Nancy Vickers
Reunion, State of the College
Saturday, June 1, 2002, 11 a.m.

Good morning. It's my great pleasure to welcome all of you back to Bryn Mawr. Reunion is of course a very special moment, a moment to renew friendships and to think back on the foundational and transforming experiences that have shaped your lives and to reanimate dynamic network of connections that run through our extraordinary College.

I would like to give you a brief report on the state of your alma mater before turning the podium over to Dean Karen Tidmarsh.

Bryn Mawr's current position:
The recent stresses in the economy have affected the College. The value of our endowment decreased this year from $446 million to $424 million as of April 30. You may want to put that in some context. Ten years ago the amount was $190 million. Our losses are smaller than those of many of our peer institutions, in part because our investment strategy has been somewhat more conservative, so what a year and a half ago appeared to be our failure to take full advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves today appears to be a great measure of sagacity and good sense on the part of the Board of Trustees. The uncertainties we have all been living through since the attacks of September 11 prompted us to push back the launch of our fundraising campaign by several months, so that it will be beginning in the fall of next year. In addition, we faced a very challenging financial aid environment this spring, to put it in somewhat less pleasant terms, truly cutthroat competition, which has affected the amount of tuition income available for the coming year, so we will be facing some belt-tightening on campus this approaching academic year.

Despite these difficulties, which are part of the national scene, not just the Bryn Mawr scene, I continue to feel a very clear sense of energy, focus and excitement among all of the constituencies at the College, centered on the Plan for a New Century. The critical importance of a campaign to sustain Bryn Mawr's distinctive character and excellence is more evident and frankly compelling than ever.

And although our needs are great, because we are a very small institution with a very great ambition, we remain in strong financial health, with a balanced budget - and we have had balanced budgets for over 20 years -- of $92 million for next year ($15.5 million in financial aid), and a tuition increase of 5 percent, which we expect will place us solidly in the mid-range of our peers.

We are watching the Class of 2006 take shape. Bryn Mawr attracted a record number of applications this year, encouraging us to reduce our strategically important admit rate from 60 percent to 50 percent, so that we admitted a smaller number, driving up the quality of the class. As I mentioned, the financial aid environment in which we tried to enroll the students we admitted was extremely competitive. In particular, we underestimated the level of merit aid being offered this year by peer institutions who have previously been committed, as we are, to need-based financial aid. That is to say, we retain our position on what is to my mind the moral high ground in the world of merit aid, and our competitors descended into the valleys. We're going to have to take a long look at this with our Board of Trustees; I think we can't stay competitive until we move into merit aid, I'm very sorry to say. As a result, the current cohort of 320 incoming students will fall slightly short of our enrollment goal of 350. The Class of 2006, although smaller, has stellar qualities to commend it. Their combined SAT scores rose by 20 points. More importantly, the percentage of students in the class who received an overall top rating from the Admissions Committee rose from about 15 percent to about 20 percent. Nine percent of the class are international students, and an additional 20 percent are members of underrepresented minorities. The Class of 2006 also includes five alumnae daughters, four granddaughters or great-granddaughters, six women whose sisters are current students or alumnae, and seven who followed an aunt or cousin to Bryn Mawr. They are, all in all, a tremendously talented group, and we look forward to welcoming them this fall.

Moving onto the ways that we are implementing The Plan for a New Century highlights Bryn Mawr's distinctive academic culture and outlines the key areas in which the College must be able to prepare the talented and ambitious young women who come here to follow in your footsteps. As you have, we want them to be able to graduate and go on to whatever career and endeavor they choose, in whatever part of the world they choose.

At the heart of the Plan we have developed to achieve this goal, we have identified two core tasks: 1) to maintain our traditional curricular strengths while introducing fresh and innovative approaches and fields of study; and 2) to recruit and retain the very best students, without whom Bryn Mawr's challenging program would make little sense.

