Whitman students bring talent, energy and intellectual curiosity to our campus that inspire virtually all members of the faculty and staff. In my six years as president, I have enjoyed aspects of every student with whom I have worked, come to know or mentored. What I have missed over these years, frankly, is the opportunity to spend a semester with a small group of them teaching my field of study, sociology. So this fall, I decided to step back into the classroom with the encouragement of my wife, Kari, and my colleague and Chair of the Sociology Department, Keith Farrington. More precisely, I turned our living room into a Sunday evening seminar, creating a comfortable space to teach a course titled Crime, Law and Punishment.
Teaching the class has proven a thrill. The students attend prepared, routinely ask challenging questions, and create along with me spirited back-and-forth dialogues about American society and the challenge of crime. We have debated and studied research on subjects like the causes of urban violence, how turning points in an individual’s life course may increase or decrease the likelihood of criminal behavior, how our law enforcement and legal systems regulate some crimes more effectively than others, and the reasons the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate among Western democracies. Recently, we enjoyed a lively evening of exchanges with one of our trustees, Jim Robart ’69, a federal district court judge who routinely hears cases involving some of the most serious federal crimes. Like every other class, the two-hour discussion seemed to go by in a minute.
The students challenge me beyond what I could have predicted. Each session pushes me intellectually as much as it pushes them. Teaching the class reaffirmed my belief that Whitman students are some of the brightest, most intellectually mature students in the country.
With weekly papers to grade and periodic meetings with students between classes, teaching this seminar reminded me of the very demanding work of Whitman faculty. And this experience heightened my resolve about the importance and urgency of our recently announced Now Is the Time campaign.
Some students overcome difficult personal obstacles simply to attend Whitman. Many require enormous financial support to cover the costs of the education of a lifetime that we offer. With your support, we can continue to offer talented students the scholarship assistance they require to be part of my class, or any other class at Whitman.
Scholarships represent only one aspect of the campaign. The campaign also seeks to continue to build upon Whitman’s academic strength and to secure the financial strength of Whitman’s future. With the generous support of our donors, at all levels, it will reinforce our traditional academic strengths, such as personalized instruction, while also offering exciting opportunities that enrich our students’ learning. Growth in Whitman’s endowment through this campaign will provide a solid foundation of permanent funding for the college’s priorities.
The campaign will enable us to sustain Whitman’s unique culture of academic rigor and support. With campaign funding, Whitman graduates will continue to serve as leaders and agents of change in their communities, their professions, and in the world. We will continue to attract exceptional faculty who fully prepare our students for the very complex world they will inherit.
I have 11 students in my class. Just 11. Whitman’s routinely small classes create dynamic collaborations and relationships. In these relationships, faculty learn the strengths and limitations of their individual students and engage in work that inevitably extends students’ knowledge, reasoning and communication skills. This type of experience is rare in American higher education. But it’s what Whitman has always offered and what our faculty routinely provide. We have launched this campaign so that Whitman always will impart a personal and demanding educational experience.
Teaching these talented students also has intensified my belief in and commitment to Whitman’s mission. Each week, I see the future leaders of our country in whom we must now invest. I see future professionals in business, health care, law and education who will help to solve many of the pressing problems in our society. I see individuals who care immensely about making a positive difference in the world, students who will continue to care about and serve others. I see extremely capable young men and women whose potential achievements are limitless.
Thank you for supporting Whitman College and our commitment to our students. I am very grateful for your steadfast belief in our approach to delivering a meaningful, relevant liberal arts education that adds value to their lives and to the lives of those who will benefit from their learning and future accomplishments.
George S. Bridges