Update for December 2013

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

20 thoughts on “Update for December 2013”

  1. My major comment is that the school does not seem to be finding otherwise successful graduates JOBS nor career paths after graduation. 😮 (

  2. See message exchange below (in reverse order, i.e. latest first).

    Dear Ann,
    Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful reply: your analysis is depressing. It seems that sometime during the time from when Wesleyan had one of the highest endowments per student to the present there was a serious lapse of financial management, and the university is suffering the consequences. Expecting alumni to offset that management lapse by increasing contributions is laudable but seems rather futile in view of the size of the problem vs the ability and willingness of alumni to pay for past mistakes. Perhaps Jeff Bezos could be persuaded to improve Wesleyan’s finances along with those of the Washington Post?
    Nevertheless it is heartening to learn that for some rankings, in particular the fairly obscure study you cited, Wesleyan’s position is relatively high, although not as high as the peers you mentioned. And even that study targeted academic achievers rather than the “well rounded” individuals that Wesleyan prefers, or at least used to prefer.
    W.N. Edwards

    From: Goodwin, Ann
    Sent: 18 October 2013 23:58
    To: nelsedwards@gmail.com
    Subject: Wesleyan and rankings
    Dear Burr,
    I’m writing in response to your question about a reference to U.S. college rankings in the French press.
    The categories used by US News and other groups to compile rankings strongly reward large endowment size and spending per student, per faculty member, and so on. Wesleyan is disadvantaged by having a relatively small endowment (1/2 to 1/4 the size of such schools as Williams, Swarthmore, and Pomona) and a careful approach to budgeting.
    As you probably know, the University’s endowment once compared favorably with those of our peers, but—chiefly due to inattention to fundraising, and to a lesser extent to spending quickly what we brought in—Wesleyan’s financial position declined over time. Our current THIS IS WHY fundraising campaign is focused on strengthening the endowment. We have raised $313 million so far in gifts and pledges toward a $400 million goal, of which $225 million will go into the endowment. We’re pleased that the endowment is steadily rising, with the latest reported value at $688.6 million. (Of course, the endowments of our wealthy peers increase as well.)
    One of Wesleyan’s economics faculty brought to our attention, as a counterweight, this study: http://www.nber.org/papers/w10803.pdf?new_window=1 , covered in econ journals and in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It ranks colleges by looking at the head-to-head choices that top high school students make from the schools where they are accepted. In the rankings they report, Wesleyan is #5 among national liberal arts colleges (after Amherst, Wellesley, Swarthmore, and Williams). Our ongoing commitment is to control spending and steadily strengthen the endowment, while preserving the excellence of our academic and extracurricular resources and ensuring access through financial aid.
    It would be great if you could visit campus before too long and meet some of our wonderful students and professors.
    Best wishes,
    Ann W. Goodwin
    Associate Vice President for Development
    Wesleyan University
    318 High Street
    Middletown, CT 06459

    Attention: Alumni Office
    Would you mind forwarding the following link to President Roth?
    The following paragraph is especially noteworthy for the absence of Wesleyan:
    Une autre annexe classe les établissements spécialisés en lettres et sciences humaines. Le Williams College (Massachusetts) emporte la palme dans cette catégorie, devant l’Amherst College (Massachusetts) et le Swarthmore College (Pennsylvanie). Quatre [sic] universités se partagent ensuite la quatrième place: Bowdoin College (Maine), Middlebury College (Vermont) et Pomona College (Californie).
    Any comments?
    Kind regards,
    W.N. Edwards ’58
    Nelson Edwards

  3. Dear Michael:
    Fine for such a tremendous world outreach. Thanks to your efforts Wesleyan is finally taking sustainable steps towards abandoning its parrochial orientation.
    How about Wesleyan giving at least moral support to my Bolivian Conference on Development Economics www. inesad.edu.bo/bcde2013 ??

  4. Michael, I am always glad to read your reports and know how well everything appears to be going. I am, however, still concerned about the demise of the Wesleyan Club of North Carolina, which the alumni office recruited me to head a number of years ago and then decided to “run” from Middletown and never has. We used to have three or four events a year, including the presence of faculty for lecture/discussion. Now we have nothing. When I discussed this with you a few years ago at a reunion, you indicated you would be glad to come to North Carolina to crank things up again, but I have not heard anything since. Every year when the phonathon calls, and I decide to answer, I tell them I will be willing to host something, and I never hear anything more. I am still willing to help out despite age! Wesleyan has always meant a great deal to me.

