Feed on

Each year I write to the Wesleyan community with an update on the university’s progress in relation to our strategic framework, Wesleyan 2020. As you may recall, this document was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2010 and was the basis for a “strategy map.” We continue to use these guideposts to help us allocate our resources and to put the work we’ve been doing in a context for assessment and planning. Wesleyan 2020 outlines three overarching goals: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; and to work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values. Attached to each goal are more focused objectives, and below I highlight some of the things we’ve been doing to meet them over the last twelve months.


Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience
Having launched a suite of interdisciplinary colleges in recent years, over the past twelve months we have been nurturing their development. We have also revamped the administrative structure for Study Abroad and have been developing the Center for Global Studies. The new College of Integrative Sciences has taken the lead in creating a cluster of courses in Design and Engineering, and with the help of the Mellon Foundation we will begin offering classes in these fields next semester. This effort builds on the Data and Computational initiative of recent years. We’ve also been preparing a pilot intensive semester: a suite of four classes with students focusing exclusively on each class for roughly three weeks. This builds on the intensive winter and summer sessions introduced in recent years. Our objective in the 2020 plan is to “refine and refresh curriculum, exploiting academic strengths,” and the faculty has been doing just that.

Pedagogical Innovation is at the core of curriculum renewal because working through new modes of teaching helps us to develop new kinds of courses, certificates and majors. We are building an umbrella organization, a Center for Pedagogical Innovation, that should increase our capacity to use technology in the classroom, conduct project-based learning, and ensure that we are meeting our educational objectives in an environment in which modes of learning are changing. Adjustments in the preregistration process for first year students seem to have resulted in reduced anxiety and greater access. Academic Affairs has also been working on assessment and advising, including connecting faculty to residence halls, so as to advance the 2020 objective to “enhance faculty’s capacity for mentoring students.”

“Choose students who can most benefit from and contribute to Wesleyan” is another 2020 objective. This year’s frosh class was the most diverse in memory, and it has stellar academic qualifications. By becoming a test-optional school (no longer requiring standardized tests), we believe we will be able to recruit more talented students (and students who are more talented in different ways) from around the country and the world. We significantly increased our spending on financial aid this year, and attracting a student body diverse with respect to interests, ethnicity, economic situation, and geographical background remains a high priority.

When we approved the 2020 plan, MOOCs were just a gleam in somebody’s eye. After a year or two of great hype, we are now settling into a pattern of improving and refining classes. In the past year, Wesleyan has been successful with two Requests for Proposals from Coursera for specializations: the first in data science, and the second in creative writing (forthcoming).

Campus safety has been much on our mind over the last few years, and this continues to be a priority. We hired a new director of Public Safety, Scott Rohde, and he has made great strides in better integrating the work of our officers within the campus community. We have also initiated a Task Force to look at policy issues and educational initiatives with respect to the use of illegal drugs on campus.

Over the last year we worked with Sasaki and Eastley+Partners to think about how to align our physical campus with our educational aspirations, and we settled on five principles to guide our planning: synergy of residential and academic experience; network of informal learning spaces; spectrum of formal learning spaces; transparency of indoor/outdoor spaces; engagement with local and global partners. These principles have already been helpful with respect to the expansion of Pi Café and the improvement of the pathway in front of College Row, and going forward they will surely help in various ways to advance our objective to “enhance co-curricular programs to support the personal and academic learning environment.”

Recognition of Wesleyan as an Extraordinary Institution

Every year we celebrate the accomplishments of our faculty, students, staff and alumni, and we try to highlight how those achievements are connected to a Wesleyan education. Each week Wesleyans are making news. (An alumni-journalist recently speculated that Wes gets so much media attention because of the disproportionate number of our graduates who work in communications!) Sometimes the attention is challenging (see the Molly poisoning incident) and sometimes it is glorious (see Hamilton). Faculty are in the spotlight because of their work on the solar system or on the electoral system, on climate change or on the power of the gun lobby, on Hollywood or on understandings of animals. When we leverage this media prominence, we advance the 2020 objectives to “make research of faculty and students more widely known” and to “strengthen lifelong alumni engagement.”

In the past year the Center for the Arts has launched a master’s degree in the curatorial practice for performance, creating excitement about Wesleyan in arts organizations around the country and beyond. Our partnership with Coursera, mentioned above, has resulted in more than a million students around the world signing up for Wes classes. Most of our online students live outside the U.S., and we are eager to have them recognize the qualities of our university. Scott Plous’s Social Psychology class remains one of the most popular on the Internet. These are examples of the many efforts this year that have helped us “enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution” and “promote Wesleyan in areas where we are not well known.”

For many years Wesleyan had a weak claim to prominence in athletics, but over the last few years we have seen extraordinary success. This has to do with our distinctive program, to be sure, and I could have referred to this achievement in the previous section. However, the national championship won by Eudice Chong in women’s tennis, the player-of-the-year awards in different sports, and the NESCAC championships in baseball and men’s basketball in the past year have received a lot of positive attention, “enhancing recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution.

The quality and quantity of our applicant pool remains for us a key measure of recognition. After a decline in applications last year, we have seen a significant rebound for the class of 2019. Most important, we continue to receive applications of the highest quality from students who have already challenged themselves in high school, and who display a talent and appetite for learning in a residential context.


Sustainable Economic Model and Core Values

Thanks to the efforts of a hard working and thoughtful staff, we remain a “lean” institution compared to our peers. We reversed “administrative bloat” some time ago, and we continue to exercise a great deal of fiscal discipline. This means saying “no” to some projects each year, but in the long run we are building capacity for the university.

In my annual update last year I underscored that we were able to increase our “yield” among high-need students in the class of 2018 (meaning that we had a more economically diverse class). That yield proved even greater for the class of 2019. We continue to admit about 90 percent of the class without regard to their ability to pay. In recent discussions we have talked about the importance of ensuring that we are truly meeting “full need” of those who enroll rather than stretching dollars so as to get close to a “need blind” label. This, as I recognize each year, has been a shift from the 2020 framework.

One of the key 2020 objectives is to “attract and retain faculty who are productive scholars, first-rate teachers and contributors to campus community.” And this year we’ve been successful in hiring extraordinary faculty who we are confident will remain dedicated to their students while they enhance their own fields of research. The group we brought to campus in the fall of 2015 was the most diverse in memory, and their talents extend across the full range of the curriculum.

The financial health of our university will depend on our ability to marshal assets other than tuition dollars to support the annual budget. In 2020 we express this as the need to “grow the endowment while restraining the growth of the annual budget.” The investment team is now building an extensive record of excellence, and our rates of return compare very favorably with our peer group. The growth in the annual budget has been about the lowest of any school with which we usually compare ourselves.

We could not have grown the endowment as we did without the sustained, generous engagement of our alumni. Last year in our THIS IS WHY campaign we raised more than $40 million, which allowed us to surpass our total goal of $400 million. I am particularly grateful that so many of our contributors chose to support our major institutional priorities, the main one being to endow more financial aid and enhance access to our distinctive, pragmatic liberal education. This is final year of the THIS IS WHY campaign, and our success last week with Giving Tuesday is more proof that our alumni are confident in our university’s future and want to be a part of it. We are building momentum to close out the campaign this year with a flourish.

Concluding thoughts

The more I talk to our students, the more I am convinced of the power and meaning of the Wesleyan promise: boldness, rigor and practical idealism. Of course students want more contact with professors in informal situations, and they want mentorship about how to navigate the job market. They want even more opportunities to build community – more opportunities to get together and make connections across disciplines, social classes, and ethnic groups. And, these being Wes students, they want to cultivate this community while all the while retaining a very strong individualist streak. And they’re willing to step up and work for change when they see injustice, be it institutional racism in this country or mistreatment of refugees abroad.

No college education should be judged solely on the basis of earnings after graduation. At Wesleyan, of course, we are committed to helping our graduates find work that is satisfying; we expect that the education we offer prepares them to compete for jobs in diverse sectors of the economy. But we also expect that who they are and what they learn will lead many of them to develop careers that are not “just” about achieving their “maximum earnings potential.”

Our alumni offer the best testimony to this view of pragmatic liberal education. Whether they are in business, the arts, research, sales, banking, or the not-for-profit sector, Wes alums report that they continue to draw upon their education for decades after graduation.

If you spend time with our students, it is hard not to be impressed by their range of interests and concerns, their ambition and sophistication, and their commitment to helping Wesleyan increase its capacity to pursue its mission. Yes, the economy does create real anxiety about jobs and about the appropriate preparation for life after college. Many are eager to hear more from alumni about how they navigated the world after Wesleyan. For all their differences, Wesleyans consistently prize the student culture here for its stimulation and its supportiveness. Our students usually feel very much at home at Wesleyan, even when they have a drive to improve it, to make it more equitable and inclusive. When they demand improvements to our university, it is because they are invested in its promise. Improve we shall! As we make progress on the strategic goals of 2020, we are working together to keep that home comforting as well as empowering: a place that launches students into the world while remaining a nourishing environment in which they always feel welcome.


Michael S. Roth

Just about a year ago, I wrote to update the Wesleyan community on the university’s progress in relation to our strategic framework, Wesleyan 2020. This document was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2010 and was the basis for a “strategy map.” We continue to use these guideposts to help us allocate our resources, and to put the work we’ve been doing in a context for assessment and planning. Wesleyan 2020 outlines three overarching goals: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; and to work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values. Attached to each goal are more focused objectives, and below I highlight some of the things we’ve been doing to meet them.

Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience
The faculty has primary responsibility for the curriculum, and over the last year we have seen creative efforts to deepen and broaden Wesleyan’s curricular strengths. In 2014 we launched the College of East Asian Studies, the College of Integrated Science, and a new Masters Program in Curatorial Practice in Performance. And we laid the groundwork for real progress in 2015 on a Center for Global Studies. Replacing the office of International Studies, the Center will strategically leverage the wealth of resources already on campus in the areas of global awareness, world languages, and social commitment. We have also further integrated our engaged campus work and interdisciplinary social science efforts through the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life; new kinds of research and teaching collaborations in conjunction with the Wesleyan Media Project have been especially noteworthy. In many respects faculty and staff made significant contributions this year with respect to the 2020 objective “Refine and refresh curriculum, exploiting academic strengths.”

There has been a strong desire for more productive avenues for pedagogical innovation. In January we ran our first Winter Session, and the intensive courses launched during this pilot program were seen as very successful by faculty and students alike. We have begun developing a Center for Pedagogical Innovation to develop new kinds of courses, certificates and degree programs. The Center should also help with the university’s efforts to improve advising and help meet the 2020 objective to “enhance faculty’s capacity for mentoring students.”

“Choose students who can most benefit from and contribute to Wesleyan” is another 2020 objective. This year we welcomed our first cohort of military veterans to campus, the fruits of our collaboration with the Posse Foundation. We have also been able to extend our “no loan” financial aid packages to families earning less than $60,000 per year [up from $40,000]. We were able to increase our spending on financial aid this year, and we continue to look for ways to attract a diverse, cosmopolitan student body.

Over the last year we have had extensive conversations about campus learning, about how to connect the full residential experience to our learning goals for all students. These have been closely linked to conversations concerning equity and inclusion. We also made preparations for a community-wide conversation next semester about how the culture of learning here intersects with the physical environment. The purpose of this ideas-driven campus planning project is to frame a set of principles to guide the evolution of the campus in the future. Those principles certainly include campus safety and facilities open to full participation from everyone. These efforts are part and parcel of our objective to “enhance co-curricular programs to support the personal and academic learning environment.”

Recognition of Wesleyan as an Extraordinary Institution

Our faculty, staff, students and alumni continue to do amazing things, and the University shares in these successes by bringing them to the attention of diverse audiences. The Wesleyan magazine in print and various online university publications celebrate the achievements of the extended Wesleyan family. Almost every week the national media carries stories about or by Wesleyans, demonstrating (directly or indirectly) the power and the relevance of the liberal education we offer. From the White House to the Broadway stage to the gridiron, Wes folks are visible and embracing alma mater. This addresses the 2020 objectives to “make research of faculty and students more widely known” and to “strengthen lifelong alumni engagement.”

Throughout the country the Wesleyan Media Project is becoming known as a dependable source for analyzing links between campaign financing and advertising. Hundreds of news stories in the fall of 2014 depended on the research done here in Middletown and with our partner institutions. The innovative work of the Center for the Arts has been widely celebrated by national arts organizations. These are just two examples of the many efforts this year that have helped us “enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution.”

One of the most important ways we measure recognition of the university is through the number of high-quality applicants who want to have access to the education we offer. Although the overall number of applications for the class of 2018 was down, the students who matriculated were as strong as ever. Outside study confirmed that the decline in the size of the pool was most likely a temporary “correction” after significant growth. Early indications seem to bear this out. We have received a record number of early decision applications for the class of 2019.

Wesleyan recruits students from all over the world, and our faculty share their research in venues from Australia to Europe, from South Africa to Northern China. Our online classes through Coursera enroll students from more than 100 countries, and as of the end of this year are closing in on a million enrollees. These efforts are helping us meet the objective of “promoting Wesleyan in areas where we are not well known.”

