Check Out SWERVED and Good Luck on Finals!

Thanks to the suggestion of some parents, over the weekend I’ve been checking out the wonderful Wesleyan student website, It’s a great collection of creative work in a variety of media. As I explored photography and video and listened to cuts on the “Sound” section, my admiration for our students’ work grew with each click.

We’re now in the final days of the semester, so I’d like to wish all our students the best of luck with finals! I’m looking forward to a fabulous Commencement/Reunion Weekend, as we honor the class of 2012 along with Senator Michael Bennet ’87, Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards ‘P13, and artist Glenn Ligon ’82. We’ll also be honoring President Douglas Bennet ’59,  P’87, P’94 and his family by re-naming Fauver Frosh Bennet Hall.

I have an extra graduation ceremony to attend this year. I’m proud to be receiving an honorary doctorate from Eastern Connecticut State University this week. I give the Commencement Address tomorrow in Hartford for our state’s public liberal arts university.

Kari and I hope to spend lots of time during the next few months in the Berkshires (where I am supposed to make progress on a book project). Recently, I sat down with the head of our local NPR affiliate for an interview about Wesleyan, Freud, memory and history…

Summertime is almost here…

Alumni Elected to Office

Here is a probably partial (but not partisan) list of our distinguished alumni who have been declared the winners of their elections last night:

John Hickenlooper ’74  – elected Governor of Colorado

Michael Bennet ’87  – elected Senator from Colorado

Peter Shumlin ’79 – elected Governor of Vermont

Kathleen Clyde ’01 – elected to the Ohio State House of Representatives

Matt Lesser (in-process) – re-elected to CT House of Representatives

Dan Wolf ’79  – elected to state senate in Massachusetts representing the Cape and Islands

If you know of other Wesleyan alumni elected last night, please let me know

Go Wes!!

Wesleyan in Washington

Before heading off for some summer vacation, I spent the early part of this week in Washington, D.C.. The American Association of Colleges and Universities was hosting a gathering of presidents to discuss the impact of liberal learning on participation in the political sphere. This is a group devoted to the liberal arts experience, and led by President Carol Schneider AAC&U has presented very compelling information showing the public and private importance of the broad-based, participatory education offered at institutions like ours. Since I have been writing about these issues on the Huffington Post and elsewhere, I was glad to touch base with colleagues eager to make the case for liberal learning.

Since my stay in steamy DC was brief, I only had an opportunity to touch base with a few members of the Wes family doing interesting things in our nation’s capitol. We have alumni working in various sectors of government, but during this trip I met with a new Wesleyan parent, Mark Tercek, who is running The Nature Conservancy. TNC is one of the great international environmental organizations, and we talked about ways that this group might work together with our new College of the Environment. Mark was excited to hear about our plans for this interdisciplinary program, and I am confident we will find ways to make common cause. I also met with Dan deVise ’89, an education writer for the Washington Post. Dan and his wife Sophie ’88 met at Wes, and they have been pursuing journalism pretty much since graduation. I also had the chance meet with Col. Dunbar Gram and other members of the board of the James M. Johnson Trust. This foundation has generously supported Wesleyan’s financial aid program for many years, and I was delighted to report on our efforts to maintain need blind admissions in the face of all the economic pressures that challenge us.

I had interesting conversations about economic pressure, politics and education with our star Congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro. Rosa has been an energetic ally for educators for many years, and she continues to fight the good fight. I was so happy to see that she has a couple of Wes interns in her office this summer. Before returning home, Carol Scully and I had a productive meeting with a program officer from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some say that the humanities are declining or are under siege, but I was pleased to share information on some of the real innovations going on at the Wes campus, especially at the Center for the Humanities.

During our time away Kari and I hope to finish a few writing projects, hear some great music and spend as much time outdoors as possible. That way we’ll be ready to greet the class of 2014 at the end of the summer!

[tags]American Association of Colleges and Universities, liberal arts education, Huffington Post, Mark Tercek, The Nature Conservancy, Dan deVise ’89, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Col. Dunbar Gram[/tags]

What a Year! Hello Summer!!

We just concluded the 2009-2010 academic year by saying good-bye to the class of 2010, and it was a wonderful Commencement. Our student speaker, Latasha Alcindor ’10, delivered a stirring and poetic oration, and John W. Hickenlooper ’74, MA ’80 gave us a funny, thoughtful and moving address. I was particularly delighted to participate in the conferring of honorary doctorates on President Ruth Simmons of Brown University, composer Richard K. Winslow ’40, philosopher Stanley Cavell of Harvard University, and Mayor Hickenlooper.

