Every few months, President White sits down with members of the Advancement Office staff for a brief question and answer session.
Wabash is coming off one of its most successful years in memory — landing major grants; adding new programs; establishing a new all-College course; launching the Challenge of Excellence; and bringing to fruition the new outdoor athletic and recreation facilities, to name only a few highlights. What’s your take on the 2010-11 year?
President White: The 2010 year was certainly a banner year for Wabash, a time when we passed successful benchmarks in many areas of the College. In the year we kicked off our Challenge of Excellence campaign and reached over $43 million.
We had enormous success in cross-country, placing 13th in the nationals; in indoor and outdoor track, capturing North Coast Conference Championships for the first time, as we did in baseball as well. We had a very strong basketball season, a tribute to the great Mac Petty in his last year as head coach, and of course in football Wabash achieved one of the great victories in Monon Bell history, beating DePauw 47-0. And in all our sports, academic excellence kept up with athletic achievement.
We have initiated new programs through major grants in Asian Studies and to support retention efforts. We have also received major long-term support to fund the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. We continue to foster great teaching and innovative programs, starting a biochemistry major and partnering with Purdue in a cooperative engineering program, as well initiating our new Enduring Questions course, which sets up a new experience for all students focused on the liberal arts as inquiry.
Our new Wabash Baseball Field, the Wabash Mud Hollow Stadium, and Sewell Field — our new football field — demonstrate a commitment to excellence in every aspect of our experience and recognize that a Wabash education happens in so many ways in every place on campus.
I could go on and on, but a Wabash education is excellent in our broad achievements together to be sure, but also in the everyday extraordinary achievements of Wabash students, faculty, and staff. It is an education up close and personal and the true great benchmarks are the ones that each student achieves and each faculty member and staff person fosters.
You have often said that Wabash challenges young men to rise to the best imagination of themselves and that Wabash is one of the only colleges in the country that will take young men and their dreams seriously. Now, the College is poised to have one of its larger and most diverse freshman classes ever. What are your goals for the young men in the Class of 2015?
President White: My goals for each young man in the class of 2015 is that he rises to the full challenge of a Wabash education, to take himself and his highest dreams and ambitions seriously so that he will transform himself and in so doing add to the greatness of this great College.
So much in American culture urges young men not to take themselves seriously, not to work hard and reach greatness. Young men entering Wabash stand ready to be the heroes in their own stories. In demanding greatness from themselves and their classmates and their College, the men of the Class of 2015 will reach heights we can barely imagine. Lofty goals? You bet. Overly ambitious goals? Not for Wabash. Every day I see Wabash men astonish themselves over what they can become. I wish for the men of the Class of 2015 that they so live their Wabash experience that they amaze themselves, their families, and their College by what they achieve.
The Challenge of Excellence is running ahead of schedule, the football team is nationally ranked, you’ll dedicate a new soccer stadium, and your senior leadership team seems to be firing on all cylinders. What most excites you about the 2011-12 academic year?
President White: I tell prospective students that they do not know how good they are. At Wabash College, for all our great pride, we do not yet know all that we can accomplish and become. In my time at Wabash I have never been so confident in the capacity for greatness in the College. We will define that greatness by our planning, but also by our achievement. Whatever we achieve in teaching and learning, in athletic success, in fostering leadership among Wabash men, in engaging alumni, we must never be satisfied. We are working to foster in every aspect of our work the kind of ambition we engender in our students, an ambition for success at the edge of our capacity for imagination. It is the vitality of these dreams which excite me.
Wabash will begin the year with three new academic programs for students — a new biochemistry major, a dual degree program in engineering with Purdue, and a still-evolving Asian studies program. How do they make the Wabash experience even greater for students?
President White: A liberal arts education is all about seeing connections and taking the opportunity to follow those connections to new heights of learning and possibility. All three of these new academic programs build on existing excellence but empower faculty and students to see new relations and connections. What are the questions that bring biology and chemistry together? How can my critical thinking inform my preparation to be not just an engineer, but a leader in what engineering can be? How can courses in Chinese language and history, for example, enrich and inform my other learning at the same time they take me where I have never been before. These programs model pathways for making connections and for enriching learning. Even students and faculty who choose other paths will be inspired to redraw their own maps of learning through the examples of these programs.
Alumni have rallied around Wabash in vital, important ways such as fund raising and recruitment. What is it about Wabash that draws such loyalty from its alumni?
President White: Wabash alumni love the College and the complex education they have earned in these hallowed halls. At the heart of the liberal arts is a commitment to self-knowledge and reflection. It is all in our Mission. The critical thinking we so prize at Wabash compels alumni to ask, “How did I get to where I am?” Then as these alumni “act responsibly” they honestly understand that Wabash in all its complexity has helped them not just achieve the success they have, but also led them to a life rich in experience and challenge. In turn they “lead effectively” by drawing others to Wabash, modeling for young men how Wabash can transform their lives, and guiding the College to new heights. And finally, they “live humanely” by celebrating in generosity, playfulness — think of our Big Bash or a Bell game or a Glee Club concert — and you can see their love for and delight in Wabash. Just as our students own the College, our alumni celebrate and care for the College they love so well. In short, as we fulfill the Mission of Wabash, we teach a loyalty to this place and a responsibility to have it prosper. As good ol’ William Butler Yeats used to say, “In dreams begin responsibilities.”
You and your senior leadership team have steadily checked off a number of the key priorities of the Strategic Plan. What are your goals for the coming year?
President White: We have much good work ahead of us. I always imagine the work of leading Wabash as an exercise in binocular vision, one eye focused on the work of the day, the task at hand, the everyday commitment to a rich education for every Wabash man, and one eye focused on the future. Just as we work to complete the Challenge of Excellence, we need to look ahead to identify the needs we will face in the coming years. We will be helped in this work by our writing a self-study, a necessary qualification for our Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation, while designing new ways to communicate the excellence of Wabash through a new marketing program. We will begin discussions about independent housing and address the needs of a student center. Not all of this will be accomplished in the coming year, but it is important to begin.
We must take advantage of the great success of last year, the tough times that we passed through before that, and the great energy and excitement that we feel right now on campus to move Wabash to even more prominence. We need to work hard to engage alumni who are active in the College, to reengage alumni who are not as much connected, and to reach out to broader publics which might “get” Wabash, but who do not know us yet or well. We have to assert our rightful place in the attention of people throughout the country and beyond who care about the education of men and who can recognize that what happens at Wabash is distinctive, rare, and extraordinarily valuable to the young men who embody a Wabash education, to their families, and to the larger society.