Sustainable Economic Model and Core Values

Wesleyan continues to limit tuition increases to inflation, and this year we increased the amount of money available for financial aid for the class of 2018. Overall, we continue to meet the full financial need for all admitted students, and we do so while keeping required loans within financial aid packages to a minimum. (See the Sustainable Affordability site for more on our economic model.)

Last year in this update I wrote about our disappointment with our admissions “yield” on high need students – meaning that fewer high need students accepted our offers of admission than we expected. We were determined to reverse this for the class of 2018, and we did. The class of 2014 had a successful “raise the cap” fundraising effort, adding additional dollars to our financial aid budget. We continue to admit about 90 percent of the class without regard to the ability to pay. This does not meet our “need blind” objective from 2020, but it is as close as we can come now while meeting full need.

The 2020 objective to “attract and retain faculty who are productive scholars, first-rate teachers and contributors to campus community” was taken on with great energy this year by faculty and Academic Affairs. Although we lost some beloved professors in the last year to Ivy League schools (or retirement), we have also recruited some extraordinary young scholar-teachers to join our ranks. One of the attractions to faculty and students alike is the beautiful campus on which we work. The tireless and creative work of the Physical Plant staff contributes to our objective to “maintain a safe, attractive and sustainable campus conducive to learning.”

One of the most important financial objectives of 2020 is to “grow the endowment while restraining the growth of the annual budget.” Our endowment performance, especially when measured over the last three and five year periods, has been among the top quartile, and our growth in the annual budget has been about the lowest of any school in our peer group.

A key element in our long-term economic health is successful fundraising, and for the last three years our efforts in this regard have been energized through the THIS IS WHY Campaign. We have raised around $360 million toward a $400 million goal, with financial aid being our highest priority. We set another record last fiscal year in fundraising, with more cash over the transom through the end of the year than ever before. In early December, we smashed single day participation records on Giving Tuesday. This was very exciting, and I am so grateful for the generosity of the Wesleyan family, and for the inspiring work of the University Relations team. We have created scores of new endowed scholarships, and we are so grateful to all our donors, big and small. In addition to financial aid, I’d like to underscore gifts received to help us improve advising, endow the College of Film and the Moving Image, and create dozens of paid internships.


The Wesleyan faculty are dedicated educators who create an educational experience second to none. These teacher-scholars receive broad recognition for their work, and they are advancing their fields while expanding the horizons of their students. It goes almost without saying, but staff, too, work to enhance the educational experience of our students. Whether in finance or physical plant, fundraising or student life, we are all educators. Staff as well as faculty are here for the good of the students, and often we have the great benefit of learning with them.

Wesleyan’s “spirit of experimentation” is recognized across the country (and increasingly around the world). Our willingness to develop new programs, create unexpected combinations, explore surprising opportunities – these are part of our identity.

Building reputation is a long-term process, and it can seem derailed by crises, accidents and changes in the political and social context. At Wesleyan, we have embraced the mission of providing “an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.” Yes, these attributes are in tension with one another – it’s a tension we embrace and make productive.

Meaningful reputations are built on real achievements, and there are plenty of “builders” here on campus. From our new colleges and centers to our core academic departments, we are fortunate to have entrepreneurial faculty who are creating programs that make new knowledge and serve our students. In every corner of campus one can find the spirit of practical idealism – combining mighty inspiration with hardheaded realism.

Teamwork and solidarity have been very much in evidence over the past year. That’s true in protests, too, of course, and I have learned much from talking with students, faculty, staff and alumni who want to see us chart courses different from the ones we are on. Loyalty to alma mater of those marching for their causes is deep. It’s this deep loyalty that inspires our work on campus as we “build a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.”

Pragmatic liberal education at Wesleyan is centered in free inquiry, experimentation and creative practice. The members of our community are open to ambiguity and complexity, helping us to think independently, take responsibility for our beliefs and actions, seize opportunities and solve problems. Carrying this education far beyond the campus, Wesleyans aim to understand the world while contributing to it. I am so proud to be within these ranks.

Michael S. Roth

It’s been just about a year since I sent out an update on our work from the perspective of Wesleyan 2020, the framework for planning adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2010. That framework continues to be helpful as we think about the university’s future, how to best allocate our resources, and how to assess the work we’ve been doing. As you may remember, Wesleyan 2020 outlines three overarching goals: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; and to work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values. Below I highlight some of the most important things we’ve been doing along these lines.

Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience

I’ve been very impressed by the faculty’s consistent efforts to build on our academic strengths to refine and refresh the curriculum. Many pundits talk about inertia in academia, but there is plenty of educational innovation at Wesleyan! Our new first year seminars have been growing in scope while maintaining the core learning objective of building writing skills. And on the subject of writing, the Writing Certificate Program has been developing capacity and the joint efforts of the Shapiro Writing Center and the English department have resulted in more opportunities for our students to learn from some of the most accomplished literary practitioners.

Wesleyan’s family of interdisciplinary colleges has two new members this year. Joining the College of the Environment, the College of Letters and the College of Social Studies are the College of Film and the Moving Image (launched last spring) and the College of East Asian Studies (approved by the faculty last month). The COFMI builds on the celebrated achievements of the film studies major, integrating it with the Film Archives, the Film Series and a new minor. CEAS combines the Asian languages department with the thriving East Asian Studies program. Philosophers will join with historians, economists, musicians and critics to offer multiple perspectives on a crucial area of the world. Wesleyan’s tradition of strong interdisciplinary work is expanding in new ways!

Over the last years we’ve been making a concerted effort to add small classes to our course offerings. We’d found that the percentage of seminar style classes had slipped, and we were determined to increase that percentage without creating course access issues. Scores of small classes have been added, and this year we surpassed our goal of having 70% of our classes with fewer than 20 students. This January we will conduct an experiment with the calendar, offering small classes to students in a pilot Winter Session.

One of the objectives in Wesleyan 2020 is to “choose students who can most benefit from and contribute to Wesleyan.” Over the last year, we have deepened our work with Questbridge and other community based organizations and come to an agreement with the Posse Foundation to bring 10 veterans a year to campus, beginning in the fall 2014. We have also developed programs to better integrate low income students into the campus community. We recognize that recruiting students from diverse backgrounds is only the beginning of a process.

Wesleyan has been experimenting with online education on a number of fronts, most notably through our partnership with Coursera. Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of students from around the world have enrolled in Wesleyan courses in psychology, statistics, classics, economics, math, film studies and history. These classes are certainly not the same as on-campus classes, but we are learning about teaching in ways that will surely influence our efforts in Middletown.

Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience depends on our talented and hard working faculty for its success. Professors were once again this year recognized with major grants, awards, and publications that speak to broad public concerns. The faculty continues to work on improving academic advising, while also opening more spaces for pedagogic experimentation. This fall committees are reviewing more than 60 proposals for initiatives to leverage residential aspects of the campus experience so as to energize the education we offer.

Recognition of Wesleyan as an Extraordinary Institution

Over the last year, we have shone a bright light on the scholarly, professional, athletic and artistic achievements of our faculty, students, staff and alumni. Major awards, dynamic performances and significant scientific grants have happily punctuated our work over the last twelve months. From popular TV shows to stem cell research, from political powerhouses to delicate poetry, the Wesleyan community continues to shape our culture.

Alumni engagement is an important piece of our recognition efforts. Many times this year I met alums enrolled in one of our Coursera classes and enjoying this way of staying in touch with our core educational mission. And more and more alumni are participating in the networks developed by the Wesleyan Career Center – a form of engagement of great benefit to students seeking advice about how to build meaningful careers out of their studies.

We have also been trying to increase recognition of the university outside the United States. Our partnership with the Chinese Academy of Social Science continues, and this past year we hosted a delegation from China for a colloquium on comparative Enlightenments. Moreover, our scholars are finding a receptive audience in China for publications on a variety of subjects. We’ve also made trips to Korea and India to raise the profile of the university. Last year, in part because of our growing international recognition, we had a record number of applications. Our admissions pool was as academically qualified as it has ever been, and our selectivity rate was better than ever. As I’ve said before, I know of no better way to measure recognition than by the number of talented, accomplished young people who want to enroll.

Sustainable Economic Model and Core Values

This year was our first within the new economic model that I described in the update of a year ago. We are limiting tuition increases to inflation; making it easier for students to reduce costs by graduating in three years; budgeting financial aid at about a third of our total tuition revenue; and raising money for endowment, especially for financial aid. We continue to meet the full financial aid for all admitted students, and we do so while keeping loans low. (See the Sustainable Affordability site for more on these changes.)

Some worried that these changes might scare away applicants who had high financial need. This did not happen, and our applicant pool was as diverse, according to most indicators, as in prior years. However, we were disappointed that more of the high need students to whom we awarded full packages did not in the end choose to enroll at Wesleyan – our “yield” on these students (several of whom went to Ivies) was lower than predicted. Our applicant pool is very deep, and so we were able to enroll a great class, but we did spend less on financial aid than we’d expected. We’ve decided that any “savings” of this kind will be put into the endowment for financial aid, so that its payout in future years will support scholarships.

Over the past year I’ve enjoyed many, many THIS IS WHY stories from members of the Wesleyan community near and far. Our THIS IS WHY fundraising campaign isn’t about bringing more luxuries to campus, nor is it aimed at keeping up with the amenities arms race that has been so destructive to the mission of higher education. Our campaign is focused instead on building the endowment. A weak endowment per student has been the Achilles heel of our university for over thirty years, and only committed effort will put us on a path of sustainability. We are restricting spending on non-essential items and investing instead in efforts promoting greater access, inquiry and impact. We have raised more than $320 million dollars so far in gifts and pledges, and most of those funds will go into the endowment (and most of the endowment funds will go to financial aid).

Last year we were able to admit 90% of the class without concern for their ability to pay. We would like to admit all students without concern for tuition revenue. That’s an achievable goal, and the THIS IS WHY campaign will raise approximately half the funds we need. Wesleyan will require another endowment-focused campaign to raise all the endowment funds necessary to reach this goal in a fiscally responsible manner.


The Wesleyan family has stepped up in a big way during this fundraising campaign. At the beginning of our efforts some wondered whether a focus on endowment (long-term goals are so much less exciting…) could inspire the generosity so sorely needed. As it turns out, Wes alumni (and parents) have exceeded our expectations: last year was our best in gifts received. That makes two record years in a row. But it’s not just big endowment gifts that matter. Every gift to the Wesleyan Fund helps us support financial aid students and key programs in the current year. A healthy annual fund means a balanced budget, which allows us to direct more gifts to long-term financial sustainability.

For many of us this year, winning the Little Three in Football for the first time in forty years was terrifically exciting. Although I cheer on all our teams whenever I can, I found this particular achievement especially gratifying. This is partly because I recruited football coach and Athletic Director Mike Whalen to come back to alma mater and partly because so many had become invested in this team’s success. There has been a great deal of camaraderie and school spirit around our athletic endeavors this year. We have no intention of being a “jock school,” but we do aim to be a place where our talented students can excel beyond what anyone might have predicted – in all areas.

We encourage our students to aim very high – to pursue their intellectual and personal ambitions and to take on problems that others might have thought intractable. We support the aspirations of our students – whether they are mounting midnight theater in the stacks of Olin Library, tutoring local school children, helping refugees around the world find homes, or just helping their friends make the most of their campus experience.

Teamwork and solidarity have been very much in evidence over the past year. That’s true in protests, too, of course, and I have learned much from talking with students, faculty, staff and alumni who want to see us chart different courses than the one we are on. Loyalty to alma mater of those marching for their causes is deep. It’s this deep loyalty that inspires our work on campus as we “build a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.”

Michael S. Roth

Over the last several months we have been discussing ways to make our budgeting for financial aid more sustainable while also ensuring that our objective of creating a diverse campus experience is fulfilled. In fundraising we have made financial aid endowment (complemented by gifts to current scholarships through the Wesleyan Fund) our highest priority.

Below you will find links to publications over the past year that deal with Wesleyan’s budget planning and the status of financial aid. This list, while not comprehensive, provides a context for many of the relevant issues.

We can all agree, I trust, that Wesleyan’s long-term interest is served by having endowment support for financial aid – and that our ongoing mission is served by donations to current scholarships.  If financial aid and ensuring a diverse student body is important to you, you can help. To support financial aid at Wesleyan, select financial aid under the dropdown menu for highest giving priority on Wesleyan’s giving site.

Financial aid, now more than ever!