1. Academic innovation and faculty renewal
At the heart of academic innovation is a sequence of attempts to achieve faculty renewal. The latest Annual Report for the year 2000-2001, the immediate past academic year, focuses on faculty concerns and initiatives. Our work here takes many forms. We must continue to compete successfully for the very best young faculty, and use our searches to bring new perspectives into the curriculum. We must enhance the support that all our faculty receive for their research, and assure that they have periodic opportunities to reinvent their courses and to explore new intellectual interests. We must provide strong and easily accessible academic support services and appropriate facilities.

We have made good progress on many of these fronts. In the past five years, we have hired 39 new tenure-track faculty. Many of them have scholarly interests which overlap with the expertise of retiring faculty, but they have also brought entirely fresh material to Bryn Mawr. One of our appointments this year, for example, will teach many of our core political science courses, but also contributes a welcome, and for us relatively new, knowledge of law and jurisprudence. Another brings an expertise in computational science and ecology. Several recent hires have allowed the College to add film studies to its curriculum, and others have added a wide range of international interests: from medical anthropology in Northern Vietnam to trans-Pacific migration and identity formation; from Francophone African literature to the history of Senegal; from urban social movements in Peru to the study of representation in Chicano, Latino and Mexican cultures.

It is also essential that Bryn Mawr be able to support each one of its faculty in pursuing ongoing scholarly research. We believe deeply in the symbiosis of teaching and research, and in the vitality that time spent on scholarship brings to a faculty member's life in the classroom. We have recently committed to an enhanced sabbatical leave program, a commitment which parallels that of similar institutions, that we believe will not only help us recruit the very best candidates for our faculty, but will strengthen their abilities as teacher-scholars throughout their careers. As I've interviewed job candidates for Bryn Mawr faculty during the course of the year, they certainly respond to the notion of expanded research release time within the organization of their young professional lives.

The four new interdisciplinary Centers have done much to foster a lively intellectual environment across departments and programs. We expect their impact to ripple more deeply across the institution as they mature. Let me remind you that these interdisciplinary centers do not have faculty members appointed to them. Faculty members continue to be only appointed to departments, nor do they match majors. They're intended to be intellectual engines that drive the conversation on campus and keep the level intellectual energy at the institution very high.

This year we have also moved toward a more integrated coordination of our computing, library and other academic support services. Under the direction of Elliott Shore as Chief Information Officer and Director of Libraries, we hope to make a full range of services more immediately accessible to faculty by moving delivery of computer support to the buildings in which faculty are located and by tailoring staff support in the humanities, social sciences and sciences.

We are on the verge of several important renovations of academic buildings. The project that will transform Bettws y Coed into a home for Psychology will begin this summer. The renovation of Dalton as a building for the social sciences is advancing toward the final stages of design. These renewed spaces will expand faculty's access to instructional technology and improve the teaching and learning environment. Dalton, in particular, should create some exciting spaces for collaborative learning and for ad hoc faculty and faculty/student conversation. From Dalton, we move onto Canaday, which although it may be the "new" library, is still due for a significant renovation and then onto still more distant horizon, the renovation of Thomas is in the planning stages.

Obviously these kinds of essential investments in the people and spaces at the core of Bryn Mawr's educational enterprise are expensive, and we are going to have to find a way to sustain the healthy momentum we have achieved despite the economic stresses of the current moment. Our ability to sustain the influx of new ideas and energy into the faculty is critical. To be successful, we must invest in our faculty salaries and in a competitive sabbatical program to assure the faculty's lifelong productivity as teacher-scholars, which is of course the defining mark of the Bryn Mawr faculty. This will require the raising of millions of dollars of new endowment devoted to the fundamental intellectual resources of the College.

2. Recruitment and Retention of Students
Many of our urgent faculty and facilities needs, however, speak to the second of the two core tasks I identified as being at the heart of the Plan: the recruitment and retention of the very best students.

