Statement from Antonio Farias on Equity and Inclusion

Antonio Farias, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Officer, has just issued a statement on his work with students, faculty, and staff. He notes that “we will be scheduling recurring community town halls, forums, and focus groups in order to take a robust accounting of current needs as well as to tap the vast community expertise we possess in the service of creating sustainable and significant changes designed to enhance our individual and collective ability to thrive.” In his statement he notes various ways in which his office will track this work.

Antonio underscores the importance of filling the open position of Dean for Equity & Inclusion. He emphasizes that the person we hire will “continue to engage with students from historically marginalized communities, with a particular mandate of increasing underrepresented and gender equity in STEM fields.”

I am grateful to Antonio and his team for their tireless efforts at building a fair and welcoming community of learning. While we are far from perfect, we are steadfast in our commitment to eradicating discrimination while strengthening the foundations for achievement.

Fall Trustee Meeting

This past weekend the Board of Trustees held its fall meeting. Student resources were high on the agenda, and we heard an excellent presentation from Bob Coughlin, who recently assumed the position of Director of Financial Aid. It was clear to everyone that while the University devotes more than 50 million dollars a year to scholarships, some students and their families feel extraordinarily stretched by the economic demands they experience. How best to support these folks is a key project going forward.

In the Campus Affairs committee, discussion extended from the final report on the Class of ’19 to a reminder that recruiting the class of ’20 is already well underway. Indeed, Early Decision applications are up again this year! We also considered reports from Antonio Farias on equity and inclusion, especially on Title IX issues, and heard from students on changes brought about on the social scene with three fraternity houses closed this year. There will be more extensive discussions of faculty hiring, the curriculum and advising over the course of the coming months.

The Finance Committee considered both long- and short-term issues. We discussed modest increases to our tuition plans in order to support our investments in financial aid, and we also considered long-term physical plant needs. The University’s economic condition is strong, and there is a general commitment to build capacity to support our mission for years to come.

Speaking of building capacity, the University Relations committee talked extensively about finishing the THIS IS WHY campaign with a big push. We are especially interested in raising funds for paid internships for financial aid students, and in endowing more scholarships generally. The committee acknowledged that we will want to maintain fundraising momentum even after the close of the campaign, and we will have to communicate effectively in order to do that. The Wesleyan community has been very generous, and we will find new ways of attracting this support.

Over lunch we heard from a group of five students about their advanced research work. From elephants to the physics of lung function, from carbon taxes and hydrogen bonding to performance pieces, the Trustees had a great opportunity to consider the amazing range of Wes graduate and undergraduate students. At the full board meeting, the Academic Deans described their roles in building the curriculum, monitoring courses access, and planning for interdisciplinary research and teaching.

After the formal meeting concluded, a group of Trustees met with several representatives of the students of color community. We had the opportunity to listen to students describe their experiences on campus, their frustrations and their fatigue. I think we all left with a more nuanced sense of the challenges that a good number of our students face, and of the work that remains to ensure that the reality of life on campus lives up to our rhetoric about it.

The Board will return in February, and I know that the WSA is planning an open house with students in which some Trustees will participate. Communication between the Board and the campus is a key facet of their work.


Response to Students on Equity and Inclusion

Dear friends,

On Tuesday I joined a few hundred Wesleyans, mostly members of the student of color community, who walked in protest through the main part of campus to the front of South College looking for a renewed commitment to equity and inclusion on our campus. Racism remains a significant fact of life for many of our students, faculty and staff—both within and beyond the borders of our campus. And even to say that is not to say enough. Here is how Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it: “racism is a visceral experience…it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this.”

While Wesleyan has long fought against discrimination in many of its forms, it is clear that we have also perpetuated some of them. We must not look away from this. As an educational institution that depends on free inquiry, it is our duty to do more. And so, it is with this in mind that I—together with members of cabinet—have examined the 5 demands of the student protesters.

