Category: 2019

Note on the DACA Litigation (11/19/19)

Dear Campus Community,

On November 12, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Lawrence was one of 164 colleges and universities from across the country who signed an amicus brief in support of the litigation to uphold the program. While the Supreme Court could issue a ruling any time until the end of June 2020, many of us on campus are reading news stories that attempt to discern the court’s potential leanings. I can only imagine how unsettling this news may be to members of our community whose life at Lawrence and beyond could be affected by potential changes to this program.

In light of this uncertain moment, we encourage members of our community to share any questions or concerns about your status or the DACA program with Kimberly Barrett, vice president for diversity and inclusion, Brittany Bell, assistant dean of students and director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center, or Leah McSorley, associate dean of students for international student services. Resources for students, faculty, and staff are also available on our website. Confidential counseling is also available at the Wellness Center and at the Center for Spiritual and Religious Life.

The university remains committed to supporting every student on our campus regardless of their immigration status. We will continue to offer institutional financial aid for students who do not hold a U.S. passport. We will continue to recruit faculty and staff from around the world, and we will continue to provide support and resources to undocumented students and ones with global backgrounds.  

A core value of this university is to ensure that Lawrence remains open to academically prepared students from all backgrounds. We are proud of our immigrant community and we are proud to support the national efforts to sustain their opportunity to succeed and thrive here at Lawrence. In the words of the brief we signed, “[We] have seen firsthand the positive effects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals… [T]housands of talented and hard-working young people have made significant and wide-ranging contributions to [our] campuses. They form a key part of our campus life and as institutions we benefit greatly from the energy and academic excellence they bring.”



Matriculation Convocation 2019: Is Our Future Too Hot to Handle?

Our weather is starting to cool down now, but fire has been on my mind and in the news this summer. Over the past two months the world has become aware of the significant increase in fires that threaten the Amazon. The Brazilian National Institute for Space Research as of August 23rd tracked close to 73,000 fires in that country since the beginning of this year. More than half occurred in the Amazon. The equivalent of one and a half soccer fields of rainforest have been consumed every minute of every day this year, an 80% increase from last year. Many tie these events to both the pressure for additional grazing land for cattle which provides critical livelihood for local inhabitants, and the now implicit support of this land usage by a new federal government in Brazil.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Amazon spans eight countries and covers 40% of South America – an area that is nearly two-thirds as large as the United States. This forest absorbs carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and produces about 20% of the earth’s oxygen. Many refer to the Amazon as “the planet’s lungs”. An overwhelming majority of scientists believe the Amazon fires will have a devastating impact on the Earth’s ability to produce oxygen and to generate rain – including the precipitation essential for farms here, in the Midwest. These fires also impact biodiversity. The Amazon is home to large numbers of mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, most of them unique to the region. A new plant or animal species is discovered there every two days.

Other parts of the world are also burning. Hotter, drier weather has created fire conditions from Alaska and the Arctic to the Canary Islands and California. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the global temperature for the month of July was the highest since recording began in 1880.
In addition to the environmental impact of these fires, the spectacular pictures brought to mind the scholarship of Lawrence Professor of History and Latin American Studies, Jake Frederick. He teaches us that fire through history has represented domestication, conflict, and consumption. But these fires which consume many parts of the world fall into a different category he suggests, fire as foe.

July in Appleton was hotter than usual, but we felt the impact of the climate crisis more directly this past winter when a polar vortex descended in late January. It brought temperatures lower than 40 below, which established new records throughout Wisconsin and the Midwest. The Governor declared a state of emergency. Schools were closed and basic services like the US Postal Service ceased.
Some of us, expecting the planet to be warming not cooling, did not immediately connect our arctic weather with the climate crisis. But some climatologists now believe that warming air in the Arctic forced colder conditions south into the Upper Midwest.

