Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Office of the President

President’s Blog

  • A message from the Board of Trustees

    President Crutcher has led our college with great success, grace, integrity and devotion.

    From Thomas J. Hollister
    Chair, Board of Trustees 

    I am following up on President Crutcher's announcement of his decision to step down as President of Wheaton College at the end of the next academic year, June 30, 2014. Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to chair the committee that recruited President Crutcher to Wheaton. When we selected our new President, we had no idea how fortunate Wheaton would be, or what a wonderful President he would become. President Crutcher will be greatly missed. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to thank him for his remarkable tenure and many contributions.

    The goals that we set for his presidency—in consultation with the college community in 2003-04—centered on our shared desire to strengthen Wheaton by building on its distinctive liberal arts curriculum, enhancing its academic reputation in the wider world and fully enlisting the active support of our extended community.

    Wheaton has made enormous strides forward in those areas thanks to President Crutcher's dedication to advancing the college. So much has been accomplished under his tenure:

    ‣ The college's reach and reputation has been enhanced and extended in large part due to President Crutcher's national stature and the manner in which he has tirelessly told the Wheaton story.

    ‣ Wheaton continues to be pedagogically innovative, offering a vibrant, inventive and evolving curriculum taught by an exceptionally talented and committed faculty. 

    ‣ Our students give Wheaton high marks in national polls that measure student engagement.

    ‣ The faculty praises the intellectual capacity of the students, who have never been more diverse or accomplished with national and international awards, scholarships and fellowships.

    ‣ The incoming class of 2017 is expected to be the third largest in the school's history.

    ‣ The college's campus has never offered more or looked better, including excitement generated by the new Mars Science Center and new Diane C. Nordin '80 Turf Field.

    ‣ The alumnae/i are proud of their college and support it financially at unsurpassed levels in the annual Wheaton Fund drives.

    ‣ The college has raised more money in the "Go Beyond" capital campaign than any campaign in its history, and has already surpassed its original $120 million target.

    ‣ The administration comprises an exceptionally talented group of vice presidents.

    ‣ An inventive and dedicated staff has consistently enabled the college to respond to new opportunities while sustaining myriad critical services and systems.

    ‣ The school has been guided with a steady and determined hand during one of the most challenging eras in the history of higher education.

    President Crutcher has led our college with great success, grace, integrity and devotion. The Trustees are most grateful for his leadership and thankful for his contributions. A year from now, he will leave his successor with an institution benefitting from the momentum of success and full of promise.

    I am pleased to announce that Nancy Conger, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and a graduate of the Class of '67, will chair the search committee. Nancy has been an active member of the Wheaton community for many years with Alumnae/i Association activities, fundraising and board service. She is a wonderful leader with a deep devotion to the school. The committee will be composed of trustees, faculty, staff and students and will begin its work this summer. You will hear directly from Nancy as the committee's work unfolds. I know she plans for the committee to reach out to the broad Wheaton community for advice and counsel on their important undertaking.

    In the coming year we look forward to finding ways to thank and honor President Crutcher for his service to Wheaton. We also look forward to thanking Betty Neal Crutcher, who is a wonderful supporter of the college, an exceptional ambassador to the community, a friend to graduates of all classes and a mentor to hundreds of students. I can share with you that the Trustees are planning to announce a new trustee-led effort as part of the capital campaign to raise endowed scholarship funds for the college in the coming year in honor of Ron and Betty, with an opportunity for all donors to participate.

  • Wheaton President and landscaping 3/2004 A message to the community

    After deep reflection, I’ve decided the 2013-2014 academic year will be my last as President of Wheaton

    I am writing to inform you that the 2013-2014 academic year will be my last as President of Wheaton College. After deep personal reflection on Wheaton’s achievements and the wonderful momentum that the college has generated, I informed the Board of Trustees during their annual meeting that I intended to step down from the presidency on June 30, 2014.

    This summer will mark the start of my tenth year at Wheaton. During that time, the college community has achieved great things for students today and tomorrow, and it has confronted difficult issues arising from the economic downturn that began in 2008. Today, the college is thriving.

    · Our students achieve great things, as exemplified by the college’s eight consecutive years as one of the top ten liberal arts colleges in producing Fulbright Scholars.

    · The generosity of alumnae/i, parents and friends of Wheaton has propelled Go Beyond: Campaign for Wheaton to raise a record $121 million with a little more than a year to go before the effort reaches a conclusion.

