Mad About Wes

Last night a few hundred Wesleyans gathered at the Director’s Guild Theater in New York to hear from Matthew Weiner ’87, creator of Mad Men. This was one of the kickoff events for our THIS IS WHY fundraising campaign, and the energy was terrific. I met some recent graduates who were eager to hear how Matt went from being a College of Letters major to a film and television writer. Older alumni were comparing notes with me about how the mania for period detail in Mad Men got the epoch just right.

Matt told a hilarious story about his poetry thesis and spoke warmly of the creative friends and teachers at Wesleyan who helped launch him into the world of ideas and media. Was it the Freud seminar taught by Elisabeth Young-Breuhl and Paul Schwaber, or the work in writing seminars with Anne Greene? COL director Kari Weil seemed to think that it was all those discussions about books that matter, and Matt provided plenty of evidence for that when he talked about Don Draper’s tenuous existentialism. It was a wonderful evening, and at the end we announced a new $600,000 donation to financial aid from an alumnus who wanted to celebrate the occasion. It was a great night for alma mater!

I’m heading back to campus today. There is so much happening on campus this weekend — from music and public life in Indonesia to great international theater at the CFA (not to mention Company at the Second Stage). Lots of great athletic action, too! Check out the calendar and find out why we keep saying, “THIS IS WHY.”

The Wesleyan Festival Continues

April is a terrifically busy month, and also one in which there are so many delights to behold. Take athletics — from the men’s lacrosse team’s classy triumph over Trinity to the softball teams FIRST EVER sweep of Trinity’s women. Men’s tennis is also on a roll, dispatching Hamilton and then beating Tufts FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE WW II. The crew teams are having the kinds of success that send rankings soaring, while rugby sends opponents falling. And the baseball team seems to be having almost as much fun with its winning ways as the spectators up on Foss Hill. 

From almost anywhere on campus you can hear the drummers, who have taken to lawns of the CFA, sometimes accompanied by dancers. I couldn’t help but shake a little bit as I headed for this week’s senior artist exhibition in the Zilkha gallery. What a fantastic show! From the photographs of imposters to the paintings of (photographs of) Versailles, there is lots of great art to see. Check out the amazing blend of the conceptual and the beautiful! 

There are seminars and panels, lectures, films and shows over these next few days. After witnessing Lily Haje’s ’13 amazing immersive theatrical experience last week, I am looking forward to catching Eurydice at the Patricelli 92 theater. And after catching Sam Friedman’s ’13 UNBELIEVABLE senior concert last week, I’m looking forward to some great jazz at the CFA this weekend. 

Wednesday morning I met with WesFest families bright and early. There were folks from Bangkok and Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Berkeley…even Kansas City! I reminisced with them about my student days at Wesleyan, particularly at Alpha Delta Phi. Feeling nostalgic, I headed over to the Star and Crescent for a delightful lunch. I spent many happy hours in the kitchen there when I was a student, and I felt that great Wes spirit alive and well there yesterday. But don’t believe the Facebook photos… 

I’ll be back talking about liberal arts education with parents and pre-frosh this morning. They’ll be off to a day of meeting with students, professors and staff, learning about Wesleyan. There is an especially exciting event today: 

Global Produce founder and CEO Marc Shmuger ’80 – Previously, Marc worked as CEO and chairman for Universal Pictures. He will host a special pre-release presentation of the film, We Steal the Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, at 8 p.m. in the Center for Film Studies, Goldsmith Family Cinema. 

Wesleyan in the springtime. The festival is off and running. THIS IS WHY.


GOLD Parties and a Great Day in NYC

I was in New York yesterday meeting with alumni and parents who are supporting our financial aid program. It was a great day; I am always so inspired by members of our extended family who dig deep to provide scholarship support so that talented students in the future will be able to experience fully the benefits of a Wesleyan education.

Last night there were alumni parties for graduates of the last decade. John Usdan ’80, P’15 sponsored our gathering in Hell’s Kitchen, and we had more than 200 attendees. Ellen Jewett ’80, P’17 very generously agreed to match gifts given last night, and there were lots of credit cards being swiped.

I’ve been president long enough now so that about half of these alums graduated while I’ve been at the helm. It was great to see some familiar faces and to meet new people doing exciting things in New York. There were even a few alumni there who were student members of the search committee that hired me in 2007. Any regrets, we asked one another? None on my side, that’s for sure.

Actors, teachers, financiers, librarians, community organizers and county prosecutors…Wesleyan folks doing it all.


