determine whether a class they want is already full. Last year I wrote about my own (fortunate) experience of getting only my third choice for a class, and how that course really changed my life. Within the next week or so all of our almost 3,000 students will have their schedules in place, the library will be packed late into the night, and we teachers will start worrying about how we will grade all those papers. Intellectual excitement, new discoveries, lots of work….summer is really over!

This academic year one of Wesleyan’s real treasures will begin celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Center for the Humanities has for decades brought to our campus major intellectual figures, artists and writers who share their insights with the Wesleyan community (and often write their books here, too!). Hannah Arendt Edmund Wilson, and Stanley Cavell spent extended residences at the Center in its early years. When I was a student here, the Center was at the heart of intellectual life on campus, and the tradition continues each Monday with lectures devoted to a specific theme but coming at it from diverse disciplines. Student Fellows join with faculty and visitors to create an incubator of new scholarship. My time as a student fellow was one of the highlights of my Wesleyan experience.

The theme this year is “Figuring the Human,” and the speakers and Fellows are all concerned with understanding the conception of the “human” that is at the core of the humanities. How have definitions of the human developed in relation to changing conceptions of technology, machines, animals? How does recent work in the sciences and the arts challenge our notions of “human nature?” These are just some of the ideas in play this year at CHUM. Under the leadership of Prof. Jill Morawski, there are plans for exciting classes and public events. You can check them out online, or visit the Center (on the corner of Washington and Pearl Streets).

We are ending the first week of classes with an exciting fundraising event on Broadway. Friday night will be Wesleyan night at In the Heights, winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical (and led by a troika of Wes alums). Thanks to all who purchased tickets, which will support financial aid at the university.

This weekend will also see our athletic teams get underway. Come cheer the Cardinals in Volleyball, and Cross-Country, and check our all the teams’ schedules at http://www.wesleyan.edu/athletics/.

GO WES!

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Midnight Sun and Scholarship Support

We just returned this weekend from a week visiting Kari’s family in Norway. Here’s a glimpse of what we saw as dusk settled in around midnight. It grew lighter by 1 AM.

It feels good to be back home on campus. The fields at Long Lane are busy with football and lacrosse practices from the high school camps here in the summer. Volleyball players have taken over Freeman. Over the next few months, the painters, carpenters and other physical plant employees will be working hard to get the various buildings ready for the return of the students. Classes in the Graduate Liberal Arts Program begin Monday, and soon I’ll be meeting with our Admissions officers to talk about recruiting the class of 2013. A few weeks ago I wrote about Summer Rhythms. The pace is already picking up!

When we were in Oslo, Kari and I met with a Wesleyan alumna who has settled there. We talked about how the education system in Norway emphasizes skill building early on, and how different that is from a liberal arts approach. In meeting college age relatives, I was struck by how they felt they had to specialize in a course of professional study by the age of 19. When I described Wesleyan to them, they were struck by the freedom that our students have to mold their own educational experience. “Is it only for the very rich?” they asked. When I described our financial aid program, and the work we’re doing to enhance it, they were very surprised. With strong governmental support, there is not the same tradition of philanthropy for culture and education in most of Europe as there is in the US. Of course, I know that there is plenty we still need to do to improve access to Wesleyan.

Even though our Oslo alum is decades out of Wes and thousands of miles away, she recently made a gift to support our scholarship programs through the Wesleyan Fund. She knows the value of financial aid to the students who receive grants, and to all the other students who benefit from a more diverse community. With the economic turmoil of this past year, it has been a challenging time to raise money. I have been reluctant to do any fundraising through this blog, but as this is the last week of our fiscal year, I will ask you to make a gift to our annual fund if you have not already done so. I know how tiresome it is to be asked for support again and again, and I have been so impressed with the generosity of the Wesleyan community. But nonetheless I now ask for your support because I believe that scholarships are a key component of our educational mission – and we need your help. Please give to financial aid through the Wesleyan Fund. Participation counts, as does every dollar we receive. Here’s the link to make a donation:
http://give.wesleyan.edu

Thanks in advance for any additional help you can provide.

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WOW! Wes on Broadway!!