One of the benefits of combining Reunion Weekend with Commencement is that we do have the opportunity to welcome back to Middletown old friends. I said to many a senior yesterday: “Your 5th Year Reunion isn’t that far off!” But still, Commencement always fills me with mixed emotions. It is a very happy occasion for our graduates, but at the same time I know I will miss seeing many of our students in classes or during my walks around campus.

This year we will have more students on campus for our Summer Session. There is still room in many of the classes, so if you are still making plans, check out:

[tags]2010 Commencement, John Hickenlooper ’74, Summer Session[/tags]

Toward a Framework for Planning

I made this year’s first trip to an alumni reception at the end of last week, a great gathering of generations of Wes fans in Denver. We doubled the number of applications from the Mile High City this past year, and I can see that we have many fervent ambassadors in Colorado. Business leaders, teachers, entrepreneurs and communications specialists with Wes degrees have made Denver their home. Standing out even among our talented alumni group are two of the states most interesting political leaders: Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper ’74 and US Senator Michael Bennet ’87. And there are many other alumni engaged in public service: from art museums, to schools, to alternative energy — Wesleyan grads and their families are making a difference in the public arena in Denver as elsewhere.

This year instead of talking about “how it feels to come home to Wesleyan,” or “what’s changed in Middletown since the 1970s,” I thought I ought to talk about the future of the university I’ve now gotten to know again. Of course, everyone is rightly concerned with how we are weathering the economic crisis that has significantly reduced our endowment. We are having conversations about the budget with both the Budget Priorities Committee – a committee which represents  faculty, students and staff   –  and an ad hoc faculty committee to advise me on current budget matters. Our immediate task is to cut spending by an additional 2.5%. Although we are not out of the woods yet,  I am confident that we can make the necessary cuts to balance the budget this year while protecting financial aid and the academic core.

So in Denver I talked briefly with the group about my work this past summer on a framework for planning the next decade at Wesleyan. I’ve taken the input I’ve received over the last two years from trustees, faculty, students, alumni and staff, and combined that with my own sense of how we might build on what is most distinctive about the Wesleyan experience. For the last year or so I’ve talked about “seven initiative areas,” and I have woven those into a plan that charts a direction for our university over the next several years. I’ve also emphasized that we must develop the sustainability of our economic model — that means there won’t be any spending sprees in the coming decade. But there will be an ever greater effort to energize those elements most distinctive in the Wesleyan experience, create ongoing economic support for those elements, and develop effective ways of communicating to the world about them.

On Wednesday (9/16/09) this week I’ll post the framework for planning on a new Weblink: Wesleyan 2020. We will be having extensive conversations on campus about the ideas in the posted document, and  I invite you to send in your feedback either via email or directly to the site. We will continue to revise  our plans for the future until we have a framework we can use for developing our curriculum, recruiting students, allocating resources and raising endowment support for the future.

We are almost ready to move from crisis management to opportunity seeking. I look forward to engaging conversations on how we can build a Wesleyan for the future that will grow out of the finest accomplishments of our proud history.

[tags]alumni reception, John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet, budget, resource allocation, endowment[/tags]

Senator Michael Bennet ’87: Pragmatist with Vision

Michael Bennet ’87 was recently sworn in as the United States Senator from Colorado, the seventh Wesleyan alumnus to serve as a United States Senator. I’ve only met Michael briefly through his father Doug, just as Doug was finishing his very successful tenure as Wesleyan’s 15th president. Reading about Michael Bennet’s career this week, I am struck by how he exemplifies so many of the virtues and values we hope to impart to our graduates.

After Wesleyan, where he majored in History and graduated with Honors and Phi Beta Kappa, Michael went onto Yale Law School and a position in the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration. He then went into the business world, working for Philip Anschutz’s investment firm in Colorado. Learning on the job, he had real success turning around distressed companies, but eventually he went back into public service. The first stop was chief of staff for Denver’s mayor John Hickenlooper, a Wesleyan grad (and microbrewery entrepreneur from the class of ’74 !) Bennet then became superintendent of the Denver School system, where he was able to implement changes that have resulted in a surge in enrollment and test scores in the city.

I expect that Michael Bennet’s pragmatic approach to problem solving and long term investments in education will serve his state and our country well. I wish him well in Washington, and hope to see the red and black on the Senate floor!

[tags] Michael Bennet ’87, United States Senator, Colorado, Doug Bennet, history, Phi Beta Kappa, Yale Law School, Justice Department, Philip Anschutz, Mayor John Hickenlooper ’74, Denver school system [/tags]