Of course our entire academic initiative is an essential part of what Bryn Mawr must do to remain attractive to the cohort of highly sought-after young women we seek. The quality of Bryn Mawr's intellectual environment and academic program is and will remain one of our strongest assets in recruiting students, but it is not sufficient. We know that many prospective students, even those for whom academics is the most important consideration in choosing a college, ultimately decide at a certain point in their selection process that the academic quality of a group of highly selective liberal arts colleges is essentially equivalent that they are willing to make their choice among those schools on the basis of other or marginal factors. (I would argue with many of these students' assessments that the academic experience at Wellesley, Smith, Amherst, Haverford, Swarthmore, etc. and Bryn Mawr are indeed "equivalent," but that would be beside the point in terms of entering into the mind-set of 17-year-olds.) We know, then, that a number of the best prospective undergraduates look beyond our academic program to a variety of co-curricular factors to decide whether Bryn Mawr offers the college experience of their dreams. These include the quality of student and community life, the kinds of arts and athletic opportunities available, the cultural diversity of the institution, and so on.

Being known as a college with "dorms like palaces" serves us well, but among our highest priorities on the recruitment and retention initiative are some facilities that will serve as additional tangible and symbolic evidence of the richness of social and extra-curricular opportunities at Bryn Mawr. We are currently designing a series of student activities spaces on Roberts Road to accompany the new Multicultural Center, and we expect these to create a vibrant new hub for student life. We urgently need to improve our arts and athletic facilities--Goodhart and Schwartz Gymnasium--to bring them up even to the level that many prospective students now find in their high schools. Let me remind you that when I went to college - I graduated in 1967 - one in 27 graduating high school seniors played a team sport; in 2002, however, the figures are one in three.

The Plan for a New Century lays out a truly ambitious agenda, but the more time I spend with alumnae and friends of the College talking about our hopes and goals, the more I believe in this community's ability to rise to the occasion.

I look forward to celebrating our collective accomplishments with you in the coming years.

Karen Tidmarsh:
Good morning - it's wonderful to see so many of you here. This has been a very difficult year for students and for those who work to support them. Their sense of safety and security has been shaken, and there are wars going on or threatened in parts of the world which affect and frighten them - as they do us - on many levels. They have coped remarkably well.

There are many reasons why they might not have done so. Most have grown up knowing only a society characterized by great prosperity and security. Despite this, virtually all studies of adolescents and young adults in this country show them to have high levels of stress and depression - and those studies predate September 11. They are hard working - some would say driven - but they are remarkably overscheduled and most spend large amounts of time enjoying - or suffering - the results of technology. They use email and instant messaging, surf the web, talk on cell phones, and use TV's and VCR's far more than previous college generations, simply because they have grown up with them and come to structure their lives around them. That leaves less time for all the other things they need to do in college - academic work, work for pay to help support themselves, talking fact to face - and that contributes enormously to their sense of stress. Many are more comfortable communicating electronically than in person. They are consistently sleep deprived. (I know that we were, too, but I believe that it has gotten worse. Our parties did not begin at 11 pm.) Their attention span, used, again, to increasingly rapid technologies, is shorter - so 90 minute lectures feel longer. They very much want to have fun away from work, but some have very little sense of how to relax. Partly because most have grown up with two working parents, their time has had to be more structured and supervised. Out of school time has been spent in day care, soccer leagues and camps, with less time for independent and imaginative play. Few have even shared a bedroom. In their high schools, they report, cheating is the norm. Overall, they are very differently prepared for an academically intense residential college with an Honor Code, lots of traditions, and very little parking.

How well does Bryn Mawr work for this new generation? Extremely, suprisingly well. Many aspects of Bryn Mawr's past have proved themselves wonderfully adaptable and serve its present and future well. Perhaps its due to Quaker prescience, but some good fortune has a role as well. I'd like to give a few examples of what I mean.

First, the built environment of this campus serves our students better than most modern alternatives as they work to build a community made up of students from vastly varied backgrounds.

A few years ago, as more and more colleges were building apartment complexes instead of dorms, I worried that we simply had to make the best of our very beautiful but old fashioned Gothic housing. More recently, I'm grateful every day for what we have. While our dorms are more densely populated than they once were, since we have taken over top floors once used by housekeeping staff and turned some "smokers" in now largely smoke-free dorms into bedrooms, we still have over 70% single rooms. Many of our doubles and triples are suites. That allows students to have privacy as well as company and means that 95% of our students are residential for all four years. On many campuses, the dorms are for 1st and perhaps 2nd year students only - the others move out. Students who live in apartments, whether on campus or off, interact only with those with whom they have chosen to live. That greatly undermines the value of diversity. I can't tell you how much we benefit by having seniors still living quite happily with the younger students. We have no staff living in our halls, no graduate student "wardens", but we train juniors and seniors to provide leadership and be resources in times of emergency. Our older students genuinely enjoy mentoring the younger ones, and they all benefit in the process.

