Haverford Fall 2013 : Page 28
ADAPT, BUT ◆ Methods ENDURE Dan Weiss, Haverford’s newly inaugurated 14th president, expects much to change at Haverford in the coming years— except what matters most. BY ROBERT J. BLIWISE Values ◆ 28 HaverfordMagazine
Methods ADAPT, But Values Endure
Robert J. Bliwise
Daniel H. Weiss, Haverford’s newly inaugurated 14th president, expects much to change at Haverford in the coming year—except what matters most.
It’s mid-September and amid an onslaught of heat and humidity, the Dining Center is a comfort zone. Right after another onslaught—students pouring in for lunch—Haverford’s new president, Dan Weiss, joins a meeting there of the Dining Services staff. This is one stop among many he’s made on campus in his first few months on the job, he explains. He has come to know their operation well, he says to the staff, joking that his job entails meeting and eating all day long. He tells them he knows their work is difficult but there is value in what they do. And he says Haverford does its core work extraordinarily well—the college is “a great place that can be even better.”
BACK IN FOUNDERS HALL, Weiss takes some time to talk before attending the first faculty meeting of the semester. “The magic of this place,” as he puts it, drew him to Haverford from Lafayette College, where he had been president for eight years. Weiss made the announcement to the Lafayette community in May of 2012; he moved into the president’s house at Haverford this past July.
That full year of serving as a president and a president-in-waiting was unusual. (Weiss’ hiring came after Steve Emerson ’74 stepped down to return to his work as a stem-cell researcher and physician; Joanne V. Creighton then served as interim president.) Weiss says it was important to him that he complete some unmet goals at Lafayette—for example, the design and construction of a new global-education center, continued progress in faculty hiring, and work on a comprehensive residential- life initiative. “I am proud of what we accomplished during this time,” he says. “I was fully on the job until the last day. The Haverford board was completely supportive all the way. They could not have been better.”
One of Weiss’s earliest immersions into Haverford came through Customs. That intensive and exuberant orientation for new students is, of course, one of the College’s most distinctive traditions. “Watching these students get transformed from perfect strangers to deeply engaged and passionate members of the community was amazing,” Weiss says. “And it says something about how this college connects with a yearning that many people have, to be part of a community that stands for something meaningful. That quality is what draws students here. It may not be unique in higher education, but it’s darn close to being unique.”
Weiss says he was also struck, early on, by the college’s unusual governance structure—particularly the general-oversight role of the Haverford College Corporation. “This is a group that makes sure we remain true to our foundation as a college with Quaker values, that our commitment is steadfast to longstanding traditions, and that everything we do is of the highest quality.”
Over coffee at the Coop, Jacob Lowy ’14, co-president of Students’ Council, says Weiss has established his own tradition of reaching out to students that began with a breakfast meeting between the two of them in New York, where Lowy was based over the summer. To Lowy’s great surprise, the breakfast lasted well over an hour. In September, Haverford saw its first “Donuts With Dan” event, which Lowyproclaims “a huge success.” In the course of an hour, Weiss talked with more than 100 students over coffee and pastries on Founders Green. Lowy and Phil Drexler ’14, the other council co-president, later helped Weiss put together the first of what they hope will be another series, “Discussions With Dan”; at that event, held in Chase Auditorium, Weiss talked with students about his vision for the College and his role in helping to realize it. And Lowy notes that Weiss also participated in the first Humans vs. Zombies tag game on Haverford’s campus: “Rumor has it he has already been turned into a zombie after he was unable to avoid one of them while crossing campus.”
Other observers of Weiss’ early months in the presidency, including Provost and English Professor Kim Benston, say he has made an instant connection to Haverford. “Faculty knew from the time he was named President that Dan is a leader in broad national conversations about higher education, and about liberal arts education in particular,” Benston says. “They also see it as consequential that Dan, given his stature as an art historian, knows what academic achievement looks like, and that he’s committed to knowing this institution in detail, which means knowing it person by person.” It’s clear that Weiss is deeply interested in Haverford as a place that “takes seriously a set of values nurtured over a long period of time, debates that set of values continuously, and asks questions about the ethical use of knowledge in the world beyond its borders,” according to Benston.