The first, the demand for equity and inclusion, we embrace wholeheartedly, even as we acknowledge that for many students of color and their allies, we have not lived up to our own rhetoric. All of the other issues connect back to this one.

Demand #2 is a statement of accountability for the ways in which I and my administration have failed to meet student expectations or unwittingly hurt certain students by expressing sympathy for some people and principles and not others. I have tried to call attention to serious issues and tragedies here and around the world, but I understand that some feel I have defended those in positions of privilege at the expense of others. This has never been my intention. Sympathy is selective, to be sure, but I am happy to recognize that the circles of concern in the Wesleyan community are very broad. Indeed, as I write this many of us are focused on the hostage situation in Mali, yet another in a series of brutal terrorist attacks.

I continue to defend freedom of expression, and I also continue to recognize that not everyone has equal access to the tools for making use of that freedom. I will continue to support those who want to speak out with views that may be at odds with the campus mainstream. That’s a simple commitment to free speech, and I view it as core to the educational enterprise. Professor Jelani Cobb, among others, has taken a somewhat different position, offering a strong argument about the issue of free speech being a “diversion” from questions of racism. Last week I reached out to him, and he will be visiting campus on December 2 to meet with faculty and students so that we can all engage in the conversation on these issues.

There are many ways in which I (and frankly, everyone at the University) can benefit from criticism. It’s how we/I learn, and that’s what a university is about. By learning from one another, from keeping our conversations robust and meaningful, we will become a more equitable and inclusive place.

The proposed job description in the third demand is for an equity advocate, and it includes things that some staff are already doing. We will learn from students what needs are not being met now and what particular programs would be most helpful in the future. A related example (though not part of the students’ list) is our authorization to hire a new person with inter-cultural expertise in Counseling and Psychological Services. We authorized this position because dialogues with students identified a strong need, and we will continue our discussions about additional resources that will help all thrive at our university.

At the heart of Demand #4 is the establishment of a multicultural center. We look forward to talking to students about what this space should look like and how it might be staffed. We have some ideas in this regard, but we need more detailed student input before moving forward. We will be convening a group of staff, faculty and students early next semester to make recommendations. Before the end of this academic year, we should have plans we can implement. As we develop these ideas, we will want to know how we will be able to determine if such a Center is successful.

The fifth demand is for a vehicle for addressing faculty and staff bias and discriminatory behavior. We have to communicate better about our existing resources, because students already have the ability to report such incidents through Maxient. In addition students can use their course evaluations to describe these issues. We currently are running a pilot program for a new course evaluation form. I have asked the Provost to scan current evaluations for incidents and patterns, and we commit to using our reporting vehicles for evidence of troubling trends.

We must also remember that there are legitimate concerns about anonymous criticisms damaging those at whom they are leveled without giving those accused an opportunity to defend themselves; we must be sure to protect the rights of students, faculty and staff, especially those whose views are not aligned with those of the majority. Many have begun a discussion about how we might learn from various reporting mechanisms while building in the appropriate protections. Prejudice in and out of the classroom is real and causes harm; people sometimes discriminate against others or act to marginalize them. We can address incidents when we know about them.

Although not specifically called out in the list of demands, in order to become more inclusive we have much work to do in regard to low income and first generation students. Enhancing financial aid through enhanced internship opportunities and reduced family payment contributions should make our community more equitable. We are working on plans right now to ease the economic burdens on those of our students most vulnerable to financial exigencies.

Although we will not always agree on how to frame particular issues or which tactics are most effective, I do not see the marchers and myself as adversaries. At the beginning of this week I “encouraged Wesleyans to stand up and make themselves heard.” I vowed to listen, and I will continue to do so. We now have more concrete tasks in front of us. With your continued support and input, we will continue our work and together make progress on these crucial issues. We will not look away from this.