Michael S. Roth


Video: President Michael Roth Addresses Financial Aid

December 2012 Update

Sustainable Affordability [with detailed discussion about Wesleyan’s budget and financial aid policy]

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Become Need Blind? For Colleges, That’s the Wrong Question

New York Times: Aid Changes Raise Issue of Diversity at Colleges

Chronicle of Higher Education: In Financial Aid, A Director’s Ideals Meet Reality

Hartford Courant editorial: Need Blind No More

Hartford Courant: Faced with Rising Costs, Wesleyan Drops University Drops Need-Blind Financial Aid Policy

Professor Gil Skillman: Economics of Need-Blind Admission at Wesleyan

Financial Aid Forum

Argus: Q&A with President Roth

Roth on Wesleyan: Financial Aid: Now More Than Ever

Roth on Wesleyan: Sustainable Affordability

Insider Higher Ed: Need Too Much

Need-blind related Events

Wesleyan 2020 Update, Fall 2012

About a year has passed since I sent out an update concerning our work implementing the strategic initiatives described in Wesleyan 2020, a framework for planning passed by the Board of Trustees more than two years ago.  We have been using this framework to organize our thinking about the future, allocate resources and assess our performance. Wesleyan 2020 emphasizes three overarching goals: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; and to work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values. With this update, framed by these goals, I will mention some of the things we have been doing in the effort to provide “an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor and practical idealism.” Given the changes made to our economic model in the past year, the third section is the longest of this update. (These changes have spurred intense discussions in the Wesleyan community, especially with regards to need-blind admissions, and for more on those discussions, see Financial Aid, Now More Than Ever!)

Energize Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience

I’ve been very impressed by the faculty’s consistent efforts to build on our academic strengths to refine and refresh the curriculum. In the Arts, we have been planning to add spaces for studio and performance work so that we can meet the strong student demand in these areas. The Humanities are thriving at Wesleyan, as our scholar-teachers continue to attract talented students while also shaping their own fields. The College of Letters and the Art History Department have moved into the center of campus (in the old squash building), and both programs have been energized by the new location. The Social Sciences at the university are home to vibrant interdisciplinary explorations that employ sophisticated quantitative skills, deep fieldwork and sensitive interpretative perspectives – from religion to economics. The Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life has been an important locus for research and practice that bear upon society and politics. And the Sciences and Mathematics continue to see increased enrollments and path-breaking research.

The university has added financial resources so that students can work in the summer as research associates with Wesleyan faculty, and we have continued to support additional small classes. Our pilot faculty fellows program  – enlisting professors to work closely with particular residence halls – has been successful, and we expect to be expanding it further in the coming year. Interdisciplinary work is thriving at Wesleyan, and the Center for the Humanities and the Allbritton Center have received significant donor support.  We are building a substantial endowment for the College of the Environment, founded in 2009, and faculty are developing proposals for at least three new colleges that would give students fascinating new options for collaborative, interdisciplinary work.

Residential schools depend on environments conducive to learning. Excessive drinking is corrosive to these environments, and over the last year we have been participating in a research collaborative with other colleges seeking nation-wide solutions to this problem.  We have also been working closely with our students to understand how best to support the honor code, which expresses core institutional values.

We have had a strong focus this year on improving our performance as an engaged university. The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship has generated considerable enthusiasm from alumni and students, and  an impressive variety of organizations is ready to tap into our programing in this field. Thanks to the support of our alumni base, we were able to add dozens of high-quality internships to our  portfolio of options for Wesleyan students. As our campus has grown more diverse in recent years, there have also been renewed tensions along racial, ethnic and class lines. Our ongoing program Making Excellence Inclusive is meant to address those tensions while building a more effective culture of learning for all students.  In my next 2020 update I expect to report on real progress in this area.

Certainly a highlight for this year was the opening of 41 Wyllys, the new home of the Career Center, the College of Letters and Art History. The students and faculty have embraced the new facility, which has mightily contributed to the vitalization of the core of campus.  From Exley to Allbritton and PAC to Usdan to the Art Center and Film Studies – this north-south axis in the heart of campus is full of life, of purpose and of increased possibilities of happy, serendipitous encounters.

Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience has never been static, and it continues to change today. Faculty have designed a new first-year seminar program that emphasizes writing, and we have had productive discussions about how we can use online materials in lecture classes so as to free up time for close faculty-student interactions.  This fall we became the first liberal arts college to partner with Coursera, an online company that is reaching millions of students around the world through open lecture courses. Although the Wes courses are still in preparation, tens of thousands from around the world have already signed up to take them. I expect we’ll learn much from offering these classes.

Enhance Recognition of Wesleyan as an Extraordinary Institution

The Coursera partnership is a good transition to the topic of enhancing recognition of the university. It is important that we make the accomplishments of our alumni, students and staff more visible through a variety of channels, including social media. It has been yet another gratifying  year for the Wesleyan Film program, with a number of films by Wes alumni (including The Avengers and Beasts of the Southern Wild ) gaining commercial and critical success. On campus, faculty have been awarded Guggenheims and a Pulitzer and been nominated for National Book awards, and students have garnered Watsons and a Marshall (to name just two of the many high-profile scholarships that have recently gone to graduates).

Engagement with alumni has ramped up in person and online. Wesconnect is becoming an increasingly popular way for alumni to connect with one another, especially when they are preparing for some university event. I am particularly struck by the potential of Wesconnect to offer  alumni ways to engage with the curriculum, and we expect to be able to do more in this regard through Coursera and other online initiatives. Attendance at Homecoming and Reunions has been strong, and the enthusiastic support of alumni and parents has been greatly encouraging.

One of the best measures of positive recognition of the university is the strength of interest from highly qualified students who want access to a Wesleyan education. In our Admissions work over the last year, we focused on overall application growth, with particular attention to geographical areas in which we are not as well known as we would like to be: as close as Florida and Pennsylvania, as far away as China and India. We had a record number of applications overall, and achieved the best selectivity rate in the history of the university. We are building on this in the current semester and are encouraged by the record number of early decision applications.

Sustainable Economic Model and Core Values

In the past year we have made significant changes to our economic model. For decades we have followed the same pattern: tuition increases well above inflation, and financial aid increases that go far beyond that. This budget model isn’t sustainable. Over the past 20 years, the percentage of the tuition charges that goes to financial aid has risen steadily. In the past, Wesleyan dealt with this issue by raising loan requirements (replacing grants with loans), and by taking more money out of the endowment (or just spending gifts rather than directing them to the endowment). For the long-term health of the institution this had to change.

One way to become more economically sustainable is to cut costs, and we have substantially reduced expenses without undermining the academic core of the institution. In my first year as president in 2007-2008, we canceled almost $200 million in planned capital expenditures. We also made difficult decisions that resulted in $30 million in annual budget savings and increased revenues. We have improved energy efficiency and re-negotiated our health insurance coverage.  We have also reduced our exposure to increases in our debt service costs while developing a program to begin repaying some of the debt the university incurred in the 1990s.

But in recent years we have also introduced measures that increase pressure on the operating budget. We reduced loans for most students by about a third and began placing a much higher percentage of the money raised  each year into the endowment. Our endowment per student is well below that of most of our peer schools, and it is vital to build Wesleyan’s economic foundation. In this regard, we have put together a great new investment team to grow the endowment.  At the same time that we secure our future, it is also necessary to have funds to run a great university right now, and to do that without raising tuition to unaffordable levels.  This year I have proposed a plan to trustees and the campus with three new components to make Wesleyan more affordable in ways that can be sustained. The first is to establish a “discount rate” that is as generous as possible, but that is also one we can afford. The discount rate refers to the amount of tuition the university does NOT collect, and it is the key measure for financial aid. For Wesleyan this means just under a third of our tuition charges will go to financial aid. This is approximately the percentage of the budget devoted to aid from 2000–2008.

We remain committed to meeting the full financial need of the students we enroll, and to do so without burdening them with excessive debt.  This will mean that we will have to consider the capacity of some students to pay, as we do now with transfer and international students. We will read all applications without regard for the ability to pay, and we will be need-blind for as many students as possible. Currently we project this to be about 90% of each class (depending on the level of need). We could have retained the label “need blind” by raising loan levels or shrinking grant packages – but this is the wrong thing to do. We feel it is crucial for the education of all our students to meet the full need of those who are enrolled without increasing their debt. As we raise more funds for the endowment, we will be able to sustain a more generous financial aid program.

The second component of our affordability effort will be linking our tuition increases to the rate of inflation. This is a dramatic change; we have already moved into the realm of the country’s most expensive colleges, and this is not a list on which we want to remain. Restraining tuition increases will require us to maintain our search for efficiencies while continuing to invest in excellence and innovation across the curriculum.

The third component is to emphasize a three-year option for those families seeking a Wesleyan experience in a more economical form. We will help those students who choose to graduate in six semesters get the most out of their time on campus. The three-year option isn’t for everyone, but for those students who are prepared to develop their majors a little sooner, shorten their vacations by participating in our intensive Summer Sessions, and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities on campus, this more economical BA might be of genuine interest.  Allowing for some summer expenses, families would still save about 20% from the total bill for an undergraduate degree.

Obviously, I would prefer that Wesleyan had the endowment per student that would allow us to issue a blank check for financial aid. We do not. The actions we have taken will preserve access to Wesleyan for capable, creative students while preserving the essential qualities (great faculty, diverse community, excellent facilities) that these students want. While we cannot afford to be “need-blind” for all students, we can afford to maintain our core value of having a diverse student body. We are justly proud that so many who are so talented want to be part of the Wesleyan educational experience. With thoughtful planning, which will involve continued discussions with students, faculty and alumni, we can ensure that this remains the case for generations to come.

Some further thoughts

Each year I marvel at the generosity of our alumni and parent donors. They often tell me to “put this gift where you need it the most, where it will do the most good.” They trust alma mater to do what’s right by our students. In our current fundraising efforts, financial aid is our highest priority, and our donors have responded with enthusiasm and generosity. The past year of gifts and pledges was one of the best in the university’s history. Wesleyan, we have been told, inspires “loyalty beyond reason.” I like that phrase, because it reminds us that it isn’t just the classes; it isn’t just the organized activities on campus, or the parties or the concerts; it isn’t just the sports or the art, the career networking or the beauty of Foss Hill in the fall light. The loyalty stems from all these things and more. Loyalty to Wes has its reasons, but it is also beyond reason; the affectionate connection is beyond reason, extending long beyond those semesters in residence.

Every fall I meet new students and ask them how they found their way to Wesleyan. Recently a student from Louisiana told me that she found out about Wes through Questbridge, which links high-achieving low income students to select colleges, and, as she emotionally related, “I never thought you’d match with me.” A mom from rural California came up to me on Arrival Day and said that she’d never been east of the Rockies and with tears in her eyes expressed gratitude for her daughter’s scholarship.  Her daughter was being given, she explained, “the opportunity of a lifetime.” I also met students whose parents both went to Wesleyan and who are here to continue a family legacy that is an honor and a vital new beginning. These students have heard for years about great moments in classrooms, studios, labs, and on the athletic fields …and now they aim to make their own mark on our traditions of exuberant excellence.

Students may choose Wesleyan for a thousand different reasons, but they know they are choosing a progressive, pragmatic liberal arts institution that is steeped in tradition and pointed to the future. They know they are choosing a campus culture that is as collaborative as it is challenging, one that produces work at the highest level even as it nurtures idealism. After all, that’s why we all continue to choose Wesleyan. A thousand different reasons – and beyond reason.

Michael S. Roth

Note from President Roth

Last year I asked Charles Salas, Director of Strategic Initiatives, to think about how we should pursue the objective in Wesleyan 2020 of spurring creativity and innovation across the university. He decided to focus on the disciplines represented in our curriculum. The term “creativity,” of course, can be vague. One department’s view can be quite different from another’s, so Charles met with a number of departments and asked them what creativity meant in their worlds and how they felt that they enhanced the creative capacities of their students. I hope many of you will read the full report, which gives a great sense of the discussions.

Fascinating! Her Resilience • an event co-sponsored by the College of the Environment and Center for the Arts with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The students on stage aren’t moving. One by one, they are activated by Anthropologist Gina Ulysse with a flick of her fingers, as if by magic, and they dance their interpretation of the creole word assigned to them. The words are taken from a voudou chant, sung with heartbreaking intensity by Ulysse. The performance “is about” vulnerability and stress in the post-earthquake environment of Haiti, and one senses that this is deeply personal for her, engaging every aspect of her being. The students have no grades at stake; they are performing out of loyalty to her and a sense of adventure: these are anthropology and economics majors exploring ideas through dance.

A creative scholar (motivated by her own life-experience) activating creativity in her students: intertwining disciplines and using the total person to bring “the visceral into dialog with the structural” (her words). This remarkable performance concluded the evening’s celebration of the College of the Environment’s think-tank on the topic “Vulnerability of Social, Economic and Natural Systems to Environmental Stress.” Earlier in the evening a panel of the think-tank participants—faculty from the natural and social sciences, two students and a post doc—discussed an essay they’d written collaboratively on the novel idea of applying an insurance model world-wide to the problem of climate change. A wild idea, produced through collaborative non-linear thinking, that no one of them would have come up with and pursued on his or her own. A creative idea.

At the College of the Environment, says its director “we are not afraid of failure, we only fear no one will try.”  Risk-taking is part of creativity, no doubt, but it’s only appropriate at Wesleyan if it’s grounded in knowledge and points toward a useful outcome. The first sentence of the new mission statement tries to make this point by juxtaposing the words “boldness” and “rigor” and ending with “practical idealism:”

Wesleyan University is dedicated to providing an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism. At Wesleyan, distinguished scholar-teachers work closely with students, taking advantage of fluidity among disciplines to explore the world with a variety of tools. The university seeks to build a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.

