President's Letter, May 2003
Dear friends and colleagues, alumnae/i, and other members of Goucher's extended family,
Just a few weeks ago, we had to set up extra seats in Merrick Hall for Mary Robinson's lecture.
Ms. Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, was this year's Sarah T. Hughes Politician in Residence at Goucher. On the day of her visit, she participated in a roundtable discussion with Goucher students about international human rights concerns. She met informally with students and professors and attended a dinner in her honor. That evening, she engaged our community in a discussion of the responsibilities that individuals, schools, and nations have to each other in the inextricably interdependent global culture in which we live.
And when I say "our community," I refer to the exceptionally broad range of people who take part in the life of Goucher College. The audience that packed Merrick Hall for Mary Robinson's appearance included an impressive number of Goucher students, staff, faculty members, alumnae/i, and trustees. But it also included Mayor Martin O'Malley, and students, teachers, and administrators from other institutions around town. It included visitors from other countries, including the Irish ambassador to the United States. And it included quite a few people from around the Baltimore area who just came to hear what Ms. Robinson had to say-and to contribute their own perspectives to a thought-provoking discussion of the challenges that we all confront as we learn to live alongside each other in a world that is being violently transformed before our eyes.
I share this with you not because this is an extraordinary occurrence for Goucher. It was a splendid event, to be sure, and an excellent opportunity to talk face-to-face with a leader of international prominence who is playing an active role in shaping our world. But in many ways, it was a more-or-less typical evening on campus, and that is what I think is truly impressive. In any given month here, you are likely to find several major events of this caliber. In any given week, you can take in any number of lectures, readings, discussions, art exhibitions, athletic competitions, and theatrical, musical, and dance performances featuring Goucher students and faculty alongside visitors from around the area and around the world. And on any given day, at any given moment, you'll find members of the Goucher community coming together in groups both small and large, formal and informal, to talk about what's going on in their lives and in the world-and to share their ideas about how to improve them.
Confronting challenges as a community
It was precisely this broad sense of community that drew me to Goucher College, and it has been my express goal since my first days on campus to find creative new ways to broaden it still further. The true power of an institution like Goucher comes from the connections it develops among people, both within the physical bounds of its campus and far beyond its gates. Good ideas become great ideas when they are debated, challenged, defended, and refined by a wide variety of people who not only believe passionately in the power of ideas to change the world, but also have the willingness and ability to take them out into the world and put them into action. Goucher has always been good at making this happen, and I would like to see it become even better. The fact that so many members of our community very vocally concur with this notion is gratifying and, I think, important, given some of the challenges we currently face.
Many of you have received the electronic correspondence I sent recently regarding two of those challenges, one halfway around the world and the other closer to home. The instability in the Middle East and the budget crisis in Maryland are colossal problems that will have very real consequences for us, both as an institution and as individuals, for years to come. I feel strongly that we can and should play an active role in solving them, and judging from the many magnificent responses I have received, so do you. Many of you have written to members of the Maryland General Assembly to voice your opposition to the drastic cuts in operating funds that Maryland provides to its independent colleges and universities. I have received responses to my message about the war in Iraq from all over the world.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who has taken the time to be involved with Goucher on these issues. I also want to encourage you to continue thinking about the many ways you can support Goucher as we confront them. Goucher is a strong institution, and we have grand visions about how it can grow and evolve and become greater still. We outlined our vision in the exciting new strategic plan we announced last year, and we have already made significant progress in laying the groundwork on which its major innovations will be built. Goucher's request for a $3 million capital grant from the state toward our ambitious library/Athenaeum project did survive the legislative session, but the deep cuts in operating funds that the legislators and the governor have already made-and may continue making- represent a very real threat to our plans for the future.
I assure you that we will proceed with our plans, and we will continue providing the outstanding educational programs that everyone has come to expect from Goucher College in the meantime. But these budget cuts will require us to think creatively, to proceed a bit more deliberately, and to find alternate means of meeting our financial needs. Our friends can help with all of this. The tremendous knowledge, insight, generosity, and spirit of the Goucher community have sustained this college through difficult times before, and they are what spur us to the ever-greater heights we continue to reach and surpass. I have faith that they will keep us going during the difficult times that lie ahead.
As for the larger difficulties that the entire world now faces, I believe that in times of global crisis, colleges do some of their most important work.
