I probably repeat the phrase “I want to be a Whittier student” three or four times a week, but never more than during Janterm or Mayterm when I hear from students who are participating in one of our intense travel study courses. What an opportunity to study somewhere around the world in a small group, guided by a Whittier professor and mentor. I would have a hard time deciding whether to study art and architecture in Greece and Rome, biodiversity in South Africa, jazz and culture in Cuba, politics in Argentina, multinational business opportunities in China or Chile, or — closer to home — Arts in LA, among other courses. And this is just the beginning, as Whittier expands the catalogue of courses we will offer in the years ahead. Last night I received the photos you see here from Professor of Business Administration Jeff Decker and Trustee Edwin Keh (the former SVP of Walmart, Global Procurement, who is helping students learn about the rise of China as a world business force), showing class members posed after a walk along Shanghai’s Bund and in a seminar on Sunday morning at their hotel. Students and faculty out there in the world: Send me photos and stories of your experiences and make me even more jealous.
One hundred years ago today, Richard M. Nixon was born. His birthday is being celebrated in Washington and through news accounts, such as this one in our local paper: http://www.whittierdailynews.com/news/ci_22335641/president-richard-nixon-still-reviled-revered-100-years. We on campus celebrate our most famous alumnus in a number of ways, but most significantly through our annual Richard M. Nixon Fellowship competition, awarding talented students a stipend to undertake an internship or a research project anywhere in the world. I can think of no better way to continue the President’s legacy than to inspire young people to explore careers in public service.
According to a recent survey, 55 percent of Board members at colleges and universities across the country think that the cost of college is too high. But when asked if their own college or university was too expensive, 62 percent said no (http://agb.org/reports/2012/2012-agb-survey-higher-education-governance). Let’s face reality: college is too expensive for most families, and Whittier is no exception. The challenge is how to preserve the quality of education at schools like Whittier at less cost to students. Whittier is attacking this challenge in multiple ways: (1) attracting more financial aid, scholarship, and fellowship support, often through gifts from generous alumni who tell us they could not have earned a Whittier education without the aid they received; (2) deriving more of the revenue needed to run the College from sources other than students’ tuition (e.g., running summer camps and educational programs, and renting conference space); (3) scouring administrative and academic budgets for ways to economize, and (4) continuing to urge that education is a public good, which should be supported by all of the citizens of this nation and state (please join me in asking Congress to extend tax incentives for charitable giving to colleges and universities). As I said at the beginning of this post, we do not want to sacrifice the quality of the education we offer to save on costs, but there are many other ways to achieve some relief for our students and we’re determined to succeed. Sticking our heads in the sand and saying “there is no problem at our school” is not a viable solution.
While traveling through airports recently, I kept seeing happy children about the age of those who were murdered in Newtown, perhaps on their way with family members to holiday celebrations. Children should be happy and, as President Obama said in his cogent speech last weekend, at the very least they should be safe.
To lend whatever weight we can to encourage a truly open, intelligent conversation on this important public policy issue, other college presidents and I have signed on to the letter below.
The letter was co-written by my colleagues Lawrence M. Schall, Oglethorpe University and Elizabeth Kiss, Agnes Scott College and (at the time of this writing) has been signed by 170 college and university presidents across the nation:
“On the same day our nation learned in horror that 20 first graders and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, young people around the country were learning if they had been accepted to their favored colleges and universities. For many years now, our nation’s leaders have engaged in fevered debates on higher education, yet lawmakers shy away from taking action on one issue that prevents thousands of young people from living lives of promise, let alone realizing their college dreams. That issue is gun safety.
Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80% of all gun deaths occur in the United States and 87% of all children killed with guns are killed here (Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery). In 2010, 2,694 young people were killed by gunfire. 1,773 were victims of homicide; 67 were elementary school-age children. If those children and teens were alive today, they would fill 108 classrooms of 25 each.
We are college and university presidents. We are parents. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. We urge both our President and Congress to take action on gun control now. As a group, we do not oppose gun ownership. But, in many of our states, legislation has been introduced or passed that would allow gun possession on college campuses. We oppose such laws. We fully understand that reasonable gun safety legislation will not prevent every future murder. Identification and treatment of the mental health issues that lie beneath so many of the mass murders to which we increasingly bear witness must also be addressed.