Michael S. Roth

Wesleyans March for Anti-Racism

Today students led a march from Foss Hill to my office to underscore their commitment to equity and inclusion and to reverse what they see as powerful forces of discrimination still at work on our campus. I joined a few hundred Wesleyans who walked and chanted through the main part of campus to the front of South College, my office, where they presented five demands to make our university a more just learning community.

Although I realized the awkward dimensions of my presence at the march, I share the major goals of this group and decided to join in their call for justice and community. I, too, recognize that many students from under-represented groups face significant obstacles on our campus. And I know that there have been times when I or members of my administration have contributed to the perception that we didn’t understand the challenges faced by students who come from a wide variety of backgrounds with an even wider variety of interests. We can do better, and we will.

We are already working on a number of initiatives to: increase faculty diversity, support low-income students, add faculty in African-American Studies, diversify the population of undergraduates majoring in the sciences, improve representation in the student support services staff. This is just a partial list of some of the areas on which we are working.

I promise to work with students, faculty and staff to remove obstacles and to increase support. Our team is reviewing the document presented by the marchers, and we will be responding to it soon. Together, we can make Wesleyan a place where all can thrive.


Muslim Coalition Honors Wesleyan’s CFA

This past weekend the Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman presented an award from the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut to the Center for the Arts for its great program, Muslim Women’s Voices. The proclamation, in part, states: “The Wesleyan community and the entire State of Connecticut have benefited immensely from the leadership and integrity Wesleyan University Center for the Arts has exemplified through its work both on and off campus.”

Wyman proclamation

Associate Provost Mark Hovey, along with CFA Director Pam Tatge and faculty, staff and students from the advisory committee and our Muslim Students Association joined more than 350 guests at the awards dinner.

Congratulations to everyone who contributed to this program!


Our Hearts Go Out to Paris, Beirut, Baghdad

Many in the Wesleyan community have been focused on the horrific attacks in Paris last night, and our hearts go out to the victims, their families and friends. As soon as we received word of the events, our staff began locating the undergraduates enrolled in our study abroad program there. I want the Wesleyan community to know that all our students are accounted for and safe.

The attacks in Paris were meant to create terror in everyday life, and we have seen similar attempts in various parts of the world over the last several years. Since writing this post initially, I have read more about recent heinous attacks on civilians in Beirut and and Baghdad. The geography of cruelty is sadly capacious. Mixed with our revulsion at this brutality is a determination to struggle against the tyranny of violence. Educational institutions depend on eliminating violence, and I trust that the Wesleyan community will stand in solidarity with people around the world in this effort. There is much work to be done — on campus, locally and internationally.

Our hearts go out to those who are suffering in the wake of these attacks. May the time not be distant when we can give peace and justice the attention so often now taken up by violence.


Listening, Solidarity, Action

This afternoon, I sent the following message to the campus community:

Dear friends,

Observing overt acts of racism, and listening to callous racist rhetoric in the public sphere, harms us all, but it really disrupts the lives of those already made most vulnerable by unjust systems of discrimination and inequality. My heart goes out to students, faculty and staff who are already feeling marginalized and are shaken by what we’ve been witnessing. I stand in solidarity with them.

Events unfolding on campuses across the country are disturbing, but they also create new opportunities for understanding and action. Bringing these issues to the fore creates openings for more concerted efforts to improve the experiences of students of color and other marginalized communities on our campus. I am confident that doing so will make our entire institution stronger, more effective.

Today I am charging all cabinet members to assess what they’ve been doing for equity and inclusion and what more can be done in their areas. The Office of Equity & Inclusion student advisory board has already been at work identifying specific steps we can take to improve the campus climate. I look forward to meeting with them in December to discuss this important work. I will also be talking with the faculty about specific ways we can eliminate bias from the classroom, and how we might infuse into our curriculum even more classes that deal with pressing local, national and international issues of inequality.

Our campus aspires to be an open, inclusive and equitable community—a place of freedom, exuberance, learning and care. We must continue our conversations about what our community members are feeling and thinking. We need to listen. For my part, I encourage Wesleyans to stand up and make themselves heard. I will listen and so will your university.