    · The completion of the Mars Center for Science and Technology, a $46 million facility made possible through philanthropy.

    · The establishment of innovative interdisciplinary programs, including majors in business and management, and film and new media studies.

    · The deep engagement of alumnae and alumni in the life of the college—as volunteers, career mentors and supportive philanthropists.

    · A 6.5 percent increase in undergraduate student enrollment over the past decade, creating a more vibrant campus life.

    · An increasingly diverse group of students. Twenty percent of the entering Class of 2017 self-identify as students of color and 15 percent are international students.

    · The ongoing construction of the Diane C. Nordin ’80 Turf Field, which will open at the start of the new school year.

    I sense a renewed spirit of innovation in our community and a broad foundation of support for sustaining the quality of the education for which Wheaton is known. I am excited and energized by the promise of the initiatives that we have begun, and I am confident that the strategic directions we have developed will strengthen the college for the future. However, as I reflected in recent weeks on all that has been accomplished, I concluded that this is an opportune moment to bring to a close what has been an inspiring, challenging, but rewarding tenure, leading this institution.

    This success of Go Beyond: Campaign for Wheaton is especially gratifying, as it reflects the accomplishment of so many of the goals that we set as a community: building a first-class science center that puts science teaching and research at the center of our liberal arts curriculum; growing annual support for the college’s operations; increasing the resources for student and faculty scholarship, and improving campus facilities.

    Of course, more remains to be done. In particular, our goal to increase the endowment for student scholarship support by $45 million has not yet been achieved. In this final year of the campaign and of my tenure, this will be our top priority. A robust endowment for student financial aid will continue to play a critical role in ensuring the strength of our academic programs and of the institution itself.

    On a personal level, Betty and I have both immensely enjoyed the relationships that we have developed here at Wheaton among students (in particular, our mentees), faculty, staff, trustees, alumnae/i, parents, and friends of the college. We also have represented Wheaton with pride at the many state and national higher education organizations with which we are affiliated. The invitation to join the Wheaton community and serve as the college’s seventh president has been a great privilege and the highlight of my 37-year career in higher education.

    I will spend my sabbatical during the 2014-2015 academic year engaged in those activities that have gone wanting during my presidency. Betty and I will move to our condominium in Boston, but we also plan to spend a good amount of time in Europe—in former “heimat” Germany and the United Kingdom, in particular. Performances for the Klemperer Trio in Europe and the United States have already been tentatively scheduled for that year. I also intend to do some writing on leadership, higher education, and the arts. Finally, I look forward to reading several of the many novels that I have accumulated over the years that have not yet made it to my summer reading list for Martha’s Vineyard.

    In closing, please know that I greatly appreciate the efforts of the many people who have contributed to Wheaton’s considerable strength and quality. The vigor of the college’s community and its collaborative nature have always been among our most valuable assets. Thanks to all and best wishes as Wheaton continues on its mission to prepare students for abundant lives.

  • 2013-01-16_08-56-16_77 So, this is the spring semester?

    Welcome back, students. Your participation in campus life is critical.

    Dear students,

    Welcome back to campus.

    The “spring” semester may seem more like a wish than a reality right now, but that’s just part of the charm of college life in New England. Never fear: spring will arrive soon enough. The next 15 weeks will race by, the mercury will climb and the ice rink on Chapel Field will be replaced by blankets and frisbees all too soon.

    As you hustle across the Dimple in search of warmth, I hope you feel—in addition to the icy wind—a sense of excitement for the next three-plus months: the thrill of exploring new ideas in your classes and labs, the clubs and activities in which you participate and the special events that are being planned by staff, faculty and your fellow students.

    Your participation in campus life is critical. When you were admitted to Wheaton, whether it was last spring or three years ago, it was not only because you were academically qualified but also because of your ability to contribute to the vitality of campus life. In short, you are here to teach as well as to learn.

    Your perspectives and insight will be particularly important this semester as we further the discussion of how to ensure that Wheaton is an inclusive, open and welcoming community. Several incidents last semester highlighted the fact that we have more work to do, if we are to realize the promise and power of our diverse community. More information about those discussions will be shared as the plans take shape.