The inconveniences we experienced last winter, missed classes and practices, frozen pipes and ears – paled in comparison to the challenges that face people in other places. The citizens of island countries in the Pacific, for example, directly confront the problem of rising oceans, because their island homes crest only 3 to 4 feet above sea level. As the ocean rises, some countries have begun to try to raise land levels or to plan for total and permanent evacuation of their island homes.

Weather related events have displaced an average of 24 million people every year since 2008. The World Bank estimates that another 143 million people will be displaced by 2050 in just three regions: sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. According to estimates from Swiss Re, an insurance company, natural disasters caused 165 billion dollars of economic losses worldwide in 2018.

These losses and displacements illustrate the impact of a global climate crisis. Increased frequency of destructive storms, rising water levels due to melting ice caps, and changing weather patterns now affect millions of people every year. Twenty years ago, I worked in West Harlem with Peggy Shepard, executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice and recipient of a Lawrence honorary degree in 2018. She taught me that the impact of the climate crisis hits low income populations the hardest. According to a study by the World Bank, 100 million people could be forced into extreme poverty by 2020 as their home environments deteriorate due to climate induced changes in weather patterns.

As an institution that prepares students to be citizens of this nation and others around the world, we have developed many initiatives that offer insight into this central global challenge. Our Environmental Studies program provides excellent opportunities to learn about environmental systems from economic, policy, cultural, biological, chemical, and geoscience perspectives. Thanks to a grant from the Margret A. Cargill Foundation, and leadership by both special assistant to the president, Professor Jeff Clark, and our sustainability coordinator Kelsey McCormick, we are turning the Appleton and Door County campuses into living laboratories. Within these communities we have opportunity to learn about the choices we make through daily habits that affect the environment. They also lead the University’s effort to conserve resources and lessen our environmental impact on our surrounding communities. We have hosted numerous speakers who work on this central issue – including our own David Gerard, the John R. Kimberly Distinguished Professor in the American Economic System, who gave a convocation in 2015 that helped us understand the economics of climate change.

But our efforts and those of colleges across the country to clarify the most important challenge the human race will face over the next decade are easier said than done. Researchers help us to understand the forces that work against our best efforts. Riley Dunlap and Aaron McCright among others have shown that political and economic forces have worked to discredit climate science. In an article entitled “The Politicization of Climate Change and Polarization in the American Public’s View of Global Warming,” they detail the effect of those forces on our awareness of this problem. Using the Gallup Organization’s annual environmental poll for a ten year period, Dunlap and McCright also clarify the impact of both political beliefs and college education on people’s views on climate change.

Dunlap and McCright found that 82% of college graduates who identified as liberals or Democrats believed that climate change existed, and that human activity is a contributing factor to climate change. 62% of liberals or Democrats without a college degree had the same view. Among those with a college degree who identified as conservative or Republican, 43% believed that climate change existed. 42% of conservatives or Republicans without a college degree had the same view.

There are at least two remarkable aspects of this data. First, political beliefs significantly influence one’s view of the climate crisis. Second, and maybe even more important for us, a college education has little impact on students’ understanding of climate science if they identify as conservative or Republican. I am concerned the Lawrence community may follow both of these patterns, in which political belief supersedes scientific facts.

But even those who agree that a climate crisis is real approach the issue now with an incapacitating fatigue. In Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, Bill McKibben stated “Climate change has become such a familiar term that we tend to read past it – it’s part of our mental furniture, like urban sprawl or gun violence.”
To correct this attitude the American Meteorological Society now suggests using the phrase “climate crisis.” Even though extreme weather has become common place, they ask that descriptions include the unusual nature of events. For example, there are locations in the US that now, repeatedly, experience what was once considered a flood that should happen only every 500 years. They ask meteorologists to describe such events so that all of us will understand what should be extraordinary has now become ordinary. But no amount of improved communication seems to weaken the feeling that this crisis is inevitable. That nothing we do can change the course of this unfolding natural disaster. This attitude prevents important interventions.

