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Campus Message from President Finegold

The following letter was sent to the Chatham campus community on Friday, September 9, 2016.

More so than many institutions and communities, Chatham University and the Chatham community have always stood for certain fundamental values, one of which is respect for diversity of all kinds: gender, race, sexual orientation, opinion, among others.

In recent years, this strong institutional and community value has manifested itself in a number of important and high profile ways, including our Mission, which states our commitment to “recognizing and respecting diversity of culture, identity and opinion,” and the Dialogues course, required for all new First Year students, through which students examine issues of diversity.

In my remarks to the campus community at Opening Convocation, I underscored Chatham’s and my own personal commitment to the values of respect, responsibility, tolerance, inclusiveness and diversity.  I shared my expectation that, even in these sometimes contentious times, our campus community will be a place where people will treat one another with respect and civility, even when disagreeing with one another, and that ours will be an inclusive, safe and welcoming campus for every member of the Chatham community.

At Opening Convocation, I also shared two new initiatives for 2016-17 that will strengthen the university’s and the campus community’s commitment to furthering these goals:

  • Diversity and Inclusion Council will develop and recommend initiatives that support diversity and inclusion for all members of the Chatham University Community, and support a climate where all members of our community are respected, treated fairly, and have the opportunity to realize their full potential.
  • Director of Multicultural Affairs will be leading efforts to build and sustain a diverse and culturally vibrant campus, which promotes multicultural education and student success and retention.

While Chatham acknowledges the good work we have done to promote these values, these two newest initiatives underscore that we continue to seek ways of strengthening our work in this vital area.  As such, we want and need to hear your ideas on how we can improve the campus climate and achieve our goal of having Chatham be a place where each member of the Chatham community feels welcome, safe, respected and supported.  Until the Diversity and Inclusion Council and Multicultural Affairs position are active, I plan on holding small discussions with leaders of key student organizations, and a series of open forums on this topic so that members of the Chatham community – students, faculty and staff – can share their thoughts with me.

As Dean Waite indicated in her message yesterday, an inappropriate and offensive meme was posted by a Chatham student which runs directly counter to the values that Chatham stands for and the environment we are seeking to create.  Her office has been investigating this incident since we became aware of it and we will be taking appropriate action in accordance with the Student Honor Code.  I want to urge all members of the Chatham community to allow us to complete this process and to behave in accordance with this code, which includes “zero tolerance for violence” or the threats of violence.

The final point I would like to make is that each one of us has a personal responsibility to seeing that we achieve our collective vision for the kind of University and campus community we want to be.  It’s up to each of us, acting as responsible members of a community of shared values, to embrace and live those values in each and every action, 24/7, on campus and off campus, in person-to-person interactions and in social media and other online interactions, in the classroom and the office and on the athletic field. 

As we enter a new academic year, I hope each of you will join me in renewing our individual and collective commitment to the values of diversity, respect, tolerance and responsibility.  Let us work together to combat intolerance and incivility, starting right here at Chatham as a bright and shining example, and then let us apply our lessons learned at Chatham to solving the problems of the country and the world.

David Finegold
President 

FROM PRESIDENT BARAZZONE: SWEET BRIAR COLLEGE

On February 28, 2015 the Board of Trustees of Sweet Briar College, a small women’s liberal arts college in Virginia, announced that the College would be closing this summer because of the “insurmountable financial challenges” resulting from the dwindling number of women interested in single-sex education, pressures on small liberal arts colleges and the challenge of recruiting students to more rural settings.  On behalf of the Chatham community, I write to reflect sadness for the loss of this fine college from the ranks of US higher education, and to express our sympathy to the Sweet Briar community (students, faculty, staff and alumnae) for their loss.

Except for the last factor cited by Sweet Briar’s Board, Chatham has wrestled with many of the same challenges that led Sweet Briar to close its doors (unlike Sweet Briar, Chatham is fortunate to be situated in a welcoming and supportive major metropolitan area).  And though we understand and appreciate that every higher education institution’s situation is different, that what works in one institution may or may not work in another, our own recent experiences suggest that our survival rests on more than our urban setting.

Foremost among them are Chatham’s core excellence, our commitment to the growth of the individual (which after all was the original meaning of ending the discrimination which denied access for women to higher education), and our continuing commitment to change and innovation.  The former dates back to our founding, while the latter dates back to the early ’90’s when we diversified our academic profile, adding to our undergraduate liberal arts program with applied graduate programs.

