July 1, 2010
Dear Members of the Mount Holyoke Community:
Last week, as I was rummaging through boxes in the attic while preparing for our move to South Hadley, I came across a floral, cardboard box that stopped me in my tracks. It was one of those sultry, summer days, and when I flipped on the light switch, I heard the pop of the bulb high above me. Armed with my flashlight, I bent over to pick up the container and noticed a sticker with the word "fragile" printed in large, block letters. Instead of the fine crystal I expected, the box was filled with an entire collection of papers and memorabilia from my days as a student at Mount Holyoke. There were essays I had written in Spanish on the European civil wars, Blue Books from my philosophy and religion classes, an orientation guide with messages from Dean Warfel, crumpled pieces of carbon paper, FAFSA forms, old issues of the Choragos, typewritten letters from friends, and an admission ticket I had saved in case of rain at Commencement. In an instant, I sat down on the boards traversing the rafters and began reading. I thought about how, in my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined this day.
I want you to know how truly privileged I feel to be able to serve as your president. I also want to thank you for the gracious welcome my family and I have received. It has been such a thrill for me to become reacquainted with the intellectual, artistic and cultural vibrancy of both the College and of the Pioneer Valley. I have experienced even greater pleasure, however, from being able to introduce my husband, John, and our sons, Pierce and Spencer, to the many staff, students, faculty and alumnae who comprise this remarkable community.
In the time since my appointment, I have traveled from coast to coast, meeting with trustees, individual alumnae and alumnae groups, prospective students, parents and other friends of the College. We have such a compelling story to tell, and I am always eager to talk about Mount Holyoke and the extraordinary strengths upon which we can draw in moving forward. There has been ample opportunity to do so. While I was on the road, the Office of Communications arranged numerous press conferences and media interviews for me, as well as meetings with public administrators, local business leaders and representatives from higher education.
As some of you may know, after my interview with Alan Chartock, President and CEO of Northeast Public Radio (WAMC), Alan invited me to be a regular commentator on medical ethics for the station's Health Show. Recent commentaries have focused on ethical issues surrounding the demand for futile treatment, prisoner's rights to health care, fetal protection laws and proposed presumed consent for organ donation. A new and exciting collaboration with WAMC has emerged from their invitation for me to host a daily spot called "The Academic Minute." This program is designed to introduce listeners across the country to cutting edge research and scholarship being carried out in our nation's colleges and universities. I just finished taping two hundred of these segments, five featuring Mount Holyoke faculty.
In addition, I was in Washington this week for Senate Executive Committee meetings of Phi Beta Kappa. Between sessions, we were producing a video on the value of liberal learning, and I spoke about how the liberal education I received at Mount Holyoke shaped not only my career but also my commitment to civic engagement.
Throughout the Spring semester, I gave a series of talks on a variety of philosophical issues: "Biology and the Concept of Death as Un-American" at Bryn Mawr; "Overcoming Moral Distress" at Brown, as the recipient of the Horace Mann Award; and "Reforming Institutional Cultures Through Women's Leadership" at Eastern Connecticut and Quinebaug. At every one of these presentations, alumnae and their families were there to greet me and offer words of kindness.
Closer to home, I have been serving on the Economic Advisory Council for Holyoke's Mayor Elaine Pluta FP '95. This work has been extremely beneficial in helping me to understand the economic challenges facing the extramural communities surrounding the College, including our own community of South Hadley. I look forward to continued outreach, collaboration and educational partnerships with our neighbors.
The rest of the summer will be equally busy and exciting. Renovations of the President's house begin today. Until these are completed, my family and I will be staying at Willits-Hallowell. In mid-July, I head off to the Harvard Institute for New Presidents for a week. The following month, I will be leading a research team to Kenya for ten days. The team is a partnership between Brown University, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Hartford and the Africa Center for Engineering Social Solutions that is working to deliver simple engineering solutions for clean water, sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship for women in Kenya's West Lake District. We received a grant from Newman's Own to bring Mount Holyoke into the project, and I am very excited that one of our students, Hilda Barasa, will be a member of this year's team.
The new chair of the Board of Trustees, Mary Davis, and I have already been meeting regularly and are extremely enthusiastic to be starting our terms together. Both the Board and the College recognize the need to focus on strategic planning in the upcoming year. My goal is to implement an integrated planning process that engages all members of the community and which builds upon the substantive work already done by the members of Planning and Budgeting, the Academic Priorities Committee, the Faculty Conference Committee, the AAUP and other groups across campus. We will have a chance to engage in sustained discussions about the planning process once everyone is back on campus this fall.
In the interim, please stop by my office for a visit. I will have open office hours on the second floor of Mary Lyon daily from 3-4:30, but you should feel free to stop by any time. My assistant, Irasema Perrault, would be happy to confirm my availability on any given day. She can be reached at 413 538-2185 or through this contact form. You can also e-mail me directly through this contact form if you have comments, questions or concerns. I am very much looking forward to the days ahead and to working with each and every one of you to move Mount Holyoke to new heights.