  5. Suggestion 1: Tuition should not be increased for students once enrolled, especially not scholarship students. I attended on a partial scholarship (truly an honor), but increases every year made it burdensome on my family. Acceptance should be looked at as a contract without increases, or at least, the size of the possible increases should be clearly spelled out upfront to facilitate the family’s decision on whether enrollment is possible.
    Suggestion 2: In a world where knowledge doubles every two years, the concept of a “four-year” education is outmoded. The need for life-long learning is especially needed in professions. But, again, the model needs to change to be more “two-way” as practitioners can provide insights (and issues) with current technologies and concerns–without waiting for publication of books and articles. Further, these life-time educational experiences should extend beyond the traditional academic to the problems many encounter such as addiction, mental illness, and even guidance in donating time, talent and resources to the community at large. While such programs are available through Wesleyan today, they are not available within the context of an even semi-structure.

  6. It’s just too bad that Wesleyan wasn’t able to snatch up enough token high-need students to justify its continued demographic shift towards overwhelming wealth and privilege. Maybe then the activists would be a little bit less uppity? Of course, maybe those high-need students that chose not to attend didn’t want to be mere scenery for the predominantly rich white student body? Didn’t want their socio-economic backgrounds turned into exotic commodities marketed to the full-tuition payers by the Diversity University? Not that that’s something they’d necessarily avoid at an Ivy, but at least the whole operation wouldn’t be so shameless.

    I love the Wesleyan I went to, and the direction it’s heading in saddens me deeply. Case in point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXvp8BOFZDk

    I’m glad I got out when I did.

  7. Dear President Roth,
    Congratulations on moving Wes forward in multiple directions simultaneously in your administration! I take tremendous pride in how far Wes has come since the 70’s (1970’s!)
    Those were difficult social/cultural times and the experience much different as a student then compared to now, so it seems.
    As a former science major, football player and golfer there, I reflect back on how much those experiences have helped me in life. The academic challenges were intense and helped prepare me for many of life’s challenges. Your recruitment of Mike Whalen back to Wesleyan, and the new winning culture of the Cardinals, while simultaneously retaining the top notch academic atmosphere, is just a phenomenal achievement you should be lauded for.
    While I am not a musician, artist or film maker, I am also proud of Wesleyan’s programs and graduates in these areas. Who would have ever thought that Wesleyan would have one of the foremost film schools in the country back in the 70’s? Science, economics, history, language programs and graduates etc., all have their imprint on this country.
    I will continue to support Wesleyan as personal economics allow me to in the future.
    Best of Holidays to you, yours and the Wesleyan community.

    Sincerely yours,

    Larry Greenberg, PT, MS, M.Ed., B.A.
    W ’75
    Greenberg Physical & Hand Therapy Associates
    Martha’s Vineyard

    Clinical Instructor in Sports Medicine
    Boston University Orthopedics & Sports Medicine
    Boston Medical Center
    Boston, MA 02116

  8. Michael, in response to your comments:
    “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…”

    I happened to come across a Wikipedia site @ “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wesleyan_University_people”
    This is a site purported to contain all Wes alumni with significant contributions to society. It is woefully incomplete.

    I am sure that a set of alumni through the years, with the leadership of the Wesleyan Archivist/Historian, could polish up that site to truly record the historic achievements of Wesleyan alums.

    Larry ’59

  9. Dear President Roth,

    I remember hearing that Wesleyan no longer offers need blinds admission. Is this still the policy there? If the commitment is to the best qualified student then limiting admission to only those whose need fits in with what the university can offer is not capturing the best students? I think it is worth looking at why Wesleyan is losing so many low-income admission to other places.


