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November 13, 2018

President Carolyn "Biddy" Martin addressed homecoming visitors on Saturday, Nov. 10 in Johnson Chapel. [transcript]

Transcript

- My name is Silvia Sotolongo, I'm a senior here studying statistics and sociology. I'm from Durham, North Carolina and it's my honor to be serving as student body president this year. Thank you! Every year I look forward to Homecoming and reuniting with friends who have graduated, meeting new alumni and feeling a sense of belonging here at Amherst. As a senior experiencing my last Homecoming as a student before becoming an alumnus, I've realized how important this event is to our whole community. Our campus is ever changing and growing, as you all know, so Homecoming is vital to creating connections between, say, the class of 1956 and the class of 2022.

The staff of this college work extraordinarily hard to make this event possible and a large part of that is thanks to President Martin. She is such a caring, compassionate and welcoming presence on this campus. Biddy is always available for students that have a new they want to implement, or concerns about Amherst. She's truly committed to supporting students through their journey here. President Martin, like me, is from the South. She grew up in Virginia, graduated from the College of William & Mary, went on to earn her MA and then her PhD with a focus in German literature and studies. She worked at Cornell University for more than two decades, and served as Chancellor of U W Madison, before becoming the 19th President of Amherst College. In some ways, I like to think of us both as presidents of the college. Co-presidents if you will. We'll see what she thinks about that. But with that, I would like to formally introduce President Biddy Martin.

- Definitely co-presidents! I like that idea. Come to my office on Monday morning. We've got some challenges that we need help with. Good morning everybody. How are you?

- [Man] Good.

- Having a good time?

- [Man] Yes!

- The sun came out! Great game weather. Well okay. Maybe not perfect, but it'll be good. Oh, I'm so glad to see you all. As I said to some of you who were here last night for dinner, it just feels like a big party when alumni return to the college and it makes us all extraordinarily happy.

I wonder how many of you have been following the Twitter war between Amherst and Williams. Almost no one, do you know about it. Come on, you need to get on Twitter. So our staff, in advancement, and in particular one, who's really brilliant, who heads the alumni fund, the annual fund-giving and thought of this idea, have started what they call the Biggest Little Challenge and it is, it has been a Twitter contest between Williams and Amherst that's gone on for several days. The ultimate goal is to see which College, whether Williams or Amherst, gets the most participation in giving among younger classes, over the course of these days, and we're winning. Just so you know. But I thought that some of the tweets that have been sent back and forth, since I had the feeling that many of you don't use Twitter, might be worth reading to you just so that you can share in the fun. And if you're inspired you could get on Twitter and contribute a little bit. So here's just a little flavor of the Twitter war.

From Amherst: President John Kennedy said something when he was on campus honoring Amherst faculty member Robert Frost.

Williams responds, "We know lots about J.F.K "from James McGregor Burns' 39, "legendary Williams professor, who wrote an authorized "Kennedy biography in '76."

Amherst: Write all the bios you want. We'll be who you're writing about. Heard of President Calvin Coolidge, class of 1895, and we now have more than 680 alumni working in government.

Williams: No shortage of alumni in government and more. For a sample, from just one class, read, and they give us a link. We also have noted presidential historian Michael Beschloss sharing insight regularly.

Amherst: If you wanna talk notable figures, Williams College, we've been international since before it was trendy. Joseph Hardy Neesima, a class of 1870, was the first Japanese student ever to graduate from a Western Institution.

Williams: Our first international graduate, Englishman Henry Blackaller, class of 1929. You know who else attended Williams? Only one of the greatest American composers and lyricists of musical theater, Stephen Sondheim.

Amherst: We see your Stephen Sondheim, and raise you David Foster Wallace. These are good, just a couple more that I like. Alright, we talk about author Dan Brown, Harlen Cobben, Chris Bohjalian, Lauren Groff, and other famous writers.

Williams: that's nice, we should mention more of a Pulitzer Prize winners. Stacy Schiff, Sonia Nazario, they list a couple more.

Amherst: you have Alumni who won a Pulitzer, single, our Alumni poet, Richard Wilber, won two Pulitzer's all by himself. We have five alumni with no bells, and seven McArthur geniuses, and we have two astronauts.

It goes on. If you feel like contributing, just Google "Biggest Little Challenge," get on Twitter, and start contributing to this war.