Our halls also have large, gracious public spaces and wide corridors and landings appropriate for late night gatherings. Few modern dorms provide such space, yet we desperately want the students we have deliberately brought together from all over the world and from the fullest possible range of socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds to come to know and understand each other. Space can either aid that process or impede it, and ours most definitely does the former. When the architect Edward Larabee Barnes, whose mother went to Bryn Mawr, came to campus for the opening of the Guild Computing Center, he talked about the importance of the deliberately human scale of this campus. He pointed out that the dorms are designed so that someone leaning out a top floor window could easily call out to someone walking on the path below. That feels very different than walking between skyscrapers, or even 5 or 6 story dorms, and it reinforces the notion that this is a community.

Other old spaces, dating from the earliest days of the College, have been reconfigured to serve new needs. They do so remarkably well. The old gym is in precisely the right position on campus to function effectively as a campus center. Many colleges and universities are building new, enormous "campus centers," but if they stand on the periphery, they will have a hard time bringing the community together.

No space was provided in the original campus plan for student activities. We are in the process of converting the houses on Faculty Row to serve this need, and it will make a great difference. The first conversion turned Laurence Stapleton's former house into a Multicultural Center. It opened in January and provides meeting and storage space for a dozen cultural groups - South Asian Women, Muslim Women, Mujeres, to name just a few - which are among the liveliest organizations at Bryn Mawr. They provide a lot of programming for the campus as a whole, but have had no place for regular meetings or work. The Multicultural Center is already heavily used. As the other houses are renovated, they will provide meeting space and offices for our religious groups and advisors - again, strong important groups in the lives of many students, but with virtually no suitable space. The religious advisors are currently housed in Dalton basement, for instance. One of the houses will have Kosher and Hallal kitchens, and large meeting spaces which can be used for celebrations of religious holidays, interfaith speakers and events, and regular meetings. Another house will provide space for SGA and the Honor Board. We consider them fundamental to the function of this community, but they've never had their own meeting spaces. The Social Committee and the Coordinator of Student Activities will no longer function out of a closet, and the Women's Center will be properly housed and supported. Giving these activities space is important both practically and symbolically. Several houses will have living rooms and attached kitchens which any group - a class, a club inviting a speaker and so on, could reserve to prepare and eat a simple meal together. In overcrowded schedules, mealtime meetings are often the only ones that work, but it's hard to meet in a large, noisy dining hall.

Another highly successful reconfigured space dating not from the founding of the College but from my era, is Canaday's former Reserve Room. With electronic reserves more and more the norm, that large a space wasn't needed for its original purpose. It has now become a cyber café run by students and known as the Lusty Cup. They love it, and have asked that it be open 24 hours to provide an all-night study space. We've agreed to about 22 hours, closing it at 5 am so that it can be cleaned before it reopens at 7. So we benefit today from a lot of spaces designed long ago for other generations and purposes.

Another "old" idea - articulated when the College opened, has proved remarkably important to its strength - and that is its location. Bryn Mawr was built just a mile from Haverford so that the two could exchange professors and enjoy each other's facilities. That was a good idea in 1885. In 2002 its essential - and we are grateful to be near Swarthmore and Penn as well. As we have all worked to expand our academic offerings from very western-focused to more fully global, and to incorporate new and crucial fields such as film studies, peace and conflict studies, American ethnic studies, environmental studies and computer science, cooperating with other institutions is essential. We can't each do it all, but there are many new needs we can't ignore and remain first-rate. Sharing faculty, facilities, and parts of the curriculum is essential, but sharing works far less well when distances are greater. A mile apart was a very good idea.