  10. My Grandson is now happily in his second year at Middlebury College in Vt. When he applied to Wesleyan, in addition to getting a glowing report from Bill Wasch, the admissions office lost track of his having taken AP Chemistry during a summer, mis-scheduled and then lost a tape of his very able Sax playing and as a final insult had his incorrect birthday when he tried to find out his fate from the admissions office.
    After 2 years I’m still very angry, more from your incompetence than from any conscious decision to eliminate his application. As a result Wesleyan no longer receives my yearly contribution.
    Malcolm Gorin MD Class of ’56

  11. Thank you for the update. I went to Wesleyan in 1994 when it was ranked as #5 in Liberal Arts Colleges. The last time I looked it was ranked as number #17? What has happened? I am a very concerned alum and would like to see more aggressive efforts to bring up the school ranking. Have you considered a task force? Marketing to alumni to help with this matter? How can alumni like myself help bring up the ranking? It looks like no one is paying close attention. However, these rankings carry a lot of weight in business and the workforce. I currently reside in Silicon Valley. Some companies limit their hiring to the top 10 schools. Please do not disregard these rankings – even if you feel that they are not a true reflection of the quality of education. I look forward to hearing updates in this matter. Thank you.

  12. To: Wesleyan Community
    Subject: Drop the “Boycott” — Increase Giving !

    Having recently repatriated to the United States from a nearly twenty year posting leading the Brussels office of a large international law firm, I find myself now in the process of reconnecting to Wesleyan and am much heartened – indeed moved – by what I see happening. President Roth’s update is a case in point.

    Hyperbole aside, and recognizing the limitations of assessment from a distance, I believe a case can be made that Wesleyan is poised to enter an era of vibrant innovation and academic excellence reminscent of the Butterfiled years – if the community can sustain the hard work and collective action required to do so

    Roth’s update, and the 2020 plan more broadly – weave together a number of big, exciting themes and concepts — the energetic expansion of cross disciplinary study to new fields of inquiry, the embrace of the internet concurrent with the reaffirmation of intimate residential learning, the “internationalization” of the community by bringing Wesleyan to the world and the world to Wesleyan – to name just a few.

    And this “vision” ( a word I use reluctantly but I think rightly here) is all the more compelling for its emphasis on intellectual rigor, disciplined creativity, civic engagement and service to others.

    The 2020 blueprint is not of course President Roth’s handiwork alone. He has undoubtedly benefitted greatly from the ongoing efforts of many faculty, students, alumni, and trustees. All the better. That is exactly how a community and its leadership should collaborate in mapping the way forward.

    The question now is whether that same broad Wesleyan community can pull together to realize in practical terms the conceptual vision it has memorialized on paper. The plan surely will not implement itself – it will require stamina, commitment, relentless self-evaluation, and money.

    Lots of money.

    The restoration of the endowment to a level at least commensurate with, if not superior to, that of Wesleyan’s peers (and competitors) is a pre-requisite to achieving the University’s aspirations. Like it or not, that is just a hard, unforgiving fact.

    In this context, I would like to conclude my comment by imploring those who have advocated a “boycott” on giving to Wesleyan in protest of financial aid policy to reconsider their position. I and countless others share the objective of restoring full need-blind admissions as promptly as possible. Please help us to do so. The way forward is to reinforce the University’s finances while controlling tuition costs –precisely the approach the 2020 blueprint and capital campaign contemplate.

    Sincerely, Dave Harfst (Class of 1972)

  13. Pres Roth,

    I’m confused about the percentage of the “This is Why” campaign that goes toward the endowment, and even more confused about what percentage of the endowment goes directly towards financial aid. Can you release some audited numbers and statistics that let us know how much of the operating budget goes towards financial aid? I have found this information to be very hard to come across.

    In the Sustainable Affordability blog post that you released (http://sustainableaffordability.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2013/12/09/what-is-sustainable-affordability/#more-140), you mentioned that 29% of our budget is spent on financial aid – is there anywhere else that this figure is confirmed, besides on your blog post?