So good morning. Very nice to have you here. I wanna start with a quote from Stanley King, one of Amherst's great presidents, who in a book that many of you know, called, "Consecrated Eminence," said, "Great visions are not reserved for saints and seers. A handful of ordinary men in a small town in the Connecticut Valley conceived the grandiose dream of a college to educate young men of hopeful piety who should go forth and carry the message to the world. They have been followed by countless men and women who for a century and a quarter," -- at that point, now almost 200 years -- "have had the vision and the wisdom to make possible by their gifts the college of today."

I've been thinking a lot of for some reason, over the past several months about the early history of Amherst, and for some reason I'm just completely captivated by the fact that this college was started by a group of townspeople whose passion for the value of education led them, clergymen, businessmen, maybe some women contributed a little about which we don't know anything. They emptied their pockets to make possible a college in this town. And ever since then people like you have made possible, the quality that this college has achieved over time. And which, it is our responsibility, all of our responsibility to preserve.

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What we want is students who graduate, being scientifically informed, but we don't expect or aspire to having all students major in STEM. Amherst is historically known for our strengths in the humanities, and in the arts, in writing, and in the arts of other kinds. And we wanna college that sets the standard for science education, but within a context of the broad liberal arts that equally values the humanities and the arts, that's our goal. As I said to some of you last night, the science building was planned, not only by Payette, which is the firm that constructed, designed and constructed the building, but also by one of the world's best landscape architects, Michael Van Valkenburgh, and overseen by a consultant that we asked to bring the projects together, to make sure the dorms, the greenway landscaping, and the science center were all coordinated. And that consultant was Mohsen Mostafavi, who's the dean of the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. And the focus on integration of the projects and the campus, I think, has resulted, not just in a great science facility, but in a transformation of the eastern part of our campus. New pathways through the entire campus, an expansion, therefore, of the campus that people will use, and use happily. And in general, an even more beautiful environment, in which to work, for our students, our faculty, and our staff.

I love the science center, I'm willing to say even from my position, I didn't design it, I didn't build it, so I feel that I can say honestly, I think it's an extraordinary success, despite the challenges that led up to the design and construction we ended up with. And I applaud the people that were most heavily involved. The fact that our students love the building, regardless of their major, or their disciplinary focus, as a place to gather and study, is a big part of what makes me happy about the facility.

So the new science center is about science, it's about human presence, the presence of faculty and students, to one another, and their relationships, and it's about building community across the entire campus.

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My favorite, as I've said to some of you before, my favorite example of the efforts that she's making, and that our faculty are making, is probably the one that involved class-based travel. So faculty are given support for seminars, which involve travel of faculty and students to get involved in research on site.

One of my favorite examples this semester will involve Professor David Schneider in the music department, and Christian Rogowski in the German department. They are taking all the students in their seminar on Vienna to Vienna, to understand better the context in which some of the great music they're teaching this semester emerged.

There are numerous other examples. Year before last one of our English professors took her seminar to Grasmere for a week, to do research on Wordsworth. It ended in a publication, but with student authors.

Yet another, Nellie Boucher in the History Department, took her seminar to London to do research. That ended up with a student, a collectively authored paper, published in a major journal.

The focus is on what are often called, high impact practices, the involvement of students in research at a very serious level, the hope that students will get involved in there own research, under the supervision of faculty, of course. But learning what it means to do independent research and discovery. There are a number of faculty and courses now, that are focused on experiential learning of other kinds, so research, but also, field-based work, and team-based work. And I think Catherine would say, if she were up here, and feel free to ask her questions, so she can talk about it herself, that when it comes to a very diverse student body, one of the best ways to help them build relationships with one another, at a place like Amherst, is by using academic experiences, where they're getting to know one another is mediated by a shared interest and a shared goal.

It's in the academic realm that we can probably make the most headway if we teach somewhat differently, in bringing students together across their various differences. And it seems to be having quite an impact. So the science center is one, and the related landscaping is one major new aspect of our campus and our future, teaching innovation, is another.

Another is our focus on career preparation through the Loeb Center. Many of you probably know a little bit about the work that's been done in the Loeb Center to prepare students with their liberal arts degrees for possible careers. The focus of the Loeb Center is on helping students from the time they arrive, think about possible careers, without turning their coursework and their academic aspirations into job or career training. In fact, the ultimate goal of the Loeb Center, with it's funding newly received from generous donors, for internships for students, and for other experiences that help them prepare for jobs, the ultimate goal, at least in my view, is to free students up academically, to pursue what they love, what interests them, and what grabs them, knowing that there is an entirely separate institution that is there especially to help them identify and get good internships and other experiences that will lead them to a recognition of what they wish to do with their careers. That's the hope and what I believe, with the work that's being done by the very able, Emily Griffin, who directs the Loeb Center, we will reach that goal, we are reaching that goal.