Dunlap and McCright finished their study in 2011, but the division between those who do and those who do not accept the urgency of the climate crisis has persisted. A survey completed by the Yale program on Climate Change Communications in 2018 continued to find stark differences in people’s views according to their political affiliation. They found that 52% of Republicans and 91% of Democrats believe that global warming is happening. It appears that our deeply divided social environment continues to extend to views on the climate crisis. In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece Jim Mattis, President Trump’s first Secretary of Defense, described our situation this way: “We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions.”

This adversarial approach that ignores the need for policy to protect our environment is a relatively new phenomenon. For generations, leaders of the United States held a more common view of environmental issues. When asked who the “greenest” president of the United States was, leaders of twelve national environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy, and the Sierra Club chose Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama as the top four presidents, in that order. Two Republicans, and two Democrats. Conservation was central to Teddy Roosevelt’s vision for America’s future. He preserved land and natural beauty at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and hundreds of other locations across the country. Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency, banned DDT, and created the regulatory infrastructure that continues to this day. But this public consensus is disappearing.

The lack of consensus brought Frank Bruni to suggest in an opinion piece in the New York Times that “Dogs Will Fix Our Broken Democracy.” His recent experience as a dog owner made him realize that dogs provide the impetus to interact outside of one’s prescribed group. People are no longer conservatives or progressives. Instead, they are “Bandit’s” owner or pet sitting “Daisy.” As a new dog owner myself, I agree with Bruni that owning a dog widens your social circles immensely and scooping up poop is a great social leveler. But I do not believe that requiring every Lawrentian to own a dog is the right solution for our community.

So, if dog ownership will not energize every Lawrentian to engage more deeply with the climate crisis – then what should we do to more fully embrace our central role in fostering an educated citizenry? We need to continue to believe in the power of the role we play. As one of our founding fathers, James Madison said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

I believe we must first acknowledge the challenge to reach ALL members of our community. Will Happer’s year-long term as science advisor to President Trump brought home to me the importance of acknowledging this challenge. Will was a colleague during my time at Princeton. A well regarded physicist whose research focuses on optics, Will rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. During my time at Princeton I spoke with climate scientists there, some of them international leaders in their fields, about how to engage Will on this topic. Their response was: he is a physicist, not a climate scientist; no one will take him seriously. Well, he set our country’s carbon policy for the last year.

It is crucial that we engage with those who dismiss the findings of 97% of climate scientists who now confirm that a climate crisis has begun, and that human activity is a root cause. We need to continue to broaden the learning opportunities we offer and to avoid partisan framing of the climate crisis if we aim to reach all of our students, faculty and staff. Thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of the Environmental Studies program we offer a wide array of learning opportunities for students to consider how human activity impacts the natural world. But I think that other avenues of exploration are also available to us.

Direct and sustained experience of the natural world can open our minds to how human activity impacts the environment. Experiences can sensitize us to the deep and far reaching effect that the climate crisis will have. My year as a farmer during a break between high school and college changed my views and established conservation as central to my personal values. Living directly in the cycle of a dairy farm significantly influenced the way I thought about the natural world.

I am sure each of you have your own connections to nature. Could we find additional ways to encourage all of us to explore the rich natural resources of Northeastern Wisconsin and Door County? Could this be a way to reach students who might otherwise avoid enrolling in an Environmental Studies course or joining an environmental organization? Are there ways we can more closely tie the prodigious natural world that surrounds us into our curriculum?

Science continues to be a central avenue to help us understand the climate crisis and to recognize the ways our own human activity impacts the natural world. According to our General Education Requirements we believe that every student should “learn to use their understanding of a scientific concept to interpret a natural phenomenon and to draw reasonable conclusions from scientific data.” I applaud colleagues working to redesign our introductory science courses with the support of a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. As we rethink pedagogy, sequence, and content could we also rethink this core graduation requirement to ensure that all of our students will graduate understanding basic scientific facts?

