Reunion Report: President Daniel H. Weiss Addresses the State of the College

Despite the nation’s economic downturn and other challenges, Lafayette is well positioned to continue moving forward

EASTON, Pa.(, June 7, 2009 — Lafayette prevails.That was the message College President Daniel H. Weiss gave to a group of about 100 gathered in the Oechsle Hall auditorium to hear “The Plan for Lafayette.” In his presentation and the ensuing question-and-answer session June 6 during Reunion, Weiss spoke frankly about the challenges the College has had to contend with during the past academic year, those that await in the future, and how the school is confronting them head on.

The most formidable of those challenges is the economic earthquake that has shaken the country and its financial sector for the past year. Like many other colleges and universities, Lafayette suffered deep losses: about $200 million, or 25 percent of its endowment. Giving also is down, Weiss noted.

Those losses have presented Lafayette and other schools with new challenges, as the demand for financial aid has increased, not only among prospective students but also among students already enrolled at the school as their family’s ability to pay tuition has been compromised – at a very time when the well of financial aid is not as deep as it was.

“I think we’re seeing a paradigm shift in the way higher education is financed in this country,” said Weiss. “We cannot raise tuition at the rate we historically have.”

Despite this, the College has boosted funding for financial aid by 8 percent as part of its commitment to Lafayette families, said Weiss.

As the families of high school seniors tighten their belts and review their options for college, Lafayette is reaching out to high school guidance counselors to boost the College’s profile so that it will continue to attract the best and brightest students, from new areas as well as familiar ones. It also is remaining focused on its strong externship and internship programs so that more students gain real-world job experience while they pursue their studies.

These are all selling points for the education Lafayette provides, but sometimes they can be forgotten by income-pinched families whose attention is seized solely by the differences in tuition between a high-caliber private college like Lafayette and public universities. There has been an “explosion of applications” to public universities and small decreases at Lafayette and peer institutions such as Bucknell, Colgate, and Holy Cross, Weiss reported. Yet the value of a Lafayette education goes far deeper than the cost of tuition or the degree a student earns; it is what Weiss called “a lifetime investment.”

“We need to be clear that we can make that case,” said Weiss, who noted that Robert Massa, the incoming vice president for communications and a nationally recognized expert in enrollment management, will be charged with articulating and promoting the College’s competitive advantages.

Much of that case is being made by the triumphs of Lafayette’s own academic and extracurricular programs. Weiss noted that The Wall Street Journal on June 4 reported on research by economics professors Chris Ruebeck and Susan Averett on how multiracial teens identify themselves. Wendy Hill, provost and Rappolt Professor of Neuroscience, not long ago received coverage from ABC, CNN, U.S. News and World Report, the Associated Press, the BBC, and other national and international media for her research with students on the physiology of kissing. The forensics (speech and debate) team won the national championship for its division last month, besting teams from schools such as NYU, UCLA, and Florida State.

Weiss also reported that among the six fraternities and six sororities on campus, three fraternities are in disciplinary trouble. Next year, a panel will consider Greek issues such as the lower grade-point average and higher incidence of disciplinary problems among fraternity members compared to the rest of the campus.

“I don’t believe any organization has a lifetime right to be here”—all must contribute, said Weiss.

Other topics raised by Weiss in his speech and answers to alumni questions included:

  • The tragic losses of Chris Reynoso ’11, Jeremy Saxe ’09, and Adam Lambert ’08;
  • The student-driven push toward environmentally sustainable practices on campus, which will be reflected in new building construction;
  • The College’s reaccreditation;
  • The strong student interest in community service, earning recognition in the form of awards and honors for the Landis Community Outreach Center;
  • The national problem of binge drinking on college campuses;
  • The College’s ongoing commitment to bring international students to campus and integrate them.