Without the continuing commitment to change and innovation, we would not be where we are today.  It allowed us to face down tough challenges such as the ’08 financial crash with the attendant fiscal constraints in which we all participated.  It inspired us to take the opportunity given to us by the Eden Hall and Falk Foundations and reposition the institution and become a national leader in the vitally important field of sustainability.  And when we could no longer ignore the risks of single gender education, it led us to become coeducational at the undergraduate level (which will be realized next fall) while working to preserve the women’s mission with the formation of the Women’s Institute.

That same spirit of change and innovation has been much in evidence over the past year.  We have reorganized the university to provide access to graduate programs upon admission to undergraduate education and with the revision have also facilitated transfer.  And thanks to the great leadership of Dr. Bill Lenz, Dr. Jenna Templeton and many others, the faculty has created in only one semester the outline for a curriculum revision that, along with the Chatham Plan (the new professional preparation program for undergraduates starting in fall 2015), addresses many of the current public concerns about liberal arts while nonetheless still ensuring they underpin all majors.

Although it is still early, the results from our recent changes and innovation are encouraging.  At this time the deposited first time first year class is nearly double that of last year with no significant rise in discount rate. Graduate and other programs are also up.

All of the encouraging news, however, is tempered by our caution about the future and our appreciation of the need to press ahead with attempts to strengthen Chatham in every way possible – innovation when needed, programmatic and enrollment growth, help with recruitment and fundraising to complete our $100 million capital campaign – to preserve and advance this exceptional institution.  Sweet Briar, just to bring the point into sharper focus, had even at the end more endowment ($94 million) than our scrappy college has (approximately $80 million, $15 million of which was only recently given by the Falk Foundation).

In reflecting on the news from Sweet Briar and on all that we have accomplished in recent years, I would like to thank all of you – Chatham’s faculty, administration, staff, alumnae/i and students – for your commitment to Chatham and your commitment to the continuous innovations and change which have permitted us to advance thus far.

I express my gratitude for the caring, willingness, and openness with which we all go into our future as proud members of the Chatham community.  It has required, and will require in the future, the energies and committed work of each of us to realize our mission.

Sincerely,

Esther B.

FROM PRESIDENT BARAZZONE: A CALL FOR REFLECTION

ThinkstockPhotos-513393365Good morning,

I am writing to ask that we join as a community on whatever occasions we can, between now and January 20, the day after the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observances, to focus on the meaning of civil discourse and freedom of speech. This request is triggered by the proximity of the massacres in France, both at the headquarters of the magazine “Charlie Hebdo” and at the Jewish grocery store, to the US commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a great exemplar of non-violent resistance. In both the attack on the Hebdo magazine and the murder of Dr. King, racial and religious bigotry were involved. But that fact alone is not what links these events to us as a university and compels an institutional response.

As a university, we have, I believe, a special responsibility to speak any time we encounter this constellation of suppression of expression and bigotry. We do not teach only subjects and content. We also must model and foster the untrammeled intellectual and personal exploration of ideas and values in an environment of civility and respect for others’ views, regardless of how much they may conflict with our own. While it is understandable that some of the cartoons may have been offensive, the ability to engage in debate and disagreement, and to express one’s views without fear of death, is vital to a civil society and our essential humanity. The bracketed events of the murders of staff of “Charlie Hebdo”–and of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day–bring home once again the deep moral and intellectual importance of the pursuit of learning and free expression at institutions of learning everywhere. The raised pens of the French–the symbol of both learning and expression–make the link perfectly between journalism and the academy.

Just as so many leaders of different nations, and representatives of different religions and political parties joined arms in Paris this weekend to show solidarity against bigoted extremism, so too must we. By pausing, thinking, and discussing these events and our reactions to them we strengthen ourselves as the diverse learning community that we are to display the opposite values. I hope we will all take every opportunity to do this.

I have asked that flags be lowered until next Tuesday so that we are reminded of the meaning to our own liberties and humanity of such tragedies and events everywhere they occur. And equally important, we lower the flag in respect, commemoration, and to remind ourselves to listen to our own “better angels” as we go about the frequently conflictual processes of learning. Perhaps this is what we really ought to mean by “higher” education.

Sincerely,

Esther B.