President Bennet to Step Down
President Doug Bennet will conclude his presidency at the end of the 2006-07
academic year, he informed faculty, students and staff on May 4.
Bennet, who became president in April 1995, led Wesleyan's historic $281
million capital campaign, expanded the size of the faculty, launched an
ambitious campus building program, and shaped the university’s first
comprehensive strategic plan.
"Wesleyan is doing well, both institutionally and in its daily pursuit of
excellence," Bennet said to members of the campus community gathered at the
steps of North College. "The university is prepared well to engage new
leadership, and the time is right for Midge and me to move ahead to the next
phase of our lives."
Bennet praised the ongoing work of Wesleyan's faculty in envisioning and
implementing a liberal arts and sciences curriculum intended to engage
students with the world around them and to enable them to become leaders. He
also cited the strategic planning processes that have mobilized the campus
and alumni communities around clear institutional priorities.
"Universities progress in several ways," he said. "There are big turning
points that affirm fundamental institutional commitments. The work we did to
define a Wesleyan education for the 21st century, to improve student aid, to
add faculty, and to begin a process of campus renewal—all of these show that
Wesleyan can make big decisions and act upon them."
He added: "The daily progress of an educational community is ongoing and
never-ending--the discovery, the teaching, the care and respect for all
within the community. New students arrive every year; new issues come to the
fore. They show who we really are, especially in making good on the
potential of our diversity. They help individual students define their
values and learn the confidence that will empower them as change-makers."
Midge Bennet thanked the assembled students, faculty and staff. She added
that, even after their retirement, she and the president would look forward
to "lectures and sporting events, as well as lunch at the new Usdan
“We will continue helping Wesleyan in any way we can,” she said.
James van B. Dresser '63, chair of Wesleyan's Board of Trustees, was on hand
to thank and congratulate the Bennets.
"The hallmark of Doug's tenure has been his ability to forge a strategic
direction for the institution," Dresser said. "Through cycles of planning
and action, Doug has moved Wesleyan forward. His well-placed faith in the
willingness of alumni, parents, and friends of the college to fund plans
they believed in has brought Wesleyan important new resources. The school
has never been stronger, and thanks to his leadership, the Wesleyan
community has the pride and confidence to move from strength to strength."
called Midge Bennet "for many of us … the wisest and warmest counselor and
friend we have known." He added: "Her undying faith in our common purpose
and our bright future have inspired all who have had the good fortune to
come into contact with her in any setting, over all these years."
Dresser assured those assembled he would consult the Board of Trustees
immediately about plans for a presidential search. "I promise that we will
keep the campus community fully informed about this process, and that we
will keep students, faculty and staff meaningfully involved," he said.
Douglas J. Bennet ’59 was elected the 15th president of Wesleyan University
April 7, 1995, and began his tenure on July 1, 1995. He was U.S. assistant
secretary of state for international organization affairs when tapped by
Wesleyan, though he was best known for his decade (1983-93) as chief
executive officer and president of National Public Radio.
Once installed as Wesleyan's president, Bennet led the university community
through its first-ever strategic planning process, a comprehensive effort
that included faculty, staff and students, alumni and parent leaders. This
process yielded a vision for liberal education in times of rapid change.
"Wesleyan Education for the Twenty-First Century" (1997) sought to define
the essential capabilities of an educated person and established the
principles on which to make ongoing curricular choices. It affirmed the
value of scholarship and teaching in a residential community and confirmed
that knowing how to learn is the most durable legacy of a Wesleyan
education. The process also produced "Strategy for Wesleyan" (1998), which
defined key institutional priorities: an enduring commitment to need-blind
admission and thus to building the University's student aid program; an
expansion of the faculty in order to improve teaching ratios and expand
scholarship and teaching in new, interdisciplinary areas; and the beginning
of a program of campus renewal.
To view Bennet's accomplishments, including his efforts with strategic
planning, student aid, faculty additions, campus renewal, fund-raising,
endowment management, technology and athletics, visit
These priorities became the foundation for the $281 million Wesleyan
Campaign, by far the most successful fund-raising effort in the university's
history. The campaign garnered contributions from 68 percent of Wesleyan's
alumni. Total gifts in a single year tripled, from $10.4 million in 1995 to
$31.3 million in 2005.
As the campaign concluded in 2004, Bennet led a second strategic planning
exercise. The second strategy, "Engaged with the World" (2005), describes
priorities for the period 2005-2010, including continuing curricular
innovations and renewed commitments to international studies and to science.
It outlines priorities for academics, campus life, student aid, and physical
Bennet's emphasis on planning and on strict allocation of budget resources
according to the priorities thus established has enabled Wesleyan to devote
the highest proportion of its total spending to teaching and research and
the lowest to administration among the top 50 schools in the annual rankings
produced by U.S. News and World Report. It has enabled Wesleyan to
compete for students and faculty against much better-endowed institutions.
It also has enabled the University to maximize the impact of fund-raising
and borrowing to invest in strategic priorities, while almost doubling the
market value of its endowment during his presidency.
The Bennet presidency also represented a new era of collaboration with the
city of Middletown. Under Bennet's leadership, Wesleyan participated
actively in the city's development efforts, including investing University
funds to bring to the city a downtown hotel, the 100-bed Inn at Middletown,
which opened in 2003. Wesleyan established the Green Street Arts Center, a
community arts center in the city's North End, offering classes and
workshops for children and adults in music, visual arts, dance, theater,
literary and media arts. The center, a collaboration with the city of
Middletown and the North End Action Team, is an important part of efforts to
revitalize the city's North End.
"I think they will be talking about Doug Bennet's legacy for many
generations to come," said Alan Dachs '70, chair of Wesleyan's Development
Committee who also served as chair of the Board of Trustees from 1997 to
2005. "He did an outstanding job as our president. He will be very hard to
replace. Everything we value most has been improved under his leadership.
Financial aid packages are better, and the academic enterprise is more
robust. He has raised more money than ever before in our history, and our
investment returns are in the top quartile. Everything he was asked to do,
he did and more, much more."
In January 2006, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation made a grant of $200,000 to
Wesleyan in honor of Doug Bennet's service to the university over the past
10 years. The grant created an endowment that will support an annual lecture
and program focused on ethics, politics and society.
|By Justin Harmon, director of