The phrase “think critically and creatively” trades on ambiguity here:  critical thinking is valued, so is creative thinking, and so is thinking that is both critical and creative. With regards to institutional rhetoric, the emphasis on the combination is new. Critical thinking has always been deeply embedded in courses here, so pervasive that it was deliberately not singled out as one the essential capabilities expected of students. On the other hand, creative effort has been acknowledged as an essential capability and associated with the creation of artistic work—that is, creativity has been valued but not considered pervasive. The Center for the Arts’ Creative Campus Initiative has spurred us to think more about how the critical and the creative are related here.

The Creative Campus Initiative encourages the integration of arts research and practice with work in other disciplines, and the performance of Ulysse and her students is one of many recent embodied explorations here of issues in a variety of subject areas. At the same time, the very success of cross-departmental collaborations involving disciplines like dance that explicitly recognize creativity as central to their identity can all too easily lead to the compartmentalization of creativity—albeit in larger compartments. Many at Wesleyan would quickly (perhaps too quickly) associate “creativity” as involving artists—in part because the results of artistic collaborations here have been so brilliant. But to always associate creativity with the arts would be a disservice to artists and non-artists alike. Too often creativity is assigned to the arts while rigor is assigned to the non-arts. “Rigor” becomes a code word (says Liz Lerman) used by those who think of “creativity” as unserious—this, despite the fact that rigor is unquestionably part and parcel of artistic practice and creativity is unquestionably part and parcel of all disciplines, if to varying degrees.

How varied those degrees are is an interesting question. In cases where there are creative products—writings (papers, exams), paintings, or recorded performances—the role of creativity can be judged. In the vast majority of classroom experiences, however, the creativity in which students and faculty participate (actively or passively) is ephemeral; it ends when the student leaves the classroom, the residue existing only in memory and perhaps in other, less fathomable changes wrought in the mind.

One of the objectives of Wesleyan 2020—our framework for strategic planning—is to “spur creativity across the curriculum” (enhancing one of Wesleyan’s perceived strengths), and a first step has been to conduct conversations with departments about what they themselves think of creativity in their areas and what they do that enhances the creativity of their students. The idea of speaking to departments (rather than one-to-one conversations with individual faculty members) was that discussions would be less predictable and that faculty might be interested to hear from one another.

This report is not a scientific survey. Nor does it purport to represent what departments would say about creativity if they considered the topic at length in a scholarly way. What follows is paraphrased from the views—expressed informally in conversation—of Wesleyan faculty, who are referred to only by the departments to which they belong. Different departments viewed creativity in their areas differently or emphasized different aspects or contributing factors. These views/emphases are as follows:

The report is organized according to these rubrics, which are those that the faculty themselves have mentioned.

Subsuming individual faculty views in departmental ones has the advantage of making differences and commonalities among disciplines more visible; readers may be interested to see in what ways the different objects of study invite different (or similar) approaches with respect to creativity.


THEATER compared being asked about the role of creativity in its world to swimming coaches being asked about the role of water in their work. At the same time, THEATER was at pains to distinguish its expert work from that of Second Stage and other forms of student performance where student creativity is at the forefront. Creativity (especially in terms of physical and vocal performance) seemed more of an assumption than an issue for THEATER which was more concerned about whether it was first and foremost a department of ideas (history, literature, criticism, performance studies) or a department of techniques. Where a text might be treated in the English department as a literary artifact, in THEATER it’s seen as a blueprint or a score in which students may be less interested in the author’s intention than in exploring the text’s contemporary relevance. Students here seek to “understand” Chekov by actually performing scenes from the text. MEDIEVAL STUDIES too was interested in understanding medieval plays, song, and poetry through performance. THEATER went further in seeing embodied creative expression as an alternative for students for whom writing is not their primary communication skill.

DANCE emphasized the body’s creation of movement. Rejecting a dichotomy between choreography and performance that relegates movement to the interpretive or even the mechanical, DANCE saw creativity in the daily exploration of what the body can do. “Dance doing”—which involves exploring rhythms, travelling through space, spine angle and balance—was seen to be in (creative) tension with “dance making,” which emphasizes what it means to make movements in social, cultural, and political spaces. DANCE noted that in all forms of inquiry the body is present; knowledge of what one’s body can do is self-knowledge; becoming conscious of how one’s body creates movement contributes to the more general recognition that it is we ourselves who create our own worlds—and therefore have the capacity to change them. That ethical component was considered by DANCE to be crucial to their understanding of creativity as movement. The department noted that sports too promote embodied creativity, though more as a means to an end (often that’s winning) than as an end in itself. Reflecting on why one movement feels different from another was seen as more characteristic of dance than other forms of physical education.

MUSIC pointed out that research papers written by its students about great musicians of the past benefit from the fact that these students also compose and perform—in contradistinction to students of subjects with whom they have little in common. Compositional and performance skills have an impact upon traditional forms of research and writing, and MUSIC noted that its majors are well liked by law schools and medical schools because of enhanced left/right brain facility. Even with regard to historical research on music, there are many “original takes.”


HISTORY criticized “creativity” as a “soft” term and expressed a preference for the phrase “informed imagination”—by which was meant the ability to put oneself in another time and place.

In ENGLISH one of the five concentrations is Creative Writing, where “students learn that writing is a practice that involves an ongoing negotiation of the tensions between creativity and discipline, experimentation and structure, critical analysis and textual production.”  Those tensions were quite evident in our discussion. And there was considerable skepticism about how valuable the term “creativity” could be for Wesleyan. The emphasis in Creative Writing was on studying the creativity of accomplished writers: students, in the case of poetry, are mainly asked to refine the architecture that poets have put into play, thought some space is left for the wildly innovative. In ENGLISH generally the investment in criticism was judged paramount, with students directed toward the expert insights found in secondary scholarship. At the same time, “creative reading” (as if the work “demanded a new work in response”)  was valued. Reactions to “creative options” offered to students ranged from contemptuous dismissal as the easy way out (and a cause of grade inflation around the country) to the emphasis on imagination: students asked to think “how could it be otherwise?”  Sometimes students are asked to rewrite the ending of a novel or make fictional characters debate key themes.

MATHEMATICS takes a not dissimilar approach, asking students to take a series of logical steps and imagine what would happen if one of those steps were different.

PHILOSOPHY emphasized learning to raise questions that aren’t easy or don’t have predictable answers (but have justification). It saw creativity in how rigorous thought may lead to paradox and how logical thinking may lead to results that are surprising.

“Acts of imagination” were also emphasized by ROMANCE LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES and by MEDIEVAL STUDIES: especially immersion in the distant past—what it would be like to live there and then—similar in this regard to HISTORY. Where students in ROMANCE LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES are encouraged to make links (creative acts) between the “there and then” and the “here and now,” HISTORY places more restrictive limits on the creativity it will accept. When asked if a thesis on the history of a scientist who never existed would be accepted, the answer was “probably not,” though it might be praised. On the other hand, HISTORY also described exam questions very much in this same hypothetical mode: “write a biography of a chairman of a collective farm” or “compose an obituary of a mid-level party official.”  Answering these questions required a certain amount of creativity and often produced results that were surprising (in a good way). In short, there was some comfort with imaginative responses that showed understanding of the past in an exam, less comfort with such creativity in a thesis. The implication seemed to be that this was because the thesis (unlike the exam) is modeled on professional historical work.

RUSSIAN noted that its privileging of early nineteenth-century literature brought students face to face with eternal questions such as “What do men live by?” or “What are the limits of representation?” or “What is art?” —- all questions conducive to students making imaginative links to their own life situations. On the other hand, ASTRONOMY and MATHEMATICS both emphasized the role of imagination in situations unrelated to the concreteness of the student’s personal life.  ASTRONOMY’s objects of study are foreign to everyday life, and the imagination encouraged by MATHEMATICS is rooted in pure abstraction, a realm much too strange to bear directly upon life choices.

MATHEMATICS remarked upon the venerable and unresolved debate about whether mathematics is better seen as a process of discovery or a process of invention. Either way, coming up with a new, imaginative way of doing something is seen as evidence of a disposition that is highly valued by MATHEMATICS. When a student does it, it’s an “Oh boy!” moment for the teacher. The “ah ha!” moment, when the student suddenly understands something, occurs much more frequently and is obviously valued, but MATHEMATICS confessed to a certain elitism in its admiration for inventiveness above all. The student who is satisfied with just getting the right answer is seen as having no future in the field. Making remote associations between patterns in very different areas of mathematics was described as “serendipity” and viewed as typical of mathematical creativity. As noted above, taking a series of logical steps and asking students to imagine what would happen if a step were changed is a favored pedagogical technique. MATHEMATICS and COMPUTER SCIENCE seek to give students the skills (knowledge of rules) necessary to proceed in their disciplines and in others, but they also demand that students understand why those rules work: that is, they demand that students be able to prove the rules they appeal to. Since there may be many ways to arrive at those proofs, this proves to be a realm of especial creativity. More and more creativity is asked of students as they progress in the major; introductory courses may focus more on testing mastery of the subject than inventiveness, but even in the Calculus course creativity is invited. MATHEMATICS and COMPUTER SCIENCE teach students as if they were developing future mathematicians and computer scientists, though they are well aware that most of their students will go on to a wide variety of careers and may see their studies as means to other ends. But MATHEMATICS and COMPUTER SCIENCE fight against being spectator sports. They demand active learning and devise different pedagogical techniques to keep students from being too passive, even in lecture situations. A few students kick and scream; many welcome the opportunity to get away from the teaching to the test world of the high school. MATHEMATICS’s goal is less to teach mathematical results than to teach students to think mathematically, a powerful mode of thinking at once rigorous and imaginative. The assumption is that such a mode of thinking would be useful in addressing any number of problem-situations. ECONOMICS too emphasized that the seeking of numerical answers is secondary to learning how to think about problems. Imaginative “out of left field” questions are encouraged by ECONOMICS so long as they are anchored in rigor and consonant with how economists look at the world. MUSIC, while stressing discipline and constraints, was impressed by students’ imaginative choice of sound objects (for example, exploring the resonance of banisters in the stairwell) to make rhythmic exercises.

ASTRONOMY encourages thesis writers to conclude by speculating on how their work could be taken in other directions in the future, and BIOLOGY assigns exam essays that address this question of future directions.

BIOLOGY noted that it had more difficulty getting students to think creatively than to think by rote. Many students arrive over-reliant on the textbook and not understanding that science is a mode of inquiry and a creative process; they need to be re-educated in this regard. At the same time, BIOLOGY was concerned that students not cross the line where the truth ends and nonsense begins.

ANTHROPOLOGY noted that students fail if they have a lack of respect for the creative process and take the creative approach because they think it will be easier. Some professors allow for creative responses to anthropological theory—poetry, art, cartoons—but students rarely take the opportunity. Of those who do, few do it really well, often just tacking it on. Still, ANTHROPOLOGY saw its methodology as inherently creative with respect to both research and presentation of results:

  1. Research: Participant observation and interviewing requires flexibility, humility, being open to surprise and things you can’t immediately make sense of. Figuring out which questions to ask takes a lot of imagination. That is, some of the main ingredients of creativity—improvisation, collaboration, and communication—are often present in field-work (which for Wesleyan students tends to be local for logistical reasons).
  2. Presentation of results: Because ethnography needs to be engaging, effective, and accessible to those being studied, it tends to be more experimental than writing in the other social scientific disciplines: it privileges multivocality, form that reflects content (one student’s narrative modeled the experience of long-distance train travel), and trying to tell a good story. Many students make use of creative writing techniques learned in ENGLISH.

DANCE preferred to see creativity in terms of imagination than discovery because of the emphasis on agency in the former: in creating movements dancers model the agency involved in creating the world, a view deemed to have political and ethical consequences preferable to those implied by discovery, which connotes uncovering that which already exists.


ART HISTORY admitted that its objects of study are often characterized as creative products, burdening it with having to say something about the creative process, but it still resisted the word “creativity” because of the implication that it is somehow opposed to rigor. ART HISTORY preferred the term “discovery,” sometimes characterizing its students as “junior detectives,” and emphasized seeing deeply and with fresh eyes. Even with the most studied of artworks (the Mona Lisa) new aspects can be discovered (one student discovered that Lisa seems to be revolving) if one looks hard enough with fresh eyes. Students of material culture are faced with an enormous variety of objects to look at and consider: Wesleyan students have done great work on objects ranging from cell phones to headstones. They’re excited to be asking questions about objects that have never been asked before. ENGLISH related creativity to “discovery” in the sense that it saw writing as a means to discover what one is thinking. ASTRONOMY most dramatically aligned creativity with discovery, confessing even to “an addiction to discovery.” The openness of the field (so few astronomers, so many galaxies!) means that students feel they are literally explorers.