    Let us know! Thanks
    – Xandra Strauss
    Class of 2016

  14. Michael:
    Thanks for the report. Its sounds like you are doing a great job Keep it up. All the hard questions from alums are perhaps the best indication of Wesleyan’s charcter and legacy.
    I’m class of 1977 and my son David is now a junior. Here’s mine: Ann Goodwin’s response (on your behalf) above notes that Welyean’s endowment is way below that of our peers. She mentions two reasons: inattention to fundraising and spending too quickly what comes in. What about portfolio management? I was startled to read recently that Wesleyan’s endowment is below what it was before the 2008 financial crisis. Yet the stock market by all measures has more than come back to new records, and those measures (like the S&P or Dow Jones), are AVERAGES. So I guess Wesleyan’s protfoio managers are doing worse than average? That was a huge problem in the 1970s when we were both there as you recall, and the My Weekly Reader?Xerox money was dissipated by sub-par money managers.
    Please tell me where I can learn the investment returns on Wesleyan’s endowment over the past twenty years, and if that information is not otherwise available, please provide it here. And if the information I’m relying on is wrong, please correct my understanding about this important issue. But if it’s right, please explain why can’t Wesleyan do a betteer job in that department. Down the road at Yale the money managers have been beating the markets and winning awards for years.
    I’ve been a consistent supporter of Wes and always will be. This year’s check is in the mail. It would be nice to know it will earn appropriate returns, at least.
    Jerry Stouck, ’77, P ’05

  15. Michael,

    This was a great report. I especially appreciate the good news on the endowment.
    As you know, I share others’ concerns about the recent abandonment of need blind admissions. I’d like to share with the other alumni on this site what I recently learned about Wesleyan’s future plans on this issue.

    Here’s what George Salas, Director of Strategic Initiatives, wrote to me when I asked about whether there was a plan, with a timeline and goals, to reinstate need blind admissions:

    I work in the President’s Office (and with University Communications), and your inquiry has been forwarded to me….Here’s what we expect to say presently on a new Sustainable Affordability website:
    “We would like to admit all students without any regard for their ability to pay, as we did under Wesleyan’s “need-blind” policy. That’s an achievable goal, and the THIS IS WHY campaign will raise approximately half the funds we need. Wesleyan will require another campaign to raise all the endowment funds necessary to reach this goal in a fiscally responsible manner.”
    There are many assumptions behind this statement that make precision difficult, and of course it’s not possible to know what future macroeconomic events might enhance or impede our progress. For now, we’re just concentrating on raising as much money for financial aid as possible. That’s what counts.
    From my perspective, interim milestone reports, if they’re accurate and inspire support, are a good idea. (end of message from Mr. Salas).

    So I absolutely agree with the comment that we need to give more money to Wes, not boycott it, if we want to restore need blind admissions. May it be achieved soon. I urge all who are interested in this issue to stay involved.

    On the other hand, college rankings are, IMHO a snare and a delusion and I hope Wesleyan doesn’t put too much stock in them. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by these comments, they tend to draw attention, so Wesleyan can’t ignore them. But we should resist the lure of such labels, which are little better than popularity contests covered with a thin patina of fake numerical objectivity.

  16. I just reconnected with Wes a bit through Scott Higgins excellent “need-blind” (i.e., free) Coursera film studies MOOC, and thought his closing appeal for contributions to the university was quite appropriate. Check-is-in-the-mail.

    Coincidentally, my first visit to the university was to talk to Colin Campbell about financial planning in the late seventies, wearing my Hartford Courant education reporter hat… Even then Wes was the quirky eclectic excellent place that had acted like it was wealthier than it was. (Thank you, Xerox & My Weekly Reader?)

    I came back for concerts, folk festivals, films… becoming fascinated enough with the innovative diversity enough to hypertext my way to two master’s degrees and eventually build a 2003 doctorate on trains of thought that had picked up steam in the Wes computer labs 20 years earlier.

    Here’s hoping the current administration has enough juggling-club alumni to keep all of those factors in the air, lower spending, lower tuition, increase aid, maintain inclusiveness and good weirdness. And keep its hands off inquiring reporters’ equipment; see Wesalum Doug Berman of Car Talk about maintaining a sense of humor in front of a mic. 🙂

    (Note: My own grad study was only possible with help from the Courant and a later employer paying part-time-study tuition, with my savings covering thesis research in Ireland, NY and a 1982 Wes group Osborne computer purchase. And with thanks to Professor Mark Slobin’s adding a teaching assistantship just when my savings were running out, WESU letting me rip-and-read some news on Sundays to keep my hand in journalism, and an anthropology classmate finding me an a.v.-tech job on the side. Wonderful wesweirdness.)

