President's Blog

Archive for December 2011

Winter Break!

Campus has emptied out. Facebook informs me that our students are back home or on exciting travels, reconnecting with family and friends, preparing for holiday festivities, enjoying home cooking, and celebrating the successes of the last semester.

Rick and I are headed for Mexico, where we’ll spend both Christmas and New Year’s. Please understand if I don’t post again until after the New Year, when Sweet Briar reopens!

I LOVE our winter trips to the beach. They provide the best opportunity I have these days to immerse myself in reading. What luxury! Here’s what’s on the iPad for this trip:

  • The Most Human Human: a reflection on intelligence, human and artificial, and what we mean by “humanity.”
  • The new biography of Catherine the Great. I know far too little about her and I have admired Massie’s other biographies. 
  • P.D. James’ new novel, Death Comes to Pemberley. (Do check out the video at that link!) P.D. James meets Jane Austen. What more could you want?
  • Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. I’m eager for the sequel to Wolf Hall to appear — Wolf Hall being one of the very best things I’ve read in recent years — and until it does I’ll be reading Mantel’s previous work. This one is a novel set in the French Revolution.
  • Abelard to Apple. OK, this is a bit of a cheat, as I’ve read this quickly once before, but I want to reread it when I have a little more time to think about it. Higher education, from the monastery to the cloud. . .


And maybe I’ll tuck in paperback mystery for the plane.

I hope the next weeks bring holiday joy and the happiest of new years to each and every one of you. Thank you for being part of 2011 at Sweet Briar: I look forward to sharing 2012 with you.

Town and Gown

This morning the Lynchburg “Town and Gown” group held a breakfast meeting on campus.

Mayor Foster and Council members

The group is an initiative of Mayor Joan Foster, who recognizes the value of regular dialogue between the presidents of Lynchburg’s academic institutions and City Council leadership. I was delighted to be the host of this morning’s discussion. Some of these leaders are regular visitors to Sweet Briar — Mayor Foster grew up across the street and is a regular presence at Endstation productions, and President John Capps of CVCC was just out to visit a week or two ago — while others, lifelong Lynchburg area residents, were on campus for the first time today.

Sometimes I hear students or alumnae talk about Sweet Briar as the “pink bubble,” which is of course an affectionate way of describing the sense of specialness and rarity that we enjoy on campus. But equally of course, no campus is or can be really a bubble, just as no person is an island. What happens in our local community — the climate for business development, the investments in infrastructure, the intellectual and cultural resources that are available, the quality of the schools and parks — is essential to the health and quality of the College.

Randolph President John Klein, Lynchburg College President Ken Garren, and other guests getting breakfastIt’s therefore vital that there be active dialogue between Lynchburg political, civic, and business leaders and the several fine academic institutions in the community. Today, for instance, we talked about health issues in the community and what the colleges and universities could do, as employers and as educators, to help. Past topics have included how we might collaborate to generate internships for students that support local businesses, regional water quality issues, and so on.

Sweet Briar, while miles from Lynchburg, is certainly grateful to be a part of the greater Lynchburg community. Like Mayor Foster, we believe that Town and Gown are valuable partners.

Exam Week!

You might enjoy this album of images taken during Exam Week! Here’s just one example:

Exam week has a special energy: it’s a potent mix of nerves, relief, anticipation, dread, confidence, insecurity, and a sort of “we’re all in this together” camaraderie. Walking through Prothro, I seem to hear “I’m SO not ready” and “I did it!” in equal measure.

The opportunity to take a mental step back, review the semester’s work, and try to express something essential about what you’ve learned is both daunting and exhilarating. Best wishes to all Sweet Briar students as they finish their exams, papers, and projects, and safe travels to all as they head home!

Just About My Favorite Holiday Gathering

The annual holiday luncheon for retirees is just about my favorite holiday gathering.

As wonderful as all the holiday parties are, there is something especially festive about spending time with people who have experienced so much of the College’s history. Yesterday, there was a particularly interesting thread of conversation, as the event took place on December 7th and several of those present had personal memories of Pearl Harbor Day to share. I found out, for example, that Biology Professor Margaret Simpson had been a child in Hawaii on Pearl Harbor Day and recalls everyone around her assuming it was a drill. . .

Here are some tidbits about the group that gathered yesterday:

  • Together, they represent more than 700 years of service to Sweet Briar.
  • Seven of their daughters have graduated from Sweet Briar, and one of those daughters is now a member of the Board of Directors.
  • Two of them have honored spouses with wonderful gifts to Sweet Briar — in one case an endowed concert series and in the other case a scholarship.
  • The longest serving individual present worked at Sweet Briar for 46 years.


When I called for those who had begun working at Sweet Briar in the 1950s to join me to receive applause and a poinsettia, there were six who rose.

Stories flow like water at this gathering of colleagues who have, in many cases, worked together since before our current students’ parents were born. It’s a privilege to hear them.