Wesleyan University is dedicated to providing an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism. At Wesleyan, distinguished scholar-teachers work closely with students, taking advantage of fluidity among disciplines to explore the world with a variety of tools. The university seeks to build a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.
Two histories of Wesleyan have been published, Wesleyan's First Century by Carl F. Price in 1932 and another in 1999, Wesleyan University, 1831ï¿½1910: Collegiate Enterprise in New England, by David B. Potts. Wesleyan was founded as an all-male Methodist college in 1831. The University, established as an independent institution under the auspices of the Methodist conference, was led by Willbur Fisk, its first President. Despite its name, Wesleyan was never a denominational seminary. It remained a leader in educational progress throughout its history and erected one of the earliest comprehensive science buildings devoted exclusively to undergraduate science instruction on any American college or university campus, Judd Hall (named after alumnus Orange Judd). It also has maintained a larger library collection than institutions comparable in size. The Wesleyan student body numbered about 300 in 1910 and had grown to 800 in 1960, the latter being a figure that Time described as "small". Although Wesleyan developed into a peer of Amherst and Williams, Wesleyan was always decidedly the smallest of the Little Three institutions until the 1970s, when it grew significantly to become larger than the other two. In 1872, the University became one of the first U.S. colleges to attempt coeducation by allowing a small number of female students to attend, a venture then known as the "Wesleyan Experiment". "In 1909, the board of trustees voted to stop admitting women as undergraduates, fearing that the school was losing its masculine image and that women would not be able to contribute to the college financially after graduation the way men could." Given that concern, Wesleyan ceased to admit women, and from 1912 to 1970 Wesleyan operated again as an all-male college. Wesleyan became independent of the Methodist church in 1937, although in 2000, the university was designated as an historic Methodist site. Beginning in the late 1950s, president Victor Lloyd Butterfield began an ambitious program to reorganize the University according to Butterfield's "College Plan" somewhat similar to Harvard's House system or Yale's colleges, where undergraduate study would be divided into seven smaller residential colleges with their own faculty and centralized graduate studies, including doctoral programs and a Center for Advanced Studies (later renamed The Center for the Humanities). The building program begun under this system created three residential colleges on Foss Hill (the Foss Hill dormitories) and then three more residential colleges (the Lawn Avenue dormitories, now called the Butterfield Colleges). Although the facilities were largely created, only four of the academic programs were begun, and only two of those continue today: the College of Letters (COL) and the College of Social Studies (CSS). Fund raising proved highly effective and by 1960 Wesleyan had the largest endowment, per student, of any college or university in America, and a student-faculty ratio of 7:1. Butterfield's successors, Edwin Deacon Etherington (Class of 1948) and Colin Goetze Campbell, completed many of the innovations begun during Butterfield's administration, including the return of women in numbers equal to men; a quadrupling in the total square footage of building space devoted to laboratory, studio and performing arts instruction; and a dramatic rise in the racial, ethnic, and religious diversity and size of the student body. The University and several of its admissions deans were featured in Jacques Steinberg's 2002 book The Gatekeepers: Inside The Admissions Process of a Premier College. In the fall 2007 semester, Michael S. Roth, a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan and former president of the California College of the Arts, was inaugurated as the University's 16th president.
Notable alumni of Wesleyan include Colorado governor John Hickenlooper (1974); filmmakers including Michael Bay (1986), Joss Whedon (1987), Paul Weitz (1988), Mike White (1992), and Benh Zeitlin (2004); actor Bradley Whitford (1981); author Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket (1992); How I Met Your Mother creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas (1997); and the founding members of the band MGMT (2005); Himanshu Suri aka "Heems" and Kool A.D. from Das Racist. Former Wesleyan faculty and affiliates V. S. Naipaul, Woodrow Wilson, and T. S. Eliot have been awarded Nobel Prizes. Gary Yohe, current Professor of Economics, is a senior member and convening lead author of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Former faculty and affiliates, Richard Wilbur, Mark Strand, and Donald Hall were United States Poets Laureate. Composer John Cage was affiliated with the University from the 1950s until his death in 1992.