Michael S. Roth

Veterans Day

Wesleyan has long been a campus on which veterans have enrolled as students and worked as faculty and staff. In the last two years, we have had the privilege of working with the Posse Foundation to bring cohorts of 10 undergraduate veterans to Wes each year. (Read more in recent stories in The Hartford Courant and The Christian Science Monitor). We our proud to count them as students.

Recently a group of Wesleyans joined with others in a visit to the Veterans Home in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.

Visiting veterans home.

Visiting veterans home.

Among those they visited was a 101 year old veteran of the Tuskegee Airmen!

On this Veterans Day, I ask that we pause and remember the men and women who have served our nation in uniform. They are family members, neighbors, friends, faculty, staff, alumni, and students. They deserve our acknowledgment and our gratitude.

Reviewing Stanley Fish on Free Speech and Other Topics

I recently reviewed Stanley Fish’s collection of columns from the New York Times. I have read his work with interest and pleasure for many years, and he takes on topics (free speech, BDS movement, pragmatism, academic freedom) that I find tremendously engaging. Prof. Fish will be delivering the Hugo Black lecture at Wesleyan on February 18th. My review appeared in The Chronicle for Higher Education last week.


Unprincipled on Principle

When The New York Times enlisted Stanley Fish as a columnist, it found a great partner in this literary critic — someone who writes with clarity about academic matters but who is at ease with everyday rhetoric. An accomplished Miltonist, professor of law, and university administrator, Fish has an uncanny feel for the interests and tastes of that obscure object of intellectuals’ desire: “generally educated readers.”

Princeton University Press has collected more than 90 of his Times columns in Think Again: Contrarian Reflections on Life, Culture, Politics, Religion, Law, and Education. The productive Fish is not served well by either the quantity or the selection. Each piece is short, so it seems churlish to complain about any one of them, or even about the redundancies in the points made and the enemies skewered. But we can Google Professor Fish’s favorite movies and his country-music choices — we don’t need them collected in a book. And how many times does one have to resurrect the New Atheists and academic activists just to bury them again with argument and scorn?

These are minor quibbles with a volume that covers so much ground so thoughtfully. Whether he is writing about French theory, religion, poetry, law, liberal education, or politics in upstate New York — where he tries hard to be just an ordinary guy (in his country home) — Fish is both stimulating and precise. He doesn’t strive for consistency, but he manages to achieve the coherence of a pragmatist. His ideas hang together so they can be put to work.

But they don’t hang together around any principle, save one that denies the point of having one. “Knowledge is irremediably perspectival,” he writes in the introduction, “and perspectives are irremediably political.” This is the kind of thing that lots of people have said over the past 50 years, many of whom thought they were being progressive or radical. Fish joined in the merry iconoclasm in the early stages of his career, but now he prefers a more curmudgeonly posture.

In Fish’s world there are no solid foundations — that’s part of what it means to say that knowledge is perspectival. From my perspective, your solid foundation looks pretty shaky — just an accumulation of privilege acquired through oppression, ripe for critique. My critique, of course, is based on another “privilege,” on another accumulation of shared language and beliefs. When people defend their positions, they are really just appealing to their preferred group — those who share their perspective and perhaps their privilege (or their critique of privilege).

In the heady days of deconstruction and postmodernism, Fish’s arguments were taken to be part of the wave of anti-establishment thinking. Not so, he retorted: You can develop better defenses of the establishment without foundations. Fish has made this pragmatist point again and again: When you take away foundations and goals, you really aren’t taking away anything important. The loss of the goal of absolute knowledge doesn’t keep us from “do[ing] all the things we have always done; we can still say that some things are true and others false, and believe it.” We always made these statements in relation to our group’s perspective; now we can just give up the ultimate justification talk. “The world, and you,” he writes, “will go on pretty much in the same old way.”

