My first year as president has been an eventful one. We have a number of bold initiatives underway, but we still have much to do to realize the enormous potential of this great university. In addition to getting to know the campus and teaching a course in film studies this semester, I have been traveling around the country to meet with alumni. It has been revealing to hear the variety of perspectives on the institution, and it is encouraging to see the level of devotion to alma mater. On campus, I have been very impressed by the thoughtfulness and care of the students and faculty as they help this new president determine where to focus attention and energy.
In the fall I announced that we would take steps to increase our scholarship offerings, replacing loans with grants for our neediest students and decreasing student loan requirements by 35 percent beginning in the next academic year. It is clear that we need to do more, both to recruit low-income students who may not be finding their way to Wesleyan, and to offer more assistance to students from middle-income families. The financial aid landscape is changing, and we must continue to promote access to the university in a competitive environment.
During this first year I have come to understand the importance of some key facilities projects that have been in the planning stages: Molecular and Life Sciences Center, Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and the Davison Arts Center. The MLS Building will make a great addition to the south side of campus, wrapping around the Exley Science Tower to create a truly charismatic space across from Olin Library. Renovating Davenport for the Allbritton Center will create an interdisciplinary organization that will link intellectual work on campus with practical and policy issues nationally and internationally. Finally, the Davison Art Center is part of the historical legacy of our campus, and we need to make it capable of exhibiting and protecting our extraordinary collections of works on paper.
Access to a campus with great facilities is vital, but we must also revitalize the distinctive educational experience found here. Over the last few months I have been soliciting ideas for curricular initiatives that range from strengthening our first-year program to developing capstone experiences, from enhancing our programs in creative writing to developing a College of the Environment. It is very exciting to think about what is most “Wesleyanish” about the education we offer, and then to strengthen those dimensions of the university. We have formed faculty committees to bring these general ideas into focused, operational form, and you will be hearing more about our work in the coming months.
At my inauguration, I pledged to work with the faculty and students to develop a curriculum that emphasizes the radical freedom to explore new ideas, to cross boundaries, and to combine aesthetic or scientific practices. We will foster a teaching culture that encourages students to discover what they love to do by demanding that they work hard at things that matter. Wesleyan attracts some of the most gifted students at any school; by teaching them how to draw on their gifts, their passions, we enable them to work with enthusiasm and creativity.
I have emphasized the active nature of a Wesleyan education, and it is important to create opportunities to pursue research practices that advance the fields we teach. We must support this endeavor with new resources, and we must connect our researchers with one another and with colleagues around the globe. It is not enough that we encourage, even demand, the very best from our students and faculty. We must set an example through the work we do in whatever field we choose to apply ourselves. This takes time, money, energy, and a joint commitment to support innovative excellence wherever we find it in our community.
As other institutions focus on maintaining the status quo and avoiding risk, we can be proud of the qualities of mind and heart that are enhanced by the education we offer. And we should be proud of a community that mixes experimentation with kindness; that combines edgy critical thinking with affection and tolerance.
As one of America’s great institutions of higher education, Wesleyan University has a responsibility to contribute to making our public culture more thoughtful and more humane, more creative and more just. As your president, I pledge to join with you in making that contribution.