President’s Letter: Wesleyan’s History of Change
During my 15 years as president, I have found it fascinating to consider Wesleyan’s trajectory over its almost two centuries—from small, parochial school that aimed to train ministers to a first-rate, small university that is proud to “punch above its weight” by bringing the world to Wesleyan, and then empowering our educated students to head back out into international realms of finance, politics, education, entertainment, the arts, and so much more. As we plan our third century, there is much to be proud of, much to build upon.
Wesleyan’s history is filled with the kinds of “changemakers” we celebrate in this issue of the magazine. From 19th-century abolitionists to 20th-century avant-garde creators, our university has been a place where people develop their capacities “for the good of the individual and the good of the world,” to recall the words of our first president. Recently I met with members of the Classes of 1970 and 1971 who were back on campus for their COVID-delayed 50th Reunions. What a time that was to have been an undergraduate! Change was sweeping across the country, and students were playing vital roles in the public sphere. Whether it was opposing the war in Vietnam or fighting for civil rights, Wesleyans were getting an education in democracy through political practice. Some who returned to campus had become researchers into understanding how to fight the most virulent of diseases, others had become constitutional experts protecting our most cherished rights. Still others had gone into the private sphere while retaining deep commitments to improving their communities at the local level.
Women students were once again welcomed as undergraduates in the early 1970s (as they’d been almost a century before), and I enjoyed hearing from those who returned for Reunion. We fondly remembered Sheila Tobias’s groundbreaking work on math education and more generally on what it might mean for women to have equal access to the benefits of a broad, pragmatic liberal education. The resilient Wesleyan women of the 1970s went on to do great things—from deep psychological research to broad work on global issues of inequality. They have been changemakers.
We continue the traditions of making change at Wesleyan, but we also want to preserve what is essential about the culture of this university. That takes a strong foundation. Over the last dozen or so years, we have often spoken about building institutional capacity —increasing access and a sense of belonging, amplifying the research and artistic practice of our community, stimulating innovations in the classroom that will deepen student learning. As the Admission numbers make clear, our distinctive educational offerings are more desirable than ever, and we will continue to find new ways to tell our story so that more people around the world know about the magic that happens at Wesleyan. This will, as I like to say, add value to everyone’s diploma. By building on our strengths, we are providing our graduates with another tool to make positive change.
Those who benefitted from the pragmatic liberal education we offer have been stepping up to make this transformative experience available to others. Each generation of Wesleyan students sets the bar higher for those who follow. It’s a privilege and a joy to be part of this process.