This is an argument tailor-made for annoying nearly everyone. Conservative scholars who believe in ultimate grounds for truth and morality find Fish’s anti-foundationalism anathema. The alternative to Truth with a capital “T,” they want to believe, is relativism, chaos, nihilism. On the other hand, scholars who believe they have destroyed something essential when they have deconstructed metaphysics and religion are similarly disappointed. When someone claims to have shown that a belief system or social practice is socially constructed, they haven’t, in fact, generated any particular political position at all. “Believing or disbelieving in moral absolutes is a philosophical position, not a recipe for living.”

A philosophical position is merely academic for Fish, separate from any kind of recipe for living. Professors, he has reminded his readers, should “just do their jobs” — which means introducing students to bodies of material and helping them develop analytical skills. He is impatient with the rhetoric of character building, citizenship, or leadership. The humanities are at the core of a liberal education, Fish declares, but their only justification is “the pleasure they give to those who enjoy them.”

As a pragmatist, Fish should know that justification always depends on the audience one is addressing. But he oddly seems to believe that literature needs to be kept unsullied by arguments that might appeal to nonacademics. Fish keeps repeating his narrow version of the “job description” of professors but has no arguments for the purity of academic purpose; he must know there is no real basis for his dictum “always academicize.” Does he really think that the humanities will get more support on the basis of aesthetic wonderment rather than civic engagement? He’s too smart for that. Fish abandons a pragmatic attitude because he just enjoys (more than is necessary) popping the puffery of activist professors who confuse opinions formed while reading blogs and magazines with knowledge developed through research and analysis.

Fish appears to have one thing in common with the radical scholars he critiques, and that’s contempt for liberalism. For the radical, liberals are too invested in the status quo, and their supposed neutrality only perpetuates injustice. For Fish, liberals evince a wrongheaded commitment to pure procedure and abstract principle. They can’t take religion (or any strong content) seriously because they retreat to ideals of fairness and process. Fish knows that “fairness” and “process” are always determined by one’s own group — there is no meta-procedure that escapes all contexts to render a perfectly fair judgment.

He is right about the impossibility of pure procedure, but many contemporary liberals would agree with him. The fact that you can’t have a view from nowhere doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to see an issue from another person’s point of view. To do so, even Fish admits, is just “serious thought.” But Fish’s fear of being a mere liberal drives him to fetishize academic purity and aspire to a higher neutrality. “I don’t stand anywhere,” he writes; “that’s the (non)point of most of these columns.”

Of course, Fish stands somewhere; he just doesn’t want to be caught doing so. Too bad. In these provocative, intelligent essays, Fish winds up taking stands to support his own “genuine pleasure,” and usually this is engaging enough. But he could have taken a page from another pragmatic anti-foundationalist, Richard Rorty. “The point of reading philosophy,” Rorty wrote, “is not to find a way of altering one’s inner state, but rather to find better ways of helping us overcome the past in order to create a better human future.” Now there’s a reason to “think again.”


A Great Homecoming Weekend

It was wonderful to welcome so many in the Wesleyan family back to campus. Thanks to staff, faculty and student workers who helped us make Homecoming a great success. Here are some photos that I snapped or that friendly Wesleyans sent my way:

Event honoring John Driscoll

Event honoring John Driscoll

Mr. Wesleyan

Mr. Wesleyan






Neo-Punk band at Asian American Arts Festival

Neo-Punk band at Asian American Arts Festival


Event for John Driscoll

Event for John Driscoll


Kennedy Odede talking about his new book

Kennedy Odede talking about his new book


Back Home at Alpha Delta Phi

Back Home at Alpha Delta Phi


Gerard Generations

Gerard Generations



Funny Thing Happened....

Funny Thing Happened….



Mathilde missing her Mom (with Kari’s boot)


At the game

At the game



African Dance Celebration


Seniors and families

Seniors and families


Dwight Greene Symposium

Dwight Greene Symposium


Final Score

Final Score


Desperate Measures Improv

Desperate Measures Improv


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Morning After