Music, Theater, Athletics This Weekend!

This weekend the senior theses shows keep coming. I missed the opening this week because of NESCAC meetings, but I’m eager to see the work of the studio art seniors at the Zilkha Gallery (up through Saturday). There are recitals (e.g., Simon Riker’s ’14 musical in Beckham, Jeffrey Berman ’14 and Molly Balsam ’14 in the CFA) and plays (Lily Whitsitt ’06 production of Vatzlav), and I hear a rumor about a great musical in the 92 Theater. And I’m sure there’s more!!

There’s also plenty of sports action. The baseball team has been on a tear. Last weekend there was a very exciting sweep of Middlebury, and this weekend the Williams team comes to town on Friday afternoon. The softball team has been lead by pitching ace Su Pardo ’16, who was named Player of the Week by NESCAC after heroic efforts. In track, Kiley Kennedy ’16 has continued her record setting ways in pole-vaulting, while Sierra Livious ’14 set a school record in the hammer throw. The Women’s lacrosse team is on the road this weekend, and they are getting stronger as the season progresses. The men’s lacrosse team has excelled, and they defend their first-place record this weekend against Bowdoin. The mighty crew teams will be up at Tufts, showing how pulling together really works.

It’s such a busy time of year, and I know I haven’t listed anything like a full report on goings on. But let’s cheer on our Cardinal mates wherever we find them: on the fields, stages, galleries or vaulting with a pole!

And congratulations to all those thesis writers who finished up today. THESISWHY!


Welcoming Veterans as Part of Class of 2018

On Tuesday evening I attended the ceremony honoring the cohort of veterans who have been selected to begin their education at Wesleyan in the fall. With this group, we join with the Posse Foundation and Vassar College in expanding educational opportunities for the men and women who have served in the armed forces since 9/11. We plan on accepting groups of ten veterans through this process each year.

The Posse Foundation’s philosophy is to provide educational opportunities to students from under-represented groups who support and inspire one another in strong cohorts. The 10 Early Decision students have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and here in the United States. They have this in common: a strong desire to support one another as they pursue a broad, engaged liberal education at Wesleyan. Having already gone through a rigorous selection process, they seemed very much ready to join our campus community. I know they will make important contributions to it as they interact with students, faculty and staff.


This year we have also decided to increase the number of Questbridge scholars in the class of 2018. Questbridge Scholars add significantly to our diversity as they enliven our classrooms, stages and playing fields. At Wesleyan we don’t have unlimited resources for scholarships, but thanks to generous donors at all levels, we can use our scholarships to make a profound difference in the lives of individual students and in the character of our community. I’m very grateful for the contributions we’ve received that make these and other financial aid initiatives possible at Wesleyan.

This week I will be attending meetings on college access at the White House. I hope to learn about more ways that we can leverage our resources to create new opportunities for low and middle income families.  While we raise money for financial aid endowment, we are already finding ways to offer enhanced scholarships within a sustainable economic model. This will mean keeping our tuition increases in line with inflation, and maintaining financial aid as a fundraising priority. The THIS IS WHY campaign has already raised more than $300 million, the majority of those funds going to the endowment. This will enable the university to become less dependent on tuition, so that we can truly disregard the financial capacity of applicants and meet full demonstrated need without requiring excessive loans.

At the end of the festivities with Posse, our new members of the class of ’18 joined me in a boisterous GO WES!! I can hardly wait to welcome them to campus.


Red and Black Turns Blue

This week I was in Boston for a fundraising event to raise money for financial aid. Chris Wink ’83 is one of the founders of the Blue Man Group, and he arranged for us to have a night in the theater packed with Wesleyan folks whose ticket purchases went to support our scholarship program. There were alumni representing at least the last four decades, along with current students and some kids who might already be dreaming of becoming part of the class of 2024.

Chris explained that his Wesleyan experience resonated as he began to work with some friends on the Blue Men. He drummed here, and he also studied history, music, psychology and a host of other subjects. I was particularly impressed with his description of a campus where the elemental worked side by side with the avant-garde. This reminded me of something that has been important at Wes for more than 60 years: a combination of the deeply traditional with the wildly experimental. THIS IS WHY.

Celebrating with Joshua ’73 and Amy Boger P’06, ’09
Celebrating With Two Great Wes Athletes


Talking with Chris Wink ’83 after the show

Photographs by Olivia Drake

Fall Break Travels — Amherst, Washington, San Francisco

Fall break is usually a busy time for me, and this year is no exception. It started off with a bang at Amherst. All our athletes competed superbly, and our football team won at Amherst for the first time in many years. It was an exciting game, and there was a great Wesleyan turnout in the visitors’ bleachers. I’m not sure if our lusty cheering helped all that much, but it didn’t hurt. In the end the team left Amherst at 5-0. This is a result for which Alumni Director John Driscoll ’62 has been waiting for a long time!


