Fall 2021 Campus Update

To: The W&L CommunityFrom: President Will DudleyDate: September 3, 2021

Welcome back! It has been such a pleasure to see so many of you as our campus has returned to life in recent weeks.

While we continue to take recommended mitigation measures in response to the ongoing pandemic, the vaccination of our community has put us in a much better position than a year ago.

Law school classes are in full swing. First-year undergraduates are immersed in pre-orientation programs involving outdoor adventure, intellectual exploration, and community service. Faculty and staff are participating in Fall Academy, with its outstanding array of professional development opportunities, many of which have taken place in the newly opened Harte Center for Teaching and Learning.

Back-to-school picnics for the College, the Williams School, and the Law School have allowed us to welcome new colleagues and reconnect with old ones. Attendance and enthusiasm have been high. My enjoyment of these events has been enhanced by realizing how much I missed them last year.

Next week we will mark three important occasions with campus ceremonies. The academic year kicks off with Fall Convocation on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 5:30 p.m. on the Front Lawn. A dinner will follow on Cannan Green. Two days later, on Saturday, Sept. 11, we will commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 at 8:46 a.m. on Stemmons Plaza near Huntley Hall with a moment of silence and remarks from members of our community. Later that morning, over 300 members of the undergraduate and law classes of 2020 will finally cross the stage in a formal Commencement ceremony at 10:30 a.m. on the Front Lawn, with a luncheon to follow.

Like many of you, I am excited to get back in the classroom, where I will be teaching a seminar on the Philosophy of Education. My students will reflect on the purposes of higher education and how curricular and extracurricular programs contribute to accomplishing those aims.  

Those same themes are at the heart of our strategic plan. Its initiatives are oriented toward advancing our mission by providing superlative liberal arts and legal education for the 21st century. Before we fully enter the fray of Fall Term, it is worth taking stock of the progress we have made since the plan was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2018 and looking ahead to some of the important work on the horizon.

Student Support Becoming need-blind in undergraduate admissions, which will enable us to admit the strongest applicants regardless of family financial circumstances, is a top priority. Since 2018, we have raised $36.7 million toward a $160 million goal, which has allowed us to increase our financial aid budget for first-year students by 33 percent. 

We are expanding our W&L Promise program this year to guarantee that any admitted student with a family income below $125,000 will pay no tuition. Forty-seven percent of our undergraduate students receive need-based aid — with an average award of $54,000 — resulting in a total financial aid budget of $55.7 million.

We are also committed to increasing the diversity of our student body in the service of our educational mission. The percentage of undergraduate domestic students of color has increased by 69% in five years — from 13% in the Class of 2020 to 22% in the Class of 2025.  

Students are demonstrating unprecedented interest in our First-Year Experience course, which helps them make the transition from high school to college and get the most out of W&L. All 17 sections are full. We are working to expand capacity to accommodate all first-year students who wish to take this course and participate in a pre-orientation program.

The Harte Center will support the academic success of every student. The Center for Inclusion and Engagement, currently under construction in Elrod Commons, will help all students thrive at W&L. The renovation of Elrod — which will provide spaces for student groups, the Executive Committee, the Student Judicial Council, and our Student Affairs professionals — should be complete before next summer.

The Duchossois Athletic and Recreation Center, which officially opened last year, is newly invigorated with the return of fall athletic competition. The Duchossois Center also includes spaces for recreational sports and an expanded fitness center that will benefit the whole community.

We have added resources in University Counseling in response to the growing demand for mental health services, which is a national trend on college campuses. We are also raising funds for a new student health and counseling center, which is an important element of our campus master plan.

Academic Initiatives

Academic quality — great teaching in small classes — is the essence of W&L. It happens every day, in each of our departments and programs. Our faculty are dedicated to their craft. They are also creative, regularly finding ways to enhance our curriculum for the benefit of our students.

Since 2018, we have introduced three new and highly popular minors: Law, Justice, and Society; Entrepreneurship; and Data Science. This year the law school launched the Civil Rights and Racial Justice Clinic, which will focus on housing and employment issues. And the General Education Development Committee is leading our faculty in a review of the foundational requirements expected of every undergraduate.

Earlier this summer, I announced the creation of the DeLaney Center — named in honor of our late friend and colleague Ted DeLaney — which will be an interdisciplinary academic hub for the study of Southern race relations, culture, and politics. The center will accelerate the hiring of five new faculty members, including three in 2021-22, who will develop courses that explore racial issues through various disciplinary approaches and theoretical perspectives.

As we pursue these projects and many others across our curriculum, we welcome colleagues into new roles in academic leadership:

  • Lena Hill, who became provost on July 1, succeeding Elizabeth Oliver. Elizabeth has resumed her work as associate dean of the Williams School.
  • Chawne Kimber, who joined the W&L community as dean of the College on July 1. 
  • Michelle Drumbl, who became interim dean of the School of Law on July 1.
  • Genelle Gertz, who will focus on strengthening the arts and humanities as the associate dean of strategic initiatives in the College. 
  • Kim Robinson, who was named university registrar this summer.

A search is also underway for the associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion, whom we hope to have in place later this academic year.

Institutional Citizenship

We continue to advance our Climate Action Plan. Since 2007, we have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent. W&L ranked first in energy efficiency and second in water efficiency among schools in our category in the EPA’s 2021 Higher Education Benchmarking Initiative. And the campus compost system — supported by 29 students in the collection crew — absorbed an astonishing 121,370 pounds of dining waste in 2020.

A university-wide Vehicle Idling Policy, which will reduce fuel emissions from the campus vehicle fleet while reducing air and noise pollution, went into effect on July 1. This year, the Sustainability Committee will develop proposals for mitigating the environmental impacts of our travel, implementing sustainable purchasing practices, and phasing out single-use plastics.

Our commitment to institutional citizenship is also manifested in our continuing efforts to present our history comprehensively and accurately. As announced by the Board of Trustees last week, work is underway to restore the University Chapel to its original, unadorned design and update the exhibits in the Chapel Galleries beneath the auditorium. These projects are in addition to online exhibits, student research projects, and coursework that contribute to telling the many stories of this 272-year-old institution.

Looking Ahead

We learned a lot about ourselves last year, navigating a global pandemic while grappling with the local implications of national calls to confront racial injustice. Our community proved to be caring, dedicated, creative, adaptable, and determined. Those traits give me confidence that we can handle whatever comes our way. While we have collectively achieved a vaccination rate of over 95%, the pandemic presents persistent and evolving challenges. Our goal continues to be to provide the best possible education for all of our students while taking precautions recommended by public health experts to protect our campus and the surrounding area.

I am exceptionally proud of the W&L community. I thank you for your many contributions to it and look forward to working with you to make this an outstanding year.