Coming to Haverford brought with it a reunion of sorts between Weiss and Rebecca Chopp, who had been at the helm of Colgate University, a Lafayette rival, before becoming president of Swarthmore College. The two have edited an anthology of essays by leading liberal arts thinkers that are derived from a 2012 Lafayette symposium about the future of liberal education, which attracted more than 200 college administrators, among them about 50 college presidents. When she first visited him on Haverford’s campus, Weiss talked emphatically about the character of the Haverford community, Chopp says. “It was a theme that moved him, that was inspiring and very meaningful for him. In much of higher education, we’ve stopped talking about values. But Dan was quick to pick up on Haverford’s values- based education—on the idea that it’s important for students not just to form themselves as independent critical thinkers, but also to form themselves as moral and ethical individuals within a community.”
When they were both at Patriot League schools, Chopp and Weiss found themselves working through thorny questions, often involving Division 1 athletics and all that it brings. “Dan is a very comprehensive and systematic thinker, and he is someone who can speak powerfully about the liberal arts,” Chopp says. “But he’s also a great listener. One of the qualities of a great college president is the ability to listen and then to assess, draw connections, and act from knowledge of the culture of an institution. Great presidencies begin in great listening.”
WEISS’ OWNLIBERALARTS trajectory began at George Washington University, where a chance decision to enroll in an art history course set him on a course toward a scholarly career. Weiss, who grew up in suburban Long Island, speaks passionately about the transformative influence of teachers; he dedicates one of his books, Art and Crusade in the Age of Saint Louis, to all of his teachers, and he wants to teach eventually at Haverford, as he did at Lafayette. Combining teaching with travels, Weiss has long enjoyed leading study-tours to classical and medieval sites and museums.
The day after he graduated in 1979, though, he didn’t travel very far. He started working at the Kennedy Center in Washington, eventually managing the gift shops. There he had a somewhat famous encounter that offers a context for his interest in the Haverford “magic.” In 2011, Public Radio International’s This American Life featured Weiss around the theme of “dealing with wrongdoing.” The broadcast circled back to Weiss’ days at the gift shop, when he noticed that the operation was underperforming: There wasn’t very much money making it to the bank, given all the merchandise that was being sold.
As reporter David Kestenbaum described Weiss, “Aside from a stint in high school at an ice-cream parlor, this was his first real job, his first time seeing how business worked. But he’s a pretty driven guy. And if you give him a task, he’s going to sink his teeth in.” Weiss figured out that the shops were losing 40 cents on every dollar that was supposed to go into the bank. His eventual plan of attack hinged on managerial insight. “If the gift shop had been run like a lemonade stand, now he wants it to run like a lemonade factory,” with an inventory system and record-keeping, reported Kestenbaum. And the skimming stopped. “But this factory meant something kind of unsettling,” Kestenbaum added. “It meant the problem hadn’t been a thief. It was lots of thieves.”
Today, Weiss looks back on the Kennedy Center experience as “an early, and life-changing, exposure to the importance of integrity.” He adds, “I was deeply disappointed to learn that honesty is so fragile and situational. I found in Haverford a place that shares my belief that values matter a great deal, and that they are essential to a highly functioning community.”
That early-career phase was also important for Weiss in another way: It provided the setting where he met his future wife, Sandra Jarva, who was a Kennedy Center usher. Jarva Weiss practices law at Norris McLaughlin & Marcus in the Lehigh Valley, where she is a partner specializing in healthcare law. They have two sons: Joel, a ninthgrader at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, and Teddy, an 11th-grader at Lawrenceville, a boarding school in New Jersey. (Also part of the family is Sandra Jarva Weiss’ mother, Pauline Jarva, who moved into 1 College Circle with the Weisses in July.)
Weiss went on to Johns Hopkins University to begin master’s-level work in art history. He talks about his field as an exercise in intellectual curiosity. “An art historian has to learn to look carefully at evidence,” he says, “to think carefully about the complexity of historical interpretation, to listen carefully to lots of different sources, and to understand that there are very few obvious right answers around questions, either in the ancient world or in this world.”
This September, Weiss made a quick trip to Cambridge, England, to give a lecture on representations of war in the art of the Middle Ages. His earlier scholarship cast a new light on the Sainte-Chapelle, the Paris church dedicated in 1248, under the patronage of King Louis IX, to enshrine sacred relics, notably Christ’s crown of thorns. “All the things that I’ve studied are fundamentally or explicitly about religious subjects, but in fact they’re much broader than that,” he says. “So my study of the Sainte-Chapelle is really about the way in which that building, which is completely dripping with religious imagery, is a political and social monument that speaks to the ambitions of the king.”