We don't live in a world anymore where a liberal arts college can afford to ignore students' need to prepare for possible careers, but we want to help them in ways that preserve the kind of education that liberal arts has always been meant to give them, broad, deep, surprising, in terms of the connections they make across disciplines, and free of the pressure to train for specific domains. And we aim to keep it that way.

We are continuing to do what we can to invigorate opportunity for Amherst students, we have a very large percentage of the entering class this year, who are recipients of Pell Grants, roughly 29% of our entering class are Pell recipients. Yeah, thank you. The economic diversity of the class and other forms of diversity continues to be a point of pride for those of us at Amherst.

It is also the inspiration, by the way, for some of the innovations in teaching, that our faculty have embraced. What has been most remarkable and gratifying to me over the past seven and a half years, is how deeply inspired the faculty has been by the students they have, and by the realization that they come with different ways of learning, they come different levels of preparation, they come equal talented, and there are ways of teaching that accommodate the differences among them. Both those who are best prepared, and those who may have come less well prepared. It's a beautiful thing to see what the faculty is doing, and the innovations they're making, just to go back to that for a minute, are innovations that help every student here. They end up being precisely the forms of pedagogy that are great for everyone, even if they were inspired by changes in the student body.

And finally, the other thing I want to mention to you all is the role that we're playing in sustainability. And some of you may have heard a little bit about it from Jim Brassord over the course of the weekend. We somewhat recently entered into a purchase power agreement for renewable solar power, and by 2019, solar power will replace nearly all the power that is sourced from the grid for Amherst, so this is a major shift. And we created economies of scale by collaborating on this project with Smith, Bowdoin, Williams, and Hampshire, the solar panels are located in Maine, and this is something of which we're proud. So it will reduce our carbon footprint by 20%, we're currently at work on a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by what the trustees and their commitment called a reasonable date. And we will be presenting a plan to the trustees in January that we believe would allow us to achieve carbon neutrality in the 2030's, it will involve changing from our Legacy-based heating system, to a water-based system, replacing natural gas powered co-generation systems with ground sourced heating and cooling, that's powered by renewable energy through electric heat pumps. Did I get that right, Jim? I did. Jim's educated me about heat pumps. The question is how many and how quickly we'll be able to install, so and at what pace.

Those are just some of the things that are new or worthy of an update for you. What goes on here, day to day, every day, makes this the most rewarding job I've ever had, these are the most avid learners I've ever experienced in high-education, our students, the most devoted teachers, who are also contributing significantly to their fields, and as I've said many times, but it has the virtue of being true, the intensity of the interaction between students and faculty here is unlike anything I've seen at any other institution. It warrants a kind of reverence.

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- Alright, well this is something I'm sure you have a very, very good answer for, but I'm sure you can help me figure out something, that I maybe understand a little of, but clearly don't fully understand. In the recent Wall Street Journal college rankings,

- We won.

- I know it. But in looking at the numbers, which were some of the criteria they used, the average annual income per student, I think it's 10 years out

- Yeah.

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- I wish we had the article in front of us, because I don't remember the difference being that large, and $57,000 doesn't sound right to me. Yeah? Well, that's why I think we need to look at the article because if some liberal arts colleges are way above most liberal arts colleges, like Amherst, and Williams, and Pomona, and so I'm going to challenge myself and you, to look at that article again and see whether we agree with the numbers.

- In the reader

- Yeah. and sort of, listen to the numbers, which is why I think maybe it's something misleading, is the numbers themselves.

- Must be fake news. Just kidding, I'm kidding, I'm kidding. It's the Wall Street Journal. Okay look, here's what I think, it could well be that some research university graduates make more on average than liberal arts college graduates, at certain points in their lives. Remember, that many of them, I'll use Cornell or Wisconsin as an example, have undergraduate business programs, have other undergraduate professional programs, that will automatically mean that within five years, out of college or 10, the average is gonna be higher, it's just a fact. We have a very significant number of students, graduates who go on to Wall Street, and into banking, into investing, who make every bit as much as anyone from the school out east.

