President’s Message: Student Engagement

By President William E. Troutt


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Nothing improves perspective like a trip abroad, and I recently had a perspective infusion as a guest of the German Higher Education Rectors Conference in Berlin. That national oversight group asked the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Association of American Universities (AAU) to send a delegation to consult on the challenges faced by higher education in that country. It was my privilege to represent the ACE. University of Virginia president John Casteen was tapped by AAU.

As you can imagine, we had many fascinating experiences, yet one series in particular stands out in my mind. We visited Humboldt University in Berlin where the entry hall of the administration building features the portraits of 29 Nobelists who were once on the university’s faculty. The last one was named in 1933.

Then we went to the Free University of Berlin which was actually founded by students in 1948. The campus is organized around academic disciplines clustered in new and imaginative ways. Rising in the center of this campus is a massive new library. Designed by the renowned architectural firm of Norman Foster, it evokes images of the human brain.

Images of those two very fine higher education institutions, combined with a long flight home, stirred me to reflect further on Rhodes and our aspirations. I kept thinking about the venerable Humboldt with its passion for tradition. What a contrast to the Free University of Berlin, with its relentless focus on the future. How, I asked myself, do we ensure that our students benefit from the college’s historic strengths and traditions as well as current best practices in liberal learning?

After much reflection, I am convinced that the Student Engagement imperative of the Rhodes Vision will help us meet that goal. While the college retains the best of its past—the Honor Code, the important elements of the Search course, collegiate Gothic architecture, the Kinney service program, faculty who excel in the classroom—we will reinforce those pillars of Rhodes with new classics such as Rhodes CARES (Center for Academic Research and Education through Service) that provide our students experiences that compliment and enhance those they receive in the classroom. You will find an in-depth look at one of the Rhodes CARES programs in the article "Elvis Is Only the Beginning."

My good friend Barry Munitz, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, recently visited Rhodes on his way back from a Princeton Trustee meeting and was most impressed. He was especially enthusiastic about how we are implementing our Vision—not by imitating other institutions but by “learning how to be the very best Rhodes that you can be.” Integral to that evolution, he felt, are the Rhodes programs that take students out into the community and into the world to gain insights that broaden and intensify their classroom experiences. This integrated approach to learning will produce graduates who are capable of translating academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world.