by Jeffrey Peck, Dean, Weissman School of Arts & Sciences, Vice Provost for Global Strategies
The Weissman School is committed to the ideal of education in the liberal arts and sciences as a transformation of the whole person, a project that aims to encourage the growth of our students as citizens, as professionals-in-the-making, and as human beings. With this end in mind, we strive to foster superior levels of skill in communication and quantitative reasoning, to cultivate outstanding critical and analytic abilities, and to develop an informed and expanded capacity for aesthetic, ethical, civic, and cross-cultural awareness. Whether our students come to us with the intention of majoring in the arts and sciences or of studying business or public affairs, these objectives dictate our mission as a school and shape the experience of a Weissman education.
Although one of our most important responsibilities is preparing students for higher level study in pre-professional disciplines, Weissman is currently a school with nearly 3,000 students of its own, and this number suggests as clearly as any other piece of evidence how far we have come toward our goal of becoming a “destination school.” Because we are part of an institution that includes a very large business school, it may not be immediately obvious that, in numerical terms, the Weissman School is now about the same size as some of the best known liberal arts colleges in the country. With a world-class faculty housed in thirteen departments, major programs that include some nineteen different tracks of study (as well as over forty minor programs), we offer a range of intellectual opportunities that is as broad, as flexible, and as comprehensive as any to be found in comparable institutions of higher learning.
Programs and Initiatives
In recent years, the Weissman School has initiated a variety of programs and other organized activities, which have benefitted students directly as well as indirectly through the creation of public forums and other opportunities for intellectual exchange. Incoming students have benefitted directly from the Freshman Learning Communities program, which organizes two classes in a student’s schedule into a shared experience for a group of twenty, complete with study sessions and other meetings outside class time, as well as outings to historical sites, museums, concerts, theater productions, and other cultural events. Designed to help new freshmen develop a network of acquaintances and adjust to life on a college campus, the program was conceived as a modern descendent of Baruch’s well known “house plan,” which many alumni remember fondly from earlier years. It is based on the theory that students who are engaged with campus life, with faculty, and with other students will also more readily become engaged with their studies, a hypothesis confirmed by data showing that students who have had the benefit of the program continue to post grade point averages two-tenths of a point above those of their peers, even a full semester after the completion of the program.
Three ongoing initiatives, which involve faculty, students, and the general public, offer examples of the intellectual enrichment that the Weissman School has been able to provide. The Global Studies initiative is an effort to develop our understanding of the increasing interconnectedness of the modern world and has resulted in conferences and numerous public lectures, featuring speakers from our own faculty as well as distinguished guests; a newly created course entitled “Globalization, Past, Present, and Future”; and a minor program that draws together offerings from several departments.
Another Weissman initiative, entitled “Public Scholarship and Civic Engagement: The Liberal Arts in the World,” has offered students and faculty an opportunity to consider ways that study of the liberal arts can affect the world at large without sacrificing quality or integrity. This project has also involved a number of prominent speakers, notably at a panel event called Arguing the World, which focused on four major intellectual figures known as the New York Intellectuals: Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe, and Daniel Bell.
Finally, our new initiative in the field of Jewish Studies has begun with the inauguration of a Jewish Studies Center (JSC) and a new minor program in the subject for students. The Center includes an Advisory Board composed of prominent alumni and supporters, and it has hosted a number of well attended events and performances, including evenings featuring the National Yiddish Theater and Pulitzer Prize-winning artist and author Art Spiegelman.
Support for Faculty
Support for faculty is also support for students, who benefit from the new scholarship that our instructors bring to the classroom. Every semester the Weissman School has offered steady support for faculty research in the form of released time and travel funds, which make it possible for faculty members to attend academic conferences and conduct their studies in distant locations and archives (we have also brought distinguished faculty from outside the college as visiting professors). As an example of the fascinating and acclaimed work that our faculty have recently undertaken, one might mention the work of Professors David Gruber and Edyta Greer of the Weissman Department of Natural Sciences, who received startup money from the Weissman school to launch a project that eventually brought them a half million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation. This project involved the design and construction of an unmanned submarine (known as a “Deep Reef-ROV,” or deep reef remotely operated vehicle), which the professors are using to study the diverse biology of deep coral reef habitats.
The Weissman School is the home of the performing arts at Baruch College, and the Baruch Performing Arts Center (BPAC) has been recognized by the New York Times as a premier performance space for music, theater, and dance. Recent attractions have included the yearly concert series offered by the Alexander String Quartet, who brought their interpretations of the complete quartets of Beethoven and Shostakovich to our stage shortly after their fine recordings of those works were completed, as well as any number of other celebrated performers of classical music, such as the distinguished pianist Ursula Oppens. The Milt Hinton Jazz Perspectives Concert Series has featured such well known performers as Wynton Marsalis, Tito Puente, the Heath Brothers, Billy Taylor, and, in the past year, the pianist Cyrus Chestnut and Lolis Eric Elie, who is a screenwriter for the music-rich HBO series Treme.
Theatrical productions have included classics by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Molière, and Ibsen, as well as works by contemporary playwrights such as Neil Labute. Among the famous performers who have crossed our stage are legendary figures like Fyvush Finkel and Theodore Bikel, both of whom appeared with our resident theater company, the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene, as well as Tovah Feldshuh, star of the play Irene’s Vow, which went directly from Baruch to a run on Broadway. Theodore Bikel and Tovah Feldshuh also participated in Weissman Talks, a series that showcases Weissman faculty in panel discussions related to the theatrical productions.
Along with the performing arts, the Weissman School has given steady support to the visual arts, which are on display at Baruch’s Sidney Mishkin Gallery. Recent shows have included Spirit Rock, Sacred Mountain: A Chinese View of Nature and Mercedes Matter: A Retrospective, both of which were positively reviewed in the Wall Street Journal (and viewed by hundreds of our students).
In recent years, the Baruch Performing Arts Center and the Sidney Mishkin Gallery have both come into their own as publicly recognized venues for the arts. We have every reason to believe that the Weissman School itself is in the process of becoming a similarly well recognized destination for students of the arts and sciences, who are naturally attracted to a high quality institution located in one of the most convenient and exciting neighborhoods in Manhattan.
Top Left: Solomon Freedman (’49), David Shanton, Dean Peck
Top Right: Irina Mironova (’12) & Carmen Cortez (’13) with Dean Peck at the 2011 Bernard Baruch Dinner
Bottom Left: Catherine Urena (’11) with Dean Peck at the Student Awards Ceremony
Bottom Right: Charles Dreifus (’66), MBA (’73), David Moche, Dean Peck, Donald Hecht (’54)