    Over the course of the semester, I also will be sponsoring a series of public lectures titled, Thought Leaders: An ongoing conversation on the future of the liberal arts. The speakers will be leaders in the field of higher education. My goal is to begin a discussion about Wheaton’s future, preserving what we value about our institution and positioning us for long-term success. I most definitely would appreciate student involvement, so please join in. 

    The first lecture will be on Monday evening, February 11th featuring President Rebecca Chopp of Swarthmore College. Others scheduled already include Jose Bowen, author of “Teaching Naked: Flipping the Classroom to Improve Teaching and Learning,” on March 22; a panel discussion featuring President Phil Glotzbach of Skidmore College on April 8; and Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, on April 8.

    Many other interesting events are in the offing. For example, we are launching the Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities, founded by professors Touba Ghadessi and Yuen-Gen Liang. The institute, which will sponsor events that explore the role of the liberal arts in the professions, differs from other such academic centers by focusing on students, rather than on faculty or business professionals.

    I hope to see you on campus and at college events. Meanwhile, stay warm.

  • Active and engaged learning

    The opportunity to apply theory solidifies learning and allows students to grow.

    I hope the New Year is off to a good start for you. The Wheaton campus is getting busy with the start of a new semester; classes begin today.

    With the start of classes, the Beard and Weil Galleries have reopened with a fascinating exhibition that, if you can visit campus for an afternoon, you will want to see. The show “100 Years, 100 Objects” features a sampling of treasures from the college’s Permanent Collection and its archives--from handwritten diaries to works by famous artists and authors, including Alexander Calder’s Little Blue Oval and a rare ink-and-watercolor study by Ludwig Bemelmans (of Madeline fame).

    Most of the objects in the show were donated by Wheaton alumnae/i or their family members, a fact that calls attention to the extraordinary people and wonderful generosity that have helped to make Wheaton the college it is today.

    The exhibition was curated and installed by students in the Exhibition Design course taught by Assistant Professor Leah Niederstadt and College Archivist Zeph Stickney. The research and thought behind the selection of each piece are evident, and I was impressed to find that the students incorporated digital media—podcasts, essays and a catalogue—into the project. These media can be accessed by smartphone while the visitor is browsing the show.

    Each object in the exhibition has a story to tell on its own. For instance, I was struck by a letter written by Dr. Eleanor Bridge Kilham, Class of 1876, who left her private medical practice in 1915 to provide medical care to wounded soldiers and establish a refugee center in France. As the show’s catalogue states, Dr. Kilham “embodied the institution’s ethos of using knowledge for the benefit of mankind.” The tradition of social responsibility is now an essential part of Wheaton’s DNA.

    For me, one of the most striking stories from this exhibition is its illustration of Wheaton’s focus on active and engaged learning. This experiential approach may demand more of faculty members, and it may require more resources for the college to sustain, but it also delivers great value to our students. The opportunity to apply theory, whether in a project such as this one, in scientific laboratory research or on a creative scholarly project, solidifies learning and allows students to grow in their capabilities and their confidence.

    The power of Wheaton’s educational philosophy is evident in this exhibition and in every corner of the campus. One compelling testimony to the college’s academic strength is the number of students who win prestigious national scholarships. In producing Fulbright Scholars, the college ranks among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the country for the eighth consecutive year. Our students’ success in earning these awards reflects both their intellectual potential and the opportunities the college provides to learn, grow and achieve at the highest level.

    Like all liberal arts colleges, however, Wheaton faces significant challenges. The cost of higher education, particularly the highly personalized and flexible education that Wheaton offers, puts this experience out of reach for too many young people. And even when it is within their financial reach, many families look too quickly, and superficially, for educational programs that have an obvious connection to getting that first job.

    By design, liberal arts study eschews an occupational focus in favor of academic work that builds critical thinking, creative problem solving and communication skills. The fact that it is also highly practical runs counter to the current common wisdom.

    We need to be active and assertive in making the case for the full value of the liberal arts in life and in work. Wheaton is well positioned to do just that. The Filene Center, the faculty and the curriculum are dedicated to helping students discover the connection between rigorous liberal arts study and success in their careers. We have long been a leader in this area, but that does not mean that we can rest on our laurels.