    Bob ’83 MA; ’88 MALS
    (UNC PhD ’03)

  17. Further thoughts on the endowment – and what to do about it.

    The thread so far has raised important issues that deserve further reflection and action, but they must not obscure the defining issue — Wesleyan’s inadequate endowment and the imperative of working together to increase it.

    The endowment is “defining” because it significantly affects the University’s capacity to deal with a broad range of other issues we care passionately about, including long term competitiveness.

    The facts hover somewhere between shocking and pathetic. According to published reports, Wesleyan’s per student endowment in 2012 was $196,000; Amherst’s was $903,000, Williams $854,000, and Swathmore’s $918,00. (Source: NACUBO Endowement Study; Wikipedia )

    Whatever you think about rankings, the wonder is not that Wesleyan’s has fallen from 5 to 17, but that it has not fallen further.

    A first rate university with a third rate endowment is not a pony to bet on long term. We need to come together to change the odds.

    Current Students: The constituency arguably most affected by under-endowment – current students – sees itself as least able to do much about it. The tendency is to take the conversation in other directions that gloss over the endowment problem and its solution.

    This is a mistake. If Wesleyan students, among the brightest and most engaging in the country, can be even more effectively mobilized in sustained and creative ways to appeal to alumnae/i and other friends of the University, they can make a material difference in the success of fund raising efforts. The specifics are a conversation worth having – let’s get it going.

    Future Students: Another key constituency – future students — has no acknowledged advocate in the current discussion. The administration is a candidate, but in the context of fiscal austerity, it is too often treated, wrongly, as an adversary.

    Who then represents the interests of future students? We all should. If, instead of increasing the endowment, the University cannibalizes it to fund current needs, the education of future generations will suffer.

    Ironically, just this dynamic (together with lackadaisical fund raising ) caused our current dilemma – over a prolonged period, no one in the Wesleyan community stood up—or at least stood up effectively — to protest and prevent the highly regrettable handling of the endowment. Future students – today’s current students – are now feeling the effects (albeit while still receiving a superior education).

    Faculty: Where are faculty in the current discourse? What role do they have in the endowment effort? At the very least, one might expect faculty to play a leadership role in underscoring the imperative of endowment growth and dispelling suggestions sometimes made that the endowment problem is “debatable”. It is not. Faculty mobilization – like that of current students — can contribute to the cause.

    Administration: Stay the course, but with an important mid-course correction. Tell us exactly what endowment metrics must be achieved to restore full need blind admissions, and unequivocally commit yourselves to that end goal. And, while you are at it, please address again, so we all understand, the safeguards that have put in place and will be put in place to prevent any recurrence of the diversion of funds away from long term endowment growth to short term needs. (In that connection, can we not allocate more of the $400 million now being raised to endowment?) Make these pledges in a “state of the university address” and post it on the internet so we are all on the same page.

    Treat us like the investors you want us to be. Showcase Anne Martin’s efforts. Provide more frequent reports on investment returns. Expand the (somewhat cryptic) investment office web site. And step up matching fundraising challenges to lure hesitant donors off the sidelines.

    Alumnae/i: Please keep your eye on the ball. Fiscal austerity tends to foster polarization in a community already inclined towards hyper activity. Do not be put off by the sometimes exasperating tone of campus discussions. The vibrancy of a diverse, engaged community is one of the key things we love about the place. The issue is not whether we agree with each and every matter being raised, but whether we support an institution that makes such engagement possible.

    Give whatever you feel you can – even if it is bordering on the trivial. Empower Wesleyan with the highest alumni giving participation rate in the country, bar none. Deeper pockets may well notice.

    Work together. Relentlessly. So that Wesleyan can better control its destiny.

  18. Thanks for your comment, Xandra. We expect to raise $400 million in our fundraising campaign. Of that, $225M (or 56%) is for the endowment, and most of the endowment goal – $150 million – is for financial aid endowment, with the remaining $75M supporting curricular initiatives. The $150M financial aid endowment goal represents 37.5% of the total $400M campaign goal.

    Our budget for financial aid is about $50 million annually (which represents 29% of our total expenditures, including financial aid). Every year we draw $30 million from our endowment to support current expenditures, so even if all that amount were directed toward financial aid, it would not offset the cost to the institution of our aid program.

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