President Alison Byerly sent the following message to the campus community on Jan. 27.
As we begin the spring semester, I write to share some updates that convey a sense of the tremendous energy, commitment, and creativity that is evident all across the College. Our efforts to make Lafayette more accessible, affordable, and welcoming for a wide range of students are more critical than ever, and our strong momentum as we move in this direction encourages me to believe that Lafayette College can make an important contribution to the world beyond our campus by demonstrating the power of education to create a diverse, informed citizenry that is prepared to work together for positive change.
I hope that you all had a restful break, and that those who were away during the interim session had a pleasant and productive few weeks. While many faculty were engaged in research and preparation for the spring, others led interim courses to locations abroad that included Cuba, Senegal, Italy, and New Zealand. Students also took part in externships, work experiences, and networking nights in cities around the country. In New York City, the exhibit “Lafayette and the Antislavery Movement,” curated by Professor Olga Anna Duhl and College Archivist Diane Shaw, was a big hit at the Grolier Club, earning a nice review in The New Yorker.
On campus, staff had a busy start to the year, especially in the offices of Admissions and Financial Aid, and in Development and Alumni Relations. I am delighted to report that we received over 8,400 applications for the Class of 2021, breaking last year’s record. With 259 students already enrolled through early decision, we will have some tough choices in putting together a class of 680 to 690 students for the fall. We had an 8 percent increase in students seeking financial aid, demonstrating that we are drawing interest from a wide range of students, and reinforcing the importance of our efforts to build more resources for need-based aid.
December ended with a strong show of support from alumni and friends for the College and the Live Connected, Lead Change capital campaign, as we closed 2016 with a total of $336 million in gifts and pledges toward our campaign goal of $400 million. We have been devoting special efforts to fundraising for financial aid, and we shortly will announce a program called The President’s Challenge that will focus attention on this critical goal.
As you know, our initiative to increase Lafayette’s affordability and distinction is supported not only by fundraising but by planned growth. The gradual increase in the size of the student body in the coming years will be matched by an increase in faculty positions, and so this has been a very busy and successful season in faculty recruiting, with ten terrific tenure-track hires so far, including two hires as part of our strategic hiring initiative, in fields including Anthropology and Sociology, Chemistry, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Science, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Government and Law, History, Mechanical Engineering, Neuroscience, and Psychology. Several searches are still under way.
Over the last few weeks, we have been engaged in presentations to community groups and city agencies on two major facility projects: The Integrated Sciences Center, for which we are scheduled to break ground May 11; and our proposed construction of College Hill Residence Halls. The Integrated Sciences Center will be a signature building for the campus, housing biology, computer science, environmental science and environmental studies, the IDEAL Center, the new Center for STEM Education, and the offices of Sustainability Director Marie Fechik-Kirk. Earlier this month, our plans for the ISC were approved with high marks, as noted in many articles in the local press, such as “See Why Lafayette’s $75M Science Center Wowed the City.” We will be presenting preliminary plans for the residence halls to the town planning commission and the City Council in the coming weeks as part of a request for some zoning changes. Those projects are still in the development phase, and we will be holding open meetings for the campus to discuss those projects throughout the spring, with the first being planned for Thursday, Feb. 2.
This month also saw the move of more than 50 staff into offices in the Alpha Building, a site we are calling Lafayette Downtown. These spacious offices, with panoramic views of Easton and College Hill, are designed as open and collaborative workspaces, and colleagues seem to be enjoying the change—and the opportunity to have lunch at a range of downtown eateries.
My senior team and I continue to have conversations with members of the community regarding a list of diversity and inclusion concerns sent to me in December by representatives of seven student associations. Vice President Annette Diorio is determining what administrative offices or College committees would be involved in implementing them, and she is developing a system to monitor and evaluate the progress we make in the areas that we decide to pursue. I will be meeting with student representatives early in the spring term, and we will follow up with community-wide meetings that will include reports on the work of the Student Support Task Force. I hope that many of you will take part in these conversations.
I also have been engaged in conversation with a group of students who submitted a petition to me in December expressing their concerns about the status of particular groups of marginalized students, especially undocumented and immigrant students. Many members of the community have reiterated those concerns since returning to campus. I shared with the community in November our commitment to supporting undocumented students in every way possible. Since that time, I have joined dozens of other Pennsylvania college presidents in supporting the BRIDGE Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation now before Congress that offers protection to students currently covered by or eligible for DACA status. The College has arranged for immigration counsel to provide free legal advice to our DACA enrolled and undocumented students on a pro bono basis.
Finally, looking ahead to the coming months, we have a wonderful and diverse array of special events and lectures planned this spring. Writer Amitav Ghosh will be the Jones Lecturer; playwright and screenwriter Lynn Nottage will deliver the Hatfield Lecture; and Francis Su will present the Benjamin F. Barge Mathematics Prize Lecture. A College Symposium titled “Shakespeare, Race, and the Practical Humanities” will be held April 19-20, under the direction of Ian Smith, the Richard and Joan Sell Professor of the Humanities. The symposium will feature presentations by eight scholars, offering a vigorous inquiry into the role of the humanities in modern academic life. We will be treated to the staging of Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman, directed by Professor Suzanne Westfall and based on The Metamorphoses of Ovid, and you can view a performance of Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon. The Williams Center for the Arts Performance Series will feature Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, harpsichordist Jeanette Sorrell, and the Wang Ramirez Dance Company. You can see an exhibit of exquisitely crafted Russian icons dating from the 15th to 21st centuries in the Art Galleries.
This is a remarkable time to be at Lafayette. Best wishes for a great start to your semester.
President Alison Byerly