19 December 2008
These months since my July arrival on campus have been busy and happy ones. Over and over, I have felt deeply grateful for the warm and gracious welcome that I have been offered by our students, faculty and staff and by alumnae/i and friends of the College both in this country and beyond. As a newcomer to this wonderful, worldwide community, I am relishing each day of my “Bryn Mawr immersion year”. It has been a special pleasure to augment the on-campus learning with the insights and memories that so many alumnae/i have generously shared with me. It is from you, our alumnae/i, that I am gaining an ever enhanced understanding of what makes the College a unique community, one that is blessed by your generosity of spirit, your devotion to this special place, and your dedication to its continued success. I have been thrilled and gratified by our meetings and conversations to date, and I look forward to continuing our dialogue at events we are planning throughout 2009 and beyond.
In this, my first message in the College’s Annual Report, I would like to highlight several areas of opportunity for the College that I expect to explore in my initial years at Bryn Mawr.
Bryn Mawr has a legacy of remarkable academic accomplishment and an abiding willingness to think creatively about the best ways to teach and to learn. To sustain that record of achievement, we must continually seek to strengthen the educational experience of every Bryn Mawr student—undergraduate and graduate—and to make it both relevant and effective for the twenty-first century.
In April 2008, the Board of Trustees, with a clear understanding of our core mission as an undergraduate liberal-arts college for women, reaffirmed the College's historic commitment to graduate studies. This formal reaffirmation followed almost two years of intensive and collaborative work by faculty, trustee and administrative members of the Task Force on Balancing Mission and Resources. The Board also approved a set of principles and practices for graduate education at Bryn Mawr. Building upon these guidelines, faculty and departments have begun to create new forms of collaboration among Bryn Mawr’s schools and to look for multiple ways in which to connect undergraduate and graduate students—all with the intent of leveraging the strengths of our three schools for the benefit of the entire institution.
In the undergraduate college this fall, we have launched the first comprehensive reflection on the curriculum in more than twenty-five years. This quarter century has seen significant curricular growth and development in areas such as Classical Culture and Society, Computational Methods, Computer Science, Environmental Studies, Film, Gender and Sexuality, Geo-Archaeology, and International Studies, all of which has expanded and enriched our curriculum. As we embark upon our reaccreditation review for Middle States, this seems like a good moment to step back and take a long look at the overall shape and structure of the College curriculum. Chaired by Stephen Salkever, Mary Katharine Woodworth Professor of Political Science, and Associate Professor of History Ignacio Gallup-Diaz, the Committee on Curricular Renewal is asking a big question: What is the mission of an elite, liberal-arts college in the twenty-first century and how well does Bryn Mawr’s undergraduate curriculum support that mission? The Committee’s conversations have been broad and searching and will continue to be so. They have involved, and will involve, faculty from all parts of the College and are sure to result in recommendations that have transformative potential.
It has been a pleasure to investigate the intertwining of Bryn Mawr’s history with the histories of Haverford and Swarthmore and to assess our continuing interconnections. All three institutions benefit greatly from our proximities and our programmatic links. Yet from conversations with Steve Emerson, the new(ish) president of Haverford, and with Al Bloom, the outgoing president of Swarthmore, I know that we all feel that these linkages could be even more advantageous and robust. This period of leadership transition at our three institutions provides a good opportunity to think anew about how to strengthen the Tri-Co relationship.
With Haverford, for example, we have begun to explore a closer integration of our strengths in the arts. Both of our campuses are experiencing an ever-increasing student interest in the visual and performing arts and would like to find creative ways to enhance our collaborative capacities. Information technology (IT) resources present another potential opportunity. Bryn Mawr and Haverford do the same IT work and we may be able to share the cost of more efficient IT operations while improving IT quality across the two campuses. Our tri-college library cooperation continues to flourish and remains a national model for intercollegiate cooperation.
Thomas Friedman has persuasively argued that globalization has created a “flat” world, one that is irrevocably interconnected through communications and commerce, and one that shares majors concerns about human health, environmental sustainability and the threat of transnational terrorism. Bryn Mawr is part of this world, and has a strong tradition of engaging both nationally and internationally.
This fall, we welcomed the largest first-year class of international students that we have ever enrolled. Including those who hold both a foreign passport and a US visa, these students represent 20% of our freshman class. As has long been the case, many of our students study or volunteer abroad. Research opportunities and connections take our faculty to all parts of the world. Our worldwide alumnae/i network represents a major strength for the College and an important resource for present and future students.
Further, in these first decades of the twenty-first century, the globalization of higher education is rapidly expanding beyond these established models of internationalization. A number of major universities are creating partnerships with institutions of higher education around the world and some, like Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, New York University, Georgetown, and Northwestern, have either opened campuses abroad or are in the process of doing so. In an effort to explore such possible options for Bryn Mawr, I have recently engaged in conversations about opportunities in southeast Asia and the Middle East and currently, Bryn Mawr is considering an international connection in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. While we are still in a very early stage of investigating this, our campus conversations about it suggest various ways in which Bryn Mawr might be engaged in advancing women’s liberal-arts education in other parts of the world. For the last six months, I have also been part of a small group of university presidents from the US and UK who were asked by the British Prime Minister to form a study group around the question of how our two countries can best foster enhanced opportunities for excellence in higher education around the world. We will be submitting a report and a series of recommendations to Gordon Brown early in the new year.
Good athletics and fitness programs and the facilities for these have become essential to the recruitment and retention of good students. We all know how important it is to create habits of regular physical activity both for its inherent pleasure and for reasons of health and wellbeing.
In today’s world, fitness and wellness are a way of life for the young women we want to attract to Bryn Mawr, so it is important that our facilities and programs can be a vital part of their student experience. Regular athletic and fitness activities also help students strike the right life balance life and manage the stress of their academic demands.
I believe that smart women are strong women, and our history at Bryn Mawr embraces this ideal. Our goal is to raise $16 million to secure the facilities we need for present and future students. In addition to modernizing the Bern Schwartz Gymnasium, we plan to build a contemporary fitness center connected to the gym. We also envision a bridge from the renovated gym to the Cambrian Row student activities complex which will symbolically and literally tie together the northern and western reaches of our campus and make these areas fully accessible to all.
A Generous and Supportive Community
It is not an exaggeration to say that Bryn Mawr could not survive without the contributions of its alumnae/i. Your generosity has enabled greater support for students and faculty, significant curricular innovation, and the renewal of many of the most important and historic buildings on campus. I look forward to drawing on your support even more in the years ahead, especially in these times of national and global economic uncertainty.
In conclusion, I thank you again for welcoming me so warmly to this extraordinary community. I feel privileged to be here and I look forward to working with you to ensure that we provide future generations of Bryn Mawr students with an exceptional education, and inspire them to lead publicly engaged lives that change the world for the better.