Inspiration and challenge. The 2008-09 academic year provided a wealth of both, starting with my opportunity to visit and study with Semester in the West students in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona. It was profoundly inspiring to observe our students work collaboratively while collecting, analyzing and interpreting vegetation growth as we hiked through and monitored the restoration of land once overgrazed by cattle. The challenges (for me) came in keeping up with them as they traversed the landscape and in sleeping outdoors in subfreezing temperatures.
The entire Whitman community shared another, far more serious challenge this past year — an unexpected and unwanted journey navigating the effects of the worst global financial crisis in many decades.
In my last annual report, I told you, “that while we must strive, individually and collectively, to maintain the qualities of the Whitman that alumni know and love, at the same time, we must move forward to keep a Whitman education relevant to the needs of our students and the world.”
This year, in the midst of the international economic crisis, we faced many hurdles in moving forward. However, Whitman fared far better than many private and public colleges. We met the challenge and made sacrifices in adapting to a reduced endowment. Despite these sacrifices, we continued to advance our long-term vision for Whitman of preparing our students for the complex world they will inherit. At the heart of the vision is our commitment to broadening and deepening a Whitman education, ensuring that Whitman is more affordable and strengthening the college’s financial base.
Thanks to the combined efforts of faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends, we also were able to advance many of our specific major program goals. And the achievements are inspiring:
Whitman’s graduation rate remains a barometer of our academic rigor, delivered and supported by stellar, caring faculty and staff: At 91 percent the 2009 rate is the highest of any college or university in the Pacific Northwest and places Whitman solidly in the company of the top 20 national liberal arts colleges in the country.
A record 3,437 students applied for admission for the 2009-10 academic year, and 421 exceptional students entered Whitman in late August. We are especially proud of the 58 students who are the first in their families to attend college. Early-decision applications were up 32 percent over the previous year.
Donors reinforced the high philanthropic priority they accord Whitman by contributing nearly $11.2 million, a figure that exceeds the college’s five-year fundraising average. Forty-six percent of alumni — almost 6,000 donors — made gifts to the Annual Fund. We are especially thankful to the large number of alumni who chose to make unrestricted gifts, which allow the college to be agile in meeting educational and campus needs.
The faculty advanced our new Global Studies Initiative, designed to weave into the academic experiences of our students more opportunities for immersion into the world’s different cultures and complex problems.
We continue to create and sustain intellectually challenging programs of academic study and to advance our commitment to provide a vibrant, diverse and supportive campus environment. Dedicated alumni and donors helped move forward four key projects that support these objectives:
- developing new student learning experiences made possible through the second year of Innovation in Teaching and Learning grants;
- renovating an historic home to create the new Glover Alston Center, a space for students from diverse backgrounds to explore, reflect and interact (Page 10);
- continuing our pursuit of environmental sustainability and reduction of the college’s carbon footprint by installing an array of solar panels on Bratton Tennis Center (Page 44); and
- renovating Sherwood Athletic Center, which reopened in time for fall semester, to enhance the experience of student-athletes, intramural participants, coaches and student recruits, and honor alumni with a new Hall of Fame foyer.
While we tightened the budget, we also were deliberate in expanding financial aid. Last year 80 percent of our students received financial aid. For 2009-10, we increased scholarship support to make more aid available to families, many of whom are suffering substantial income and investment losses. Donors provided generous gifts in 2008-09 of $2,632,881 — 24 percent of the college’s fundraising total — to support both endowed and current scholarships, which contributed to high rankings from The Princeton Review, Kiplinger’s and Forbes declaring Whitman as a “Best Value” college.
There were many other impressive achievements:
Faculty members produced scholarly work published in nationally and internationally recognized journals and academic presses, and made presentations at conferences and institutes dedicated to their fields of study. A few examples:
Cutting-edge research on brain cells earned Ginger Withers and Chris Wallace, Dr. Robert F. Welty associate professors of biology, a $225,000 National Institutes of Health grant;
The 2008 Council on Academic Research Conference selected Paul Apostolidis, associate professor of politics and Judge and Mrs. Timothy A. Paul Chair of political science, to lecture on “Community-Based Research and the Public Work of Democracy”;
The Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies awarded Jason Pribilsky ’93, associate professor of anthropology, its Hubert Herring Award or his book on migration and the family in Andean Ecuador.
A book by Theresa DiPasquale, associate professor of English, titled “Refiguring the Sacred Feminine” was published by the prestigious Dequesne University Press; A paper by Kendra Golden, associate professor of biology, was published in the “Forum on Public Policy,” a journal of the Oxford Round Table; and David Glenn, professor of music, received national attention for his jazz compositions on “National Pastime,” a CD he released this summer.
Our students excelled along with them. Students earned prestigious fellowships, grants, internships and graduate school opportunities that sent them around the world to study.
Aisha Fukushima ’09 was the only college student in the Northwest to earn a Watson Fellowship, which is funding her research on rap-activism in Morocco, Senegal and South Africa;
Jackson Cahn ’10 conducted research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland; and
Jazmin Lopez ’10 was elected by Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, a national academic group specializing in Chicana, Latina and Native American women’s studies, to represent undergraduates.
Closer to home, Whitman students mentored hundreds of local school children and volunteered thousands of hours in the community for a broad spectrum of nonprofits.
We welcomed Timothy Kaufman-Osborn to his new role as provost and dean of the faculty on July 1, 2009. Tim’s appointment — following his service as chair of the faculty and interim dean of the faculty in 2006-07 — enables us to move forward on the many academic initiatives already under way.
And we said farewell to Pete Reid ’49, assistant to the president, when he retired after six decades of service to the college. Pete is a true Whitman treasure, and the only positive thing we can say about his retirement is that he earned it. In his time at Whitman he shared his expertise and inspired us to emulate his unwavering devotion to the college.
Throughout this annual report, you will find examples of that same kind of devotion demonstrated by alumni, parents and friends whose generous gifts to the college have made progress possible in the areas of faculty support and academics, student access, and improved financial and physical infrastructure, among others. We dedicate this magazine issue to their support, leadership and vision.
I thank them and the Whitman community for what has been, perhaps, my greatest source of inspiration this year. Whitman can and will thrive in the years ahead, and its distinctive character and mission will continue to improve our world for many, many generations to come.
With gratitude to you all,
George S. Bridges