Open-endedness was often viewed as conducive to imagination and discovery. MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY favored open-ended questions in coursework and emphasized the dynamic nature of the life sciences: the department disabuses students of the idea that everything is known and often presents what’s being taught as just a model that could well be discarded or changed in the future. (Occasionally students ask why they have to learn it then!)  In group meetings participants (technicians, undergrads, grad students, faculty) are asked to imagine how something could be done differently. BIOLOGY asks its students to start with a given and then look at it from all angles.

COMPUTER SCIENCE likened its approach to the creation of business models: being able to understand the big problem ("what will be a good business based on X") as a composition of smaller, relevant sub-problems and then solving those smaller problems; involving more creativity is finding a nonstandard composition of sub-problems that resolves the big problem in a better way.

ASTRONOMY, while relying heavily on observational data, emphasized their incompleteness, referring to the data as mere snapshots from which they seek to derive coherent explanations that will work for all places and all times. Its students are often excited to apply a certain mode of analysis to a star that has never been analyzed that way before. Adding to this atmosphere of open-endedness is the inability of astronomers (unlike scientists in other areas) to replicate the environments they study here on earth, making their data relatively uncertain as well as incomplete. In ASTRONOMY students can quickly approach frontiers of knowledge and be asked to come up with some answer that’s in the ball park. COMPUTER SCIENCE emphasized the openness suggested by massive amounts of data from which information must be derived; it helps students, faced with chaos, to create order.

HISTORY felt that it enhanced creativity in students by emphasizing that past actors have always faced many alternatives, that the present (and by implication the future) is the product of many choices, and that cultural logics can be every different: in Japanese history, for example, students learn the logic that associates rainbows and marketplaces.

PSYCHOLOGY stressed the importance of understanding how emotions can be different in different cultures; PSYCHOLOGY asks students to push the boundaries of what they have taken for granted—in this regard, it is helpful to ask students to read articles with very different perspectives and make links between them rather than decide which one is right and which wrong. ROMANCE LANGUANGES AND LITERATURES held that thinking in another language shows students that there are other ways of organizing the world and was impressed by the enhanced capacities of students returning from study abroad. DANCE felt that that its attention to embodied creativity in diverse cultures undermined any one world view in favor of diverse ways of knowing.

The COLLEGE OF SOCIAL STUDIES indicated that tutorials often begin with a provocative hypothesis (such as “the meaning ‘citizenship’ in the old regime) that lead to open-ended, free-flowing discussion. ART stressed the importance of being open to possibilities. Artists work on many things at once and have to be open to unexpected connections. They also deal with openness in the sense of doubt. The work of ART students is often presented to larger publics than that of other students, and it is difficult to predict what reactions will be.

DANCE emphasized the openness of modern dance and saw that field as especially receptive to creativity. In privileging “physicality and creativity” and the exploration of what the body can do, DANCE rejected the exclusive assignation of creativity to the choreographer.  In the field of modern dance especially, dancers feel that through each public performance they are changing the field, that they are creating new knowledge by doing something different. At the same time DANCE noted that for dancers to understand what it is they’re doing that actually is new requires an understanding of what their predecessors have done and seeing themselves as part of a larger trajectory.


There was general agreement among faculty that interdisciplinarity at Wesleyan is cultivated as a habit of mind, and while there was some doubt that undergraduates grasp the disciplines (and hence their integration) as well as their teachers do, the consensus was the interdisciplinary habit of mind contributes to creativity here. Programs such as AMERICAN STUDIES and EAST ASIAN STUDIES are self-evidently interdisciplinary. The COLLEGE OF SOCIAL STUDIES brings together students who debate questions of social theory from different disciplines, debates which often foster creative argumentation. ATHROPOLOGY felt that its creativity benefitted from its (inter)disciplinary character: seeing itself as much one of the humanities as social sciences, with ties to archaeology and natural science via biology.

PHILOSOPHY noted the benefits of applying philosophical thinking to objects of study normally associated with other disciplines. It also noted how philosophical ideas are often applied by students to other fields: for instance, the recent use of Kant in creating an art installation. ROMANCE LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES surmised that that studying a foreign language helps students with their writing skills in English.

RELIGION linked its emphasis on openness to its varied disciplinary influences: including the anthropology of religion, the philosophy of religion, sociology of religion, textual study, and psychology. HISTORY too emphasized its relationship to other disciplines. In many institutions where History is considered a social science—as it is here—creativity in the study of history isn’t privileged, but at Wesleyan (home to the journal History and Theory) HISTORY is proud of its long and distinguished record of rejecting the “Just the facts please” approach. The wry opening sentences of its self-description on the website makes this clear:  “History is not a body of facts to be transferred — temporarily — from the erudition of a professor to the memory of a student. It is a way of understanding the whole of the human condition as it has unfolded in time.”  That way of understanding has long been open to new approaches and methodologies, leading scholars to look at issues from new perspectives. HISTORY feels this especially keenly from its experience in PAC (and with the COLLEGE OF SOCIAL STUDIES) where it lives with GOVERNMENT and ECONOMICS. This proximity reinforces its sense of difference from (and creative tension with) these social sciences in terms of the reliance upon scientific models.

THEATER referred to the fact that the degree offered is a BA, not a BFA, which means that its work is done with connections to the liberal arts always in mind. Half of THEATER students are double majors, and they are encouraged to bring in ideas generated in other courses, let them gestate, and with learned technique, “make them happen.” The prevalence of double majors in CLASSICS was also cited as helpful with regards to creativity. Different frames of reference can result in very creative work, as with a recent double major in music who looked at the compositional qualities of the Metamorphoses.

DANCE noted the creativity emerging from engagement with different genres of dance through history and from around the world. DANCE took especial satisfaction in its work with faculty from other disciplines in deepening understandings (of the genome, for example) through physical engagement and aesthetic embodiment.   

CLASSICS described itself as not hyperphilological, noting its involvement with history, archaeology, philosophy, and ancient Christianity. The influence of History and Theory has moved teaching in the direction of the history of reception and made it more open than other Classics departments to new combinations associated with anthropological perspectives and gender and sexuality studies.

EAST ASIAN STUDIES’s Pro-seminar 201 for sophomores involves a number of professors from different departments who take turns addressing a central theme from the perspective of their different disciplines. Each of these modules requires an essay—critiqued by fellow students and then rewritten—and then a longer final essay that encourages students to draw connections among the modules.

ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES celebrated the involvement of artists in the College of the Environment and the multiple forms of expression promoted there. ART students are studying others parts of the liberal arts curriculum and are expected to bring those parts to bear on their art. ART also saw enormous benefit in its close relationship with ART HISTORY, since art students who understand artistic traditions are better able to situate themselves within the art world.

BIOLOGY mentioned that students make connections across the curriculum that professors would never have thought of. At the same time, BIOLOGY expressed the concern that students often spread themselves too thin.


Openness in terms of flexible application of different frames of reference was associated with interdisciplinary work certainly, but also with interpretive work within disciplines. Literary departments—ROMANCE LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES, RUSSIAN, ENGLISH, CLASSICS —all emphasized the creativity inherent in writing, interpretation, and looking at the world through the lens of another culture. PHILOSOPHY noted that the study of a concept like ritual in a distant context (such as ancient China) can resonate with students looking at Middletown. With respect to philosophical texts generally, PHILOSOPHY emphasized how one text can raise questions about another. In RUSSIAN, a popular technique is to ask students to write a parody of the parodies they’re studying or to plan their own Russian novel. In ROMANCE LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES students act out a funeral for a protagonist who dies, and MEDIEVAL STUDIES may ask students write the missing chapter of Gargantua in the style of Rabelais. In ENGLISH students are asked to rewrite a scene from one play in the style of another, deriving creative results by applying different frames of reference and making connections between classes and by being asked to formulate their own questions about passages. In CLASSICS students write their own wills conforming to the convention of Roman will writing.

Literary disciplines had different attitudes toward the role of primary texts and creativity. CLASSICS and ROMANCE LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES both celebrated the creative interpretation generated by direct engagement with small portions of primary texts. These departments (unlike ENGLISH) seek to avoid secondary sources, preferring that students come up with their own interpretation and thereby make the text their own. In CLASSICS the lack of evidence about ancient contexts lends itself to the exercise of the imagination when interpreting primary texts. With translation there’s always the tension between the literal and seeing what’s really going on. CLASSICS tries to create an environment in which students feel free to give oddball reactions, and it injects a bit of fun into the curriculum—be it a trip to Goodspeed Opera House to see “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum” or a visit to NYC to meet antiquities dealers. Fun was seen as conducive to the use of imagination.

Like ROMANCE LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES and CLASSICS, COLLEGE OF SOCIAL STUDIES emphasized the excitement students felt when confronted with primary sources (great books) and the freedom they have to react from their different points of view. In contradistinction to those departments, however, COLLEGE OF SOCIAL STUDIES noted that its remarkably heavy reading load forced students to learn to peruse text and think broadly (one reason why they’re successful in Law School). COLLEGE OF SOCIAL STUDIES shrugged off the accusation of “intellectual conservatism” due to its emphasis upon great books of the past and argued that the “creativity” it enhanced was that of “intellectual elasticity and resourcefulness.”   

MUSIC saw creativity emerging when students became involved in music not at all their own, such as Gamelan. Broad exposure to many different kinds of music was valued in this regard, as was work with graduate students.

Independence, Freedom and Constraint

CHEMISTRY interpreted creativity in its area as “independence.”  Students eventually are turned loose in the lab and are encouraged to pursue their own ideas; the results can be found in the posters in the hallway. Students learn to organize themselves and their methodologies in their own ways to get things done. BIOLOGY made the point that research faculty serve as models for students, exemplifying independence and creative drive; and ART compared students watching faculty practitioners to kids watching their parents engaging in conversation: they want to do that.

Students in ECONOMICS have a variety of electives on which to base research topics; students can be asked to go out and collect data on a company of their choosing. Students in BIOLOGY often moan at first when sent out to study an animal of their choice with only the vaguest of guidelines, but in the end it is often these explorations that they most love.

COLLEGE OF SOCIAL STUDIES in particular emphasized the intellectual autonomy it fosters—and pointed to the high percentage of its students who become scholars as a result. Having its requisites front-loaded in “sophomore bootcamp” expands the scope of options available to juniors and seniors and gives them more freedom to create interdisciplinary majors of their own choosing and pursue topics of especial interest to them.  ART HISTORY emphasized that students need to be given the confidence that they can frame and pursue questions on their own and challenge received wisdom.

MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY emphasized the helpfulness of research funds that can be leveraged to create an atmosphere in which students are encouraged to do their own research because they are given opportunities for expression: funds such as travel money for presentations or supporting poster sessions.

RUSSIAN noted that there is no creativity without constraint, yet if it’s too rigid, creative people drop out. As with grammar: you need to study it, but if that’s all you study, then …. 

PHILOSOPHY too pointed to the example of grammar, emphasizing its necessary role in expressing anything well, creative or not. MATHEMATICS and ECONOMICS also made the analogy to language and compared their demands for structure to the art/literary world where it behooves artists/writers to first know the canon before transgressing the boundaries. ART HISTORY also pointed to the necessity of imposing disciplinary constraints, though not so rigid as to deny the possibility of new (and appropriate) interpretations.

MATHEMATICS and ECONOMICS were joined by PHILOSOPHY in emphasizing the fact that rigorous logic can force students down unexpected and surprising pathways. MUSIC noted that creativity needs boundaries; for example, charging students (a la John Cage) with making a piece with only 3 notes proves to be a simple exercise that gets creative results.

PHYSICS (in an email after the NSM presentation on creativity) explored the comparison of art and science: “at least in physics and in art, much training comes before real creativity is possible. Students who choose to take introductory courses must buy into the premise that there will come a time when creative application of the principles will replace rote learning. In science, and even more in other disciplines, mastery of the rules precedes—and is a license for—the breaking of the rules. (Of course, in science, there are a lot of rules that can’t profitably be broken. Science is more writing sonnets and less writing free verse. But there is still plenty of room for creativity.) ….  Here’s the rub:  there must be some reward while one is acquiring all that training. What is it?  What is the source of ‘buy-in’?  A partial explanation is that ‘some people just like science.’ That surely describes most of us who are professors. How about others?  Should we ‘bother’ to do something to attract others?  We have our ‘get a taste of science’ courses in the form of our General Education courses. What about creativity in those courses? …. the trick is to get people to creatively employ whatever they have learned so far….  ‘creative’ problems we ask are viewed by (many but not all) students as ‘trick’ problems. But finding the ‘trick’ to solving the problem is precisely where creativity comes in!  Students are ready to employ their knowledge creatively at very different stages in the learning process, and some students just want to know whatever facts and problem-solving techniques are necessary for some sort of professional certification (e.g. medical school). So:  interest comes first, then learning, then creativity, but all these things can mutually reinforce one another.”

