Debate: Single-Sex Institutions are Discriminatory and Illegal

The Wellesley Debates are one of my favorite events here on campus. Certainly, they are an important component of our intellectual community. It is not about who wins or loses the debate; it is about exercising the right to express and listen to diverse viewpoints, even if those views are unpopular. Judging from the Q&A after Monday night’s debate, the speakers captured the interest and attention of the audience.

Prior to the event, everyone in the audience voted by secret ballot for or against the motion that single-sex institutions are discriminatory and illegal. After the formal debates, they were asked to vote again. Pre-debate, the majority of the audience was against the motion, meaning they did not believe that single-sex institutions were discriminatory or illegal. The post-debate ballot showed that a number of those against the motion changed their minds—demonstrating the power of a persuasive argument.

Many thanks to all those who were involved in the debates: Jaimie Crumley ’12 and Samantha Flattery ’14, who argued persuasively for the motion; Hannah Allen ’12 and Sophia Mo ’14, who argued equally persuasively against it; Belgin Palaz ’12, moderator and chair of the coordinating committee, who kept everything moving efficiently and fairly; Veronica Martinez ’13 and Catherine Vatikiotis ’13, members of the coordinating committee, who organized the event; and Tom Cushman, sociology professor, who advises the debates and has done so since he first proposed the Wellesley Debates in 2008.

The Wellesley Debates are modeled after the famous Oxford-Union debates, including the well-known pre- and post-debate balloting. Previous topics for debate at Wellesley were American Hegemony is a Good Thing (Fall 2008), Institutional Multiculturalism is Detrimental to a Liberal Arts Education (Spring 2009), Profiling Practices Strengthen National Security (Spring 2010), and Affirmative Action is Detrimental to a Meritocratic Society (Fall 2010).

Science Leadership, Women’s Leadership, and Cherry Blossoms

I have just returned from a trip to Washington DC, where the cherry blossoms were bravely brightening the parks, despite temperatures that never rose above the mid-40s.

On my first night I participated in a panel on women’s leadership at the National Archives. I joined Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, Catharine Hill, president of Vassar College, and Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College. The panel at the National Archives is an annual event, where they invite women leaders from different sectors—this year it focused on academic leaders. One of the several points that I emphasized that evening was the importance of having inspirational and supportive professors to build the confidence necessary for women to become leaders—a fact fully appreciated by the many Wellesley alumnae in the audience, including the Class of 2010, who was strongly represented. In fact, I was both surprised and gratified by the turnout—the William G. McGowan Theater of the National Archives was almost filled, and there was more than 45 minutes of a lively Q and A afterward. Overall, I thought it was a great event. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education both reported on the panel discussion.

The next day, I attended a day-long meeting of ARISE (Advancing Research In Science and Engineering), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences committee on which I serve. This committee is composed of science leaders from both academia and industry. We continued to work on formulating policy recommendations that would ensure more stable funding of the science enterprise and better cooperation between the government, industry, and universities. As usual the day included much discussion and disputation; for me, the day was inspirational. I was impressed and gratified by the committee’s recognition that the social sciences and humanities often bear the brunt of funding cuts, and by their determination to avoid such cuts. We made good progress and I look forward to the next meeting.

Women leaders, good science, and cherry blossoms—a worthwhile two days.

Setting Tuition

I recently sent a letter to parents and families about Wellesley’s comprehensive fee increase for next year. I thought that readers of this blog might like to see this letter, too. I am proud of the fact that Wellesley is taking a new and strong position in this area. Despite our still severe economic problems, we decided on a tuition increase that was the lowest in 15 years.

Dear Parents,

At this time of year, I like to write to you with a report on the comprehensive fee for the next academic year. In the years following the economic crisis, and because of it, I have also used this opportunity to tell you something about our financial and budgetary issues.

