President's Letter, August 2001
Dear friends and colleagues, members of Goucher's extended family,
I find myself returning time and again to the ideal of the intellectual community as I settle into my new role as president, and I imagine it will be a recurring theme throughout my tenure at Goucher. For me, the words conjure up a kaleidoscope of meanings and associations, but at heart they represent a vision: a vibrant, colorful place, crackling with excitement and activity, where we address the problems of the community and the world, celebrate and reconcile differences, transcend borders, and experiment with new concepts, making progress and arriving at a greater understanding of old issues along the way.
Underpinning this vision is the unhindered expression and exchange of ideas- in short, communication. I intend for that, too, to be a hallmark of my administration, and it is in that spirit that I write you today.
I will be sending letters like this a few times a year, updating you on the wonderful things taking place here on campus and offering my perspectives on the concerns we face as a community. Hopefully, the formality of its presentation will not discourage you from taking it personally and responding in kind; I sincerely wish for you to regard all communication with me as a two-way street. If there is anything in this letter on which you would like to add, respond, take issue, or just reflect, by all means get in touch with me. Discussing these things is always much more meaningful to me than simply holding forth on them.
Not exactly what you would call "downtime"
Though it has been just over a month since I arrived, I would like to begin by sharing a few early impressions of my new home at Goucher. Even in this relatively fallow part of the academic year, the campus fulfills much of my vision of the intellectual community in its vibrance, warmth (and I'm not just talking about the Baltimore summer), excitement, and activity. From the ice cream social held in the Dorsey courtyard during my first afternoon here-at which hundreds of people made me feel welcome-to the graduate commencement over which I presided the other day, I have been struck by the enthusiasm that suffuses every aspect of life at the college.
It seems that everyone I run into has something interesting to say. During the ice cream social, I spoke with groundskeepers about the challenges and joys of maintaining the campus's elegant landscape, with other staff members about what they are doing to get ready for the students' return, and with faculty about the new courses they are planning. On one of my periodic trips to the Sports and Recreation Center to swim, Jessie Hedderick, who was working as a summer lifeguard, told me about her hopes for the student-teaching she will do in Linthicum this fall. Upon arriving at the Pearlstone Café a few minutes late for lunch one day, I was regaled by Sharon Williams, a first-class short-order cook, about the dazzling array of faces and personalities that have filed past her counter since she started working here in 1987. And no matter where I'm going, it's been hard to miss Morgan Stocker and Damon Highsmith, two of the brightest and most engaging college tour guides you will find anywhere (I should know-I've been looking at colleges with my son Philip, who will be a senior in high school this fall) as they make their daily rounds with potential applicants and their families.
A walk through the halls of the academic buildings yields still more evidence that life at Goucher, though it may slow down a bit during the summer months, never even comes close to stopping. In one room, mathematics and computer science Professor Bob Lewand teaches a class on cryptology to a group of adult students from around the country. In a physics lab, Assistant Professor Sasha Dukan and undergrads Timothy Paul Powell and Amanda Lynn Carr are in the midst of the weeks-long process of plotting one particular curve modeling the microscopic properties of high-temperature superconductors. Just down the hall in biology Professor Bob Slocum's lab, rising juniors Meghan Podowski and Courtney Hollender explain-as much as they can to a layperson like me-the research they are conducting, with the support of the National Science Foundation, on the biochemical mechanisms by which plants regulate the biosynthesis of pyrimidine nucleotides.
"Right," I say, smiling and nodding and trying to conceal the fact that I am utterly mystified by the terminology. "Pyrimidine nucleotides."
But as Bob explains it to me later, a clearer and broader understanding of what exactly is going on in the Hoffberger Science Building takes shape in my mind. Pyrimidines are one of two basic types of building-block molecules that make up the genetic material in all living organisms, so understanding how they are made sheds light on one of the fundamentals of all life. In a more specific (and practical) sense, the research that Bob, Courtney, and Meg are doing bears on two other fundamentals of life: food and clothing. Pyrimidines are essential for the production of the stored food in plants that are, in turn, important food sources for humans. They are also necessary to make plant cell wall polymers such as cellulose-the fibers in cotton.
In the physics lab, the discoveries to which Sasha, Paul, and Amanda are contributing could be compared to the invention of transistors and integrated circuits. The superconductors they are studying, with their ability to conduct electrical current without resistance and their capacity to generate high magnetic fields, will render possible the levitation trains, loss-free power lines, and ultrafast communications and computing that represent the next giant leap in the evolution of human technology.
This, my friends, is exactly what I mean when I speak of the intellectual community. These students and professors, working in the collaborative fashion that is a Goucher trademark, are at ground zero for discoveries whose effects will radiate out into the world in ever-widening circles, building upon each other, picking up momentum, and eventually changing our lives completely. Not bad for summer break. And I understand Meghan plays a mean game of basketball, too.
Educating the educators-and expanding the community
Of course, there are parts of the campus that are characterized during the summer more by the absence of people than by the bustle of activity taking place-but only because the people you would normally find in those places are bustling elsewhere. Many members of the Goucher faculty and staff use the summer months to recharge their batteries and refine their skills by participating in professional development programs around the country.
