By Geoff Gehman ’80
On opening night of Reunion Weekend, President Daniel H. Weiss devoted his last State of the College address to recapping a period of remarkable growth in which he occasionally sat in the hot seat.
“During a time of duress and challenge in higher education nationally and internationally—financially, educationally, and otherwise—this college has gotten demonstrably stronger on almost every measure,” Weiss said. “We have pushed forward and advanced our strategic objectives in ways that have made a difference and that will endure.”
Steps to strengthen Lafayette’s academic core include increasing the size of the faculty. The College, he noted, has hired 20 of a proposed 35 new professors, an impressive feat at a time when many higher-education institutions are freezing or reducing faculty sizes. Teachers already on staff have been kept on with support ranging from higher salaries to lower classroom loads under the Faculty Excellence Initiative.
Faculty and students will benefit from a host of academic improvements made on Weiss’ watch. He pointed to curricular revitalization, new engineering endowments, and several new academic programs. He said if the new center dubbed IDEAL, an initiative to integrate engineering with the liberal arts, “prospers in the way I expect it will, it will be a defining characteristic for us.” Buildings that will be completed include the Williams Arts Campus on North Third Street and the Oechsle Center for Global Education. The former project extends the College’s expanding commitment to the arts and to revitalization in Easton; the latter is part of a growing investment in global citizenship.
During Weiss’ tenure the campus has become more recreational and cultural. Replacing driveways with walkways in the central campus has made the Quad more human and humane. Every athletic facility but one has been renovated. Issues surrounding the College’s commitment to athletics, including the issue of athletic scholarships, were worked through. Providing scholarships is “the right thing over the long term,” Weiss said. “We were able to achieve a result that allows us to compete effectively in the Patriot League, which is exactly the right place for Lafayette.”
On-campus activities have elevated Lafayette’s off-campus reputation, including a 2012 conference on the future of the liberal arts college in America and visits this spring by Jane Goodall, the renowned primatologist-conservationist; Jimmy Carter, the former president turned global humanitarian; and Tony Blair, the ex-British prime minister and current Middle East peace ambassador.
The question-and-answer session was, as usual, all over the map. Weiss explained that there are not enough ROTC participants for Lafayette to resume hosting the military program. There are not enough resources, he pointed out, for the College to become a university. Small colleges like Lafayette, he added, already represent “the gold standard” in American education.
Perhaps the most intriguing question came from Dave Thomsen ’61, who asked why so many speakers at Lafayette and on other campuses are liberal. Weiss said, “Higher education in America today is much more friendly to liberal points of view than to conservative ones. These environments are not nearly as tolerant and open to all views on the political spectrum as they should be. I think Lafayette is better than many on this front, but’s something we need to keep an eye on.”
Weiss received a new chair, a gift from the Alumni Association for eight years of service beyond the call. It was presented by David Reif ’68, association president. The group also presented him with another gift: a donation in his late father’s memory to a research foundation for colon cancer. Weiss personalized his first present by sitting in it right way. He seemed very comfortable in his new chair; suddenly, Colton Chapel became his living room.
“I’m very grateful to many of you for all of your support over the years. This is indeed a very difficult and bittersweet time for me. I believe very strongly that institutional leadership needs to remain vibrant and healthy, and it’s always best to leave an institution at a time of prosperity and progress,” Weiss said. “Alison Byerly and I have worked closely together over the last six months or so, and I believe that she’s very well prepared to continue the work. She has outstanding values, she understands Lafayette well, and she’s very smart. I think she’ll do a wonderful job.”