    Our faculty are leading the way. In fact, members of the faculty expect to establish a new interdisciplinary program that will build upon a strong liberal arts foundation to offer students a clear path from campus to career. In addition, this semester we are launching the Wheaton Institute for Interdisciplinary Humanities, founded by Touba Ghadessi and Gen Liang, professors of art history and history. The institute, which will sponsor events that explore the role of the liberal arts in the professions, differs from other such academic centers by focusing on students, rather than on faculty or business professionals.

    Thanks to our generous alumnae/i, we’re also able to connect current students with graduates around the world working in virtually every field. It’s hard to overstate how powerful alumnae/i involvement can be. In meeting with alums, students begin to see a wide range of possibilities for their future. Within the next few weeks, sophomores and seniors will both have opportunities to converse with Wheaton graduates about career paths and possibilities.

    We welcome your involvement. If you are interested in learning more, please contact the Alumnae/i Relations office to get started, or plan to attend an upcoming Wheaton event in your area. In the next two weeks, I will be attending regional receptions in Philadelphia where a revitalized alumnae/i club is holding a reception; and in Washington, D.C., where psychology professor Jason Reiss will offer one of his engrossing lectures.

    I look forward to seeing you and other Wheaton alumnae/i at an upcoming event on or off campus, and I welcome your interest in the future of our unique and excellent liberal arts college.

  • Focusing on our safety

    Reflecting on the tragedy in Newtown and taking steps to promote campus safety at Wheaton.

    To the campus community,

    I am certain that you share my sadness and horror at the mass shooting that took place last week at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The country continues to grieve at the tragic loss of so many innocent lives and the shocking violation of the safety and security that schools represent.

    President Obama and others have observed how many horrific mass shootings have afflicted our nation in recent years. Columbine, Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood--these places are all too familiar for the tragedies that have occurred in these communities.

    This Friday (Dec. 21) at 9:30 a.m. the state of Connecticut will observe a moment of silence in memory of all who lost their lives in the Newtown school shootings. I encourage every member of the Wheaton community to join our neighbors and fellow citizens in pausing to reflect on this incident and send our prayers and best wishes to the families most directly affected by this tragedy.

    However, we need to go beyond memorializing the victims and caring for the survivors. We also need to take action, to better recognize and treat mental illness and to establish reasonable gun control laws. Yesterday, I joined the group “College Presidents for Gun Safety,” which is calling on our elected representatives to enact rational gun safety measures. We are more than 170 strong and growing. You can learn more about this effort at http://www.collegepresidentsforgunsafety.org.

    At the same time, I feel a deep responsibility to ensure that we take every step to ensure the safety and security of our Wheaton community. Toward that end, I have directed the college’s administration to conduct a thorough review of our emergency response protocols and systems. In fact, this work has already begun.

    At the start of the spring semester, I expect that we will provide information to the entire campus and conduct some training to be sure that all students, staff and faculty understand Wheaton’s security protocols and would be prepared to participate in measures designed for campus safety.


    Ronald A. Crutcher

  • Strengthening our campus community

    Creating a more welcoming, tolerant and open campus culture

    Nearly a full month has passed since the discovery of anti-Semitic graffiti at 17 Howard Street jolted our campus into reflection and into action. It’s clear that many of you share my determination to stand up for respect and civility as well as a sense of optimism that we can, and will, create a more welcoming, tolerant and open campus culture that reflects our values as a community.

    The good work has already begun. I greatly appreciate the energy, inventiveness and spirit behind initiatives, such as the “We Are Wheaton” campaign that arose from a discussion in Professor Donna Kerner’s class. That same sense of fellowship and unity also shone through in this year’s luminaria display and the vespers ceremony that followed. On Saturday, we are planning a community celebration of the start of Hanukkah in the Dimple.

    A number of other initiatives have been proposed that are aimed at effecting the kind of long-term changes in campus culture that will help us achieve the sort of inclusive environment that reflects the values espoused in our honor code. These ideas range from a daylong teach-in organized by the Student Government Association in collaboration with the faculty to implementing programs on diversity that are offered by respected outside organizations.

    To lead the college in this work, I have charged the President’s Action Committee on Inclusive Excellence (PACIE)—a longstanding group that includes students, faculty and staff—with conducting an examination of how we can most effectively maintain our focus on appreciating and celebrating differences. Through careful study and consultation with the community, they will develop proposals for sustaining a diverse community in which we appreciate differences and learn from each other.

    I expect that PACIE’s work will include plans for both immediate action in the New Year as well as recommendations for ongoing initiatives.  The committee will complete its full report by the end of the spring semester.