Amid challenges and triumphs, Lafayette continues to attract high-quality applicants and faculty. Despite the small drop in applications, the academic profile of the Class of 2013 is about the same as that of the prior class, Weiss said. Because financially devastated institutions such as Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth are not hiring faculty, deepening the applicant pool with great candidates, Lafayette’s initiative to boost the size of the faculty (without enlarging the student body) is bringing in exceptionally qualified professors with the potential to transform the College, according to Weiss.

“Exciting things are happening here right now, and they’ll continue to happen,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be at the College.”


Reunion Report: A More Open, Green, and Modern Campus

The College’s new campus master plan calls for increased open space along with new and renovated buildings, among other changes

EASTON, Pa.(, June 7, 2009 — More open space, fewer cars, and a clearer, more consistent way of marking the borders of College property on and around College Hill.Along with new and renovated facilities, those are the primary changes presented in the College’s new campus master plan, as outlined June 6 during a Reunion Weekend event in the Oechsle Hall auditorium. For about an hour Mitchell Wein, vice president of business affairs and treasurer, and Mary Wilford-Hunt, director of facilities planning and construction, shared an overview of a five-phase plan for the College that extends some 30 years into the future. The master plan directly supports the College’s strategic plan, which Lafayette President Daniel H. Weiss presented later that Saturday morning.

The master plan is a “living,” dynamic document, Wein noted, and the further into the future it goes, the less fixed some elements become. At the moment, the College is committed most heavily to a plan to make the campus an even more pedestrian-friendly and bucolic setting.

Under the plans, the campus will be transformed from one intersected by roads to one that keeps cars and other traffic at the periphery. Quad Drive, which winds past the Farinon College Center and Kirby House on its way from McCartney Street toward High Street, would become a pedestrian walkway. So would Pardee Drive.

This process will happen first at the entrance to Watson Hall as the roadway is removed and replaced with a visually more appealing surface than asphalt. The new surface could still support vehicle traffic when needed, such as for emergencies and the move-in day for first-year students.

Alumni at the presentation, concerned about the potential impact of eliminating the parking along Quad Drive and in front of Pardee Hall, were soon reassured that the master plan contained measures to prevent disruptions.

“Parking is a big part of the plan,” said Wein. “If parking doesn’t work, the plan doesn’t work.”

Replacements would be available before any current parking is ripped up, and each phase of the plan would result in a net increase of spaces. One possibility for new parking involves building a two-level garage by the site of Watson Courts as the housing is replaced with academic buildings. Others are adding a parking garage behind the Williams Center for the Arts and surface lots at the site of the old tennis courts on Pierce Street.

Beyond such a dramatic change to the look and feel of Lafayette’s campus, Wein and Wilford-Hunt unveiled a number of other plans to spruce up College properties, from the imminent replacement of the McKelvy House roof to anticipated renovations of landmark buildings Colton Chapel, Pardee Hall, Van Wickle Hall, and Markle Hall. New buildings are to include a Life, Earth, and Environmental Science Building, Markle North academic buildings, Marquis Quad and South Lawn residence halls, and a welcome center, as well as expansions of Skillman Library, the Williams Center for the Arts, and Marquis Hall.

The College also has an eye toward maintaining and improving its properties farther off campus. Lafayette is considering the condition of its off-campus housing stock, and determining which houses are worth rehabilitating and which may be replaced with new student and faculty housing.

Pedestrian walkways, part of the College’s larger commitment to natural systems and environmental friendliness, likely will be among the earlier elements of the plan to be implemented. In addition to strengthening Lafayette’s open space, the master plan incorporates the latest research into hydrology and plantings.

“It’s supposed to be a work in progress, a guideline,” said Wein, “but it’s also a living document.”


Reunion College: Two Slaves of Great Promise

College Archivist Diane Shaw tells the story of alumni brothers David and Washington McDonogh

EASTON, Pa.(, June 7, 2009 — The life of David McDonogh 1844, who attended Lafayette with brother Washington McDonogh, has received increased interest since his story resurfaced in 1980, when it was recounted in a College publication. The brothers came to the College from Louisiana – a fact made all the more remarkable considering that at the time, they were slaves.