By the way, you know what I love, okay here I go, I'm sorry, but in reading this most recent history I read, I was reminded that when Amherst went to the state government in order to get a charter for this school, it was opposed by Harvard that thought their prestige might be lowered by a great college out in western part of Massachusetts, and they were right. I think they'd be much more prestigious if we didn't exist.

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Those of you who've hosted students who have gone on treks to different parts of the country, alumni hosting them at workplaces, so students get a sense of whether that's what they're really interested in doing, they get a sense of what it really takes to work in Silicon Valley. Those careers treks and the other programs offered by the Loeb Center will ensure that students are not without the kind of opportunities they want. Last night, at the celebration of Watson Fellows, Amherst has had an extraordinary number of Watson Fellowship winners over the course of the history of the Watson Fellowship. It gives students money to travel, based on their proposals for research, and we have many such winners, and they were having a kind of reunion last night, and the first two I met, I think one of them is in the audience today, are in Ph.D. programs at Yale. And I just wanted to say, that we want our students to go into every conceivable field, including academia, which pays more than $57,000 a year, 10 years out, but will never make people rich. So just a word for-- Yes?

- Hi, first I want to--

- Where are you?

- I'm right here.

- Okay, yeah, sorry.

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- Well that is a beautiful point, and actually, it is happening at this college, and our students, however, and some staff and faculty, I think we're out ahead of us on it, but it is happening, and you're absolutely right. Yeah? Yes?

- Hi, Biddy, I'm Jake Penell, class of 1980, and first I wanna compliment, I think you're doing an excellent job, and I think you do a wonderful job as a leader of this school, and a little birdie told me recently that you joined Harvard's board?

- Corporation.

- Corporation. And, I just wondered if you could comment on the Harvard case, and what impact that may or may not have on great liberal arts schools. And I just want to comment and compliment Amherst, my son is a recruited athlete, and we've gone through many, many schools, and I would say that Amherst was the only school that stood out for him, and for me, that really focused on scholar-athletes, and I wanna compliment, particularly Coach Mills, who in this very room, talked about, "you may be great athletes, "but we also need you to be great students," and those two things go together, and we did not see that at some ivy league schools, and we did not see that at other places, and so my son has applied early decision Amherst, and we'll hear another day. But I just think--

- That's great.

- I'm not here to-- He's fine, he's fine, he's fine.

- He's fine, good, good, I hope he's fine. Well, yes I was invited to join the Harvard Corporation and I've been to two meetings so far. It's fascinating, I'm sure I'm gonna learn a lot, it's very interesting and an honor. And by virtue of the fact that I'm on the Harvard Corporation, I can't really comment on the Harvard case. So all I can say is what you all already know, and that is in a way it doesn't matter who wins at this particular level now because the aim is to get the questions of race-conscious admissions to the Supreme Court, and whoever wins at the level, the trials not really ended, just one part of it. Whoever wins will appeal, and it will continue, and that's about all I can really say about it. And I will also say that I, Biddy Martin, favor race-conscious admissions, and we have done the work at Amherst to show that we could not achieve the diversity that we have in our classes if we had to rely only on economic diversity. You're welcome.

- I have a question about the US News World Report on liberal arts colleges, it's not about finishing number two to Williams, it was their additional report on the quality of teaching. And I think the first 10 or 15 colleges, liberal arts colleges, Amherst did not appear, as I remember from the article. This is the quality of teaching.

- [Biddy] Is this the US News and World Report?

- I don't know what the criteria are for that, and if so, why didn't Amherst appear in that ranking?

- Well because they didn't do a real study, I mean, honestly, I challenge any place to outdo us in the quality of teaching here. I really do. How would the US News and World Report measure that? I really don't know. What are they using? Rate my professor? I really don't understand what the metrics would be from the outside for people. I mean, if you look at the numbers of students we send to graduate and professional school if that's a measure, it remains by self-report over 80% of our students, what are the top destinations, they're the same as they were 50 or 100 years ago, Harvard and Colombia. I mean, I don't know what measures you would use to say that the quality of the teaching here is less good or even better, than it is at Williams, or Pomona, or Swarthmore. But I just don't trust those kinds of data or so-called data, I really don't.

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- Come on up. Yes, the chapel, which was built when?

- [Man] 1827.

- That's right. And by the way, you're sitting in the same pews that everyone else has sat in since then. They've been painted, but otherwise, they're the same. So just think, in whose seat you're sitting. Catherine, come up here and talk.

