@AdamAtDenison: Let's Talk

A View from the Hill - Spring 2014

For years, my wife Anne has had to listen to my concerns about higher education. During my first semester at Denison, she listened to me talk endlessly about how Denison does it right, and how we should work harder to tell our story and engage in important public debates.

Denison has a great story to tell, and I am convinced we need to tell it more frequently and better. So I have decided to join the age of social media and tweet. When the idea was first raised, I was a bit hesitant. To be honest, I had never been on Twitter. But as I experienced Denison, I began to see the possibilities.

I want to find more ways to communicate with the larger Denison community. And I want to do this in ways that are regular, interactive, and unfiltered. Twitter will allow me to post short snapshots of Denison and the state of higher education in this country. It also allows you to respond and ask questions, which I will try to answer as best I can in 140 characters or fewer.

Here are a few items from my first semester that Twitter would have allowed me to share:

In December, there was a fascinating editorial in The Wall Street Journal that discussed the disengagement of faculty at many colleges. Denison is a counterexample to this trend in every way. Our faculty are deeply engaged in the education of our students and the college. By staying true to certain principles, we have managed to retain a teacher-scholar model that is the essence of a great college education.

Second, there is growing national concern about financial aid and student loan debt burdens. Our conservative management philosophy and commitment to multiple forms of financial aid have run counter to much thinking in higher education. They also have allowed us to achieve a 57 percent discount rate, meaning that on average, students pay only 43 percent of the full Denison tuition, with the college picking up the rest of the tab through grants and scholarships.

Third, Denison has become a benchmark liberal arts college for diversity. This year, 32 percent of our students bring some form of ethnic or racial diversity to campus and 13 percent are first-generation college students. Our campus dynamics suggest ways of educating and training a generation to move beyond the polarized political discourses of our society to invent a new form of civil democracy.

In other words, I want to use Twitter to put the spotlight on some of the major issues facing higher education and how we address them.

And of course, I’ll also keep you posted on the progress Denison is making in areas such as admissions (Denison has become one of the most selective colleges in the country, admitting 46 percent of our applicants, compared with 84 percent in 1994); arts (we had an amazing fall filled with bluegrass music, theatre and dance performances, art shows, comedy troupes, and everything in between); and athletics (this fall, field hockey was 17-2, football was 7-3, men’s soccer was 11-4-3, women’s soccer finished first in its league, and women’s rugby finished 13th in the country and claimed the DII Ohio state championship for the third year in a row).

Sociologists talk about finding the abnormal in the normal. This expression captures my first semester at Denison. The “normal” daily events at Denison are extraordinary for the impact they are having on a generation of stellar students, preparing them to be the world-class human beings who have defined this college for generations.

I need your help raising the visibility of Denison by letting the rest of the world know about the tremendous things happening at this college. If you find something interesting, please retweet it and/or post it to Facebook, LinkedIn, or your other social media accounts. Email links to friends, especially those who have children of high-school age. Help me use technology to raise Denison’s visibility in ways that are important for Denison and higher education.

For those who are well versed in social media, advice is welcome. For those who have been slow to embrace social media, consider opening a Twitter account and learning with me. For those who are not inclined, know that I will continue to focus most of my time on the face-to-face relationships that define Denison, making it the college we admire and cherish.

Published March 2014