Although I am far from Middletown on a family vacation, I had to share the news of last night’s Wesleyan successes at the Tony awards. Jeffrey Richards ’69 was a producer of “August: Osage County,” a family drama. The play already received a Pulitzer prize and won five Tonys, including “Best Play.”

“In the Heights,” a musical that was first performed as a student play at Wesleyan and written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, directed by Tommy Kail ’99 and with music arranged and orchestrated by Bill Sherman ’02, won four Tonys. These include “Best Musical,” “Best Original Score” (music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda), “Best Choreography,” and “Best Orchestrations” (Bill Sherman and Alex Lacamoire).

Brad Whitford ’81, known to many for his film and television work, has been a hit in the comedy “Boeing-Boeing.” The play won two awards, including “Best Revival.”

What great recognition for these talented alumni, and what a wonderful signal of Wesleyan’s capacity to launch creative students into the limelight!!

Let’s celebrate in September on Broadway!! We are holding a benefit performance of “In The Heights” on September 5, 2008 at The Richard Rodgers Theatre. Proceeds from the event will support our financial aid programs. More information is available online at: wesleyan.edu/intheheights or email ith@wesleyan.edu.

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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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Enthusiasm and Excellence

I am writing this entry from New York City, where the Wesleyan Alumni Association held a great event last night. There were about 500 people gathered in Gotham Hall to see old friends, make new connections, and to hear about alma mater. It was thrilling for me to see some of my buddies from the mid 1970s, and I met grads from the 1950s through last year. There were also many parents of current Wesleyan students in attendance, and they reported on the experience of their family members. There were teachers and physicians, managers from community organizations and from Wall Street, writers and interactive designers. In my remarks, I spoke about the creative, practical value of the liberal arts today (yes, that again!), but one could see that value oneself just by looking around the room and discovering the kaleidoscope of careers that become possible in life after Wesleyan. Of course, I also emphasized how the health of our university depends on active, loyal alumni. It is especially through alumni support of financial aid that we are able to keep Wesleyan a vibrant, open place where one can pursue one’s passion and aim at excellence. The enthusiasm of last night bodes well for the future!

Speaking of enthusiasm and excellence, I hope we can show spirited support this weekend as the Wesleyan softball team hosts (for the first time ever!) the NESCAC championships. The Wes women have had a great season, and they deserve our cheers. Their first game is on Friday, May 2, at 2:30 pm, and the tournament continues through the weekend.

Meanwhile, the mighty men’s lacrosse team is off to Middlebury for the NESCAC championships this weekend. Coach Raba’s men have fought hard all season, and we wish them well as they carry the Red and Black against some very tough competition. Their first game is on Saturday at 3 pm, and you can watch it on the Web. Check out the links, and the schedule for other athletic events, as our teams continue to compete as we move into the final weekend of classes: http://www.wesleyan.edu/athletics/

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Continuing Education: Semester #1

My first semester is coming to an end, and as I watch the students make their way across the icy, exquisite terrain of Andrus Field, I find myself reflecting on how these first months of my presidency have developed. I have been listening to students and faculty, to staff and alumni, to trustees and parents, as they try to introduce me to the most pressing issues facing the university today. My second Wesleyan education, like my first, has started with a dramatic encounter with my own ignorance. What do I know about food prices in Usdan or the lines? What about access to courses that are popular but intimate? How can we have more students taking the seminar without spoiling it? How should we balance our immediate budget needs with the long-term health of the school that growing the endowment provides? How can we continue to promote advanced research in all departments while insisting on effective, creative teaching? These are just a few of the many questions I have yet to answer. … Of course, I am still trying to figure out how best to make this blog informative and honest.

By now, people who have read this blog or have heard me speak know that I am given to “thinking in threes.” So, as I think of my chief lessons from semester one, I focus on three main areas:

Access: Wesleyan announced a significant enhancement to our financial aid packages to begin in the fall. We want to ensure that students who are admitted will have the financial assistance they need to thrive here. Many families tell us, though, that we are not doing enough, and they can point to wealthier institutions that are doing more for families in higher income brackets than those to whom Wesleyan offers aid. These families are not poor enough to qualify for the highest support, nor are they rich enough to send students to expensive schools like ours without significant financial sacrifice. I am very aware of this dilemma, and for that reason I have put fundraising for financial aid among our highest priorities. As we increase the size of our endowment for financial aid, we will be able to further ease the financial burden on larger segments of the student body.