    While my main focus is on how we move forward as a college and community, I remain dedicated to identifying the person or persons responsible for the graffiti at 17 Howard Street, if possible. At the moment, our investigations have come to an impasse. Public Safety officers have interviewed those individuals who might have relevant information several times, and they have followed every lead currently available. However, this case will remain open and we have increased the reward for information leading us to the perpetrator(s) to $2,500. Should new information become available, it will be acted upon.

    My overriding goals have not changed. I want to make it clear that there is no room for bias, hatred and prejudice on this campus. Instead, this college should be, and will be, a place where every individual feels safe and respected. Each of us has a role to play in creating and sustaining this kind of community, and I welcome your contributions to helping make that a reality.

  • Affirming our values as a college

    We are Wheaton: diverse, inclusive and tolerant

    To the Campus Community,

    Before we pause for the Thanksgiving break, I wanted to update you on what has transpired since last week’s community meeting in Cole Memorial Chapel.

    My primary concern lies in ensuring our community’s sense of safety and security. This hate crime has deeply impacted the young women who live in the Jewish Life House and every member of Wheaton’s Jewish community—students, faculty and staff. It has clearly affected many others of us as well, and we need to listen to and support each other.

    I also am concerned that, during the meeting, so many other students reported experiencing prejudice and bias or incidents in which they were treated with disrespect. As I’ve said before, incivility and hate have no place on our campus. We clearly have more work to do to become the truly inclusive community to which we aspire.

    The large number of students, faculty and staff who attended the Community Conversation in the Chapel—more than 600 people—indicates that we have many hands for the work ahead. In fact, more than 250 students signed up to be involved in future efforts to create a more inclusive and civil campus community. And the response has already begun.

    You may be familiar with some of the initiatives that have been launched in response, such as the “Blue Table” discussions that the Division of Student Affairs inaugurated on Friday at lunch in Chase Square. Or the student-organized “We Are Wheaton” campaign in that is now on Facebook as well as on campus. I am also aware of many positive conversations that have happened in classrooms, residence halls and over meals.

    Other initiatives now being planned include:

    • · An enhancement to the luminaria lighting that is part of our annual Vespers celebration on Dec. 2 to convey a message of inclusivity.
    • · A campus-wide celebration in the Dimple on Saturday, Dec. 8, to celebrate the start of Chanukah.
    • · Open discussion hours for interested students at the Marshall Center and in the Office of Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility.
    • · A teach-in on appreciating diversity and rejecting prejudice and hate that will be organized by the Student Government Association in collaboration with the faculty.

    Members of the college’s Bias Incident Response Team will also explore other efforts to keep the momentum going. In particular, the college has several opportunities to partner with outside organizations on longer-term programs aimed at combating bias and hate. I also expect to charge a campus committee with conducting a study and recommending strategies for long-term and long-lasting changes in campus culture. I will have more to announce on that subject in the near future.

    Finally, I want to assure the entire campus that our commitment to enforcing the college’s Honor Code and community standards remains steadfast. Wheaton’s Public Safety Department has continued its investigation into who is responsible for the anti-Semitic graffiti at the Jewish Life House, the hateful graffiti reported in other locations and any other incidents that are reported to us. In the case of the Jewish Life House, officers have conducted interviews with at least 15 people, and they are following other leads to get to the bottom of this hate crime. Anyone who has information on this incident is urged to contact Public Safety.

    Every person at Wheaton deserves to feel safe and respected, and all of us share responsibility for creating that kind of community. I am grateful for the efforts of students, faculty and staff to respond to these incidents in ways that help us learn and move forward.

    Best wishes for a safe, restful and joyful holiday.


    Ronald A. Crutcher



  • Inspiration, Adaptation, Evolution

    Remarks at Opening Convocation 2012 in Cole Memorial Chapel.

    Good afternoon. Welcome faculty, staff, and students to the opening convocation marking Wheaton’s 178th year. Class of 2013, I am pleased to see you in the robes you will wear again in May when you graduate. You look great! Best wishes to you as you begin your final year at Wheaton. Seniors, be certain to savor every moment, because before you know it May 18th will be here! I also want to welcome the representatives of the classes of 2014, 2015, and, of course, the very special first-year class of 2016, whose members are beginning their college career.