As educators and parents, we come together to ask our elected representatives to act collectively on behalf of our children by enacting rational gun safety measures, including
- Ensuring the safety of our communities by opposing legislation allowing guns on our campuses and in our classrooms
- Ending the gun show loophole, which allows for the purchase of guns from unlicensed sellers without a criminal background check
- Reinstating the ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons along with high-capacity ammunition magazines
- Requiring consumer safety standards for all guns, such as safety locks, access prevention laws, and regulations to identify, prevent and correct manufacturing defects
The time has long since passed for silence and inaction on the issue of reasonable and rational gun safety legislation. We hereby request that our nation’s policy leaders take thoughtful and urgent action to ensure that current and future generations may live and learn in a country free from the threat of gun violence.”
Click here to see a list of all presidents who have signed the letter: http://www.collegepresidentsforgunsafety.org
Below you can find photos of last Saturday’s holiday parade. We had over 100 athletes march through Uptown Whittier, proudly wearing their Poet gear and carrying signs advertising their sport. Of course, the biggest hit of the parade was John Poet himself, who was asked to pose with so many of the children along the parade route. And the Grand Marshall was Whittier College’s own Hubert Perry ’35. Thank you to all who represented Whittier so well in this annual event.
Thanks for all those who worked hard to make the 12/5 celebration so successful — over 1100 donors and over $100,000 raised for student scholarships. And although I hate to admit it, I actually had fun performing for the Poet style Gangnam video (Link: www.youtube.com/WhittierCollege). There must be limits to what I will do on camera for Whittier College, but I’m not quite sure now what those limits are.
The campus is quiet, and students are either in an exam or studying for one. But last night’s Midnight Breakfast was a ball, with faculty and staff serving starving (or so it seemed) students who were taking a break from studies. Enjoy the photos, and best wishes for a successful end of the semester.
Thank you to all who supported Whittier students and students around the state by voting for Proposition 30. Now is the time to have intelligent debate about the value of support for education, what makes up a quality education, and how we can deliver one to all. Let’s start.
John Greenleaf Whittier wrote surely one of the best poems about voting, which I reprint for you below.
The proudest now is but my peer,
The highest not more high;
To-day, of all the weary year,
A king of men am I.
To-day, alike are great and small,
The nameless and the known;
My palace is the people’s hall,
The ballot-box my throne!
Who serves to-day upon the list
Beside the served shall stand;
Alike the brown and wrinkled fist,
The gloved and dainty hand!
The rich is level with the poor,
The weak is strong to-day;
And sleekest broadcloth counts no more
Than homespun frock of gray.
To-day let pomp and vain pretence
My stubborn right abide;
I set a plain man’s common sense
Against the pedant’s pride.
To-day shall simple manhood try
The strength of gold and land;
The wide world has not wealth to buy
The power in my right hand!
Go vote! Go poets!
Yesterday’s presidential debate began with a question from a student who is worried about finding a job after graduation. In this economy he expressed a valid concern.
At Whittier College we are looking to one of our most important strengths – intense faculty and student interaction in small class settings – to address this same concern, and we have an excellent base to build upon. We know that the qualities employers want to see in candidates for jobs map nicely onto what our faculty want to instill in every graduate: writing and oral communication skills, ability to work well in groups to achieve complex tasks, a propensity to think through challenges from multiple points of view, and cultural competence evidenced by understanding and respect for people of all backgrounds.
Whittier has always focused on providing these educational outcomes. However, this summer, the faculty took this focus up a notch by spending time thinking through how the faculty might better integrate career development and tracking into the curriculum and into departmental activities. The faculty even made career preparation the subject of their August retreat, and brainstormed about what skills and experiences students should have by the end of their first year at the College and each successive year. While a group of faculty leaders continues with this “whole campus” discussion, our Dean will work with individual departments to enact changes to particular disciplines to benefit our students.
And with all of this activity as background, I look forward to next week, when over 250 people – most of them former students – will come back over Whittier Weekend to celebrate three professors who for a combined 125 years of teaching have exemplified our faculty’s devotion to students’ success after college. Professors Fred Bergerson, Mike McBride, and John Neu have provided generations of Whittier students with foundational academic excellence in the classroom, connections to professional networks leading to graduates’ first and subsequent jobs, and countless hours of inspirational advice, encouragement, and resumé reading on the side.
I wish all students could experience a Whittier education.