Although he was invited into the Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins, Weiss—con-templating a career in museum administration— decided instead to study nonprofit management at the Yale School of Management. Fresh from his M.B.A., he joined the global consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton (where he worked with Haverford alums Charley Beever ’74and Jonathan Copulsky ’76). “None of the work that I did was in any way involved with higher education,” he recalls. Still, “I learned more about how to be a teacher and to work in a collegial environment at Booz Allen than I did anywhere else. It was a total meritocracy—whoever had the right answer for the client would prevail, whether that was the senior partner or a brand new associate.”
After four years as a consultant, Weiss returned to Johns Hopkins and began working on a Ph.D. in art history. After earning his degree in a lightning three years (eight years is the average for students in doctoral programs), he joined the Hopkins faculty in 1992, only weeks after defending his dissertation. He was chair of art history from 1998 to 2001, then dean of the faculty, and in 2002 was named dean of the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, where he oversaw all operations related to the school’s undergraduate and graduate programs.
His experiences as a dean and then college president have taught Weiss how important it is, right from the start, to try to learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can, about the place you’ve been charged with leading. “I’ve been out meeting groups of students, staff, faculty, alumni, members of the board, members of the Corporation,” Weiss says. “I’ve also been walking the campus; I’ve been spending a few hours each day going through every academic building, every residence hall, every little shed on this campus, so that I can really understand the whole place.”
He’s also learned, he says, what it means to exercise academic leadership. “The president’s power, or capacity to do anything really, comes from the ability to help craft a vision that resonates with stakeholders and that engages their support. You can’t tell people what to do. You shouldn’t want to. You want to work with the community to figure out what it needs to do, and then to figure out what it takes to inspire and motivate people to get there.”
And broad challenges in the highereducation environment will inspire and motivate fresh thinking, he says. “Our job hasn’t changed. The ways in which our job gets done are changing. Technology is affecting everything that comes before it. You could produce a wonderful MOOC [massive open online course] at a major public university and move thousands and thousands of students through an introductory course. That solution is not so obvious for a small college that takes pride in small classes and hand-tooled learning and mentorship. But it is inevitable that technology will be more and more involved in how we engage students.”
Weiss says Haverford’s historical mission—“ to provide a liberal education that helps students build lives of meaning and purpose that are personally rewarding, that are professionally satisfying, and that contribute to the well-being of the world”—is its mission today. The overarching question driving his presidency, then, will be: How does a world-class college fulfill that time-tested mission into the future?
“Complacency, or being overly insular, would be a great mistake,” Weiss says. “We have the opportunity to look at the future with energy and ambition while respecting the past as an important part of who we are. Excellence is not an accident. Excellence is not sustainable without an abiding commitment to it.”
Robert J. Bliwise is the editor of Duke Magazine and teaches magazine journalism at Duke University.
Dan Weiss’ Lafayette Legacy
Early in his tenure at Lafayette College, in remarks to alumni, Dan Weiss posed a question that would spark his presidency there—as it’s likely to do at Haverford: “How do we create a college in the new century that respects tradition but looks to the future?” Looking to the conclusion of an eight-year presidency, Weiss wrote an open letter to the Lafayette community.
The letter said, essentially, that the college had gone a long way toward that overarching aim. Today, the chair of Lafayette’s board of trustees, Edward W. Ahart, calls Weiss “an outstanding president for Lafayette” and describes his tenure this way: “With his vision and understanding of undergraduate liberal arts education in America, he improved Lafayette’s academic program immeasurably while successfully managing the college’s finances—even in a very difficult economic environment. Dan also greatly enhanced Lafayette’s national reputation, in part through his speaking and writing, and also by hosting a conference on the future of higher education in America.”
During his presidency, Lafayette increased the size of the faculty by more than 10 percent; implemented a Common Course of Study, which requires students to gain experience with multicultural issues, ethical reasoning, quantitative methods, and other areas seen as vital for a 21st-century education; and advanced major curricular initiatives in the arts, global studies, life and environmental sciences, and engineering. The college made significant new investments in academic, residential, and athletic facilities. And it started a comprehensive review of residential-life programs.
Even as it recruited more widely and received record numbers of applicants for admission, Lafayette broadened its focus on diversity. The class admitted in 2008 was 15 percent domestic students of color; the class that enrolled this year was 25 percent minority. Similarly, international enrollment doubled during the Weiss presidency, from 5 percent to 10 percent of the entering class.