Aside from curricular requirements, could we provide more ways to engage with science on our campus? Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring helped an entire generation understand the harmful impacts of pesticides by giving the lay reader access to the science involved. I was very pleased to see The Death and Life of the Great Lakes selected as a community read last year and to have its author Dan Egan join us on campus for a talk. As a non-scientist he allows the reader to understand how human activity is killing the world’s largest freshwater system. Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can help Save the World, written by our own Marcia Bjornerud, the Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Studies offers a different and important frame within which we can consider the climate crisis.

Can we find new paths to access the ways scientific knowledge unlocks our understanding of the world’s present and future?

For many humanists, like me, other avenues to comprehend the climate crisis are also important. The relationship between humans and the natural world has fostered essential values for many cultures and religions. Native American, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism and many other traditions provide clear direction. For example, when Pope Francis declared a “climate emergency” this past spring he said, “Future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation’s irresponsibility.” Pope Francis echoes many Native American traditions; for example the Iroquois have a saying, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

Hinduism teaches that all living things – human, animal vegetable – are sacred because they are part of God. They must be shown respect.

Can we provide more access to these and other teachings that encourage us to consider the place and responsibility of human beings within the natural world?

Maybe most difficult for those of us who believe the climate crisis is the central challenge facing society today is to approach this crisis with consideration for the skeptics – the members of our community who do not accept climate science. One of the tasks I had when I joined the New York City Department of Sanitation in the 1990s was to write the commercial recycling laws with colleagues. The team comprised members who represented business interests and others who held fervent environmentalist beliefs. Some argued all garbage must be recycled; others believed mandatory recycling would place an undue burden on commercial establishments, especially ones that were family owned. I asked all committee members to tone down the accusatory rhetoric and to consider options that would work for all parties. In the end we agreed to mandate recycling only of material whose beneficial reuse ensured that recycling would be less expensive than disposal. It was hard for me to modify my passionate commitment to this project. But to get all on board I needed to moderate the conversation so all could participate and find the middle ground. For us, now, to engage our entire community, we must provide a learning environment in which we can all participate without criticism or rejection.

I am sure that within this community there are many other ideas that would help us to deepen our learning of the ways human activity impacts the environment. I hope you will commit yourselves, with me, to making sure that this generation of Lawrentians will graduate with the knowledge, the tools, and the energy to provide leadership on the most important challenge that faces all of us in this century.

I look forward to hearing your reactions, disagreements, and responses to my words today. Good luck in this new academic year. Thank you for creating this learning community we call Lawrence. It is a pleasure to have you all back here in Appleton.

Remembering Firefighter Mitchell Lundgaard (5/20/19)

Dear Lawrence Community, 

Appleton received a heartbreaking loss last week with the death of Firefighter Mitchell Lundgaard, a 14-year veteran of the Appleton Fire Department and the first to be killed in the line of duty since 1933. Firefighter Lundgaard was one of the responders to a medical call at the Valley Transit Center in Appleton on May 15. This event escalated and was the cause of last week’s LU Alert. 

Mitch was a member of the firehouse that serves Lawrence University. He was a regular presence on our campus, responding to medical calls, fire alarms, and participating in routine safety inspections. Many of us on campus knew him as a colleague or simply remember seeing him during his visits to campus. We join our friends and colleagues at Station 1 and the entire Appleton Fire Department in mourning his loss. We also hold all those effected by this tragic incident in our thoughts.

For members of the Lawrence community who would like to discuss this event with someone, please reach out to Counseling Services, the Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, or contact Human Resources to connect with Employee Assistance Program resources. A funeral procession will take place beginning at 1 P.M. today, and will pass nearest to campus at the corner of Drew and Atlantic Streets near the fire station. A public visitation will be held from 3 P.M. to 6 P.M. at Appleton Alliance Church, 2693 Grand Chute Boulevard, and an ecumenical community prayer gathering will also be held this evening in City Park at 7:30 P.M. 

Please join me in honoring Firefighter Mitch Lundgaard, a dedicated community servant and an extended member of the Lawrence family.