On Saturday afternoon in the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights auditorium, Diane Shaw, special collections librarian and College archivist, discussed the story of McDonogh and his brother, and the journeys they took, Washington to the African colony of Liberia, as a missionary, and David to a successful career as a physician in New York City.The McDonoghs began attending Lafayette in 1838 at the behest of John McDonogh, a wealthy slaveowner in Louisiana with dreams of sending the brothers to the Liberian colony in Africa as missionaries. Describing John McDonogh as a pious man opposed to slavery, Shaw noted he nonetheless believed that blacks had no place in the same country as whites.

That David and Washington were at all prepared for the rigors of college does indicate John McDonogh’s comparatively progressive attitude on race. Particularly after Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, it was illegal throughout the South to educate slaves. In a letter that Shaw read to great humorous effect, John McDonogh notes the existence of the law and feigns ignorance of how the two men gained their knowledge.

Disingenuity aside, John McDonogh commended both David and Washington’s worthiness of a college education to prepare them for Christian missions work, likening them to presidents Madison and Monroe respectively, further adding that David had the potential to be like St. Paul to his people.

The reception the two men received at Lafayette is not a high point in the College’s history. Although they attended recitals with their classmates, they were segregated in every other way. Their quarters were removed from those of their white peers, professors educated them separately from the white students, and when they had to be seated with other students, it was always to one side.

“The stigma of their recent servitude was the overreaching factor in how they were treated,” said Shaw.

Washington McDonogh had been in the College’s preparatory program for three years when he received word he was to head to Africa on the Mariposa with 79 other former slaves of John McDonogh’s. He remained in Liberia the rest of his life. In a letter some years later to his former owner, he said that he would like to see him again but would never consent to return to America because he knew that he could never be free there.

David McDonogh in the meantime remained at Lafayette, where he continued a classical course of study and became interested in medicine. In 1844, he voiced his opposition to going to Liberia and declared his intent to become a doctor.

The split between David McDonogh and his former owner was a bitter one, if the correspondence that survives is any indication. For his part, John McDonogh strongly rebuked David for ingratitude and for wasting John McDonogh’s money by refusing to go to Africa. In a letter of his own, David McDonogh said that he had come to the conclusion that, with a few possible exceptions, white people were not worth the respect they felt was their due.

“I think he became a very angry man in some ways,” said Richard Koplin ’64, who joined Shaw in her research. Koplin, incidentally, is a physician at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary – the very hospital where David McDonogh once worked.

David McDonogh ultimately succeeded in his quest for a medical degree. In 1875, when he was 54 years old, he received one from the Eclectic Medical College in New York.

And, five years after his death in 1893, the interracial McDonough Memorial Hospital opened in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York. The added “u” in the hospital’s name may reflect a public break with his former owner.

In recent years, David McDonogh’s story in particular has risen to new levels of prominence. “Transcendence,” a sculpture along High Street near Skillman Library, stands in testimony to David’s triumphs over the endemic racism of his time, and the college has celebrated his status by creating the McDonogh Network for black alumni.

The recognition is late in coming, but appropriate, given the hurdles that McDonogh overcame in the pursuit of his dreams, and the legacy of perseverance and triumph over adversity that he has left not only to the College, but to the nation as well.

“David McDonogh had done his part in showing that freedom could and should be possible in America,” said Shaw.


Reunion College: A Proud Past and Promising Future for the Williams Center

Four leaders in the arts discuss the history of the building and its programs while looking forward to expansion

By Barbara Mulligan

EASTON, Pa.(, June 6, 2009 — Back in 1979, when Michiko Okaya arrived at Lafayette, she moved into an apartment near the corner of High and Hamilton streets. Four years later, after her original residence had been demolished, Okaya moved back in—this time, as gallery director in the gleaming new Williams Center for the Arts.

