A Conversation with President Daniel Porterfield

Recorded on Thursday, August 30, 2012 in Mayser Gymnasium.

Watch a 3-minute highlights reel from this event

In the first Common Hour of the 2012-13 academic year on Aug. 30 in Mayser Gymnasium, President Daniel R. Porterfield spoke of the shared vision of members of the College community to progressively strengthen the institution as a national liberal arts college in ways authentic to Franklin & Marshall. He also provided highlights of new programs and initiatives that have evolved in the past six months, and he outlined ways in which the institution is building on existing structures through such efforts as curriculum review, involving alumni in recruiting prospective students, and providing new opportunities to students and alumni for personal and professional growth.

After his remarks, the President responded to questions from students, faculty and professional staff on topics that included the relationship between coaches and faculty, the size of the student body, Porterfield’s experiences teaching, and strategic planning for the College, among others.

President Porterfield here responds to the questions that were submitted but were not addressed during the Q&A because of time constraints:

We heard the College just applied for and got a grant from the Mellon Foundation to support faculty development. What will F&M do with the funds?

Our faculty members are discussing how we might create new resources to help faculty learn from one another about new approaches to teaching in all its forms, including mentoring students in research. This is called the Faculty Centers Project (FCP).

Associate Professor of Astronomy Andrea Lommen is serving as coordinator of the FCP. The activities to be funded by Mellon are a series of visits to campus from directors of outstanding centers at other top liberal arts colleges as well as trips by our faculty to other institutions. A faculty survey will help define how we go forward. I’m excited about the way this project reflects and expresses our faculty members’ commitment to continuous development.

How can upperclassmen help first-years get involved?

I think we do a great job providing support to our first-year students through the College House leaders, the HA’s, and the way the various student club leaders are so inclusive of new students. It’s exciting to me that first-year students don’t have to wait their turn to get involved in a club.

I think that upperclass students should remember to reach out to students who might seem shy or reticent and to go to extra lengths to involve as many students as possible. And first-year students, pleased don’t wait to be asked. We want you involved because you bring a ton to the table and we need your ideas. From community service, to College House government, to multicultural outreach, to the performing arts, first-years get a chance to make an impact right away here. And as a result, our activities and our campus offerings always are fresh and new.

Why do so many students find it difficult graduating in just four years?

I’m not sure if this is a question relating to F&M or to the nation more broadly, so let me make a few comments about both.

At the national level, graduating rates are well below 50 percent. This is across a wide variety of types of institutions, and factors such as finances, family responsibilities, academic difficulties and the like all play important roles. However, at small selective liberal arts colleges like F&M, graduation rates are much higher, ranging typically from percentages in the 60s to the mid-to-upper 80s — with some institutions into the 90 percent range.

Our most recent four-year graduation rate is 84 percent, and our most recent five-year graduation rate is 87 percent. We would like to get to the 90 percent region. Note that the vast majority of those who graduate do so in four years.

At F&M, there is no dominant reason for students not graduating. In some cases, students choose to transfer to another institution and graduate from that college or university; we do not count these students as graduating from F&M. They may do so because they prefer a big city environment or a larger institution, or have identified a program they want to pursue that we don’t offer, such as nursing. Some students have academic or social difficulties and decide to pursue other options. In some cases, family finances play a role, but we don’t believe there is a significant trend in this regard, as we work very hard with students so that they can continue.

Are we going to have another College concert this year?

We are hoping to. I think campus concerts really enhance school spirit. We have a great concert and entertainment committee and they are working hard with Kelly Kennedy, the director of College programs, and others to bring an event to the community. I believe they’re exploring both on-campus and off-campus concert venues.

Why was the announcement that Jazzman’s was to become ZeBi so last-minute? Regardless of one’s support or dissent, shouldn’t the community have been able to engage in some form of discourse about the change?

I’m going to lend this space to Barry Bosley, Associate Vice President for Administration Barry Bosley to answer.

Associate Vice President Barry Bosley: We’re pleased that the change from Jazzman’s to ZeBi is the direct result of community input. It is the College’s response to frequent requests from students, faculty and staff for more food options at that location, and for a broader and healthier menu than the grab-and-go items at the former Jazzman’s. We were engaged with the planning for ZeBi for more than a year, and we had the involvement of students, including for a site visit to George Washington University’s ZeBi location over the summer to get feedback on the new dining option.

Who will win the election in November?

Nobody knows, but I do know that all students should vote. The first meeting of he organization F&M Votes is Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 2:30 p.m. in Stager 112. Many thanks to Nicole Hoover and Van Gosse for their leadership as citizens in helping our students get to the polls.

Dr. P., what did you do for fun this summer?

It was an invigorating summer. I visited with young F&M alums in New York and Philadelphia. I went to France for the dedication of the statue for our distinguished alumnus Maj. Richard Winters of the Class of ’41. We had a couple of ice-cream parties on campus. I edified myself by sitting in on some CTY classes (on Einstein) and taking part in the F&M College Prep program. And I also hung out with my family — highlights included a Coldplay concert, playing Battleship with my daughter, Sarah, a week at the beach, and watching my daughters meet the actor Ashton Kutcher on the set of “Two and a Half Men.”

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