Update on Commencement (5/9/19)

Dear Lawrence Community,

Following our announcement of a change of venue for Commencement 2019, we heard from many members of the graduating class and their families. They were concerned about the plan to move Commencement to the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (PAC). Several administrators and I met with Senior Class officers, Miranda Salazar and Hoa Huynh, on Tuesday. We agreed to hold a forum that afternoon for the graduating class to ask questions and better understand the factors at play in the decision.

The discussion was representative of the best of Lawrence. Students engaged thoughtfully with this important issue and, together, we came to a better understanding of our different priorities. The University administration had prioritized ensuring a quality of experience defined primarily by sheltering participants and guests and mitigating issues around accessibility—even at the expense of potentially limiting in-person attendance. Forum participants expressed different priorities, specifically, providing a location that supports open, in-person, attendance and keeps Commencement in its traditional location of Main Hall Green.

Because not all members of the graduating class were able to attend the forum, and not all participants shared their preference publicly, we agreed to poll the entire class. The poll contained context about the pros and cons of each viable option. We were clear both in the forum and in the poll that the choice of Main Hall Green at this point means the vast majority of seating will not be covered by a tent; this might lead to a delay of Commencement exercises in the event of inclement weather. Furthermore, the condition of the Green may still be soft or muddy in places depending on weather leading up to the event. This said, we heard loud and clear from the class that they want as many family and friends as possible to watch them walk across the stage, to witness in person the culmination of their Lawrence experience. They also want the University to arrange for a rain site to prevent outright cancellation of Commencement in the event of sustained inclement weather.

The poll closed at 12:00 p.m. yesterday, and we met with Miranda and Hoa to discuss the outcome. The results revealed a resounding preference for Main Hall Green: 202 for the Green, 69 for the PAC, total participation rate of nearly 80% of the graduating class. In light of this feedback, we will plan for Commencement 2019 to be held on Main Hall Green on the same date, at the same time as originally announced: June 9, 10:00 a.m. CDT. Please plan for an open-air event.

In addition to making technical arrangements to hold the ceremony on the Green, University staff and faculty have begun arranging a viable rain site in the event of inclement weather on the day of Commencement. Please note that any rain site option will require tickets. These will be distributed to graduates at the Commencement Rehearsal on Friday, June 7, regardless of the forecast for the day of the ceremony. Please watch for additional communication about this change.

As a learning institution, civil discourse and learning from differing perspectives are essential elements of the education we provide and the values we uphold. We thank the Senior Class officers for organizing these important discussions—the perspectives and insights expressed by students helped us work toward a shared goal of making Commencement 2019 a memorable event for all.

Please remember to visit for information regarding Commencement, including updates to the schedule or other important news. Thank you for your patience. I look forward to celebrating with you in June.



Note on Change to Commencement (5/6/19)

Dear Lawrence Community,

I write to share important changes to Lawrence’s 2019 Commencement exercises on Sunday, June 9.

The venue for this year’s Commencement ceremony has been changed to the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (PAC) in Downtown Appleton. The time of Commencement will remain as scheduled: 10 a.m. CDT. This change is required due to an unexpected complication with the Commencement tents and the condition of Main Hall Green resulting from an unscheduled infrastructure repair. We are confident that the PAC will deliver an excellent experience as we gather to celebrate the Class of 2019.

Seating capacity in the PAC’s Thrivent Hall, where the ceremony will be held, requires us to issue free tickets, which are free of charge, for in-person attendees. Each graduate will be issued 4 general admission tickets for their guests to be seated in Thrivent Hall. Graduates and faculty and staff who are a part of the Commencement procession do not need tickets. A web form to claim tickets will be sent directly to graduates in the coming days. Any unclaimed tickets will be made available to graduates on a first-come, first-served basis on or after May 15.

