Evaluating Weiss’s legacy

Melissa Last

As new president Alison Byerly prepares for her October 4 inauguration, the legacy of former president Daniel H. Weiss begins to take shape.

Since arriving at Lafayette in 2005, Weiss, now president at Haverford College, established a concrete legacy on the Hill. Accomplishments included the elevation of Lafayette’s national recognition for academic excellence, evidenced by the record numbers of applications and improvements in selectivity and quality of the current class.

Weiss also led a one-year planning process that resulted in a new strategy for the college, calling for a 20 percent increase in the number of permanent staff members, increased student diversity, development of new programs and facilities for the arts and life sciences, and a continued partnership with Easton. Under this plan the Common Course of Study has been revised and interdisciplinary programs have been developed in environmental science, health and life sciences, film and media studies, theater, women’s and gender studies, and bioengineering.

When asked how he will remember Weiss, Gary Gordon, Department Head of Mathematics, noted Weiss’s strong and helpful support of the POSSE Program- a national nonprofit that identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. Weiss was honored as a POSSE Star at the foundation’s annual gala in May 2013.

Gordon continued, “I thought he had great personal skills, was a very warm individual, very funny and also someone who really treated the faculty with respect. He really understood what the faculty’s job is.”

In spite of Weiss’s initial opposition to Patriot League football scholarships, Athletic Director Bruce McCutcheon shared Gordon’s positive opinion of Weiss.

McCutcheon, in his own words, “had an excellent working relationship with Weiss. He provided great opportunity for athletics to grow and flourish through facility improvements, staffing and athletic scholarships… President Weiss was instrumental in revising the college’s policy on athletic scholarships.  That policy change is instrumental in providing Lafayette to be competitive in the Patriot League.” The Class of 2017 is the first football scholarship class in Patriot League history.

However, not everyone on campus will look on Weiss’s tenure favorably. Weiss contributed to an increasingly hostile atmosphere for fraternities and sororities during his stay at Lafayette. Over the course of his term, three fraternities – Chi Phi, Phi Gamma Delta, and Kappa Delta Rho – were discharged from campus. He also oversaw the creation of the Implementation and Assessment Group on Greek Life, designed to create specific metrics for improvement to the system by June 2014. Zeta Psi President Judson Waite ‘14 was contacted regarding his thoughts on Weiss’s Greek legacy, but did not respond in time to meet deadline.

When asked what aspects of his time at Lafayette he was most proud to have been a part of, Weiss responded “I am most proud of the way our community worked together to pursue a vision for the College that was aspirational and rooted in our core values. By working together, we were able to strengthen our support for faculty excellence, including to increase the size of the faculty, to create several new programs, invest significantly in facilities, and provide the plans and funding for major initiatives that will help to position Lafayette as one of the finest colleges in the nation. We also built an exemplary relationship with Easton.”

Weiss further went on to say he hopes to be remembered “as an effective academic leader who wanted what was best for Lafayette and did his best to achieve it.  Lafayette is on a strong trajectory and must maintain the commitment to a strategic vision of excellence. Choices should be made with this in mind.”

“Not everyone will always be happy,” he said.