Access to Wesleyan isn’t only about financial aid. It is also important that we reach out to new constituencies of students—both in the U.S. and internationally—to introduce the liberal arts and Wesleyan to families from groups currently under-represented on our campus. Diversity is a shared value at our school, but segregation is also a fact of daily life for many on our campus. We must reach out to more groups of potential students, and we must also reach into the various communities at Wesleyan to find ways to connect people across the most obvious identity group barriers.

Communities: I have spent a fair amount of time moving among the various communities that make up the Wesleyan world—from swim meets to COL lectures; from Para la Familia to football games. I know there are plenty of groups I haven’t yet met, and I am looking forward to getting to know students by teaching next term. The multiplicity of groups is exciting, but it also creates challenges for bringing people together in shared purpose, study, even celebration. There are conflicts among our diverse groups over politics, economics, food, personal choices. But we should remember also what we have in common: a devotion to the freedom (and affection) in which education can thrive.

Achievement: I hope to improve access to Wesleyan as I work to strengthen our various communities and their common ties. Why? Because I believe that a Wesleyan education can foster one’s capacity to discover what one loves to do and to get better at it. I’ve seen this throughout my first semester here, as I watch students push themselves to achieve more than they ever thought possible. It is tremendously exciting to see our students shine as performers and scholars, as artists and athletes. Wesleyan students demand a great deal from their education because they give so much to it. I am so grateful to be working among you because it allows me to continue my own education.

Thank you for your patience and your support. Good luck with the remaining papers and exams, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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More on Financial Aid for Students (and for a station!)

Some of the comments I’ve received on the blog and in person concern the limitations of Wesleyan’s initiative to reduce student indebtedness. Many wonder if we have created a financial aid paradigm that will result in entering classes of wealthy students and poor students (whose tuition is paid through grants). What happens, many ask, to middle-class families who can’t afford the tuition but don’t qualify for robust aid?This is a question we ask ourselves all the time. And the issue has led us to reduce student loan requirements for all who qualify for aid. A third of our aid recipients are from families earning more than $100k a year, and almost a quarter from families earning more than $125k annually. Like many of the most selective private colleges and universities in the United States, Wesleyan has chosen to focus its aid on need rather than to reallocate financial aid for merit scholarships. There is no reason to assume that merit scholarships would disproportionately aid students from middle-income households. In any case, can our school do more to identify real financial need among middle-class families? I bet we can, and that’s why we regularly review our financial aid allocations and formulae. In order to remain truly need blind, we must be sensitive to the variety of sacrifices families must make to send their students to Wesleyan. And our fundraising is focused on bringing more resources to support a creative use of grants to support middle-class and low-income families.Our recent initiative to reduce student indebtedness is, I realize, only one step in our efforts to enhance financial aid. With the generous support of the Wesleyan community, I am confident that we will be able to make further strides to reduce financial pressures on the significant percentage of our student body who need financial assistance to thrive here.————————————————————-Every morning I wake up to NPR on Wesleyan’s radio station, WESU (88.1 or WESUfm.org). In the afternoons there are engaging public affairs shows, with creative music programming in the evenings and on weekends. Now is the time to support the station’s pledge drive, and here’s how (courtesy of Jesse Sommer ’05):“WESU has really blossomed over the last three years. In that time, station members introduced Internet broadcasting, created a public affairs department, founded a nonprofit booster club, began publishing WESU Magazine, developed a regimented DJ training program, built new studios, initiated annual fundraisers, and fully upgraded the station’s technology. And WESU is still Wesleyan University’s largest student organization and most vibrant partnership with Middletown. The broadcast schedule now boasts a record 140 inhouse programs, including free-form music and local public affairs shows. Call our donation hotline at 860/687-7700, or donate online at www.wesufm.org

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