    I also would like to recognize those 32 students who were the recipients of Presidential Awards this summer. These students maintained a grade point average of 3.90 in their academic work at Wheaton for the 2011-2012 academic year. Students please stand. I ask you to join me in applauding their achievement. (Applause).


    The start of a new academic year is always cause for anticipation. This year will be especially exciting. We have a number of new and creative programs starting. One of these programs is the MakerSpace, also known as WHALE. That’s short for the Wheaton Autonomous Learning Lab. This is a place for people who are interested in Do-It-Yourself arts and crafts, computer programming, robotics and engineering. I stopped by the other day to see exactly what was going on and watched a demonstration of their 3-D printer (specifically, a MakerBot Replicator). In fact, I even walked away with two of the Johnson Solids that had been produced on the 3-D printer (you know, the 92 convex polyhedra, identified by former Wheaton Professor Norman Johnson in 1966). I could have stayed there all day. What an exhilarating environment for experimentation, discovery, and intellectual stimulation. This is exactly the kind of program that belongs at Wheaton. What is even more exciting is that many of the students working together on projects in the MakerSpace will also be living together in a learning community in the Sem.

    Another new program is the Wheaton Institute for Interdisciplinary Humanities, which will have its theme for the first two years--“The Humanities Give Back: The Role of the Humanities in Professional Fields.” And of course there are the new and enhanced minors in Business and Management, Public Health, and Jewish Studies.

    Today, I would like to talk about our community’s future, the opportunities that it may present to us and the imaginative, creative collaboration in which we need to engage if we are to realize these opportunities.


    The title of my talk, “Inspiration, Adaptation, and Evolution: charting a path to the future” takes its inspiration from several sources that I want to acknowledge at the outset.

    The phrase “inspired evolution of liberal education” is, no doubt, familiar to faculty and staff. It was suggested to us last spring, as a description of Wheaton’s path as a learning community, by a consultant working for the college. They interviewed a number of students, faculty, staff and alumni last year to understand better what makes Wheaton distinctive. As I recall it, our response was immediate and enthusiastic. The phrase reflects the legacy of our 178-year history, captures who we are today and expresses the institution we aspire to be.

    This phrase appears as part of a larger statement that calls us all—faculty and staff, students and alumni—not only to be ready for change, but to embrace actively the opportunities for experimentation. It reads, in part:

    We are proud of, and committed to sustaining and enhancing, the college’s ethos: adventurous, flexible, open to possibility. We work across borders, embrace change, challenge convention. We are the inspired evolution of liberal education.

    I’m drawn to the word “evolution,” and not simply because we might use it as a point of distinction between ourselves and a certain other college in Wheaton, Illinois. Rather, it speaks to a process of incremental adaptation that seems particularly well suited to colleges and universities.

    Now, I realize the peril that I could be in. To employ the metaphor of evolution is risky when your audience includes experts on evolutionary biology. But Wheaton has a long history of adapting to a changing environment in ways that have made the college distinctive … and stronger … while retaining our essential commitment to the value of a liberal arts education.

    The gender-balanced curriculum that Wheaton faculty developed, beginning in the early 1980s, was a pioneering effort that brought work by and about women into the liberal arts curriculum. That work has influenced teaching and learning in colleges and universities across the country. For Wheaton, it has been a unique and powerful educational change, helping to preserve our special inclusive character through the transition to coeducation.

    In fact, the gender-balanced curriculum set the stage for our current curriculum, which seeks to be even more inclusive. Through infusion, we strive to consider race and ethnicity and their intersections with gender, class, sexuality, religion, and technology in the United States and globally. What really sets us apart is that this is not a separate requirement for students. Rather, it is a requirement for faculty to integrate diverse perspectives throughout the curriculum; this approach has served as a model for higher education. It is a logical outgrowth of the gender-balanced curriculum project.

    These adaptations have heightened Wheaton’s distinctive character. The college took another step in the mid-1980s that has had a profound impact in shaping who we are today. The establishment of the Filene Center in 1986 reflected Wheaton’s belief that learning takes place not only in the classroom, the lab and the library but also in work, service and internship experiences. It set us apart by integrating experiential learning into our curriculum and transcending the traditional career services center’s focus on assisting seniors with a job search. That step has led to all manner of further changes, such as the Wheaton Research Partnership, through which faculty members hire students to assist in research projects with support from Work Study funds. Or the variety of stipends and fellowships that we award for internships and research, nearly $700,000 each year.