Colleges should always be focal points for public discussion of the most important issues of the day, but in times of trouble, their role becomes all the more critical. In our dedication to careful reasoning and respectful discourse, we counteract the tendency that I think we have all seen for the level of public discourse to decline during a crisis ("freedom fries," anyone?). In our commitment to the ideals of international engagement and intercultural diversity, we ensure that just when the temptation to turn inward runs strong, we remain connected to the world around us and cognizant of the advantages of considering points of view different from our own. In our activism and service to the community-local, national, and global-we demonstrate how ideas in action can bring about real change, in both subtle and far-reaching ways. And by doing precisely what I mentioned above-passionately debating, challenging, defending, and refining each other's contentions-we will develop some of the great ideas that will guide us as we act to resolve the conflicts that beset us and heal the wounds they have inflicted on our world.
I am proud to say that Goucher has already been doing much of this, through formal town hall meetings about the war and its consequences, in conversations both in the classroom and beyond, and at events like the recent visit by Mary Robinson. But we can always do more, and we will. There will be many more events, programs, and opportunities like these in the days and months ahead. Goucher is always a wonderful place to be, but it is in times of confusion and considerable darkness that it most clearly and brightly shines.
Transcending more than boundaries
Although the turbulent situations around the world understandably have tended to dominate our conversations of late, they are far from the only topics on our minds here. Goucher shines in a lot of ways, and I would like to share with you some of the highlights of an academic year that has been absolutely stellar in the range of opportunities it has given us to come together as a community. The list of people who have energized our campus through their presence this year includes some heavy hitters, to be sure. In the fall, U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland joined journalists from The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun and the CEO of Brown Capital Management for a public discussion of corporate ethics, America's ongoing economic crisis, and the landmark legislation to reform accounting practices that Sarbanes sponsored. The Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney visited our ever-impressive Kratz Center for Creative Writing for a reading and discussion of his work. (The Kratz Center, by the way, just turned out yet another student, David Spencer, who will be graduating with a published novel and a contract for his second one.) Kraushaar Auditorium was packed on that occasion, as it was later, when Misha and Cipa Dichter visited to demonstrate their two-piano repertoire in the annual Rosenberg Lecture-Performance.
Maryland's new governor, Robert Ehrlich, joined us on a snowy December morning for an open forum on the challenges facing the state as he began his term, including the very issues I wrote about earlier in this letter. In March, we hosted a blockbuster celebration commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain. That event brought together scholars, artists, performers, and literature lovers from across the nation for several days of activities that included film screenings, an academic symposium on Baldwin's work, a theatrical performance of Baldwin's The Amen Corner, and a keynote address by the renowned writer and cultural critic bell hooks. We have just welcomed Juan de Marcos González, of the celebrated Buena Vista Social Club, as this year's Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Visiting Professor. He led his Afro-Cuban All Stars through a barnstorming run of the gamut of Cuban music for an audience that included many members of the Goucher community, plus people from several other area colleges and Baltimore City high schools, and representatives of the Cuba-Maryland Friendship Coalition, the Hispanic Ministry of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and the Baltimore-Matanzas Sister City Association. The next day, Juan de Marcos González and I had a public conversation about the elements of Cuban music and its intersection with politics.
This list doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what's going on at Goucher. If it were to include all of the art exhibitions, recitals, concerts, readings, lectures, panel discussions, and performances that have taken place here even just over this academic year, we would have to add another several pages to this letter. There was the acting troupe from France, the exhibition of flamenco music and dance, the post-sabbatical lectures by distinguished faculty, the a cappella triumphs, the records set by members of Goucher's swim team, the outstanding performance of the students who presented a poster session at the Eastern Psychological Association meeting, and... I'd better stop there. But I hope this at least gives you a glimpse of the rather astonishing range of experiences you can have just by paying a visit to our campus-and the rather astonishing range of people you can run into while doing so. I hope it illustrates what we mean when we talk about expanding the boundaries of the Goucher community to embrace the perspectives of the entire world. Most important, I hope it inspires you to take an active part in our community-to join us for these events, to add your voice to our discussions, to lend your support as we push the boundaries even further.
In the end, I believe that what results from the work we do at Goucher College is a better world for all of us, populated at least in part by thoughtful, caring, and passionate people who understand that each of us bears part of the responsibility for working toward its continual improvement. It is true that this improvement comes incrementally, and that some of the challenges we take on are terrifically daunting in their proportions, far bigger than any of us could hope to surmount on our own. When we come together, however, we stand a much better chance. In all of our programs and events, Goucher strives to provide ample common ground on which to do so. I hope you will take advantage of every opportunity you can to join us here.
Sanford J. Ungar