Whitman has come a long way, and it will go much farther

George BridgesWhen I joined Whitman College, the course was charted for accomplishing four goals considered vitally important to the college’s future and to preparing our students for their futures: increase the financial strength of the college by leading a comprehensive fundraising campaign, enrich our already strong academic program, build a more diverse campus community and raise Whitman’s national stature and recognition.

At the heart of each of these goals is the commitment to continue educating our students in small, challenging classes; the commitment to continue the tradition of enabling students to form close relationships with faculty and other students; and the commitment to making sure that we support all people regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs, orientations or status.

We quietly embarked upon the Now Is the Time Campaign in 2007 with a goal of raising $150 million by June 2015. To date, we have raised $114 million: Donors have given $51.5 million to the general area of academic strength, $32.5 million to endowed scholarships supporting student access and $17.5 million to current operations and unrestricted endowment. Also, $12.5 million has yet to be designated by donors. Sixty percent of our alumni have made campaign commitments.

The success of the campaign, thus far, has directly contributed to enabling us to enrich our academic program, increase diversity and bolster our national stature.

In addressing academic strength, Whitman has increased the number of tenure-track faculty by 25 percent. Campaign gifts helped fund the creation of 13 of these positions. Additionally, last year, we were able to award 46 Perry and Abshire awards that funded scholarly collaborations between students and faculty members, an increase of 60 percent over a four-year period.

The campaign has also given rise to two important initiatives strengthening our academic program: Whitman’s fund for Innovation in Teaching and Learning and the fund for Advancing Excellence in Teaching. Taken together, these initiatives have supported 30 faculty-led projects and 15 faculty workshops emphasizing cross-disciplinary approaches to teaching, yielding impressive new courses and opportunities for students.

In pursuing our goal of advancing diversity, we have sought to recruit and welcome students, faculty and staff to campus who bring different life experiences, beliefs and orientations. Our diversity efforts have significantly increased the numbers of campus community members of color, and the demographic shift along gender lines has been particularly striking – women likely soon will constitute a majority of faculty at the college.

The percentage of students of color at Whitman has doubled from one in 10 to one in five in the last decade, nearly 15 percent of Whitman’s students come from families who qualify for Pell grants and one in 10 are the first members of their families to attend college.

An equally important part of sustaining a welcoming environment for students from all backgrounds and traditions is creating a location and space for acknowledging differences and engaging in dialogue. I am particularly proud that Whitman created the Glover Alston Center in 2010 with the generous support of numerous donors, including leadership gifts from multiple trustees.

Our third goal was to increase the national stature of Whitman from that of a very strong regional liberal arts college to a very strong national college. That we have achieved a national reputation is evident in the students we enroll – at this moment our students represent 48 states and 30 countries.

Equally important to national standing is the recognition that our students and graduates receive in national competitions for prestigious fellowships and scholarships – such as the Watson, Rhodes, Fulbright and Beineke, among others. At the end of the 2005 academic year, 12 Whitman students earned six fellowship programs. This past year 38 Whitman students had won awards from a total of 24 programs; of these, 17 came from the most prestigious and competitive fellowship programs in the country.

Accomplishing our goals is a sign of Whitman’s strength, given that since 2008 our country has experienced the worst economy since the Great Depression. While I have great optimism about the years ahead, like all colleges and universities, Whitman faces future challenges.

First and foremost, we must meet our campaign goal. Despite our recent success, achieving the $150 million goal is by no means given and we need all of our alumni and our friends to invest in our students and the education they receive. Second, as a campus that relies on student enrollment and tuition proceeds to support our programs and instruction, we require a steady stream of talented applicants. Increasing the size of our applicant pool is vital to our institutional health. Third, we must continue to consider and discuss the new roles that technology can play in student learning.

The liberal arts education Whitman offers has always provided the power to transform individuals and our society. In this age of limitless access to information, increasingly complex connections between people and rapid technological change, a Whitman education will become all the more important as our students seek to understand the meaning behind their studies – the larger overarching ideas that shape their lives and the lives of all others.

As always, thank you for your involvement with Whitman and for all you do to support and advance our remarkable college.

Most sincerely,

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George S. Bridges