President's Page

The Vantage Point of “Acting”

By Jonathan Chenette, Acting President

Filling in for President Hill this semester as acting president has been a pleasure and a privilege. I have been able to witness this remarkable institution from the broadest of perspectives, interacting closely with engaged students, dedicated employees, and the extended network of Vassar alumnae/i. This experience has been wonderfully affirming.

Our community pursues excellence in all that we do, individually and institutionally. We do so in part by fostering an environment that enables and encourages a broad range of interests and means of expression, such as through our flexible and dynamic curriculum, an impressive array of student organizations, and a busy schedule of extracurricular events.

We have deep and abiding values of acceptance, inclusion, support, and wide access to the world-class and world-changing education we provide. These values inspire our substantial investment in financial aid to make a Vassar education affordable for multitalented students from a range of backgrounds. They also motivate our innovative partnership with the Posse Foundation to bring groups of 10 or so veterans of the Afghan and Iraqi military engagements to each of the next four entering classes. By the time next fall’s entering students become seniors, nearly two percent of our student body will be veterans, bringing important leadership and perspective to our campus living and learning environment.

One of the most enlightening aspects of serving as acting president has been meeting with students during my office hours and at pizza dinners at my house. We’ve gathered to discuss what it’s like to be an athlete at Vassar, to return from study abroad, to experience the transitions program for low-income and first-generation students, or to strive for a more inclusive campus community. During office hours, students have brought ideas for improving taxi service, working toward elimination of bottled water, uniting against sexual assault, and countering society’s dependence on fossil fuels, among many other topics. These are energizing interactions. The theme of our just-completed, very successful fund-raising campaign, Vassar 150: World Changing, takes on concrete meaning in these efforts of Vassar students to improve our campus home and care for our shared community.

I’ve even had students stop by just to say thanks for the extraordinary education they have experienced here. One international student about to graduate visited simply to tell me about all the kindnesses—from faculty, administrators, support staff, and other students—he had enjoyed here. In his own country, he said, kindness was a transaction: you were kind to others so that they would do something in return for you. Here he felt people were kind just for the satisfaction of helping—faculty paving the way for internship opportunities, administrators helping iron out visa difficulties, dining services workers chatting about how your day was going, friends picking you up when you are feeling stressed. He said that Vassar had been the most important, transformative experience of his life.

The president’s office provides a superb viewpoint for appreciating Vassar’s remarkable resources. To some extent, I mean our financial and physical resources, which allow us to accomplish much; but I also mean our resources of strong values, high standards, and lofty aspirations that stretch our financial and physical resources to their limits. More than anything, though, I mean our resources of highly capable and dedicated people, like those cited by that international student—people who care for our campus, provide services and support, share their time and money to strengthen the college for the future, and teach engaging, mind-altering courses.

I am awed by the range of talents it takes to keep Vassar humming along. We’re a veritable small city of skilled workers collaborating on realizing Matthew Vassar’s vision of providing “the means of a thorough, well-proportioned, and liberal education.” The means required have grown since our founder’s time to include offices or departments running alphabetically from “Accessibility & Educational Opportunity” to “Women’s Studies,” and including such services as accounting, communications, computing, development, dining, financial aid, health and counseling services, the library, the nursery school, the post office, safety and security, numerous academic departments and programs, and much more.

It has been immensely rewarding for me to perceive the richness and variety of these resources and to steward them in President Hill’s place. With such resources to draw on, we have been able to work together to respond effectively to the issues that have come our way this semester, and I know we will continue to strive for that ideal community we see and feel in our best moments.

Jonathan Chenette served as acting president of Vassar during the spring semester, while President Catharine Hill was on sabbatical. He has been Dean of the Faculty since 2008.