This morning I headed down to Washington, D.C., to talk about improving learning outcomes in higher education at an event sponsored by the Hamilton Project. Our session was chaired by former Secretary of the Treasury Robert E. Rubin, and I was joined by University of North Carolina President Thomas Ross and Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa from the University of Texas. Although the challenges of these large public systems are quite different from those we face at Wesleyan, I was proud to learn that many were looking to our work at Wesleyan for innovative ideas that might translate to a variety of educational contexts.

Hamilton Project Panel on Higher Education
Hamilton Project Panel on Higher Education

Tomorrow I head West for a great THIS IS WHY event in San Francisco with Michael Pollan P’15 and Jonathan Bloom ’99. They will be talking about food as pleasure, necessity, and industry. I can hardly wait!


We had a great turnout last night for the conversation about food, politics, culture and the environment. I saw several recent alumni and alumni from decades back (some who are also current Wes parents). Jonathan was a wonderful interviewer, and Michael described both the systemic issues in the way we produce (and waste) food and what we can do about it. I was particularly glad to hear him describe the massive political challenges while also analyzing the positive steps that we can take that make a difference immediately. And he gave a great shout-out to Wesleyan farmers at Long Lane and to our environmental activists more generally.

Michael Pollan P'15 and Jonathan Bloom '97
Michael Pollan P’15 and Jonathan Bloom ’99

This is Why.


Do it in the Dark for Financial Aid

A group of Wesleyans have gotten together to address two core priorities: sustainability and financial aid. Their idea is that students compete to save energy — turn off those lights and turn down the heat or a/c. The money on energy that the university saves by reducing our carbon footprint will be put in a special scholarship endowment so that more students in the future will have access to financial support (not loans). Pretty cool. Kate Weiner ’15 sent me a video that showcases their project.



You know why? This is Why.

New Semester, New Year

While I sat in schul this morning to mark Rosh Hashana, my office sent out an all-campus email with some updates for the beginning of the school year. I’ve pasted it in below. Tomorrow afternoon we continue building a new tradition at Wesleyan — a music festival (The Mash — video from last year) on the first Friday of the academic year. There will be plenty of student bands playing around campus, and I’ll be joining Dean Louise Brown, Prof. Barry Chernoff and a couple of their bandmates from the Smokin Lillies to kick it off. We’ll be rockin out on the Church Street side of Olin Library.


Dear friends,

The new year is underway, the humidity has lifted… books are being read, experiments are being conducted, music and sports are being played, films and paintings are being viewed, poems and stories are being written… Welcome to 2013-2014! Here are a few updates.

Financial Aid and the ‘THIS IS WHY’ Campaign. We are working hard to deploy our financial aid resources as effectively as possible – keeping loans to a minimum while meeting the full need of students. At the same time we’ve made financial aid the centerpiece of our fundraising efforts. And this past year I’m so pleased to announce we raised more money than ever before!  As of August 21st, the Campaign is at $306,130,869 in gifts and pledges, well on our way toward our fundraising goal of $400 million. Most of the money is going to the endowment. Financial aid – now more than ever!

Posse Partnership. Wesleyan values a diverse campus culture and actively recruits talented needy students through partnerships with community groups and foundations. I’m pleased to announce a new partnership, this one with the Posse Foundation. Beginning next fall we will annually bring a cohort of ten military veterans to our campus.

Searches. Two administrative positions central to the university, the Chief Diversity Officer and the Director of Public Safety, remain open, but the searches have made great progress and interviews are taking place over the next weeks. The first of these is a Cabinet position (being ably held on an interim basis by Dean Marina Melendez), and the second now reports directly to Mike Whaley, Vice President for Student Affairs. The external review of Public Safety begun last spring is expected shortly, and we plan to share a summary with the community as we begin to vet and implement the recommended changes.

Campus Climate Report.  Last spring, two campus climate surveys were conducted: one for students and one for faculty, staff and graduate students.  The results of the first will not be ready for some weeks, and unfortunately there is some question as to how useful they will be due to low participation. Participation in the second survey was greater, and those results are presented HERE.

The findings of this survey indicate that the area in which we need to improve is the effects of hierarchy on inclusion. Those of lower position within our hierarchies tended to have a less favorable view of the campus climate. This should alert us to ensuring that we treat everyone on campus with respect, regardless of their position and our own.

