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To the Lafayette Community:

One of the most frequent comments I hear from alumni who return for Reunion each June is that “the campus looks so different from when I was here!” This fall, all of us may find that things look different at Lafayette, as a number of building projects begun or completed over the summer are expanding our capacity to support our students and academic program.

The most dramatic change on campus is of course the opening of the Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center. At five stories and 103,000 square feet, Lafayette’s largest-ever capital project provides modern laboratories, classrooms and collaboration spaces for biology, computer science, and environmental science and studies, and is home to the Bradbury Dyer III ’64 Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship as well as the new Daniel and Heidi ’91 Hanson Center for Inclusive STEM Education. 

The Rockwell Center’s location on Anderson Courtyard, and the tunnel connecting it to the Acopian Engineering Center, will facilitate collaboration with engineering and the other natural sciences housed nearby.  The expansive use of glass and open spaces and the presence of many study spaces and mini lounges are meant to invite scholars and students in all disciplines to come inside to share ideas. The building’s LEED Gold status as well as its ECO cafe (for “Environmentally Conscious Options,” a name chosen by students) make it a visible sign of the College’s commitment to sustainability. 

As I look back on the five years that went into siting, programming, designing, funding, and constructing this spectacular space, I have to admit that stopping by the building site Friday to find it already buzzing with first-year students and faculty felt like walking into a surprise birthday party! I hope that many of you will join us for the formal opening and dedication in September. 

Across campus, work is well underway on our new McCartney Street mixed-use housing project. With the foundation in place, structural steel begins arriving this week. In the meantime, our oldest residence hall, South College, has seen two major changes. Outside, a donor-funded brick and bluestone plaza provides new space for students to gather and socialize. Inside, a former library storage space in the basement has been converted into a large student lounge that includes private study spaces as well as several game tables. At the Williams Center for the Arts, improvements include the creation of a 16-person classroom for the art department, with new acoustic separation between the spaces dedicated to art and those dedicated to music.

As exciting as these changes are, the most important sign of the College’s strength is the incoming class we welcome each fall. Our Affordability and Distinction through Growth initiative, now in its fourth year, continues to demonstrate that increasing our financial aid budget allows us to enroll the strongest and most diverse candidates at Lafayette. The 701 students in the Class of 2023, who we welcomed, along with 18 transfer students, at Convocation on Friday include 92 first-generation college students; 49 percent of the class is female, 22 percent of the class are domestic students of color, and the Class of 2023’s standardized-test scores and academic ratings are the highest in Lafayette’s history. Our new students come from 41 foreign countries and 32 states.

Another source of pride is the high quality of the researchers and scholars who join our faculty each year. This fall, we are welcoming 10 tenure-track faculty and a number of returning and new visiting faculty. Lafayette’s emphasis on creating knowledge across traditional disciplines is reflected in the fact that this year’s new faculty include an applied mathematician in the biology department, a humanist in the Environmental Science and Studies Program, and an industrial and mechanical engineer in computer science.

 Similarly, two new programs beginning this fall speak directly to the broad and integrative distinctiveness of a Lafayette education. A bachelor of science degree in engineering—designed as a degree in interdisciplinary engineering—joins our ongoing B.S. degrees in engineering’s Big 4 (chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical) as well as our liberal arts degree in engineering studies. Our new data science minor that begins this term will spend time on ethics in addition to data management and visualization. 

This fall we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of our international affairs major, now the third-most popular at the College. Celebratory events include an October lecture by bestselling author Fareed Zakaria, a regular contributor to CNN, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. More than half of Lafayette’s students participate in some form of international study, with more than 70 percent of them traveling to non‐Anglophone countries. National rankings have placed us ninth among international affairs programs at small colleges and in the top 10 percent of U.S. schools for international students. 

We welcome new leadership in the academic program this fall as John Meier, the David M. ’70 and Linda Roth Professor of Mathematics, succeeds Abu Rizvi as provost. John, who has won a number of awards for teaching excellence and led research supported by the National Science Foundation and the American Mathematical Society, previously served as dean of the faculty and associate provost for faculty development, among other roles. He has assembled an impressive leadership team that includes a psychologist as dean of the faculty (Jamila Bookwala), a classicist as associate dean of the curriculum (Markus Dubischar), a biologist as associate dean for faculty support (Tracie Addy), and a women’s studies scholar with a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction as associate director for integrating teaching, learning, and scholarship (Bess Van Asselt). I am looking forward to working closely with John and his team in the years ahead.

We were delighted to receive word this summer that Lafayette was reaccredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. We began preparing for our reaccreditation review in September 2016, with nearly 50 faculty, staff and administrators, along with student and trustee representation, launching a comprehensive self-study of institutional mission, values, and capabilities. A Middle States evaluation team, led by Carnegie Mellon University President Emeritus Jared Cohon, visited campus in April. The report of the Middle States evaluation team affirms many of the College’s strengths, including our commitment to becoming more affordable and more distinctive by growing the size of the student body and faculty. The report also offers a number of suggestions, such as reviewing the Common Course of Study, examining our faculty governance structure, and updating our mission statement, all of which we identified in our self-study and which we will begin working on this year. I am grateful to all who participated in the reaccreditation process.

The coming year will also see us continue campus-wide conversations about areas for improvement identified by the recent Campus Climate survey. We will seek continued input on steps we can take to build a more inclusive community, to create more integrated decision-making processes, and to address strains related to the growth and changing composition of the student body. Later this week, I will send to staff and faculty an update on the results of the Early Retirement Incentive and our plans to address administrative staffing needs across the College. 

Finally, I am pleased to note that we have continued to strengthen our connections with the broader Easton community. Last week, we hosted an open house for our College Hill neighbors at which we provided updates on building projects, talked about how we prepare off-campus students to be good neighbors, and answered questions about the College’s policies and plans with regard to local property ownership. We also announced the appointment of the Easton Community Partners Planning Group, a committee of Easton civic, business, and nonprofit leaders who will work with us to develop programming for a regular citywide forum on topics of shared interest or concern. Earlier this summer, the College awarded its inaugural Lafayette-Easton Scholarship, and an auction of architectural features salvaged from houses along McCartney Street netted nearly $3,000 for the Easton Area Community Center.

As we celebrate all that is new on campus, it is important to remind ourselves of what has not changed: our commitment to offering an extraordinary education to talented students from all walks of life, and to creating an inclusive and supportive community that helps every student and employee to succeed and grow. Thank you all for your contributions to that effort.

I look forward to our work together in the year ahead.

President Alison Byerly

Categorized in: Presidential News