The Exeter Bulletin — Spring 2012
Visualizing Our Success
Setting benchmarks to realize the dream
By Principal Thomas E. Hassan '56, '66, '70, '06 (Hon.); P'11
The letter I sent recently to all members of the Academy community communicating a vision for Exeter's immediate future has engendered a tremendous amount of interest. Of course, it is no surprise to me that Exonians reacted quickly and with great insight. On the day I sent it out, I received more than 150 emails in reply. That number has now grown to hundreds more, as well as many discussions in the dining halls, on the paths and at alumni/ae events. And there is more rich dialogue ahead as we address the three imperatives which I have outlined: Intellectual Ambition, Global Exploration and Goodness. Even at this early stage, several themes are emerging from the various reactions to the plan. These are: the student advising system, continuing the Exeter in the World initiative, enhancing the performing arts, increasing diversity among PEA's adults, and fostering and instilling goodness throughout the community. Some of these topics can be placed neatly under one of the imperatives, while others span two or even all three.
As I reflect on these immediate concerns, it makes sense to have a common image—both qualitative and quantitative—of what success would look like as we address them. We are currently working on developing benchmarks for initiatives contained within each imperative, and I expect to be able to report on these when the school year concludes. Now, in a more general way, I would like to offer my vision and my dream of where I would like the Academy to be in five years, in relation to each of these near-term objectives.
In my letter to the community, I spoke of an advising structure that would "balance the needs of students, parents and faculty within a system that is compassionate, responsive, equitable, realistic and technologically efficient." I would like to see our students experience an even and stable advising system; one in which all students and all advisers know what is expected of them, and what their responsibilities are to make that long-term relationship work. No system involving human relationships can be completely legislated, and certainly other educational institutions wrestle with this issue as well, but I hope the Exeter community in five years will have developed a common set of high standards to which advisers and advisees will aspire. These standards will be part and parcel of an arrangement that provides advisers adequate time, training and support, and one which rewards advisers for their efforts. In order to begin developing such a structure, I have appointed a committee to begin the process, and have asked that a plan be brought before the faculty in the spring of next year.
Elements of the Exeter in the World initiative have been under way for well over a year. There has been an increase in the number and types of opportunities for students and faculty to expand their horizons beyond the Exeter campus—locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Owing to our centuries-old mandate, we have expanded John Phillips' encouragement to find "youth from every quarter" to ensuring now that we prepare "youth for every quarter."
In five years, I would like to have this effort seen as integral to the fabric of an Exeter education. Policies and procedures will be developed for implementing new programs and evaluating existing ones. There will be avenues for students and faculty to report back to the community and share the benefit of their experiences. Academic departments will be collaborating on programs and trips, and students will be benefiting from a variety of intellectual and human perspectives. A coordinator for Exeter in the World—one who will ensure that the optimum value was derived from each experience and aid community members in creating new, fresh, imaginative programs— will be named. I am currently fundraising for such a position. In five years, my hope is that we are well under way in having a new performing arts center that unites the campus in exploring all aspects of creativity. The facility will not be limited to just those students who have a burning passion for theater and dance. Strong science and math students, for example, will use the arts to unleash their imaginations. In fact, recent research shows that Nobel laureates in the sciences are 22 percent more likely to become amateur actors, dancers, magicians or other performers than nonlaureate scientists. In the future, every Exeter student will have the programs, the place(s) and the resources to encourage their creativity.
I would like to see the adult community reflect more closely on the diversity of the student body. We need to ensure that all people and perspectives can thrive here at Exeter. I can think of no greater lesson to model for our students as they prepare to enter a world that is more global and interconnected. And it is more than just a recruitment issue; we need to focus on the retention of a diversity of students and adults.
Overall, I want the Exeter community of the future to act as a model of civility and respect for students during their time here. I would like, in the years immediately ahead of us, to have every person in our community—adult and student— know that they are valued for who they are and what they contribute. I believe that living as part of a cohesive and cooperative campus community will equip students to create and nurture the best possible society in their lives beyond Exeter. Our dreams will move closer to reality and our visions will become more concrete in the months ahead as we address the near-term challenges, explore the three overarching imperatives, establish benchmark measures and statistics, and implement plans and programs. However, in the words of the poet Carl Sandburg, "Nothing happens unless first a dream."
— By Principal Thomas E. Hassan