Intellectual Community

Inspired by Kathryn, Continued

Throughout her long life, the late Kathryn Wasserman Davis ’28 served as an inspiration to all those whose lives she touched—whether it was through her work to bring about world peace, her insatiable appetite for learning, or her incredible philanthropic commitment to the many causes in which she believed.

My admiration for this quintessential Wellesley woman was reinforced today. I had the pleasure of hearing Wellesley’s own Craig Murphy, the M. Margaret Ball Professor of International Relations and Professor of Political Science, lecture on Kathryn’s work in the field of global governance, and how she correctly predicted, in her 1934 doctoral dissertation, The Soviets at Geneva, that the Soviet Union would join the League of Nations—a controversial and surprising prediction at the time. She was a pioneer in this seminal work, as she was in many ways—as a woman, as a scholar, and as an American in the field of international relations. In fact, she is most likely the first woman in the world to receive a PhD in this field.

The field of international relations benefitted greatly from Kathryn’s contributions nearly 80 years ago. And though we must ask ourselves how the field might have benefitted even more had Kathryn continued on as a scholar, we also know that the world is a better place because of her many subsequent experiences in and contributions to the world.

Investing in Children and the 100th Anniversary of Wellesley’s Child Study Center

It was a pleasure to welcome to campus Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children. Last night Ms. Miles, the first woman to lead the global charity that serves over 125 million children in need in the U.S. and around the world, delivered the 2013 Wilson Lecture.

She stressed that early childhood education is the key to opening up important opportunities for children—opportunities that have the potential to lift children out of poverty and free them to make important contributions to the world that benefit us all. Investing in children, Ms. Miles said, is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do—investing in children can change the world.

This year’s Wilson Lecture was a wonderful and fitting way to honor and celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wellesley’s Child Study Center. I am proud to have on our campus one of the oldest laboratory schools in this country, a place where young children can learn and develop, and where Wellesley students and faculty can engage in meaningful and important research.

The Wilson Lecture is a central part of our intellectual community—indeed, it is one of the highlights of the academic year at Wellesley.  I am delighted that Carolyn Miles could lead us in conversation about this most worthy topic.

The 2012 Wilson Lecture: A Great Conversation

In my Convocation address earlier this month, I challenged Wellesley students, faculty, and staff to engage in great conversations—conversations that promote the exchange and exploration of ideas and the philosophies underlying those ideas.

This week, we had a wonderful opportunity to do just that when journalist, scholar, and political commentator E. J. Dionne delivered the 2012 Wilson Lecture. Dionne’s lecture, “Our Divided Political Heart and the Election of 2012,” addressed the tensions between Americans’ love for individual freedom versus our desire for community and the many manifestations of this tension: e.g., government versus the marketplace, local versus national.

Whether or not one shared Dionne’s politics or beliefs, last night’s lecture—and, specifically, the Q&A session after the lecture—was an opportunity to engage in the type of great conversation that I spoke of at Convocation. Members of the audience didn’t always agree with Dionne. Indeed, he welcomed—and even seemed to enjoy—dissenting points of view. It is clear that everyone left the lecture with a broader view of American politics. And that, I believe, is what makes the Wilson Lecture, and engaging in great conversations, so powerful.

Embracing Nerdland

I have often spoken about the importance of Wellesley’s intellectual community, where we value and encourage the open exchange of diverse opinions and ideas. Our intellectual community is one of Wellesley’s great strengths. 

Our Commencement speaker, Melissa Harris-Perry, also encourages such discourse—during her weekend show on MSNBC, which she has dubbed “Nerdland.”

In fact, as we prepare for Commencement on Friday, the campus is “nerding out” in anticipation of Harris-Perry’s arrival. Students have created a Facebook page, a Tumblr, and have distributed 1,500 boxes of nerd candy around campus. (I have two boxes on my desk.)

I will be delighted to welcome Harris-Perry—and her concept of “Nerdland”—to campus on Friday.  I know she will feel right at home.

There’s Only One Wellesley

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the College’s annual Wilson Lecture—one of our most important intellectual events of the year—where Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States and Britain, and Anne Patterson ’71, former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, engaged in a dialogue about diplomacy, foreign relations, and their experiences in Pakistan.  During the question and answer period, several questions came from students who identified themselves as new members of the Class of 2015.  These women were at Wellesley for our annual Spring Open Campus, where we try to convince some 800 admitted students and their families that Wellesley is the place for them.

I always wonder at what moment an admitted student decides that Wellesley is the right fit. Is it as soon as she steps on campus? Is it in conversation with a student? An alum?

In fact, earlier that afternoon, our admitted students had an opportunity to connect with alumnae during a panel held in the Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall.  I was able to drop in briefly and I heard panelist Crystal Fleming ’04 sum up her feelings for her alma mater: “There are a lot of great colleges,” she said, “but there’s only one Wellesley.”

For the students and families who attended Spring Open Campus, I hope you’ll agree.

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).