MOST DEPARTMENTS emphasized the student thesis or capstone (where independence is obviously key) as the foremost locus of student creativity. RUSSIAN in particular emphasized the creativity involved in choosing one’s own thesis. For ART, “what creativity is” is a question they have students ask and answer in the senior thesis. HISTORY associated creativity with the selection of a thesis topic (often one that bears upon the life experience or personal interest of the student) in selecting the questions to be asked and the evidence to be used. The thesis was seen by HISTORY as the best opportunity for students to do original work.

Originality and Newness

I walked into the CHEMISTRY meeting just as a vote was being taken to award High Honors to a thesis notable for its “originality and creativity.”  This student overcame various obstacles to pursue his own idea about neurotransmitters and actually succeeded in executing it; he is now on his way to study computational biochemistry at Columbia. The senior research project is where creativity in CHEMISTRY most notably manifests itself. But creativity in the sense of originality and newness is not expected in introductory science. Expecting such creativity in chemistry from a student who has not spent years preparing was compared to dropping a student who knows no Spanish in the center of Madrid. And even with the proper preparation, when students do start to ask creative questions, these are likely to be questions that were asked by others 25 years ago. Questions raised by students may reflect creative thinking in that they are new with respect to the experience of those students, but these questions are unlikely to be ones that push the boundaries of the field. That said, exposure in the laboratory to graduate students who are charged with advancing the field was considered by CHEMISTRY to be helpful.

ENGLISH and RELIGION also problematized creativity with respect to originality and newness. ENGLISH stressed the difference between what may feel creative to the student and what is actually insightful. This went for departments too, with ENGLISH smarting over the fact that a paper it considered poor (on a topic well-known to it) was deemed highly creative by another department (which presumably knew the topic less well). RELIGION pointed out expressly that in describing “creative” contributions by students, a distinction should be made between what is original with regards to the student in a personal sense and original with regards to the field in which the student is working.

ASTRONOMY recalled an original project in which the student had great metaphysical ideas but had failed to master the analytical tools needed to connect those ideas to the data. The ostensibly creative approach, it remarked, can sometimes be an excuse for not doing the hard work of learning.

ART rejected “originality” as a useful concept since nothing is 100% original and great work doesn’t have to be original (as with appropriation art in the 1980s). At the same time, ART conveyed the excitement of watching students respond in their medium (sculpture) when confronted with questions they have never seen before. ART HISTORY, long burdened by the legacy of the genius, saw in the originality of artists, not the distancing of the artist from sources, but rather a high degree of condensation of sources. This originality is therefore not mysterious but historically accessible—though only to those versed in historical and artistic traditions and conventions.

The Personal

ANTHROPOLOGY noted that the “creative” is often associated in the minds of students with “the personal.”  While some of the best projects are personal (as with one based on a childhood photograph), these are informed by theory. If students think it’s enough “if it’s just about you,” that’s problematic. The personal must be tied to theory. ART HISTORY made the same point, noting that students given the freedom to relate their personal experience to architectural principles (for instance, Japanese garden design) have gotten a poor reception when their work proved to be merely personal. ART HISTORY likely rejects work that is idiosyncratic. PHILOSOPHY similarly expressed reservations about ties between the personal and the creative. With respect to ethics, in particular, students may object to having their opinions criticized or being asked to justify them. Such students may feel that their creative thinking is being constrained by the demand that it stand up to scrutiny; likewise they may object to having the problems they address handed down to them through the philosophical tradition. Students sometimes assume that with philosophy—unlike a scientific discipline—they don’t need to worry overmuch about doing the conceptual groundwork before arriving at creative insights. PHILOSOPHY disabuses them of this notion.

ART was particularly hard-nosed about the inefficiency of what it referred to as “mere creativity.”  In its world 90% of work ends up on the cutting room floor and students often are surprised to find the experience so miserable. Without frequent failure, however, there’s no success in the end, and for that reason room to fail is critical. Drawing I is required of all students, and many a story there is “written in tears.”  ART saw itself as different from Art School where “mere creativity” finds a friendlier home. Students here often find that their expressions of the personal are less interesting to audiences than they might have hoped. ART isn’t reluctant to tell students that just because the work is personal doesn’t mean it’s worth anyone else’s time—even their own.

The personal is an issue with RELIGION as well, where lived experience and self-awareness are key for students. On the one hand, students must bracket their own religious beliefs in order to achieve some empathy for religions other than their own; on the other, it can be energizing to bring their own deeply emotional commitments to a problem. DANCE noted the power of connections between personal sensitivity, emotion and physical expression. ROMANCE LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES mentioned that creativity has its dark pathological side, and students are sometimes forced to come to grips with things with which they aren’t comfortable.

AMERICAN STUDIES suggested that what faculty can do to drive (or make room for) creativity is to “Meet the students where they are.”  That is, if a student loves dance above all, a project bearing on that passion is likely to be more creative. MUSIC was divided on this issue. Those invested in improvisation begin by asking the student “What are you interested in? What do you hear when you hear music?”  Intuition comes before discipline; there’s no one way. Others emphasized discipline: a lot of musical training is by rote, imitation is important, students can’t just do whatever they want.

Communication and Collaboration

MUSIC likened learning African Drumming to learning language from parents at home: students use the instruments to talk, to participate in the ongoing conversation of the ensemble, with the lead drummer engaging others in responses/reciprocity. Creativity was also seen in the collaboration of students writing songs together.

While CLASSICS sees the merit of collaborative work in principle and sponsors a table for conversational Latin, it finds that little collaborative work is actually done in its area. In THEATER students often find their own creative process of work by seeing other students at work and learning from them; and in this sense it’s very much laboratory work. PHILOSOPHY pursues part of its work through conversation and finds that unexpected ideas sometimes emerge from those interactions.

Journal clubs were a source of pride for BIOLOGY and MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY. At these clubs undergrad and grad students take a recent journal article and are asked to take it to the next level: to imagine together what the next step might be and to design an experiment around it. Each and every professor hosts a weekly group meeting in which participants (technicians, undergrads, grads, professors) critique each other, imagine how something could be done differently. MATHEMATICS too has a Journal club, and ECONOMICS pointed to student investment clubs in which entrepreneurial students seek to implement their research projects and get leadership experience.

COLLEGE OF SOCIAL STUDIES pointed to the energetic nature of its seminar discussions—discussions which in the case of the Friday tutorials carry on into the receptions that follow. Those receptions with food and drink (the two I witnessed anyway) were remarkable for their loud and lively conversation. Weekly gatherings of CSS students (including Monday evenings at the house of a senior, talks by its alumni, and banquets) add to the sense of intellectual camaraderie. EAST ASIAN STUDIES saw creativity in the inviting, open environment at the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies where students interact socially with lecturers, conduct outreach to grade-school students, work together on a student journal, and act as curatorial assistants in setting up exhibitions. ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES, in thinking about creativity, expressed pleasure at the increased numbers of students hanging out together at the College of the Environment.

MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND BIOCEHMISTRY noted that, while creativity is more salient at higher levels of expertise, it is built into the curriculum at all levels. Two examples in particular were cited:  MB&B 209 Research Frontiers designed around informal discussion of topics of current interest in the department and future research areas for students, and MB&B 195 Honors Introductory Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics in which students make the connections between diseases and their molecular bases. In the lab, said MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND BIOCEHMISTRY, there are two modes at play: the technician mode and the artist’s mode (with student’s pursuing their own projects/ideas), very much a parallel to the tension inherent in creativity between convergent and divergent thinking. This emphasis on the laboratory as a fundamentally cooperative (and hence creative) space was shared by CHEMISTRY and BIOLOGY. ENGLISH was intrigued by the term “laboratory” and mused about its applicability to the Humanities.

PSYCHOLOGY reported some original work produced through faculty-student collaboration (on word-recognition) that the faculty would likely not have come up with without the student. MEDIEVAL STUDIES treats courses as conversations and invites students to contribute to faculty research; co-authored articles result. ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES noted that the scholar/teacher model generally promotes creative interactions. ECONOMICS pointed to a number of successes in collaborative research between faculty and student, most of which do not result in publications only because of the nature of the publishing process in the field: extensive revisions are normally required, sometimes taking years, and by then the student is gone.

ART attributed the success of its graduates (in a wide variety of areas) less to creativity per se than to the skills (problem-solving, organizational, documentary, and conversational) that they develop in the course of making and exhibiting their work. Any successful exhibition requires having worked well with many others in the art world. DANCE emphasized the creative results generated through the collaborative work of choreographers, dancers, musicians, costume designers, visual artists, and lighting designers. By the time dance majors are seniors, they are responsible for (and graded on) how well their collaborations are working. This skill of making the most out of interactions serves DANCE well when they explore the physical engagement with ideas with faculty from other disciplines.

RELIGION knows from evaluations that students enjoy hearing from each other. PSYCHOLOGY recommended that in judging class participation the most important factor should be the students’ contributions to the liveliness of the group discussion: how they do in letting others talk, not just how much they talk themselves. You can never go wrong respecting Wes students, said PSYCHOLOGY: give them the opportunity to be creative by breaking them up into small groups, ask them to come up with discussion questions of their own, give them time not just to answer questions but to explore them.

BIOLOGY pointed out that tutorials may provide more opportunities for creative work by the student than does the classroom, but it is the laboratory where small groups generate the most opportunities for creative thinking: the students are familiar with each other, have a shared vocabulary and a shared motivation, and none of them knows the answer. This notion of shared activity led BIOLOGY to use Moodle as a venue for students to record their thoughts and feelings about the readings.

Wesleyan students were considered as, if not more, creative than students at other schools, and every department had its favorite examples. AMERICAN STUDIES and ENGLISH were especially impressed by creativity outside of the classroom, noting the many extracurricular projects students undertake with each other’s assistance, from student bands to theatrical productions, from student journals to the Anarchists Radio Collective.

AMERICAN STUDIES made reference to problem-based learning in which the professor takes on the role of facilitator, students work in collaborative groups on open-ended, often ill-defined problems, and students take responsibility for their own learning. But AMERICAN STUDIES also saw problems with this for both students and faculty. For example, when students were told to “go find a performance on campus—anything from a baseball game to a party—and describe the community it creates,” some panicked; they wanted to be told more specifically what to do. And faculty, for their part, may feel that investing effort in creative pedagogy won’t pay off because teaching is not rewarded generally and because collaborative work with students is not considered “scholarly.”  In this regard, it was remarked by HISTORY that investing in creative pedagogical approaches may be particularly risky for the untenured.


AMERICAN STUDIES, ANTHROPOLOGY, and PHILOSOPHY reported a disturbing trend toward uncreativity in students here (and probably everywhere). PHILOSOPHY reported that where Wesleyan students of old had no trouble “thinking for themselves,” students today are more oriented towards trying to figure out what the professor expects them to say. This was attributed to the ethos of the standardized test, which has permeated high school education. Students have been trained to work within guidelines that lead to expected results, and when those guidelines aren’t clear, they flounder. AMERICAN STUDIES speculated that the increased selectivity of Wesleyan admissions meant that those students good enough to get into Wesleyan are used to the straight and narrow, afraid of creativity, afraid to make a mistake in a world in which a B or B+ is considered a disaster. Students today are more anxious, in need of reassurance, constantly asking faculty “Is this ok?”  HISTORY too lamented the fact that so many students come to them to ask, “what they need to do to get an A.”  Obviously fear of failure and refusal to take risks are major obstacles to enhancing student creativity anywhere.

ASTRONOMY noted that some students are at first frustrated when told that many interesting problems have no known answers, and it regretted that some are content with just doing everything right without speculating on what it might mean. At the same time ASTRONOMY saw this as more of a problem for frosh and sophomores than for seniors, suggesting that students gain confidence as their work progresses. That a large percentage of its students go on to do graduate work is a source of pride in ASTRONOMY. ECONOMICS too noted that older students were more receptive to creative approaches than younger ones. One team-taught course in which the professors debated questions and deliberately refused to agree on answers appealed to seniors but outraged the frosh. ECONOMICS recognized that some students were just after A’s, but considered them a drag on the classroom; it observed that current students tended to be less critical and more vocationally oriented than their predecessors. Foreign students, in particular, were likely to have been especially rewarded for sitting back and to arrive at Wesleyan with even less experience in exercising their creative capacities. That said, ECONOMICS surmised that current Wes students, while less creative than their predecessors, were still more creative than their counterparts at other schools. The spectrum of student creativity had shifted, thought ECONOMICS, but Wes students remained at the high end. MATHEMATICS did not support the idea that the Wes students of today are less creative than their predecessors, though it readily admitted that some students were much more creative than others. MATHEMATICS judged that its students were not obsessed with being right all the time, quite willing to fly ideas (sometimes too willing!), willing to bring in perspectives from other disciplines, and interested in the larger questions rather than just acquiring skill sets.

ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES pointed out that while risk-taking may be important in creativity, avoidance of risk is hardly irrational. You see the creativity in retrospect: the risk-taking that worked out. Much risk-taking does not work out; risks come back and bite you. Students who are thinking critically may well decide that the creative route is not for them. ENGLISH noted that even when students are offered so-called “creative options” (say, a curatorial project versus an archival one), few take them. The impression in many departments is that Wesleyan students cannot abide failure. PSYCHOLOGY reported that when some students analyzing their data arrived at negative results, they couldn’t live with it and tried to modify the results!

