Our Honor

March 6th, 2012

In the late fall of 2010 as the economy was beginning to recover from a crisis that destroyed so much of the wealth of the middle class, a number of documentaries and docudramas appeared that asked probing questions about the causes of this catastrophe. One such film was Inside Job, about the culpability of the nation’s elites—not just on Wall Street and Capitol Hill but at research universities, in faculty offices of “thought leaders” who influence policy. In this film professors appeared as technocrats, publishing papers whose economic analysis benefited the corporations where they served as consultants. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Sense Education—or, Rules of Thumb for Life

August 23rd, 2011

In remarks this week to the College’s Class of 2015 and their parents, I spoke about the complex and venerable concept of common sense and its vital place in higher education.

George Santayana, one of America’s greatest philosophers, was also one of its finest cultural observers. In an essay that discusses materialism and idealism in American life, he describes an encounter with the president of Harvard, where he had long been on the faculty. As they walked together, the president asked Santayana how his classes were going. Santayana said fine—the students are intelligent and keen. The president stopped, turned to Santayana, and said, “I meant, how many students are in your classes.” Read the rest of this entry »

Leadership at Midlife

August 16th, 2011

This week, I spoke to an orientation meeting of Arts & Sciences department chairs and program directors. Plucked from the faculty ranks, they are creatively taking on the immense and complex challenges of the College while helping to redefine what it means to be an academic leader in the twenty-first century.

The orientation for department chairs and program directors is the last event of the summer, and the first event of the academic year, the cockcrow heralding a new day, a new season, a new year. So at this time I always find myself excited, and full of hope. Read the rest of this entry »

Pitch Perfect

June 8th, 2011

On May 30, Jim Tressel, one of the most successful coaches in the history of Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State, resigned in the wake of an NCAA rules violations investigation. It was big news everywhere, but especially in Ohio, where college football couldn’t possibly be any bigger. The Tressel episode is only the most recent case study on the perils of big-time sports at American universities. Storied football programs and the immense funding they both generate and require have put universities like Ohio State on the national map. Yet Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard, argued in a book titled “Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education” that college sports, long expected to boost alumni giving, are not in fact good money-makers, especially at universities not near the top of the national football rankings. Instead, Bok says, they exploit students who are often admitted with low grades and test scores and are then given too little time to study. Still, he adds, competition among universities and colleges has kept up the pressure for more aggressive athletic programs, often undermining their educational values. Read the rest of this entry »

Something New Under the Sun

October 26th, 2010

Last Friday, I shared my vision for the College with the members of the boards of the College Foundation and the Benefactors Society. Here is an excerpt from that speech, reflecting on the influences that have defined and guided the College. It is a story about the cultivation of character and virtue, the importance of relationship and place, and the value of cognitive diversity. -MW

Ernest Boots Mead, who taught Music in the College, once told me about a young man who wrote his final exam on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a beautiful but elusive piece. It consists of thirty movements that explore, through a series of harmonic and rhythmic variations, a theme—but the theme is fleeting and discrete. At the end of the essay the student wrote this postscript: “Mr. Mead, I have experienced many variations in my life. Now, I am in search of a theme.”

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The Grounds and the Fury

June 11th, 2010

The sound was china breaking, and the fury was that of Faulkner’s housekeeper — as I discovered when reading a funny essay by 1961 College alumnus Ken Ringle that is part of a new archive about the great southern writer’s residencies at the University of Virginia. “Faulkner at Virginia: an Audio Archive” is the work of Stephen Railton, a professor of American literature in the College, and others in English and at the University Libraries. With a note of thanks to Ken, I am pleased to share his perspective with you on my blog. Read the rest of this entry »