For those individuals who do not have a ticket, general admission seating will be available in the PAC’s Kimberly-Clark Theatre, where the event will be live-streamed. The livestream will also be available via the Commencement website at

We recognize that this news will impact the plans that many members of our community have already made for Commencement weekend, and we apologize for any inconvenience this change will cause. We will do all that we can to ensure that the weekend will be a memorable one for graduates and their families.

Please be sure to visit—and bookmark— for current information. We will continue to update all relevant information, including a Commencement FAQ, on this page as it becomes available. If you have any questions regarding these changes or Commencement in general, please email or call 920-832-6525.

The Lawrence community looks forward to celebrating the Class of 2019 during the entire weekend of events.



Note on New Zealand Terrorist Attack (3/25/19)

Dear fellow Lawrentians,

I would love to simply welcome you back for spring term but again world events have taken center stage in our lives.  The break gave me, and probably many of you, time to contemplate the horrendous acts of savagery that took place in New Zealand at the end of finals week.  As the days unfolded, I watched with respect and admiration that country’s efforts to mourn and respond.  Fifty people died and as many were wounded by a gunman who invaded two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and shot congregants engaged in Friday prayers.  Sadly, these two attacks on innocent people singled out for their beliefs and identity reminded us of the many terrorist attacks that have come before, both in this country and around the world.  We dare not grow numb to this violence.

The people of New Zealand have shown us that we are all victims of these acts: we need to respond.  As Gamal Fouda, an Imam of one of the target mosques, said at a prayer vigil of over 40,000 held one week after the attack, “This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology that has torn the world apart – but instead we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable.”

In her responses to this tragedy Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, echoed Imam Fouda’s call for a universal view of these events.  In a comment soon after the attacks she said, “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand; they may even be refugees here.  They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.  They are us.”

The Lawrence community will gather this Thursday at 5:00 p.m. in the Warch Campus Center’s Esch Hurvis room to commemorate the lives lost in the attack and to join other communities around the world in a clear statement that this violence has no place in our community and in our world.  As Prime Minister Ardern said, the response must be a “global one.”  “This [terrorist] was an Australian citizen, but that is not to say that we do not have ideology in New Zealand that would be an affront to the majority of New Zealanders, that would be utterly rejected by . . . the vast majority of New Zealanders.  But we still have a responsibility to weed it out where it exists, and make sure that we never create an environment where it can flourish.” 

I look forward to seeing you on Thursday and around campus in the coming weeks.



Note on Recent Bias Incidents (3/13/19)

Dear Campus Community,

I write today to inform you that we were recently made aware of a few troubling instances on campus that violate our community’s values.  Last weekend, hateful language directed at queer community members was found in a residence hall bathroom.  Earlier in the term, a student discovered a library book with hand-drawn swastikas, and a racial slur was overheard in an academic setting.  Bias incident reports were filed in all three instances, and our Bias Response Team is working with faculty and staff to develop strategies to address and prevent these actions in the future. 

Mutual respect, justice, and the dignity of all human life are core values of Lawrence University.  We do not tolerate hate speech or acts of intolerance.  As a community, practicing empathy towards our fellow Lawrentians is one of the most important actions we can take, remembering that the daily struggles of our peers and colleagues may not always be visible.  End of term stress can exacerbate any issues an individual is struggling with, so being kind to each other at this point in the academic year is even more important.  If you witness a bias incident, I encourage you to fill out a bias incident report  or to contact the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Campus resources are available if you need support processing these events.  Dr. Barrett can be reached through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.  Dean Morgan-Clement, Associate Dean Winston and Dr. Ratzman can be reached through the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life.  Dean Lauderdale and the Residence Hall Directors, as well as Counseling Services and other members of the Student Life team, are available for students.  The Employee Assistance Program is available for faculty and staff.  I also encourage you to take advantage of the learning opportunities that are offered by these colleagues as we work to develop the skills that will ensure our campus community is one in which we can all thrive.

Thank you for joining me in our efforts to ensure a safe, respectful, and engaged campus for all.  Please feel free to contact me directly if I can provide additional support.  I hope you all have a successful end to winter term.