    The full story of Wheaton’s evolution is epic, and it is inspiring. The Wheaton Hymn summarizes it well at the beginning of the second stanza: “They builded better than they knew; they trusted where they could not see.”


    Now, as I understand it, evolution occurs not only due to what might be called meaningful changes within an individual or an organization, but also in response to forces in the larger environment.

    Just recently, the local NPR station ran a brief series on how global warming might affect the City of Boston. A substantial part of the city sits on what was once bay or marshlands, and as you can imagine, the projected sea level rise, an expected outgrowth of global warming, could be a problem. The part of the report that struck me was a statement by planning officials that Boston and other cities had only recently changed their focus from trying to stop climate change - apparently now an impossible task - to trying to adapt to the changing environment.

    Colleges and universities face a threat, too. It comes not from rising sea levels (at least not this campus, which is more than 100 feet above sea level), but from a growing disconnect between the academy and the society at large. In part, it is a function of economics. Over the past twenty years, the cost of higher education has grown faster than median family incomes. The result has been a growing gap between the actual expense of providing a college education and many families’ ability to finance that education.

    This is a tough problem. I’m proud to say that Wheaton has taken a number of steps to address this issue, despite the fact that it required us to make some very difficult decisions. And we will continue to work on controlling and reducing costs, in every way possible. What we will not do is take actions that impact the quality of the education and experience that we offer to our students.

    The disconnect is more than economic, however. The purpose of a college education is also contested terrain. An undergraduate degree has become increasingly essential for professional success. And that necessity often overshadows the traditional purpose of promoting intellectual growth and offering an entrée to a lifetime of learning. Indeed, it is common to encounter serious questions about the value and relevance of what colleges teach and how we teach.

    The crux of the problem is the value proposition. That is: in today’s world, many families do not see the wisdom in paying more than $200,000 for a liberal arts education that may not lead to a job for their children.

    We need to continue to find creative ways of making our case and demonstrating that a liberal arts education is the best way to prepare students not simply for entry-level positions, but for a life of learning and active citizenship as well as professional advancement. The short videos featured on the Wheaton website showcase great examples of the combination of professional and personal growth.

    A great deal has been written on this subject over the past year, so there is no shortage of opinions about how to solve the problem. Many of the … quote … solutions … unquote that are offered present themselves as silver bullets, capable of transforming higher education. Count me as skeptical.

    If you are expecting me to attempt to provide answers to addressing these issues, I suppose it is time to admit that is not my purpose today. I can’t. Even if it were possible, it would not be appropriate. This is a situation that we, the Wheaton community, need to work on together.

    I believe that there is no single solution to these challenges. I hope you find that liberating, as I do. We need to be bold, ready to experiment. But we do not need to find the one, perfect solution. Strategic, thoughtful use of online learning technology may be appropriate, but it is just one possibility. There are many other options to explore. I suspect that we will develop alternatives that would not, could not, be dreamed of anywhere else.

    Our great advantage is the critical and creative capacity of the Wheaton community.

    We need to apply the skills of the liberal arts to solve the problem together. It will require us to to think critically about the challenges we face, our strengths as an institution and the opportunities that might exist.

    We are nimble enough to be innovative and achieve that inspired evolution to which we aspire.

    Over the next two years, we will be inviting higher education leaders to campus to engage us in conversations about the challenges facing higher education and the future of liberal arts colleges in particular. These guest speakers will be featured in both formal and informal settings.

    It is hoped that our community’s engagement with these leaders will “prime the pump” as we prepare to enter a new planning process.

    During our 178-year history, the Wheaton community has faced numerous challenges and has always found creative and innovative ways to address them. To be sure, the challenges facing higher education today—liberal arts colleges in particular, are daunting. However, I am convinced that working together as a community we will be able to address them. I invite everyone—faculty, staff, students, and alumnae/alumni to participate in this process.

    “They builded better than they knew; they trusted where they could not see. They heard the sound of voices new; singing of all the years to be.” Every time I sing that stanza, I am both inspired and proud.

    And so we begin a new academic year, full of promise and challenge and opportunity. May it also be full of inspiration. Thank you.


