President Bennet addressed the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Sunday night to discuss the Wesleyan Strategic Plan, which outlines the Administration’s central focus for the next five years.
Bennet began the meeting by emphasizing the importance of a liberal arts education in light of changes in society. He lauded student involvement in activities on campus as an important element of a liberal arts education.
“I don’t think [engagement] is any longer misinterpreted as a diversion from academics,” Bennet said. “For a long time Wesleyan was viewed as second rate because people couldn’t get over the political aspect. That’s not what they say about Wesleyan now.”
Wesleyan’s financial situation, including the importance of a growing endowment, was another major point in Bennet’s presentation. The Wesleyan Campaign that ran from 1998 to 2004 was successful in raising $29.5 million in the past year alone, a rate of financial growth Wesleyan would like to maintain.
“Any additional dollar that you invest in fundraising will be repaid and more that year,” Bennet said. “One year later it’s two dollars.”
Bennet said that, according to financial consultants, in 10 years the investment is expected to return 10 times its initial value. The question now is how much to invest in fundraising.
The strategic plan also addresses the University’s small endowment compared to peer schools. According to Bennet Wesleyan’s endowment per capita is one quarter of Williams’. Wesleyan spends $49,000 per student per year, while Williams spends $65,000 and Wellesley spends approximately $69,000.
The challenge presented is whether to try to compete with those institutions or put resources toward other goals in the short term.
Students at the meeting had an opportunity to address concerns with the plan. WSA member Danielle Krudy ’07 questioned priorities between academic improvement and physical growth on campus.
“A new campus center is nice to have, but then you have to put that against taking classes you really care about,” she said.
Nods of assent around the room indicated other students’ agreement. Bennet acknowledged that these priorities do compete, emphasizing that the plan’s intention was to map out only what Wesleyan can afford.
Jacob Mirksy ’08 contended that Wesleyan students who could be science majors are deciding against it because their introductory coursers are too disengaging, possibly due to their large size.
“When you have to have a teacher that wears a microphone so that everyone can hear him, it adds to the atmosphere that is, in a sense, disconcerting for some Wesleyan students,” Mirsky said.
He suggested smaller classes for prospective majors, in addition to the small courses intended for non-majors.
Although it was not part of the Strategic Plan, several students mentioned rumors about the future of campus radio station WESU. The speculation was that WESU might become a National Public Radio affiliate, broadcasting NPR programming during the day and local shows at night.
Bennet responded by maintaining that nothing has been decided. He explained that he has been speaking to the WESU board and will continue meeting with them to arrive at a decision.
Other students commented on the reduction of off-campus housing, questioned the quality of a Wesleyan degree for graduate schools and emphasized the importance of sending out more admissions officers to recruit in high schools.
WSA member Matt Ball ’08 said he found the meeting helpful.
“There’s a lot of talk that goes on about what Bennet is doing, but hearing precisely what he has to say quells some rumors that are false and also puts a face to the name that you’re hearing,” said Ball.
The proposal is available on the Wesleyan website.