As we begin this new academic year, we are convening and reconvening from across the country and around the world. Many of us are returning from research projects, from summer jobs and internships, and, from I hope, some holiday fun and time with family and friends.
Here on campus we have been busy preparing for your arrival, and I am happy to announce six new efforts to improve life on campus. Each of these is a response to student requests. First, many of you have already noticed the renovations and improvements in Erdman’s dining hall. I was there yesterday morning after doing a post-storm tour on campus, and I was delighted to see how much brighter and better arranged it is. Secondly, you can run off those Erdman calories on our new turf field -- our new regulation size turf field. Thirdly, during the fall semester we will be moving student employment from the Conferences and Events Office to the Human Resources Office so that we can take advantage of the staff expertise that our HR department will offer. Fourth, you are now eligible for free SEPTA train passes. This will make it easier to get into Philly and enjoy its benefits. Fifth, in the next few days you will find an outdoor food cart parked at various sites on campus. Dining services has created a great new snacking venue for your al fresco dining pleasure and additional chairs and tables will soon appear so there will be places to gather with your friends and enjoy these new delectables. Finally, mosey over to Merion, one of our “dorms like palaces,” and check out the new student lounge. In direct response to student requests for a place to relax and just hang out, Merion basement has been refurbished and outfitted for your enjoyment, and I hope you will enjoy it this year.
Last Wednesday, we welcomed the newest members of our community in all three schools, the Undergraduate College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. This afternoon we continue that welcome, but we put the spotlight on the Class of 2012. This Convocation honors you seniors as you begin your final year. Bryn Mawr marks both the beginning and the end of this important year. A Convocation to launch it, a Commencement to conclude it. This will be a year of deepening and broadening, as you do culminating work in your major. Most of you will be writing a senior thesis or completing a senior project. Despite the inevitable pressure and sleep loss, I hope you find this to be an intellectually empowering experience. I hope it will be a time for testing the knowledge and the skills you have developed with the mentorship of our dedicated faculty. Simultaneously, you will be exploring options for next year, and I know that you are doing so in turbulent times. Economic volatility continues to plague this and many other nations, so please make every effort to use Bryn Mawr’s resources as you think about your future opportunities. Our faculty and our deans, our career development office, and our wonderful alumnae/i are there to help you.
This has not been an easy summer on our 4.5 billion year-old globe. In the U.S., we are all tired and discouraged by the months of budget wrangling. In the Middle East and North Africa, the Arab Spring has become a long, hot summer of inconclusive activism and warfare. The gender violence in Congo and the military-induced starvation in Somaliland tear at our hearts. We bring an act of consciousness of all of this to our daily lives and activities as our political interconnectedness becomes an ever larger part of our waking awareness. We live simultaneously in both the local and global. We feel what happens far away with an immediacy unknown to previous generations, unbuffered by the time lapse of traditional mail and media.
For the last year, I have been working with a small group of other college and university presidents on a task force appointed by the American Council on Education. The American Council on Education is the principle professional organization for all of this country’s colleges and universities -- everything from large state systems to regional community colleges, to private universities and colleges like Bryn Mawr. Our task force is writing a major report and we met in New York this summer to review a draft. I will quote a few lines from this draft because it nicely frames issues upon which Bryn Mawr is placing increasing emphasis, and I quote here. “The success of American colleges and universities in coming years will be based upon their capacity to access and navigate global networks and to identify and develop modes of cooperation with institutions around the world…True, the world of higher education and knowledge development always has been networked; the advent of the printed book, the international migration of scholars, and the widespread sharing of research surely created a series of networks. However, the kind of networks [developing in our time] are larger, more intentional, and more robust networks than anything we have known before.”
Bryn Mawr is very much engaged in tapping into and in creating global networks. Our faculty have been leaders in fostering collaborative research connections with colleagues across the globe. Our students and alumnae/i have forged international friendships on campus and in more than 70 study abroad sites. On an institutional level, we are exploring partnership arrangements with a few universities in Asia and the Middle East and in Europe. A few weeks ago Bryn Mawr signed a formal memorandum of agreement with Nanyang Technical Institute in Singapore, known as NTU. Not only will this facilitate student and faculty exchange between our two campuses, it will open opportunities for us at the new campus that NTU is building in Tianjin, China. The networks that Bryn Mawr enters and those that it builds will flourish through actual and virtual connectivity. Ever-improving teleconferencing possibilities will soon let us regularly conduct classes across continents; and Bryn Mawr is busy investigating this. Our Board of Trustees this year will mount a task force on digital Bryn Mawr that will look at all aspects of our current technology operations to assure we are well and nimbly positioning for our future as a globally networked college and that we are at the forefront of the most effective use of teaching technologies. Through a large grant from the Gates Foundation, we are leading a group of 35 other liberal arts colleges in a whole series of experimental pilots this year.
Our college endeavors in expanding global connections and building transnational digital connectivity will have a particular power and impact when they can assist our work with organizations dedicated to the advancement of women, particularly women who are still subject to demeaning forms of discrimination, whose lives are damaged by violence and brutality, and who remain marginalized in our global economy. Emerging partnerships with women’s colleges in Asia and the Middle East, as well as with the State Department's Office of the Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues will continue to be a focus of our college efforts this year.
As we begin this academic year, as you seniors commence your concluding semesters, we do so just days before a very somber anniversary. Next Sunday, the College will mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of September 11, 2001 with a candlelight commemoration. The horrors of that day are resurrected with each new upsurge of terrorist violence. My family’s heritage on my father’s side is Norwegian and the July 22 massacres in and near Olso hit me hard and were a vivid reminder that extremism can take many forms.
I am proud that Bryn Mawr’s faculty, students, and staff work hard to create a community that respects and celebrates diversity. The work that all of us do here, to listen to each other, to learn about and to cherish our differences must become a touchstone for the future communities that each of us will form and inhabit, especially for you, the Class of 2012. I hope that your lived experience at Bryn Mawr and the values embodied in that experience will guide you, again and again, as you move into the next stages of your personal and professional lives.
Have a wonderful year.
Fall Convocation29 August 2011