I want to begin this year’s letter by assuring you that we remain firmly committed to providing an excellent liberal arts education that is also affordable. I am acutely aware that over the past several decades, the cost of college in our country has increased considerably more than inflation. Unless this trend is checked, college tuition in this country will soon outstrip the capacity of all but the most wealthy. All higher education institutions must carefully reconcile their expenses with the financial needs of the public. It is not an easy task. At Wellesley, the average net cost (allowing for financial aid) has increased at a slower, but still substantial, rate. With affordability forefront in our mind, we must also consider the yearly operating budget increases that are essential for the College to thrive and compete. Our goal, as always, is to continue to provide the exceptional opportunities that are fundamental to the Wellesley experience, while realistically understanding and considering the needs of our families. That is why we have made the deliberate decision not to allow the College’s fiscal challenges—stemming from the economic crisis—to drive the way we set tuition. This requires careful planning and consideration.

Wellesley College remains committed to continuing our investment in the key institutional priorities that define our educational model: preserving our core academic program, allowing for enhanced quality; maintaining our need-blind admission program; and continuing to support our financial aid policy of meeting the full need of students who qualify. These investments through the years have paid off handsomely, and have made us one of the best liberal arts colleges in the world. Indeed, our institutional priorities are expensive but essential tasks.

Given this context, the Board of Trustees voted at its January meeting to raise the 2011-12 comprehensive fee by the smallest percentage increase in more than 15 years: $1,300, or 2.5 percent, for a total of $53,250. In setting the fee, we carefully weighed a number of factors, including our institutional priorities, the College’s financial position, and the current economic conditions that might affect families’ ability to meet the costs. This level of tuition increase will enable Wellesley to continue to invest wisely to support our institutional priorities and simultaneously respond to the financial concerns of Wellesley students and their families.

As you know, tuition is just one source—albeit an important one—of our revenue. Like many colleges, we also fund a substantial portion of our annual operating budget from our endowment. Wellesley continues to experience some challenges from the decline of the endowment in 2008-09. The external markets have begun to show positive signs, but the College’s five-year financial planning model indicates operating budget deficits through fiscal year 2016. We have balanced next year’s budget, as we do every year, thanks to the continuing internal planning efforts to manage prudently the College’s spending and priorities.

I recognize and appreciate the important decision you and your daughter made in selecting Wellesley College and to be a part of our wonderfully vibrant and diverse community. You value the importance of an exceptional liberal arts education, and we remain committed to providing such an education for future generations of bright, talented, deserving young women, all of whom will make a needed difference in the world.

Global Women’s Leadership

I am delighted to tell you about an exciting new partnership between the State Department, Wellesley, and four other leading women’s colleges—Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, and Smith—to advance our common goal of building and nurturing a generation of female leaders in public service around the world. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made this announcement on Friday night, during her keynote speech at the Women in the World Summit.

This is a wonderful opportunity to bring together Secretary Clinton’s leadership on these issues with that of the women’s colleges. Wellesley continues to play a critical role in educating the future thought leaders who will make a difference in the world.

We are now in the early stages of planning that will include a colloquium next fall, to launch this partnership. I look forward to sharing more details of this initiative in the coming months.

Thinking of Japan

My thoughts this morning continue to be with the members of our broad Wellesley College community who may have been affected in some way by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific.

Andy Shennan and I joined the Wellesley College Alumnae Association yesterday in reaching out by email (currently the only reliable means of communication, as one alumna told us) to our alumnae in Japan. As we continue to monitor the news reports, we know that more details and information will emerge in the coming days and weeks. Certainly, events such as this one remind us just how small and interconnected our world is, and how fragile our lives are in it.

Please join me in keeping in your thoughts all those affected by Friday’s events, including our Wellesley students, faculty, staff, and alumnae who have friends or relatives in Japan.

Building Dialogue, Continued

In my first post, I talked about how this blog could help me communicate with faculty, staff, and students. But the fact is, those aren’t the only people who are reading The HKBlog! I found this out recently when an alumna told me she was reading it, too.

What I should have said is that this blog will help me stay connected to the entire Wellesley community—including faculty, staff, and students, of course, but also alumnae, Trustees, parents, and friends.

After all, the Wellesley community extends far beyond the boundaries of the campus.

When I first thought of this blog, I envisioned it as a form of local communication. Not realizing at a visceral level that this blog could be global—and not just local—is, alas, characteristic of generations of a certain age.