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December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2008 — Happy New Year from Crawfordsville!

Welcome to the first edition of “President’s Blog,” an online journal that I hope you will make a regular part of your web browsing.

I have long thought that a college president’s vision must be both a mirror and a lens — holding up a mirror to our best imagination of ourselves and a lens to discern more closely or at greater distance special strengths and promise we have yet to understand. I hope through this blog to share with readers a new lens and a new mirror for seeing Wabash and that you’ll in turn come to think about Wabash in a new way, sharing with me your ideas and observations about the College. The blog offers in short, informal, and regular postings some of what I am thinking and seeing, but also invites us to confer, to talk together using the comments feature outlined below.

At our best, Wabash is always learning and growing from the grand conversations. I hope this is one way I can help spark ideas and conversations about Wabash, especially conversations that take place far from campus.

This time between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a good time for reflection and planning. The first semester grades are in, the second semester looms ahead full of possibilities, and we are preparing to ring out the old year and ring in the new. In these traditional Twelve Days of Christmas, I wish you all the best. As we look ahead, there is much that we cannot know, but we must do our best to see where we are and where we are heading even when the present is troubled and the future looks murky indeed.

It has been a difficult fall on the Wabash campus. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni have been on a roller coaster ride of emotions ranging from great triumph to great tragedy. October and November began and ended with two very different but shocking losses. We began October with the death of freshman Johnny Smith and ended November with the loss of Bill Placher ’70, legendary professor, scholar, teacher, and consummate Wabash man. The Wabash community has been reeling with these shocks and the sadness of losing our great friend Ginny Hays, as well. The experience of these losses has compelled us to refocus on who we are and what is the best that we can become.

Though the grief we have felt together has been sharp indeed, an even deeper bass note of the last 90 days has been heard in the downturn of the nation’s economy and our particular decline in the value of the College’s endowment. Like many colleges and businesses, we face enormous challenges, but our slogan, “Wabash Always Fights!,” is not just for the court or athletic field. It marks our way of being in the world.

Wabash has been through trying times many times since its founding — who would have thought that small group of men kneeling in the snow in 1832 would create a college that prospers and endures despite periodic financial crises, a fire that destroyed South Hall, and the especially difficult challenges to enrollment during World War II.

We do not promise Wabash students an easy path. We tell our students from our earliest communications with them that Wabash will be tough, rigorous, and demand their very best. Nor do we promise ourselves an easy road. We trust in our students to rise to meet the challenges of our times and the needs of the country, and Wabash, too, assumes its rightful role in serving the needs of the country and the world. All our work is aimed in that direction as we march forward with the resolve and integrity embedded in the values we hold dear and our mission to prepare young men to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely. These are not mere fine words. Like the Gentleman’s Rule, the mission demands from us all a tough commitment to the road less traveled, with perseverance and independence that stand as hallmarks of this College.

We move forward knowing that Wabash men are hungry for knowledge and opportunity, and young men now in high school stand ready to join the class of 2013. For the ninth year in a row, Wabash has surpassed 1,000 applications for admission and done so at the earliest date ever. Campus visits by prospective students were up over 20 percent throughout the fall. These numbers tell me that the College continues to attract interest from young men who want to be challenged, who want to work hard, who want to push themselves beyond their wildest dreams.

Wabash has always provided the rich liberal art education on which many of our graduates build enormously successful careers in business. Now, thanks to a $375,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., Wabash will offer students a Business Leadership Program to augment the traditional liberal arts experience. In an earlier Lilly Endowment initiative, we experimented with a range of internships, externships, immersion learning opportunities, networking events, and speakers. We’ll incorporate the best of those ideas into the new program to enhance our students’ promise and opportunities in business.

The Schroeder Center for Career Development, which will lead this program, is now the third-ranked career center in the country offering an array of programs and guidance to help students interested in law school, medical school, and graduate school, as well as career opportunities in every sector.

I wish us the gifts of the season and the Twelve Days of Christmas. Though I honestly don’t know what I would do with eleven pipers piping, I know Wabash could make good use of five gold rings. But the greatest gift of the season is hope and trust in one another and faith in our mission, promise, and commitment. I know you will enact that mission as you take up the mantle of leadership in your communities, even in difficult, uncertain times, and drawing on the work ethic you honed at Wabash, help others look ahead and move forward with resolve and integrity.

Let us work hard together to make 2009 a great year for Wabash.


In the next week or two, I’ll share my thoughts on the downturn of the economy, its impact on Wabash, and our direction moving forward.


About this blog:  Pat White is in his third year as Wabash's 15th President. An accomplished writer with a Ph.D. in English and American literature, the President writes an occasional blog from the most unique perspective at the College.