By Geoff Gehman ’80
The State of the College address given by President Daniel H. Weiss on June 10, the opening night of Reunion 2011, could have been subtitled “Making Lafayette a Sounder, Healthier Investment.”
Five minutes into his speech in Colton Chapel, the president noted that Bloomberg Businessweek, a major source of financial information, ranked the college in the top 20 for return on investment, measured by everything from financial-aid packages to post-graduate salaries. The high ranking should please incoming first-year students, 66 percent of whom finished in the top 10 percent of their high-school class, an impressive 9 percent increase from the Class of 2014.
Students new and old should benefit from initiatives spurred by The Plan for Lafayette approved in 2007. Weiss indicated that next year the College will implement the first revision of its Common Course of Study curriculum in 17 years. Most colleges are freezing or reducing the number of teachers; Lafayette has created 18 faculty positions and plans to add 17 more, with a whopping $20 million reserved for 10 endowed professorships. According to Weiss, the “remarkable” generosity of donors is one reason why over the last two years the College has had its lowest tuition increases since the 1960s.
Weiss praised a pair of bricks-and-mortar projects tied to the plan. This fall the College will open the arts campus, a collection of renovated buildings on Third Street. The Williams campus at the gateway to the College reflects the growing popularity of film and media studies and theater and extends the College’s commitment to revitalizing the City of Easton, one of its closest partners.
In addition, the College’s committed to global studies will be reflected in the construction of the Oechsle Center for Global Education. The center will be accompanied by the conversion of a fraternity building into Grossman House, a residence for students with a focus on global issues.
Weiss focused on ways of improving social life on campus. Kirby Sports Center, he pointed out, has new basketball locker rooms; Metzgar Fields has a new batting facility for baseball and a renovated field house. Once zoning officers approve the College’s plan, Pardee and Quad drives will become landscaped walkways off limits to cars. Weiss expects the green corridors will encourage pedestrians to pay closer attention to the College’s wide range of architectural wonders.
Weiss also noted that an 18-month review of fraternities and sororities had recently been completed, calling it “the most comprehensive and substantive on any American campus in the last generation.” An across-the-board committee compared Greeks and non-Greeks on everything from grades to leadership in an “open and transparent manner.” The next step is for administrators to provide recommendations based on the report to the Board of Trustees at their next meeting in October.
Weiss concluded his speech by insisting the College shares the challenge of many other institutions of higher learning: Namely, how do you prepare students for a “world that’s technologically indifferent to interpersonal exchange;” how do you win the trust of skeptics who believe “we’re in a race to build Jacuzzis for our students”? Weiss promised the College will continue to give students extraordinary access to mentors while training them to be mentors.
“We are not, by any means, an ivory tower,” said Weiss. His message was echoed during the question-and-answer session. One spectator asked how the College plans to diversify its population. The president indicated the success of the Posse Scholars Program, which awards scholarships to under-represented and/or disadvantaged students from New York City and Washington, D.C. He also cited the hiring of Celestino José Limas as the College’s first vice president for campus life and senior diversity officer.
The final question involved making the campus more ecologically friendly. Weiss referred to the College’s Campus Climate Commitment to reduce its carbon footprint through such measures as recycling and green construction. Two years ago, he pointed out, the College received a dispiriting D-minus. This year the grade was B-plus, with A’s for student initiatives and administrative leadership.