MASH. This Friday it’s the MASH, a festival that highlights the student music scene on campus, showcasing some of Wesleyan’s most popular student bands and musical groups. I’ll be joining (on keyboards) with the Smokin Lillies to kick things off in front of Olin Library at 2:00 PM. There will be different stages for performances, culminating in bands serenading an all-campus BBQ at the base of Foss Hill Friday evening.

Night Game and Middletown Day. We are inviting our neighbors to campus for a day of athletic contests and fun on September 21. We’ll finish things up with the first night football game in NESCAC history. It’s against Tufts. Go Wes!

Welcome to 2013-2014! May the new year be filled with sweetness, exuberance and joy!

Wesleyan Scientists Win Big Grant (Again)

Reading the Hartford Courant, I came across the following story:

The latest round of state funding for stem cell research — totaling $9.8 million — will go to 23 research projects, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office announced Thursday. The Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee chose the recipients from among 109 applicants. The largest award, $1.49 million, went to Janice Naegele at Wesleyan University for a project titled “HESC-Derived GABAergic Neurons for Epilepsy Therapy.”

I wrote to Professor Naegele, who told me that the “grant is a multi-Investigator grant with Gloster Aaron and Laura Grabel. These funds will allow us to embark on new studies to determine whether human embryonic stem cell-derived GABAergic interneuron transplants restore memory and reduce seizures and anxiety in mice with severe temporal lobe epilepsy. The grant also provides stipends for graduate students and undergraduate researchers.”

This is the kind of project that is many years in the making, and I know that Profs. Naegele, Aaron and Grabel (and their students) have been dedicated to stem cell research in the epilepsy field for a long time now. When I’ve visited their labs, I’ve been so impressed by the students’ dedication and expertise. This is a great example of how scholar-teachers at Wesleyan are having an impact on the world and on their students. Congratulations to everyone who worked on the grant!


From Mississippi to Middletown

Coming back from lunch Friday, I saw two people having their picture taken on the steps of South College. Ollie L. Hamblin Jr ’74 and his wife Virginia Hamblin were back on campus for the first time in almost forty years. Ollie is a teacher in a small town in Mississippi, and he and Virginia wanted to visit Wesleyan to renew old memories and see what’s changed. He explained that he had been recruited to come to Wes in 1969-1970, and that he seized on the opportunity even though he didn’t know anything about the university. The full scholarship he received was life-changing, and his career as a teacher is grounded in the educational experience he had as an undergraduate. Ollie joked that he didn’t have a million dollar check to hand over, but that he wanted to express his gratitude for the opportunity that his scholarship provided. I explained that his account was priceless, and that fundraising for scholarships was our highest priority. He and Virginia (they married in Ollie’s senior year) were happy to take a pic with our BECAUSE poster.

BECAUSE Wesleyan is our cause
BECAUSE Wesleyan is our cause

Ollie L. Hamblin, Jr. ’74 — math teacher extraordinaire in Canton, Mississippi. THIS IS WHY.


It’s Reunion Time

The alumni are coming! The alumni are coming! Starting today, many Wesleyan grads will be coming home to connect with one another and with that special campus vibe. The fiftieth reunion class of 1963 is connecting with the about-to-graduate class of 2013, and alumni from across the decades will be connecting with old friends and making new ones. There are many special events (like the super cool concert with Amanda Palmer Friday night), culminating in Commencement on Sunday.

Wonder why you should make the trip to Middletown? Check out the program. THIS IS WHY.


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Hollywood THIS IS WHY Event: Politics and Entertainment for Financial Aid

Last night we had an energetic kickoff event in Hollywood. About 100 Wesleyans showed up to drink a toast to alma mater and listen to a conversation with Julia-Louis Dreyfus P’14 and Governor John Hickenlooper ’74. Julia talked about her career in comedy — leaving Northwestern before her senior year to pursue theater and television in Chicago (and SNL).  John discussed his amazing variety of jobs: from geologist to brewer/restaurateur to mayor of Denver and now governor of Colorado. What’s next for Julia?  She loves her award-winning HBO show, VEEP, and with some film work between seasons is plenty busy. And what’s next for John?  He is very happy being governor and will be running for re-election next year.

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It was great fun to see old LA friends and to meet new ones. Julia and John had much to say about contemporary politics, education, and the connection of cynicism to laughter. In their case being funny is just part of  being engaged in their communities. They came out last night to help us raise more money for financial aid. The group there has already donated more than $1.4 million for scholarships.