Under Weiss, Lafayette also built a robust partnership with its home city of Easton, Pa. One example: Students, as part of their curriculum, engaged with Easton-oriented issues ranging from how to improve access to healthy and affordable food to how to fire up interest in community art projects. During Weiss’ presidency, the college contributed money and ideas to start the “Easton Ambassadors” program, which employs area residents for municipal projects ranging from visitor assistance to graffiti removal. Lafayette is also building an “arts campus” in the heart of the city—geographically removed from the main campus—that will provide a home to programs in theater, film, and media studies. This past summer, Lafayette announced that, thanks to a donation from the board of trustees, the theater in the complex will be named the Daniel H. and Sandra Weiss Black Box Theater.
“Dan is a visionary as an educator, and part of his vision here was to strengthen the town-gown relationship,” says Easton’s mayor, Sal Panto Jr. “That relationship has grown immensely. What we have between Easton and Lafayette is a role model nationally.”
All of these initiatives largely came out of a strategic planning process led by Weiss. Lafayette colleagues say Weiss didn’t start the process with his own, predetermined blueprint for the college, but rather worked to inspire serious and sustained conversations with multiple constituencies. A former Lafayette trustee chair, Alan Griffith, credits the college’s former president with building “consensus and enthusiasm” around the strategic plan.
And Weiss continued his own personal growth as a teacher. Despite the crushing commitments of a college president, he taught almost every year at Lafayette, offering either seminars on medieval or classical art or directed readings and independent studies. In his final semester there, he offered an intensive seminar on Greek sculpture; it included a day at the Metropolitan Museum looking at the real thing. “The most interesting thing about being part of an academic community is connecting with students,” says Weiss.
—Robert J. Bliwise
Inaugurating Dan Weiss
ONSATURDAY, OCT. 26, Dan Weiss was officially inaugurated as the College's 14th president. The occasion brought together faculty, staff, students, alumni, and members of the Board of Managers and the Corporation, as well as five former Haverford presidents and delegates from almost 100 other educational institutions. (Also adding to the festive feel of the weekend was the presence of many Haverford parents, who were on campus for Family & Friends Weekend.) Among the speakers at the ceremony, which took place in Roberts Hall, Marshall Auditorium, were the presidents of Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore colleges, and William G. Bowen, president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a longtime friend of President Weiss. In his inaugural address, Weiss urged the crowd to look to the future with energy and ambition, while remaining true to the College's traditions and history. "To be sure, the world has changed dramatically, and especially so in recent years," he said. "Yet we continue to believe that our students benefit most from a rigorous education grounded in the liberal arts, an ethical foundation, close interaction with an outstanding faculty and a vibrant community imbued with Quaker values. The great challenge before us, then, is not one of identity or purpose, but rather in recognizing that this time. this time in our lives.change is also an opportunity."
For more about the event, see "The Inauguration in Video and Photos" on the Haverblog: hav.to/haverblog.
1.] With professors Laura McGrane and Bruce Partridge in the lead, the president’s procession heads to Roberts Hall for the inaugural ceremony.
2.] Weiss got the chance to chat with five former Haverford presidents before his inauguration. From left: Tom Kessinger ’63/’65, Tom Tritton, Weiss, Stephen Emerson ‘74, Joanne Creighton, and Robert Gavin.
3.] Anya Krugovoy Silver ’90 reads her poem “Kore,” which she wrote in honor of Dan and Sandra Weiss.
4. ] Weiss enjoying the remarks of Bryn Mawr College Interim President Kim Cassidy, who spoke about the Bi-Co “sibling relationship.”
5.] Swarthmore College President Rebecca Chopp, who co-edited a new book, Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts, with Weiss, says that the greatest gift of Haverford’s 14th president is his ability to build a community.
6.] The Weiss family takes in the inauguration.
7.] “We must do a better job of making a case to an increasingly skeptical public of the benefits of a liberal education,” said Weiss in his inaugural address.
8.] Board of Managers Co-Chairs Cathy Koshland ’72 and Howard Lutnick ’83, who were among the speakers at the ceremony, head back to Founders with Weiss.
9.] After the inauguration, members of the extended Haverford community were invited to a luncheon in the Alumni Field House. Board members Garry Jenkins ’92 (left) and Jonathan Evans ’77 (right) arrived early and enjoyed a moment with the new president.
Read the full article at http://www.mydigitalpublication.com/article/Methods+ADAPT%2C+But+Values+Endure/1572746/185785/article.html.
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