How could Wesleyan create a learning environment is which achievement is prized yet failure is ok too? PSYCHOLOGY had some recommendations: first and foremost, praise the effort rather than the individual. Too much praise of individual students may raise their self-esteem, but it also sets them up for failure. The stressful nature of the learning experience should be recognized. Students take risks when they raise their hand, they venture out on a limb when they take a course, when they generate a hypothesis. If you want creative thinking from them, create incentives (or disincentives) in which risk-taking is fostered. This is hard to do in big classes, easier in groups of 2-3 where the syllabus is not the document. Distinguish process from product and reward students who promote the liveliness of class discussions (which often means drawing out their fellow students). Beware of putting students in a pressure cooker, set proximal rather than distal goals, and periodically ask them for self-appraisals.

CSS believes that the fact that its sophomore year is pass/fail leaves students more free to make outlandish arguments and that this sense of freedom stays with them (and serves them well) as juniors and seniors. Accustomed to going out on as limb, CSS students who go on to graduate school were considered to think more broadly and creatively than their more narrowly disciplined counterparts from other schools.

Concluding Notes

In discussions with faculty the point was not to begin with a definition of “creativity” or even to seek one that would have general applicability. The point was to see what comes to mind when faculty think about creativity in their areas.

Definitions obviously are just a mouse click away. Here’s a definition of “creativity” from the online Dictionary:  “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.”  The examples given (industry, performing arts) are significant, reflecting current concerns. For “creativity” has a history. Discussion of creativity in this country, jump-started by the shock of Sputnik and focused on engineering, was appropriated in the 1970’s by humanists interested in questions of personal growth and well-being (see David H. Croply, The Dark Side of Creativity). Since the 90’s the “creativity discourse” seems to have been focused once again on the practical—in particular on products—with creativity seen as the means to being more competitive and improving the quality of life. It remains to be seen if the destruction caused by “creative financial practices” on Wall Street will lessen our trust in creativity generally. 

In the discussions with Wesleyan faculty there was a strong sense that the term “creativity” suffers from lack of clarity and a certain fatigue due to overuse in American culture. That said, there was little opposition to creativity in principle so long as it could be broadly defined (as in the rubrics above).  Part of this may have been politeness on the faculty’s part.  “Creativity” finds resistance in academia for many different reasons: a perceived lack of seriousness, doubt that it’s rooted in a set of teachable competencies, concern that it would suffer from institutionalization and thus would be healthier remaining at the margins, suspicion about the corporate uses to which the term is currently being put, or adherence to twentieth-century critiques of creativity as based upon humanist/bourgeois notions of genius and subjectivity. Perhaps because they were largely anticipated, these critiques did not derail our discussions.

Still, for many faculty the terms “imagination” or “inventiveness” might have been less problematic than “creativity.”  Certainly for HISTORY. Which is not to say that HISTORY thought those terms interchangeable. If by creativity we mean (with philosopher Berys Gaut) the disposition that results in making something original and valuable, then imagining (actively grasping relevant possibilities, playing with different hypotheses or ways of making things) can be thought of as a vehicle for creativity. Taking the historical imagination to be the vehicle for the disposition to create original and valuable historical work, then the preference for the vehicle over the disposition may simply reflect distaste for the way the term “creativity” has been utilized. For most, the term “creativity” suggests that something is produced; if an idea remains at the imaginative level and never results in a product of any sort, the idea is commonly not considered creative.

Regardless of resistance to the word “creativity,” it is clear from these discussions that creativity broadly conceived is part and parcel of the curriculum here and tied to critical thinking. Indeed, “imagining and exploring alternatives,” which is often taken to be a component of critical thinking, was frequently associated in our discussions with creative thinking. In any case, there was general consensus that disciplines, rather than being opposed to creativity, provided a framework for it, and that the faculty who balanced the teaching of skills with stimulating the imagination of their students to experiment, to explore, to play with new ideas were serving those students well.

Writing was seen to be a locus of creativity in almost every department, from ECONOMICS (which noted the importance of getting economic messages out to the public and the utility of writing workshops in this regard) to ENGLISH, where a resident writer has said: “I find out what I have to say while I’m figuring out the best way to say it.”  In so far as composing text of any sort involves a process of discovering what it is one thinks, every department here participates, however differentially. Of course, much that students write or say is a creation of a sort, but if it is deemed by the faculty to have little merit, it doesn’t get the medal of “creativity.”  This poses a pedagogical challenge. While some student productions  (be they papers or paintings) are found to be empty and not judged “creative” regardless of how personally new they were for the student, it was also thought important to give credit to such students for trying to push beyond the boundaries of their previous achievements.

As for the discussions, I was struck by two things in particular. (1) Regardless of how resistant faculty were to the subject of creativity in the beginning, it wasn’t long before that resistance dissipated. Faculty often remarked in the end that the discussions had been less predictable and more enjoyable than anticipated. It’s my estimation that faculty, in talking about their experiences in the classroom, found themselves in touch with their own passion for learning—itself a crucial if indirect contributor to student creativity. By modeling a passion for learning in the classroom, Wesleyan faculty spark the desire for such passion in their students—a desire that is necessary if students are to make use of the opportunity to develop their own creative capacities. And (2), many departments observed in passing that they viewed their seniors as more creative than their first and second-year students—observations indicative of the enhancement (purposeful or not) of student creativity across the curriculum. These observations are welcome, particularly since there is a perceived weakening of American higher education in this regard.  The perception is that American students today, in being trained, are becoming encultured to be satisfied with established knowledge – as well as becoming increasingly preoccupied with grades or just passing the exam. The degree to which Wesleyan is different in this regard is of considerable interest.

Ways of enhancing student creativity mentioned in the faculty discussions include:

  • Emphasize that disciplines aren’t fixed
  • Be open to structured exchanges between the arts and other disciplines
  • Promote sense of exploration (faculty exploring problems alongside students)
  • Fight against being a spectator sport
  • Make provocative hypotheses
  • Encourage out of left-field questions so long as they are anchored in rigor
  • Allow students the freedom to play with ideas, ambiguity, paradox
  • Be watchful of the stress students feel
  • Have some fun (light-heartedness not antithetical to rigor)
  • Encourage students to speculate, take intellectual risks (recognizing that for students these are also emotional risks)
  • Support faculty who might be most insecure (junior faculty) in taking pedagogical risks
  • Strengthen the place of “creativity” in teacher evaluations
  • Pass/fail
  • Reward good thinking appropriate to discipline, not just getting answers right
  • Counter-factuals: ask how it could be otherwise
  • Praise the effort, not the individual
  • Encourage making connections from other disciplines, applying different frames of reference (including cultural ones), and making remote associations; celebrate serendipitous results
  • In class, break students up into small groups and reward collaborative skills
  • Problem-based learning, where professor acts as facilitator
  • Support collaborative research and different sorts of capstone experiences
  • Promote student autonomy
  • Meet students where they are; encourage them to make imaginative links to their own experience
  • Support students in the presentation of their work, be it poster session or at a conference
  • Allow for different modes of expression, from writing to physical expression
  • Model interest in the content being taught and, in general, a passion for learning

None of these is without difficulties or downsides, and if faculty were asked to reflect at length on creativity and pedagogical practice, this list would doubtless be different.

If the discussions themselves were a step in the direction of making progress on our Wesleyan 2020 objective of spurring creativity across the curriculum, the report can be considered step two. If faculty are interested in seeing how their colleagues view creativity, that would be a positive sign—and provide a basis for the next step of developing a framework for supporting pedagogical proposals for further enhancing the creative capacities of Wesleyan students.

In Wesleyan 2020 we have listed several objectives under the overarching goal of “energizing Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience.” The first of these has to do with refreshing the curriculum by building on strengths. Here is a list of the specific ways in which we’ve committed to do that, with brief comments on how things are going.

1. Develop vibrant first-year program

    I have been working with Academic Affairs to develop a consensus on the core elements of what we want students to learn in their first-year seminars. Next year we will able to ensure that our seminars are structured so as to achieve these learning goals, whatever the specific content of the course.

    2. Develop meaningful capstone experiences for all students

    Last year the faculty passed a resolution to encourage all students to participate in a meaningful senior academic experience. All departments have offerings in this regard, and there are cross-departmental opportunities as well. This semester we have been working on making capstones more visible to students so that everyone has a chance to work on a project that is a transition from Wesleyan to whatever is next.

    3. Spur creativity and innovation across the university

    Over the past year we have had a series of structured conversations with the board, faculty and students about creativity and innovation at Wesleyan. There are differences of opinion (no surprise) about what counts as creativity and innovation, though everybody seems to think that our university can become even more imaginative and inventive. We will soon post a report on creativity across the curriculum, which may lead to more specific proposals.

    4. Develop civic engagement opportunities across the university

    We’ve been focused on this for some time now, and I’m pleased with the progress of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the development of a variety of internship possibilities.

    5. Bolster interdisciplinary work in ways that complement departmental strengths

    The past few years have seen the flowering of certificate programs that cut across departments, and this year the faculty is considering the possibility of adding minors. This semester I met with the directors of COL, CSS and COE to talk about the strengths of these interdisciplinary colleges. Should we have more interdisciplinary colleges? We’ve also received a major endowment grant to support the Center for the Humanities. But there are difficulties in having the same faculty serve disciplines and these various programs. One person can have many interests, but that person can only be in one place at one time! We are working with Academic Affairs and faculty groups on this tough problem. (Maybe we’ll find a way of bending the laws of physics!)

    6. Extend global reach of the curriculum

    During my trip to China with Wesleyan colleagues the value of international partnerships became even more apparent. But how should we measure success in this area? Faculty and students are doing more international study. Even American Studies defines itself as “post-national.”

    7. Invest in technology to support and inspire academic innovation

    We heard some great reports recently on how the Quantitative Analysis Center is using technology in the classroom in very interesting ways. Across the curriculum, are we using technology in a robust way to enliven our classes? We are searching now for a new Chief Information Officer, who should be of help in this regard.

    8. Improve assessment mechanisms to regularly monitor student learning

    Every department has been asked to consider this issue, and some of them have developed interesting protocols for understanding how students regard what they’ve learned in and out of the classroom. We are also running a pilot with advisors to think about assessment within the advisor-student exchange.

    9. Improve course access

    We are a university that prizes the learning that goes on in small classes, but that also means that many students won’t have access to the particular class or instructor they want. We have been adding many classes to the curriculum to deal with this issue, but we know there is more work to be done. We are particularly focused on ensuring that students have early access to gateway courses in the most popular areas of the curriculum.


    The work to refresh Wesleyan’s curriculum happens every day of the semester as faculty and students work hard at the joint endeavor of learning. Students begin their final exams today, and faculty are already busy writing comments on papers or evaluating experiments and performances. They are already enlivening the curriculum with their creativity, rigor and engagement.

    Almost a year and a half has passed since the Board of Trustees adopted Wesleyan 2020 as a framework for strategic planning, and we have been using the document to organize our thinking about the future, allocate resources and assess our performance. Wesleyan 2020 emphasizes three overarching goals: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; and to work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values. With this update, framed by these goals, I will mention some of the things we have been doing in the effort to provide “an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor and practical idealism.”

    Energize Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience

    New initiatives have built upon our long tradition of interdisciplinary and politically engaged work. The College of the Environment has started with a great burst of energy, with scores of majors already participating in its programs and a new Huffington Family Foundation endowed professorship. The COE is happily housed on High Street, and it is becoming a locus for interdisciplinary research that is connected to social and political concerns. We’ve established the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and a Civic Engagement Certificate will provide students the opportunity to reflect upon their civic activities and integrate them with their academic work. We also have a new endowed chair for community engagement. A $2 million challenge grant from the Mellon Foundation for the Center for the Humanities is both a recognition of its interdisciplinary achievements of the past and an investment in our future efforts to link humanistic research at the highest level to pedagogical practice and public discourse.

    Wesleyan’s great tradition in writing continues both within the English Department and across the curriculum with a new Writing Certificate. Our new Kim-Frank Family University Writer in Residence, Amy Bloom ’75, is a valuable mentor and colleague, adding importantly to our ability to provide students a deep engagement with creative writing. The recently opened Shapiro Creative Writing Center, where Amy works, and the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life offer superb spaces for students and faculty to pursue their analytical and creative work in the heart of the campus.

    The scholar-teacher model is key to the Wesleyan student experience, and in the last year we have taken a number of steps to increase resources available for faculty scholarship, student internships and faculty-student collaborative work. We are running a pilot program to enhance academic advising and assessment of student learning, and we have begun a residential faculty fellows program to provide more opportunities for professors to work with students in co-curricular activities.

    Essential to the distinctive educational experience at Wesleyan is recruiting students and faculty who make a vital contribution to our campus life. Admission has maintained its high standards while improving our outreach into areas of the world where Wes has not been as well known. Academic Affairs has made 22 exciting faculty hires and devoted more funds to research support so as to help retain productive scholars who are also first-rate teachers.

