President Laurie A. Carter speaks at a podium on the stage of Memorial Chapel as Provost Peter Blitstein, at a second podium, looks on.
President Laurie A. Carter speaks at Friday's Matriculation Convocation. She was joined by Provost and Dean of Faculty Peter Blitstein in the annual event welcoming a new academic year. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Lawrence University will continue to embrace its mission as a liberal arts institution while evolving its academic programming and student experiences to meet the needs of today’s students.

That commitment was delivered Friday as both President Laurie A. Carter and Provost and Dean of Faculty Peter Blitstein addressed the Lawrence community at the annual Matriculation Convocation, an annual gathering in Memorial Chapel to kick off a new academic year.

They spoke of change being part of the tradition and history of the liberal arts, and Lawrence’s need to remain nimble in responding to a changing world. And they spoke of Lawrence’s steadfast commitment to its mission at a time when ideological attacks on higher education are becoming more frequent.

“At Lawrence, we cannot and will not step back from our commitment to the liberal arts and to our community, a commitment built on a devotion to excellence and integrity,” Carter said. “We will not waver in providing Lawrentians with an education that prepares them to be leaders and innovators. As we have for 176 years, we will continue to prepare our students for lives of achievement and fulfillment, engaged citizenship, and a thirst for both knowledge and understanding.”

Faculty marshal Celia Barnes leads President Laurie Carter and members of the faculty into Memorial Chapel for the Matriculation Convocation.
Lawrence University Faculty Marshal Celia Barnes leads President Laurie A. Carter and members of the faculty and university leadership into Memorial Chapel for the Matriculation Convocation.

A tradition continues

Dressed in academic regalia, faculty and campus leadership processed into Memorial Chapel, led by Celia Barnes, associate professor of English and faculty marshal, to organist Daniel Schwandt performing Festal March. The Welcome Week Choir, featuring first-year students and led by Stephen Sieck and Phillip Swan, co-directors of choral studies, performed Show Us How to Love.

The Matriculation Convocation has a deep history at Lawrence, the first of three convocations to be held during each academic year. While traditionally an address presented by the university’s president, Carter asked Blitstein to join her on stage to speak to some of the challenges being faced by higher education, and how Lawrence is responding.

“As the leader of our academic programming at Lawrence, he has important perspectives to share,” Carter said.

Challenges in higher education

Recent attacks on higher education have not only questioned the value of a college degree but have taken direct aim at academic freedom and the progress that’s been made in areas of diversity and inclusion on college campuses.

“Central to our mission is the principle of academic freedom of faculty and students,” Blitstein said.  “Academic freedom means that our faculty have the autonomy to teach in the areas of their professional expertise. And our students have the autonomy to learn and explore.”

Blitstein called legislation aimed at rolling back or eliminating DEI programs “the most deplorable attacks on higher education.”

“America is, and always has been, a diverse, multicultural, and multiracial society and is becoming ever more so,” he said. “It is imperative for colleges and universities to welcome students from a variety of backgrounds and identities and to prepare them for a complex and uncertain future.”

Carter added: “We oppose laws that undermine free expression and hinder discussion of our histories, our differences, and our challenges. Lawrence welcomes civil discourse as an opportunity to educate our students about how to be engaged citizens.”

Change is a constant

Blitstein, a history professor, talked about change in academic programming that has happened throughout Lawrence’s history.

“The content of the liberal arts and sciences have and will change over time, but the values and the potential it instills in students remain a constant,” he said.

The Lawrence of today continues to embrace change on multiple fronts.

“We must be willing to change with the times, to innovate in exciting new ways, just as the liberal arts—and Lawrence—have always done,” Carter said.

That change can be seen in two major building projects launched this summer—the development of Fox Commons, which will provide enhanced academic spaces and student housing options in the heart of downtown Appleton, and the construction of a new four-story, 120,000-square-foot building at 315 E. College Avenue that will house the nonprofit Trout Museum of Art on the ground floor, state-of-the-art humanities and other academic spaces for Lawrence on the second floor, and market-rate apartments on the upper two floors. In addition to learning hubs, new classroom technologies, and modern teaching spaces, the developments bring fresh opportunities for community engagement, mentoring, internships, and other career-focused exploration.

Change also is seen in the recent growth of academic programs that lean into the liberal arts while offering programs desired by many of today’s students—recent new majors in business and entrepreneurship and environmental science; new minors in statistics and data science and dance; commitments to neuroscience and global health, and a revised Bachelor of Musical Arts degree, among others.

Change is seen in new investments in athletic facilities, including a new track and field complex at Whiting Field, scheduled for completion this fall.

It’s seen in new approaches to the first-year experience, including soon-to-be-introduced faculty-led revisions to First-Year Studies.

First-Year studies has been a cornerstone of the Academic Experience since 1945. 

“All are changes that move us forward,” Carter said. “They do not take us away from our history or our mission. Rather, they recognize that the needs of today’s students are not the same needs as students from generations past. This is change that strengthens us as we build a path forward as one of this country’s finest liberal arts colleges.”

Blitstein and Carter told students in attendance that Lawrence’s commitment to the betterment of their education is unwavering.

“We are committed to developing the habits of mind and skills that prepare you for life after you leave here— for lives of accomplishment and personal fulfillment; for engagement with the world; for lifelong learning necessary in a world of constant change and uncertainty,” Blitstein said. 

That, Carter added, is an ongoing commitment.

“As I told our incoming students at last week’s President’s Welcome, you are matriculating at a college with a deep history,” she said. “There are Lawrentians making a difference all over this world, and they remain wonderfully connected—to us and to each other. We are fond of saying, while you are a Lawrence student for four or five years, you are Forever a Lawrentian. You have and will continue to be a witness to this great institution adapting as we both celebrate our brilliant history and evolve to meet the needs and expectations of today’s students and all the Lawrentians yet to come.”