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- [Man] Hi, class of '01. I appreciate what you said about the arts and humanities, I appreciate the investment you've made in the science building and science, I'm wondering what sort of academically, or otherwise, where you're pinning Amherst's future success? So what's the next investment, what the plan, what's the vision that you're building to now?

- Oh, you mean academically, specifically?

- [Man] I think so yeah, but if there's something else.

- Well, there's a lot else. But I'm gonna ask Catherine to talk about that.

- So, one thing that's amazing about Amherst is how good we are in all areas of the curriculum, I remain extremely proud that over half of our students are humanity majors, that's a very high number for schools of our sort. I think though, that the next big initiative, is really focusing on how all students can thrive at the college. Students come here, and they work really hard, but not all students feel like that belong, and that they are comfortable, and that they are getting as much out of the college as they can, so I would say from my office, the next big thrust is really pushing more on group and cohort learning experiences, because we know when students work together in small groups with faculty members, that they really create those bonds that are the relationships that sustain them both at the college, while they're here, and beyond. So we're really putting a lot of efforts into what are the ways that we can encourage faculty members to do that kind of work? Austin Sarat, at the back of the room, has played a major role in terms of creating tutorial based opportunities, where faculty members in the spring teach a very small class to maybe six students, and then over the course of the summer, those students work together with the faculty member, in order to co-create knowledge. And students from his tutorials have already written two books that have been published, as well as numerous articles, and these kinds of successes we're also seeing with others of our faculty members. So, on the academic front, those are the kinds of things that we're really pushing. I don't know if Biddy wants to say something about student life, because I think that's also absolutely crucial, in terms of making sure that students thrive at the college. So I think that's really an important next frontier.

- I would agree. I agree with everything Catherine said, and including, that I will now say one of our next frontiers, without ever taking our emphasis off academic excellence, is improvements in student life. And I want to introduce to you all, two new members of the senior team, who are going to play a significant role in what we do in the next couple of years on that front. First, Karu Kozuma, who's the new Chief Student Affairs officer. Karu, come up here. Karu graduated from Middlebury College, he then worked in residential life for a couple of years at Middlebury. He then was at Colombia for maybe eight years or so, in student affairs, left for Penn, where he also played a significant role in student affairs. And we were able to steal him. He just started in July. And Karu, you might wanna say a little bit about what your observations have been so far. But as you come up, Matt, I also wanted to introduce to you, Matt McGann, our new Dean of Admission and Financial Aid. Matt himself, is a first-generation college student, he got his degree at MIT, and he has been Dean of Admission at MIT for quite some time, and I know that Matt is happy to be at a liberal arts college, and he's already doing great things. So come on, come on over. Let them get to know you a little bit.

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- Other questions?

- [Catherine] I believe we have time for one more question.

- One more question.

- [Kelly] Oh, thank you so much, it's Kelly Close, class of 90'. It's so amazing to see how on the cutting edge Amherst is in all the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary, and experiential learning that you're doing, it's amazing, and I'm just wondering where is that the easiest to do, and where is that the hardest to do? Where are there any challenges? Are the challenges about the capacity of faculty or budget, and where are you looking for help? Is it financial help, is it other help? Thank you.

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- I wasn't sure, we were talking student life, and I wanted you to hear Karu talk about that a little bit, but obviously, you can't have student life without students, and I'm really thrilled to be able to work with this amazing group of students here. You know, coming from MIT, I got to meet a lot of great students, but now I did some school visits to high schools across the country this fall. It was remarkable because students told me about books that they liked to read, I'm like I've never met a student before that told me how much they love to read books. And in this time where there's so much talk about truth, and what does it mean to participate as an educated citizen, I think there may be no more important time for a liberal arts education than today. And I think this is the place to really led that effort as universities and colleges, higher education, and the liberal arts, in particular, come under attack, I'm so proud to be a part of this college, this body, and to push forward, and to say what an amazing education we offer here, and to continue to live that mission. Going back to the townspeople of Amherst, starting a charity fund to try to bring, not just the elites to an education, but to be able to serve all kinds of students. And Amherst's been able to do that, that was a big part of what brought me here, is that I wanna continue that mission, continue what's made Amherst great, and I look forward to doing that. And can't do that without the support of the alumni, and alumnae of the college, and so I'm really thrilled to get to meet all of you today and to be here with you, and with that being said, go Mammoths. Yeah!