To the College Community:
Welcome, or welcome back! I hope that you all had a great summer, with whatever balance of recreation and productivity you were seeking. I myself found that even when travelling, Lafayette was not far away. Wearing Lafayette gear brought me into lively conversations with alumni or parents in Annapolis, Maryland; Middlebury, Vermont; and a small town in a rural corner of France.
Summer is a busy time when many faculty and staff are engaged in research or professional development while students undertake research, jobs, or internships. Faculty travelled on research trips to Spain, Argentina, Scotland, and Bhutan, among other places, or supervised students on campus working on topics like the chemistry of wastewater, the brain-computer interface, or the intellectual cultures of the Cold War. Students took advantage of internships across the country at a wide range of organizations including JP Morgan, Citi, Myriad Pictures, Tesla, Levi Strauss, Becton Dickinson, BioSig Technologies, and Acadia National Park.
In early June, a team of our engineering students took first place in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition, beating out a number of American and international research universities, including UC Berkeley. Earlier this month, Associate Professor of Chemistry Justin Hines received one of only eight national Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards to advance his investigations into neurodegenerative diseases, research that he conducts with students. In partnership with the Village on College Hill, we hosted for the first time a free summer film series for the community in Landis Cinema that proved very popular. Meanwhile, the steel structure of the Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center rose dramatically next to Acopian, and, thanks to the generosity of donors, the area behind Hogg underwent a transformation that turned a sea of miscellaneous pathways into a lovely courtyard.
Our momentum toward greater affordability and distinction through growth continues apace as we begin the new academic year. Our financial aid budget is climbing and fully fourth-fifths of our aid goes toward meeting student need. The Class of 2022 — our largest incoming class ever at 737 students, with the highest standardized test scores, among other distinctions — brings exceptional talent and a broad array of voices and perspectives to our hilltop. More than one-half of the class made Lafayette their first choice via early decision, and 14 percent of the of the first-year students are the first in their families to attend college, the highest percentage of first-generation students we have welcomed. Our plans for new mixed-use student-housing structures along McCartney Street to accommodate student growth remain in place while the City of Easton responds to a suit filed in protest against the zoning changes passed by the City Council last spring.
Our first-year students are joined by 13 new tenure-track faculty and 21 visiting faculty. In the last three years we have added more than 40 tenure-track faculty to our scholarly ranks, and we are seeing significant success in our efforts to recruit more women faculty in STEM fields and more members of underrepresented populations to tenure-track positions in all disciplines. For example, Lafayette is now among the top 20 schools in the number of bachelor’s degrees in engineering awarded to women and ranks ninth in the nation among all engineering schools for the number of tenured or tenure-track women faculty, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.
The growing diversity of our student body and faculty enriches Lafayette for everyone and is the result of deliberate, hard work by faculty, staff and students. Their work goes well beyond attracting faculty and students to reach areas such as training on inclusive pedagogy and unconscious bias, and transitional support for first-generation students. We have just approved and will shortly begin recruitment for a new staff position dedicated to student transition support. Later this semester we will share the results of last spring’s campus-climate survey, with open conversations regarding progress and unmet needs around inclusivity, student support, and other topics. I would like to thank Robin Rinehart, who is returning to a teaching position from her role as dean of the faculty, for spearheading many of these efforts as our chief diversity officer.
Social justice, diversity and inclusion is one of two overarching themes, along with integration and interdisciplinarity, that have emerged through the faculty’s ongoing academic planning process. Six areas of focus are under study: data science; design, media and the arts; environment and sustainability; global education; humanities; and inclusive STEM education. Similar ideas have animated curricular innovation at the departmental and divisional levels. Following appropriate consultations and approvals, these themes and fields will help to shape the evolution of our faculty during this period of growth.
In addition to the academic planning process, new programmatic visions will help strengthen our distinctiveness in a number of other areas this year. Athletics Director Sherryta Freeman will unveil her strategic plan, “Creating a Championship Culture,” focused on achieving competitive excellence and building more community and spirit around Lafayette Athletics. Mike Summers, assistant vice president for Career Services, will introduce expanded program offerings to help students more fully explore the possibilities made possible by a Lafayette degree. The Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning and Scholarship is welcoming its first full-time director, Tracie Addy, who joins us from Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Chris Hunt, previously dean of equity and inclusion, has been promoted to dean of students; Liliana Madrid, who joined us in February as assistant dean, will work closely with Chris on intercultural development. Also this semester, we will celebrate a re-envisioning of the IDEAL Center into the Bradbury Dyer III ’64 Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship under the leadership of Yusuf Dahl. Similarly, the Libraries under Anne Houston’s direction and the Office of International and Off-Campus Education led by Rochelle Keesler will move forward with their plans for development. Art Kney and his colleagues will celebrate the coming together of several efforts under the community engagement umbrella as the Landis Center for Community Engagement on October 19.
Much of our progress is rooted in the success of the $400 million Live Connected, Lead Change campaign, which will come to an end in December. Many alumni and friends have demonstrated their commitment to Lafayette by making gifts that, large or small, are helping Lafayette to secure its position as one of the best liberal arts colleges in America. We will celebrate the campaign’s closing at the annual holiday party in New York City in December, as well as with a special on-campus event during the spring semester.
A major highlight of the fall semester will be the visit on October 23 of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who served as President of Liberia from 2006-2017. Her lecture, sponsored in part by the Class of ’61 International Speaker Series, will kick off the International Affairs major’s 60th anniversary celebration.
Other events to look forward to this term include a November 28 lecture by Margot Lee Shetterly, author of this year’s Community Reading book, Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space (2016); the 154th meeting of the Rivalry on November 17 in Fisher Stadium (Beat Lehigh!); and an exceptional lineup of artists slated for the Williams Center for the Arts Performance Series. The Lafayette Symposium Committee of faculty, staff, and students appointed last spring will offer programming that seeks to engage the community in productive discussion of difficult issues from a wide range of perspectives.
Having noted all the reasons for excitement and optimism, it is important to acknowledge where we have cause for concern or work to do as a community. I know that the incident that occurred on May 5, when a threat was directed at the campus in a series of social media posts, is still on the minds of many. As noted in the memo sent last week, the FBI investigation of that incident is ongoing. We will be launching an informational campaign this fall to ensure that the campus community is well informed about our safety procedures and communication protocols, which we have reviewed and updated over the summer.
Finally, I’d like to note some important transitions in the leadership of the College’s Board of Trustees. Robert E. Sell ’84 became chair of the Board of Trustees on July 1, succeeding Edward Ahart ’69, who remains on the board after serving as chair since 2010. Bob Sell is joined by new Vice Chair Linda Assante Carrasco ’90, and Secretary Angel Mendez ’82. In the Alumni Association, Jonathan Ellis ’98 has assumed the role of president, succeeding Lisa Kassel ’79 P’13, who was named to the Board of Trustees. I look forward to working with this new team, and on behalf of the entire Lafayette community, I thank all of these dedicated volunteers for their service.
The year ahead is poised to be an exciting one for the College. More than 750 people — students, faculty and staff — are this week taking the first steps in their Lafayette journey. Others of us are returning to familiar territory. But just as you can never step into the same river twice, I have found this campus is never the same two years in a row. As I begin my sixth year as Lafayette’s president, I continue to feel the energy, aspiration, and stature of the College grow from year to year. I feel very fortunate to be starting the academic year as part of this community, and I hope you do as well.
Best wishes to all for a great start to the semester!