GOLD party in N.Y.C.
GOLD party in N.Y.C.
GOLD party in Denver.
GOLD party in Denver.
GOLD party in Providence.
GOLD party in Providence.

Wesleyan Fundraising Campaign: THIS IS WHY.

This past weekend the Trustees were on campus for our regular winter meeting. This year’s gathering was punctuated by the news that we were launching our fundraising campaign, during which we will aim to raise 400 million dollars. I made a formal announcement of this at a dinner to celebrate Wesleyan volunteers on Friday night, and I was especially excited to share the news that we had already received more than 283 million dollars in gifts and pledges toward our goal. That means we have already raised more money in this effort than in any previous campaign, and I should add that we have already put more than twice as much money into the endowment than we have ever been able to do in a comparable period in the past.

I reflected on the early days of our planning for this campaign, which took place in the spring of 2008. The US economy was trembling on the brink of disaster, and yet we were talking about an ambitious effort to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. I was a brand new president, and I have to admit that I was filled with trepidation. I’ll always remember that John Usdan ’80, P’15, now our campaign chair, leaned over to me and said with a smile that it was just the perfect time to plan to raise money. When the economy began to improve again, he assured me, we would be in the perfect position!

John Usdan, Campaign Chair
John Usdan ’80, P’15, Campaign Chair

We have three priorities in our fundraising efforts. The first is financial aid. We intend to at least double the endowment dollars dedicated to scholarships, raising more than $200 million for financial aid. The second is support for academic programs, with $140 million dedicated to support teaching and research. The third goal will increase the impact of our work beyond the campus, with $60 million to support student efforts to translate what they’ve learned at Wesleyan into engagement with the world. You can read more about these goals and make a gift HERE.

It was fitting that we made this announcement in front of a group of university volunteers. Megan Norris ’83, P’17, who has served this university so well as a trustee and now heads the Alumni Association, joined Board Chair Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, P’09 in speaking about  the powerful role that graduates can play in raising more money for financial aid.

Megan Norris Addressing the Crowd
Megan Norris ’83, P’17 Addressing the Crowd
Joshua Boger at the Podium
Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, P’09 at the Podium

The evening was punctuated by dances from the Wes Precision Dance Troupe.   They even got some of senior staff up on the floor to celebrate.


During the next few years the administration is not going to tell you why we think you should support Wesleyan, but we are going to ask you why you think Wes is a cause worth fighting for. You’ll tell us about opportunities that opened up for you, about friendships that have changed your lives, about teaching that has changed the way you see the world…about why we must continue to work so that Wesleyan can live up to its promise to deliver the best in progressive liberal arts education. We will record your stories and create an archive of your photos. And when you tell us why you support Wesleyan, we will agree: THIS IS WHY.



Wesleyan Taking Over Hollywood (THIS IS WHY)

I’m writing this from Los Angeles, where last night we gathered with more than 200 Wesleyans to celebrate film studies. Each year Rick Nicita67 hosts this great party on President’s Day at the spectacular offices of the Creative Artists Agency. We had much to celebrate this year. I announced that Wesleyan was creating the College of Film and the Moving Image. The college integrates the Film Studies Department, the Cinema Archives, the Center for Film Studies, and the Wesleyan Film Series in ways that will allow Wesleyan to accelerate the success of an already dynamic, high-impact program.

Mike Fries ’85 was at the event to announce his gift to the endowment to honor his father, television producer Chuck Fries. These funds (with help from the National Endowment for the Humanities) have allowed us to hire Andrea McCarty for a new curatorial position at the Cinema Archives. Chuck and his wife Ava joined Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, founder and curator of the Wesleyan Cinema Archives, Jeanine Basinger, Rick, Mike and me in marking this occasion.

Rick Nicita, Prez Roth, Jeanine Basinger, Ava Fries, Chuck Fries, Mike Fries

Jeanine arrived at the events after a hard day of book signing.  Her I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies is selling like hotcakes and receiving rave reviews. We met up with Joss Whedon, the 2013 commencement speaker, to take a THIS IS WHY photo.

This is Why: Joss and Jeanine


This year is particularly exciting for the Wes Film Empire, with Beasts of the Southern Wild nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (among others). At the reception I met up with some of the producers of the film, and we had a vigorous conversation about recent changes to our financial aid programs. (I also dropped to my knees to pay homage to their extraordinary movie.)

This is Why: Beasts of Southern Wild Producers

Hey, it’s Wesleyan. We aren’t supposed to agree on everything. But we did agree that raising more money for financial aid should be an institutional priority, and that’s what the fundraising campaign is all about.

Financial Aid Now More than Ever. THIS IS WHY.