Okaya, now director of both that gallery and the eight-year-old Grossman Gallery in the Williams Visual Arts Building at the foot of College Hill, reminisced about the Williams Center’s early days during a Reunion College panel discussion Friday afternoon. She also offered her ideas and hopes for the future during the discussion, titled “The Williams Center: Then, Today, Tomorrow.”

Joining Okaya were Ellis Finger, the Williams Center’s director; Michael O’Neill, associate professor of English and director of theater; and Jennifer Kelly, associate professor of music.

“At least three Lafayette College alumni can’t be here today,” Finger told the audience, explaining that Kojiro Umezaki ’91 was busy playing his shakuhachi, or ancient Japanese flute, with famed cellist Yo Yo Ma in New York City, actor Brian Hutchison ’93 was performing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on Broadway (with acclaimed actors Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon) in the Tony Award-nominated Exit the King,and countertenor David Walker ’88 was performing in an opera in Munich, Germany.

Finger said those alumni and many more began their careers in art, music and theater as students at Lafayette, performing in the Williams Center and learning from a growing group of dedicated faculty and visiting artists.

Both Finger and Okaya recalled the planning that went into the multipurpose arts center, and its dedication Sept. 30, 1983.

At the time, Finger said, “we were really strong in engineering, really strong in natural sciences, and really abysmal in the arts.”

He asked alumni from earlier eras if they recalled the tiny “postage stamp” theater on the third floor of Hogg Hall, and Okaya remembered her office “with the bats” in the basement of the former Jenks Hall and the “really wonderful” but almost always hot gallery in Van Wickle Hall “that nobody ever went to.”

At the time, the multipurpose Williams Center, with its ample performance space, climate-controlled exhibition space, and complete lack of flying rodents, seemed a dream come true. Its first season, featuring a performance by Isaac Stern and a student production of Chicago, portended a bright future for the arts at Lafayette.

Today, the panelists agreed, the success of the arts programs has brought with it the need for more space for recitals, offices, and storage—and a better structure for incorporating technology in an increasingly computer-based arts world.

Finger said the College is planning for a major expansion of the center that has been delayed, but not diminished, by the economic downturn.

For Kelly, who arrived at Lafayette three years ago to lead the College’s vocal music programs, both the future and present are bright.

“The reason I chose to come to Lafayette was for the opportunities it offered not only for faculty, but for students,” she said, pointing out the many avenues for students to study abroad and participate in research with professors.

Kelly said that Lafayette, known years ago for its strong music program, has undergone a musical renaissance over the past decade.

“It’s really grown up and come back,” she said, pointing out that the College now employs six full-time music professors and 15 adjunct music teachers.

“Most are active performers and/or musicologists,” she said, noting that she recently led the choir in a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

And, Kelly added, “there’s diversity of all kinds,” including a recent choir performance that included students from nine countries.

Kelly said that while not many Lafayette students major in music alone, quite a few have double majors or minors in the subject.

“They’re able to explore all depths of their knowledge and really become well-rounded people,” she said.

O’Neill, who arrived at Lafayette in 1992, said he has been working to bring the College’s theater program, currently part of the English department, from “a 1950s model to a 21st century model.”

That work, O’Neill said, includes creating a minor in theater in the mid-1990s, laying the groundwork for a major in the subject, and offering credit to students from all majors who participate in faculty-directed productions.

For all four panelists, the prospect of more space for exhibitions and performances, plus easier access to materials and supplies, portends even more bright years for the College’s arts programs. And, the panelists agree, the past 25 years, spent together in an “economical” space, have been a period to tremendous growth.

“There’s been all this wonderful cross-fertilization,” Okaya said, pointing out that theatergoers can wander into the gallery during intermission, and faculty and students from the various programs can watch each other in action.

For Finger, the icing on the cake would be the addition of a dance program.

“We’re hoping that in the new theater arts program, we can slip that in,” he said.

In any event, Finger said, “the College really values imagination and creativity.”