Year-End Reflection

June 20, 2017
Wellesley College lamp situated between the Chapel and Billings.

Dear Wellesley Faculty and Staff,
It is with great admiration for this remarkable institution, and deep affection for our community, that I write to you to share reflections on my first year at Wellesley.

I have spent much of the year listening and learning about all that makes up the dynamic life of the College. What an interesting, challenging, rich experience this year has been for me—among the most rewarding of my career.

I have learned so much from our students, who inspire me and fill me with optimism for all that lies ahead. Their energy and sense of purpose have been evident every day of the year, from their dedicated study to their passionate activism to their enduring friendships.

It has been truly extraordinary getting to know our exceptional faculty. You have shown me that, at its core, this is a community of ideas, united by a shared passion for intellectual exploration. I have witnessed faculty and students engaging with one another in and outside of the classroom, and you have shared with me that, moving forward, you are aiming for even more of that engagement. Thank you for your clarity and your generosity. I am the fortunate beneficiary of your insights and your aspirations.

I very much appreciate—and have come to depend upon—the dedication of our talented staff. Throughout the year, you have demonstrated that you are the glue that holds our institution together. In addition to managing the “business” of the College, I thank you for all the ways your perspective and commitment to our mission make Wellesley what it is today.

The trustees have provided leadership and important guidance during the College’s presidential transition. Wellesley benefits immeasurably from their talent and their unwavering commitment to the College. 
This year brought joyful celebrations, including convocation, inauguration, and commencement, where Hillary Rodham Clinton ’69 urged our 570 graduates to dream big and stated, “We need your smarts, of course, but we also need your compassion, your curiosity, your stubbornness.” These traditions bring us together both to honor the past and to recognize the enormous promise of Wellesley in the 21st century.

Many times this year, we came together to protect what we most value in the liberal arts—the exploration of ideas through fact-based inquiry and critical thinking, while embracing equity and opportunity for all—and we took a close look at how we foster or impede these values within our own institution. Our faculty helped us make sense of the events of the year, placing them in historical context, and our students mobilized us for action. We spoke out about freedom of expression as well as the importance of civil discourse. We resolved to work together to create the conditions for greater participation in the important, challenging conversations that make our community stronger.

At the end of my first year, I am moved by the natural cycles of Wellesley. While we say good bye to ten faculty members who have given so much to our community over the years, we look forward to welcoming this summer five new tenure-track faculty as well as two new members of the Senior Leadership Team, Vice President and Dean of Students Sheilah Shaw Horton and our first General Counsel, Karen Petrulakis. We will soon be preparing to welcome the incoming class of 2021. This year we experienced a 17 percent increase in our pool of applications. Highly diverse, exceedingly talented, these first-years believe a Wellesley education will help them find their voice and realize their ambitions. And we know they have much to contribute to our community.
Looking to the future, we are committed to preserving the treasured spaces in which we work and live. It is critical that we develop a sustainable operating budget model—one that will enable us to protect Wellesley’s iconic buildings, beautiful landscape, and the infrastructure that keeps our campus functioning. The needs of our campus have been long-standing, and the time has come for us to make significant strides toward a budget model that addresses them, while also investing in our academic program, in educational innovation, and in institutional priorities. We have spent time this year focusing on how to streamline and renew our academic program. We are in the early stages of exploring opportunities to redesign the work we do and the way we do it. The effort necessary to achieve financial sustainability will be significant and will require that we all contribute. As has been true at so many other critical moments in Wellesley’s history, if we are to succeed, we will need to come together to achieve this common goal.

It truly has been a joy to see our students and faculty at work in the newly renovated spaces of Pendleton West. As we look toward next year, the College’s new science center and renovation of the L-Wing are in the final planning stages. The building will be a hub for active, integrated, flexible instruction and learning at the forefront of science pedagogy—especially for women.

In the coming year, we will look to more fully embrace inclusive excellence, in which achieving equity is an essential component of achieving excellence. We will expand our focus on health and wellness and work to cultivate resilience, resolve, and emotional balance in our students. In short, we will do all that we can to empower our young women to create the world they want to live in.
Thank you for your extraordinary partnership over this year. 

I wish you a happy and healthy summer.

Paula A. Johnson