This is the last letter I will write to all the wonderful alumni, parents, and friends who make up our great Connecticut College community. By the time you read it, I will have concluded nine and a half years as president; a search for my successor will be underway; the Class of 2023 will be putting their liberal arts education into action; and a new chapter in Conn’s 112-year history will have begun. So, in the spirit of this valedictory moment and in the great tradition of the liberal arts, my final reflections begin by invoking Janus, the ancient Roman god of gates, transitions, and new beginnings, who teaches us to look ahead by looking back.
That twin perspective certainly informed one of my earliest addresses to the Connecticut College community, in April 2014, on the occasion of my inauguration as president. It was Founders Day, and I wanted to look ahead to the future by retelling the story of our past, a story of courageous women and men on a mission to correct a historic injustice. On that day, I focused on four essential aspects of the educational experience—academic excellence, access, outcomes, and impact—where I believed building on historic strengths would allow Conn to rise to the challenges of the 21st century. During the past nine-plus years, motivated by an ambitious strategic plan and fundraising campaign, that is exactly what this College has done.
Connecticut College has long been known for excellence in its academic programs, and that reputation has only grown stronger. Five million dollars in new funds have enabled our faculty to advance their teaching and scholarship and create new knowledge with our students. The College has introduced new majors and minors in Africana Studies, Jewish Studies, Global Islamic Studies, Educational Studies, Environmental Engineering Studies, Geology, Statistics and Data Science, Finance, and Quantitative Economics and Econometrics. The renovations of Shain Library and the Athey Center for Performance and Research at Palmer Auditorium, along with the creation of the Walter Commons for Global Study and Engagement and the Stark Center for the Moving Image, are inspiring all kinds of research and creative work. Most importantly, our signature core curriculum, Connections, is answering the call to meet the needs of today’s interconnected, socially engaged students. This unique approach to the liberal arts has in fact placed Conn among the most innovative colleges in the nation, drawing larger and larger pools of applicants—nearly 10,000 this year—not to mention the largest incoming class in our history.
There is no excellence without access, of course, which is why our strategic plan embraces full participation as a central value and priority. This year, we will celebrate the largest cohort of Posse scholars on our campus, almost 90 strong. The Defy Boundaries campaign has raised $40 million in new financial aid resources, helping us fulfill our commitment to meet the full demonstrated need of every student. With the creation of the College’s first Division of Institutional Equity and Inclusion and the launch of the Gund Dialogue Project, Conn is now offering students new possibilities for building understanding across difference. And a $10 million gift for the Academic Resource Center is expanding this vision, enabling all students to make the most of their education, reach their full potential, and contribute to the flourishing of others.
Making the most of life in college has always meant, at Conn, ensuring successful outcomes for one’s life after college, and here again we have seen tremendous progress. The new Hale Center for Career Development, unveiled in 2019, is realizing the potential of our Connections curriculum by providing additional avenues for students to connect their passions to academic, co-curricular, and future career opportunities. Local and global engagements continue to be a critical part of these connections, and the growing programs in both the Walter Commons and the Holleran Center for Community Action have been setting our students up for real-world success and advancing our reputation as a leader in career-oriented and engaged learning.
All of these efforts are having an impact beyond the campus. In the city of New London, we have worked with the mayor on a plan for improved public safety and community policing; we have partnered with developers to transform a historic building on State Street into housing for 60 juniors and seniors, part of the revitalization of downtown; we have strengthened our long-standing partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Academy; and we have joined with several community partners to help launch the region’s first Center for Housing Equity and Opportunity. The new Kohn Waterfront and Archibald Way have opened our riverfront to the larger community with docks, breakwaters, walkways, and lighting. Further afield, we have supported multinational student research on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe, and our own students and faculty are being honored with ever more prestigious fellowships for international study: 50 Fulbright Fellows in the past decade, four Watson Fellows in the last three years, two Beinecke scholars in the last two years, and the first Marshall Scholar in College history. And while we are speaking of firsts, I cannot fail to mention the significant impact of our men’s soccer team winning the College’s first Division III national championship, another mark of excellence and an indelible moment of joy in my presidency.
None of this would be possible, of course, without your ongoing and generous support. Our Defy Boundaries campaign has defied all expectations, inspiring record generosity with the largest individual gifts in our history. We are well on our way to reaching our $300 million goal in just six years—a reflection of the great spirit of the Conn community and the love and loyalty you hold for this special place. I cannot thank you enough for making all this possible.
Excellence, inclusion, and an enduring commitment to making an impact on the lives and communities that sustain us. These are the hallmarks of a strong, vital institution with a storied past and an even more promising future. It has been the honor of my life to lead Connecticut College for these many years. And it is at this juncture, after nearly a decade of service, that I now take my leave: looking back with deep gratitude for the opportunity—the privilege, really—to contribute to Conn’s progress, and looking forward to a confident new chapter for all of us.
I wish you good luck and Godspeed.