The other piece of our location which becomes more and more important every year is our proximity to Philadelphia. One of the ways this new generation of college students learns best and most happily is when they are asked to connect the theory they are learning to practical hands-on experience. Their anxiety about discovering what they want to do professionally and developing the skills needed in the workplace is also greatly relieved by experiences which bridge the gap between campus and community. Having a major city, as well as a variety of suburban and small-city communities, within easy reach makes these kinds of bridging experience much more varied and rich. Curricularly, we have developed a program called "Praxis" in which academic credit is given for courses or individual projects involving fieldwork or internships in the community. They must be taught by a faculty member, and some reading, writing, and oral presentation to contextualize and develop the fieldwork is essential, but the community-based learning is a serious and significant part of the work. A few courses of this sort have existed in the curriculum for quite a while, such as Judy Porter's Sociology of AIDS and all of our education courses which include some involvement in a local school. But the numbers and variety are growing rapidly now that guidelines exist and we have an internship coordinator who works with faculty and students to arrange placements in the community and help with transportation and supervision. This year courses on Conflict Mediation, Mapping Lower Merion, Mental Health, New Pedagogies in K-12 Math and Science, Women's Health, and Feminist Theory were all taught as Praxis courses. About five more will be added next year.

Many students become so involved with an agency while placed there for a course that they continue to serve it as a volunteer after the class ends. This is in keeping with the huge increase in community service involvement among our students. We now have a fully-staffed Community Service Office, and that level of support makes a big difference. One fourth of our students are involved in one of twelve tutoring programs all around the city, and they all receive some training sand support for doing it effectively. I, too, tutored in the city when I was at Bryn Mawr, but with no training or resources, I mostly felt and was inadequate. We want community service to benefit both our students and the community they want to serve.

This pattern of helping students explore service and professional opportunities in the community is further reinforced by our increased support for summer internships. We now offer 60 paid summer internships, allowing students to work in science labs on campus and in a wide variety of off-campus businesses and agencies. For some, a summer of work for Raptor Rescue, Habitat for Humanity, or a small business helps them choose a life's work. That, too, is an important goal of their time here, and it is wonderful to be able to support it better.

While I noted in the beginning how differently prepared today's students are, they also self-select for Bryn Mawr for many of the same reasons we did decades ago. The are smart, serious, independent, and looking for both challenge and direction. They need to learn how to pause and reflect, how to learn, how to use and value their own minds and voices, how to take charge of themselves and their communities. Bryn Mawr is remarkably well designed - physically as well as intellectually - to help young women do that. From self-governance to the Honor Code to the once-radical notion of giving students inclusion in shaping and running an institution, old values serve us and them well.

As a final bit of evidence, I will quote from an essay written by a student from Pittsburgh who will enter in the fall:

"Going to college next year is going to be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Ever since I was five years old I have had an ideal of college in my mind and have been searching for the school that is a manifestation of this ideal. As a junior I found such a place in a college calalog: green quads, wonderful academic programs, good relationships with professors, intellectual and social respect, and a strong Honor Code. I was sure I had found my ideal college, so I scheduled my visit to Haverford. My mother suggested that because I would likely concentrate in Neural and Behavioral Sciences at Bryn Mawr we should visit there as well, especially because they were having visiting days the weekend we had planned our trip. I was reluctant to spend so much time at a school that I had no real intention of attending but consented that it was a good idea. So it happened that I spent two days at Bryn Mawr in early October and stumbled into my ideal school in a place where I least expected it: a woman's college.

The level of respect at Bryn Mawr, personal, intellectual, and social, struck a cord in me. The thought of not having to prove anything to anyone, of being treated as an intellectual and thoughtful woman before all else, is very appealing. Visiting Bryn Mawr made me realize that a women's college will provide me with this. One thing that I heard from almost every woman with whom I spoke was that Bryn Mawr is a place where ideas and opinions can be explored and expressed freely. "Bryn Mawr is a safe place to grow," seemed to be a general campus sentiment. I want my college experience to be one in which I move beyond my familiar intellectual and social experiences. Bryn Mawr is a place where it is safe for me to reach out and explore, without worrying that I will lose the respect of other members of the community for my opinions."

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