    Enhance Recognition of Wesleyan as an Extraordinary Institution

    Since the development of Wesleyan 2020, we have redesigned the Wesleyan website and greatly increased our capacity to produce timely, high quality video for the web and social media. We have made greater efforts to shine a bright light on the scholarly achievements of our faculty and to showcase the academic, athletic and artistic accomplishments of our students. A student University Outreach Committee, class blogs and strategic media placements of scholarly work and commentary have all contributed to our goal of enhancing recognition.

    We have sought to deepen the university’s engagement with alumni. The annual Wes event for the film community in Los Angeles continues to draw hundreds of alumni each year and has inspired a parallel event in New York. New York is the hub for our digital media group, bringing together a considerable number of Wes family members working in this sector. Alumni networks of lawyers and individuals working in philanthropy and public service are active across the country. We are bringing alumni back to campus to talk to students about their careers, and for those unable to get together in person, we now offer Wesconnect, with its news, social networking and other services for the Wesleyan world.

    Wesleyan continues to build on its strong reputation for academic leadership. We have hosted a significant number of important scholarly conferences over the last two years, from the annual international ethnomusicology meetings to a special conference on carbon pricing that attracted world-wide attention. The journal History and Theory has taken the lead in organizing a series of colloquia with philosophers in China. The first meeting is to take place in Beijng this semester; in two years it will be in Middletown!

    Sustainable Economic Model and Core Values

    In a very difficult economic environment, Wesleyan has made progress in building our economic foundation. Our fundraising efforts, now focused in the quiet phase of a new capital campaign, have yielded more than $200 million in gifts and pledges in the last several years, and we are putting a greater percentage of these dollars into the endowment. At the same time we are reducing our draw from the endowment. These measures will help Wesleyan secure a future that includes a robust financial aid program. We admit domestic students regardless of their ability to pay tuition, and we don’t burden our graduates with excessive loans. After two years of very restrained compensation budgets, we plan to return to annual increases to support our talented faculty and staff.

    The Wesleyan campus today is a safe, attractive and increasingly sustainable environment for learning. We have made significant investments in our science facilities and are repurposing the old College Row Squash building as a home for Art History, the College of Letters and the Career Center.


    Wesleyan has been growing stronger in a difficult environment, and there is much of which we can be proud. But there is also much we can and will do to improve the educational experience we offer.

    Our enemy is complacency. This is a year in which the re-accreditation process will be ramping up. We are being asked to consider how we know what our students are learning and whether we have in place the mechanisms to ensure that they are getting the most out of their undergraduate experience. This is a great opportunity to take stock of our practices — to build on what we do well and prune away those things that are not contributing in important ways to the education we offer.

    Our enemy is complacency. This is also a year in which we ramp up our fundraising campaign, which we trust will add significantly to our endowment. Our goal is to ensure that our financial aid program remains on a sound footing and that our core academic programs continue to receive the support they require. We must energize the Wes family to understand that this is the time to strengthen the financial foundation for the school we love.

    I see Wesleyan in the years ahead as an ever more remarkable locus of “boldness, rigor and practical idealism.” Our cultivation of diversity will have less to do with the celebration of identity and more to do with leveraging the creativity that diverse groups can generate. Our commitment to civic engagement will have less to do with the volume of our protests and more to do with the depth of our commitments to make a positive difference. Our respect for creativity will have less to do with fabulous idiosyncrasy and more to do with the sustaining curricular innovation and compelling artistic practice. In moments of hubris I have said that “America needs Wesleyan,” and I believe that even more strongly now. By becoming the best institution we can be, by becoming our best self, we can be a deep resource for progressive liberal arts education around the world.

    Michael S. Roth

    In the spring of 2009 I had extensive discussions with faculty, students and staff about the distinctive aspects of the Wesleyan experience, and then I spent the summer developing a framework for strengthening these aspects. In the fall of 2009 we posted Wesleyan 2020: Preliminary Reflections on Planning. Since September, responses and suggestions have been coming to us regularly from faculty, staff, students, and alumni—mainly through a number of fora and other meetings devoted to discussion of the plan. On the basis of these discussions, we have a revised document, Wesleyan 2020: A Framework for Planning. As a “framework for planning” it is not so much a checklist as a flexible paradigm to guide our decision making. It will doubtless engender more responses in the future, and we are prepared to revise it as a “living document.” I hope that the trustees, who have been deliberating on the goals and strategies in this plan for some time, will agree that this revised document broadly reflects the ideas of those who care about the future of our university and that it will help us make the right decisions going forward.

    To all of you who responded to Wesleyan 2020 formally or informally, directly or indirectly, I express my thanks. To all who care about Wesleyan, I look forward to your help in building Wesleyan’s future.

    The following was sent to the Wesleyan community on February 18, 2010.

    Dear Friends:

    Since my return to Wesleyan in 2007, alumni have often asked me why our endowment no longer ranks among the largest of small liberal arts schools. In the early 1980s, our endowment was roughly equal to those of Amherst and Williams, and now it is less than half theirs. “What happened,” I’ve been asked again and again. And, “What are you doing about it?”

    The story is simple, and it’s not a tale of poor investment decisions. Our investment returns since the 1980s have been about average for our peer group of colleges and universities. Wesleyan’s best-performing peers benefited from much greater giving to their endowment and compounding of those gifts in strong equity markets. The choices we made about how to deploy our capital, however, were skewed. We spent too much and saved too little.

    Our institution today is financially sound. Still, it has become clear that we need to take a fundamentally different approach in order to build our reserves and have maximum flexibility for future initiatives. For that reason, last semester we decided to change significantly the ratio of spending to investing at Wesleyan. We have reduced our spending draw from the endowment. Furthermore, where we typically spent 75% of the money we raised annually, our policy now is to save and invest most of these funds. Next year, for example, our goal for the annual fund, which provides for operating expenses, is only 29% of our total fundraising goal, down from about 40%. We are able to invest more because we have reduced our expenses and have a balanced budget. You can learn more about the history of Wesleyan’s endowment at this website.

    We are rebalancing our spending and saving in other ways as well. We are taking advantage of improved markets to refinance our debt to stabilize annual interest payments. We have reduced the administrative staff by about 10 percent, and we are implementing numerous measures that will cut our base budget spending by about $25 million. In the coming years, we hope to triple the endowment for financial aid, adding the equivalent of 400 new scholarships, which will enable us to direct more of our annual operating funds toward enhancing education at Wesleyan.

    We have hired 25 faculty members, and even as we secure our future financially, we are developing new curricular programs. Applications have soared by 30 percent in the last two years—students across the nation and around the world see Wesleyan as the exciting school all of us know it to be.

    We will be discussing these developments with the Board of Trustees next week, and it will be my pleasure at that time to announce that two trustee families have pledged a total of $22 million, mostly to support financial aid endowment. We will celebrate their thoughtful generosity, which marks an important step in building a stronger economic foundation for the university.

    With respect to performance and resources, we’ve been punching above our weight for a long time, and we’ll continue to do so. But with the help of the extended Wes family, we are also on track to create a sustainable economic context for the educational dynamism and practical idealism that have long characterized Wesleyan University.

    Michael S. Roth

    After the Thanksgiving break it will seem like a mad dash until the end of the semester. Suddenly those term papers loom large for students, while for faculty the grading that has piled up has to be completed before the final rush of exams and essays. It’s not the best time to think about long-term planning, but I thought I might provide an update on some of the activities over the last few months that have given feedback on Wesleyan 2020.

    Throughout the semester I have been talking with alumni across the country to discuss our thinking about the next ten years at Wesleyan. Many of these meetings have led to interesting discussions that will have an important impact on how we develop our plan. The most substantial, sustained conversation about strategy took place at the Board retreat in October (see the previous post and the draft Strategy Map).

    During Homecoming-Family Weekend I had the opportunity to meet with the Alumni Association Executive Committee, the Athletic Advisory Council and the Admissions Volunteer Council. All groups had read Wesleyan 2020 and had some good questions about subjects such as co-curricular learning and about selectivity (to take just two prominent examples). I also met with a group of parents and alumni to hear whether their concerns and ambitions were reflected in our strategies for the future. Our discussion emphasized the happy balance at Wesleyan between intellectual rigorousness and community engagement. We talked about the highly individualized nature of a student’s education at Wes, and how that made it even more important to give students a context of intellectual and personal support in which they can thrive.

    At all our panels we spent a considerable amount of time discussing communications. There was widespread agreement that our student and faculty achievements should be more widely disseminated, and that expanding recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution would bring many benefits. We must seize the opportunities to get our message out, as many of our individual students and alumni have already done so successfully.

    I will continue to meet with student leadership groups around the plan, and in January I will begin a series of discussions with faculty about the three overarching goals. Meanwhile, the Board has created Working Groups that will be developing metrics so that we can assess our performance in each of the three key areas. This should be a fruitful process that in the end will help Wesleyan realize its potential more consistently and in the most compelling ways.

    I have been receiving much feedback on Wesleyan 2020, and I am grateful for it. Earlier this month the Wesleyan Board of Trustees met, and along with faculty, staff and student representatives, spent two days thinking about a strategy map for Wesleyan. It was an intense and engaging process, as we discussed values and attributes we thought essential to the university’s character, and then considered themes for future planning in light of these attributes.

    We used a “Balanced Scorecard” method, which means that whatever we came up with had to fit on one page! This turned out to be a useful crystallization process, and we took some of our stories and themes and tried to boil them down into a few words. Although we are still refining the strategy map we came up with, Board Chair Joshua Boger and I thought we could share it now:

    [draft Wesleyan strategy map; November, 2009]
    View a larger version (Updated, November 20, 2009.)

    One of the first things we did at the retreat was to talk in small groups about the university’s “core purpose.” Our excellent facilitator, Bink Garrison, gave us some examples of how statements of purpose should reach beyond the specific operations of an organization, but still be tangibly connected to it. You’ll see that the statement that most participants liked best is: “To provide a transformative liberal arts education that inspires a lifelong commitment to learning, leadership, and service.” I look forward to discussing with alumni groups, and with the campus constituencies, what we mean by “transformative,” and how we can create this “lifelong commitment.”

    In subsequent meetings, the Board will be developing measures for many of the strategies called out on the map. This will be a real challenge, but by doing so we will be better equipped to align our resources in support of what is most important for Wesleyan’s future.

    Dear friends,

    What follows are my preliminary thoughts on planning, prepared this summer. This draft is my response to the discussions we have already had about possible initiatives at Wesleyan as well as to some of the achievements of my predecessors.

    Shortly after I began my presidency at Wesleyan in the summer of 2007, I focused on enhancing our financial aid support. In the fall of that year I proposed to the Board that we reduce required student loans by about 35% and eliminate loans for our most needy students. I also described to the Board in the first months that I did not think that Wesleyan should pursue the creation of a new University Museum, and that we would stop our planning in this regard. We continued to focus fundraising efforts for new facilities in the Life Sciences.

    In the fall of 2007 I asked the faculty to make brief proposals as to what we might accomplish should we be able to raise additional resources to support the academic program. We received more than 50 proposals, and senior staff, faculty, and student representatives reviewed them. I decided to focus on five major areas:

    1. University-wide curricular reform: improve first-year program; capstone experiences; increase research support for students and faculty; develop multi-disciplinary or extra-departmental courses for second- and first-year students.
    2. Internationalization: increase numbers of international students and broaden the global reach of curriculum.
    3. Civic engagement: integrate service learning and political education opportunities, as well as curricular and co-curricular offerings.
    4. Creative campus: enhance creativity and deepen capacity for innovation throughout the curricular and co-curricular offerings.
    5. College of the Environment: develop a flexible multi-disciplinary environmental studies program in a Wesleyan “college” context.

    Together with 6. Enhanced financial aid and 7. Investing in the sciences, these have been the major areas for discussion in the last year or so, despite the challenging economic climate. In regard to investing in the sciences, a major change in our planning has been to shift our objective from the complex in the life sciences (budget of $160 million) to just one phase of the project that would still be a significant improvement in our facilities.

    These seven areas of focus have been incorporated into what follows. I have tried to frame them within contexts that should allow various sectors of the Wesleyan community to discuss how we envision the evolution of the distinctive educational experience we offer.

    I hope to gather feedback on the ideas proposed in this document, and to develop a framework for the future that will allow us to make significant decisions about the allocation of resources in the next several years. We will organize discussions by faculty, students and staff on campus, as well as sessions with alumni and parents around the country. We will post revisions and substitutions to this document online in an effort to gather our best thinking about how to support what is distinctive and admirable about Wesleyan. In early October the Board of Trustees (along with faculty, student and staff representation) will discuss a broad map of who we are and where we are going that should inform our ongoing discussions. I hope to bring a document reflecting all these conversations to the Board in late May.

    Thank you in advance for helping to think about Wesleyan’s future over the next decade. Together, we can make our university an even better exemplar of the educational values and vision that have made us a leader in the liberal arts.


    [Michael Roth signature]

    Michael S. Roth

    Read the draft…

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