IN CONVERSATION

Newly elected National Alumni Association President Justin S. Maccarone, Jr. ’81, P’19 talks with President Joanne Berger-Sweeney about Trinity, its recent challenges, and its future

JM: I know the Board of Trustees is set to vote on a strategic plan for the College in October. Tell us the primary objectives of the strategic plan.
JBS: Our overarching goal is to build on what’s best and most distinctive about Trinity to continue to provide a rigorous liberal arts education and to set the course for an even brighter future. To do that, we will strengthen our commitment to an education that is both relevant and timeless, grounded in the liberal arts, and increasingly inclusive, collaborative, and experiential. Trinity will be more meaningfully connected to Hartford and to the world. As we work toward those goals, we will attend to the stability and sustainability—both financial and environmental—of our nearly 200-year-old college. 

JM: I hear from some alumni who are worried that they soon won’t recognize Trinity, that it’s changing too much. What do you say to them?
JBS: Change has come to Trinity and to all colleges and universities. That change is a critical evolution that allows us to remain relevant to this generation of students and to be an institution of higher learning that serves the common good. 

JM: What things won’t change?
JBS: Our values haven’t changed and won’t change. We provide an excellent liberal arts education on one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, in a capital city. The special relationship between faculty members and students will never change. Nor will our belief in educating the whole student, inside and outside the classroom, on our campus and around the globe. Those experiences imbue our students with analytical and practical skills that make them smart, flexible leaders and engaged global citizens.

JM: We’re coming out of a particularly difficult moment for Trinity, with the Campus Reform incident involving Professor Williams. How does Trinity move forward, and what are the lessons learned here?
JBS: Happily, we are past the most immediate effects of the crisis. One goal of Campus Reform and other such organizations is to disrupt college campuses. So, it’s important for us to move forward with as little disruption as possible. Through this incident, I think the entire community learned more about academic freedom—both its protections and its limitations—though I think it’s important for people to understand why academic freedom exists and why those protections are so essential. We certainly discovered how important it is to communicate openly and clearly in the face of a social media storm. What I hope we can learn from this experience is to be able to disagree without losing sight of our shared humanity. Our work this year will be to build upon the great momentum that we have started and that is embodied in our strategic plan while fostering an environment that’s inclusive and that welcomes difficult conversations.

JM: Is this kind of controversy among the biggest challenges facing higher education?
JBS: I think it’s one of many challenges that reveal the changing relationship between higher education and society. Our institutions are less trusted and less valued by the general public than they were a generation ago, and we’re looked at more as providers of a product than a societal good. We in higher education need to do a better job of conveying the value of what we provide — not just job placements and starting salaries but also personal growth, knowledge creation, and the advancement of society. Trinity’s amazing alumni can help with that. You’re living proof of the good that Trinity imparts to the world!

JM: People have asked about Hartford and Connecticut. Are you concerned about their financial state?
JBS: Yes, because we know that our future in many ways is linked to that of Hartford and Connecticut and because we care deeply about the strength of our hometown. We have close, productive relationships with the state and local governments and are taking an active role in being a part of Hartford’s success story. Winning an Innovation Places grant from the state [see page 18] and our coming presence downtown at Constitution Plaza [see page 5] are two pieces of that work that will have significant impact. As I shared recently in a New York Times letter to the editor, I think the future will be very bright for Connecticut, Hartford, and Trinity College.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney photo by Al Ferreira
Justin Maccarone photo by Don Hamerman