  • College housing policy: an update

    Wheaton at its best: a community sharing ideas and perspectives in a thoughtful and productive discussion

    We introduced the idea of paying different rates for different types of student housing on January 31. In the past eight days we have talked with our students and our alumnae/i, and we have listened. I have heard deep feelings expressed about the importance of Wheaton’s commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive community. On Tuesday evening we hosted an open forum in Hindle Auditorium to discuss the housing policy. We promised to come back to you with our thoughts by the end of this week. We have decided not to move forward with this policy.

    More than 300 students turned out for the campus forum that we had planned to discuss the proposed policy. While I was traveling for Wheaton and unable to attend, I have been told by my colleagues that those who attended listened carefully; asked excellent questions about how the policy might be implemented; and offered their own suggestions for improving housing, saving money and raising revenue. By all accounts, it was an example of Wheaton at its best: a community sharing ideas and perspectives in a thoughtful and productive discussion.

    Our mission statement says that Wheaton College provides a transformative liberal arts education for intellectually curious students in a collaborative, academically vibrant residential community that values a diverse world. Those aren’t just words on a page. They are our values. Our community is vibrant and diverse, and your comments reflected your own commitment to these values. Frankly, we are proud of the way our community engaged in this public discussion. Housing equity, we realize, is a core expression of our values and a keystone of the collegial community we share.

    However, the need for revenue is real. If we are to maintain our commitment to providing access to students offered admission, we need to increase revenue. This year, the college’s financial aid budget rose much faster than revenue, resulting in a shortfall of more than $3 million. Our forecasts indicate that this trend will continue next year, as the economic downturn continues to affect our families. While we have made significant expense cuts, leaving no line of the budget untouched, cuts alone will not close the gap.

    It is my responsibility to lead, and we will need to continue to seek increased revenues. We will all be called upon to share in this effort. We have been fortunate to receive generous support for investments that improve the quality of students’ educational experience (witness the Mars Center for Science and Technology), even in the midst of an economic downturn. You have my personal commitment that in our decision-making we will be mindful of what we have heard. We value your shared dedication to Wheaton College.

  • On the housing policy

    Some context on the decision to establish differential room rates at Wheaton

    The strength of Wheaton College lies in its community and that truth has never been more apparent than in recent days.

    Our announcement on Tuesday of plans to charge more for living in certain types of residences has engendered vigorous conversation, online and off, among students, faculty and staff, as well as alumnae/i, parents and friends. The thoughtfulness and passion of your views affirm how much you care about Wheaton, and for that I am truly grateful.

    I expect that we will discuss the housing issue a great deal more, and I thought it might be helpful to share some context for the policy change as the conversation continues.

    The housing proposal is part of a comprehensive set of strategies that the college has undertaken to cope with a challenging economic environment. Like most colleges, Wheaton has felt the impact of the recession that began in 2008, and that has deeply affected so many families’ ability to access higher education. As a result, we have increased our spending on student financial aid by more than $8 million since 2009, and we have  taken every opportunity to reduce expenses. In fact the college has reduced its budget by more than $5 million in that time period.

    At the same time, we recognize that it is vitally important for the college to increase revenue, outside of tuition, to invest in the programs and facilities upon which students depend. (The campus response to  the major renovations made to the Meadows housing complex, for example, underscores the impact of improving student housing.) We are looking at many opportunities, including the expansion of summer programs, to enhance Wheaton’s revenue.

    The decision to establish a differential room fee is informed by a careful study of similar institutions that already follow this policy, such as Skidmore, Gettysburg and Kenyon colleges. It also seems important to point out that this policy avoids increasing residential housing costs for all students. In this economic environment, controlling the cost of education is essential to ensure access to Wheaton for a broad diversity of students.

    I realize there are countervailing perspectives to consider—costs that relate to Wheaton’s core values. As many of you have pointed out, the change in policy could heighten socioeconomic distinctions on campus, creating separate student groups and undermining the unifying power of our diverse campus community. This is a concern that must be considered carefully. However, if the policy is implemented thoughtfully and strategically, we believe we can  mitigate its potential divisive effects. We plan to explore such ideas in our conversations with you. We do not want to undermine the inclusive nature of Wheaton’s campus community, from which students gain so much.

    The concern of students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, parents and friends helps to strengthen Wheaton’s distinctive collaborative community. I see your contributions in every aspect of the college’s life, and I know the college is much the better for your engagement.