Acting Vice President and Dean of Students Gail Edmonds recently completed an intensive Management and Leadership in Education (MLE) Institute at Harvard University. She also joined Interim Vice President and Academic Dean Peter Bardaglio, theatre Professor Michael Curry (the newly elected chair of Goucher's faculty), and a team of faculty and staff members at the Institute on Campus Leadership for Sustainable Innovation, presented by the American Association of Colleges and Universities in Leesburg, Virginia. Working with similar teams from other schools, they explored ways to provide a more coherent and satisfying experience for first-year students. Goucher has long recognized the importance of developing a strong bond with students during their first days with us, as well as the need to integrate more seamlessly the social and academic life of first-year students. The work that our team discussed in Leesburg is ongoing, and I think it is an encouraging step in the process of improving every student's experience at Goucher.
In addition to contributing to the betterment of life at the college, many of the people who traveled this summer are fulfilling another important responsibility as members of an intellectual community: stretching its borders outward and inviting others in. Peter Bardaglio, for example, traveled to Marquette University to lead a panel on "Children in the American South" at the Second Annual Conference on the History of Children and Youth. Michael Curry and Jeff Myers, associate professor of English, led a group of students to the other side of the world for an intensive course on "Greece: Stage and Page." Acting Associate Dean of Students Emily Perl co-chaired a National Leadership Symposium for faculty and staff and lectured about service learning at the University of Maryland at College Park. Athletics Director Geoff Miller, several students, and a coach attended the A.P.P.L.E. conference at the University of Virginia on the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse through student athlete mentors. All of them-and the many others participating in similar events and programs that space unfortunately prohibits mentioning-are facilitating the exchange of ideas and knowledge that defines the intellectual community. They impressively represent Goucher in the broader community outside the borders of our campus, and they demonstrate the stunning depth and variety of what Goucher can contribute to the whole of intellectual discourse on a local, national, and global scale.
How I spent my summer "vacation"
As many of you know, the last two jobs I held before coming to Goucher were as dean of the School of Communication at American University and as director of the Voice of America. My experience at AU reinforced my belief in the necessity of developing and maintaining a sort of "open-door policy" both internally and externally, welcoming the fresh perspectives that outsiders can offer and going forth to share the knowledge and insights that take shape within the institution. At VOA, I gained a deep appreciation for the extraordinary variety of great ideas taking shape among the cultures of the world for living better, more humane lives-and the extraordinary power of communication in introducing those ideas to the people who can bring them to resplendent fruition. I worked at VOA right up to my arrival at Goucher, visiting Mexico in May to deliver a talk on freedom of the press at a conference in Oaxaca and then traveling to Africa in June. In Nairobi, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi and I launched a 24-hour dedicated FM frequency for broadcasting VOA programs into that country. In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, I finalized agreements for similar frequencies. Finally, I participated in negotiations to get VOA and the BBC back on the air in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), which is just now undergoing a tumultuous process of democratization following the assassination of dictator Laurent Kabila. Having traveled widely and worked in Africa before, it was especially meaningful for me to conclude my VOA work there.
One reason I remained at my VOA post until the last minute was that I knew my departure from that organization would be an emotional one and I wanted to postpone it as long as possible. My two years there, working with dedicated people from around the world who put out 900 hours of programming a week in 53 languages, were very meaningful and fulfilling. But also, I see my role as president of Goucher College as the culmination of all of my experiences as a journalist, educator, and citizen of the world, and I wanted to use every bit of the momentum I had built up to propel me headlong into my work here.
Visiting those countries over the last couple of months, and viewing my experiences from the perspective of a college president-to-be as much as a departing VOA director, I was struck by how powerful a role colleges can play as crucibles for the blending of ideas and approaches found throughout the global culture, testing them all, refining the best, and rejecting the worst. I would like to see Goucher embrace that role wholeheartedly and energetically. I think it is time to reach out more to the world around us, beginning right here in Baltimore-to re-evaluate what our role should be, and to explore with renewed vigor the ways in which we prepare our students to participate fully and responsibly in the many communities of which they are a part.
At a time in history when international consciousness and literacy are arguably more important than ever before, I want every Goucher student to graduate with a clear, confident conception of his or her place in the intellectual community worldwide-and a sense of the remarkable possibilities that await those who benefit from the truly global liberal arts education that this college can and does provide.
Visions for the future and a clear view of the past
We are just beginning a new round of conversations, meetings, and hard work that will eventually lead to the realization of our visions for the future of Goucher College. But for the moment, I am primarily looking ahead to the next few weeks, as students, faculty, and staff return from their summer pursuits and the annual cycle of life on this beautiful campus begins anew. I am eager to welcome both the newcomers with whom I will share my first year at Goucher and the veterans of campus life to whom I will look for guidance, insight, and wisdom. Most of all, I anticipate coming together after all of the adventures that have taken place in our lives this summer and sharing our experiences and the knowledge we have gained.
In October, we will hold my official inauguration festivities, a time of celebration and camaraderie which I hope will unite the entire Goucher community in setting the stage for the new chapter in the college's history we are about to begin. At the same time, I want to acknowledge the extraordinary debt I owe to my predecessors, our alumnae and alumni, and all who have contributed to the shaping of that history to this point. I have the distinct advantage of taking over the helm at an institution that is not only firing on all cylinders already, but also primed to scale breathtaking new heights. As an enthusiastic new college president, I can hardly wait to see what leaps in the college's evolution lie ahead; but as a historian, I am committed to plotting a course that draws on the institution's distinguished past. That tradition has been carefully shaped and guided in recent years by Robert Welch, Judy Mohraz, and Rhoda Dorsey, and I accept responsibility for it with the utmost humility and respect.
I will close as I began, entreating you to share with me your ideas for the future and your perspectives on the past as we carry on the Goucher tradition together. I am positively thrilled to join you as a member of this magnificent intellectual community, and to explore alongside you the tremendous potential it holds.
Sanford J. Ungar