Arrival Day

NOTE: You can view Michael Roth’s remarks to parents on Arrival Day here.

The Class of 2011 arrived on Tuesday this week, and a truckload of boxes containing our household possessions from California arrived the next day. Kari, Sophie and I are moving in and finding our way along with the frosh. Yesterday, as I made my way to the Freeman Athletic Center for a quick burst of exercise, a couple of students stopped their car to ask me for directions to Physical Plant. I had no idea. They asked, “Aren’t you the new president?” They were kind enough not to comment on my inability to help them find their way.

That will change as we find our way together. There are plenty of people here who are expert at helping others and are willing to do so. This was very clear on Tuesday, as staff members at all levels, as well as upperclassmen, headed out to the dorms to carry boxes, refrigerators, stereos, etc., to help our new arrivals move in. I have never seen a better combination of efficiency and graciousness. The excitement of the students and the nervousness of their parents (and vice versa) were palpable, and I met plenty of folks for whom saying goodbye was more than a little difficult. The responsibility of a university like Wesleyan is enormous. We have accepted these wonderfully gifted young people, we have welcomed them, and now we must give them the tools for lifetime learning and help them create a dynamic, generous community.

I am very confident in our ability to do that because in the past weeks I have gotten to know many of the staff and faculty. The operations here are truly impressive, and if move-in day is any indication, we are on top of the major logistical issues. Moreover, there is a consistent desire to keep improving for the welfare of the students, and for the enhancement of Wesleyan. The faculty are returning from summers of research, of writing, of creating. I am impressed with the eagerness with which they face the school year. Some of the faculty here I have known for more than thirty years, and I have personally experienced their remarkable abilities in the classroom. Even these veterans are always looking for ways to improve their classes, to further enhance student learning. And the young faculty come to Wesleyan with more than just impressive credentials. They come with a passion to make a difference in the lives of their students. How fortunate I am to have them as colleagues!

In my opening remarks to parents in the chapel I pointed to a feature of the Wesleyan community that we all know well: our students are intense, creative and engaged. But I also emphasized that they are taught to become self-critical; to be experimental also means to find ways to evaluate whether what one is trying is worth trying. That’s a difficult process, but it is essential in education and in life. Finally, I emphasized that our students learn that it is not enough to be intensely creative, and that it is not enough to be self-critical and experimental. We must also learn to deliver, to make something that others recognize as valuable, or as something that works. Our students are productive (often in surprising ways), and we set the highest standards for judging what they have produced.

Finally, and you will hear me say this often, I said that our students should discover what they love to do at Wesleyan, and then they should get a little better at it. I am confident that this will happen with the guidance of their teachers, and with the help of the staff and their fellow students.

I look forward to reporting to you a few times a month on what I am learning as I do what I love here at Wesleyan (and perhaps get a little better at it). And I look forward to reading your comments (though I won’t be able to respond to them individually) from your perspective on the Wesleyan community.

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46 thoughts on “Arrival Day

  1. I was lucky to find this blog after reading the student blog The fact that the President of a University would take the time to blog gives me great excitement for the next three years I have ahead of me at Wes.

    Thank you for taking steps to interact with the Wesleyan community – I hope this is just one of many such actions.

  2. I agree with Peter, it is very exciting to see you making this effort. I will continue to read!

  3. It’s certainly intriguing… I find, however, that the purpose of a blog is essentially to be opinionated, which is a difficult thing to do publicly as the President of a university. This entry, I think, is case in point. Still, I have to agree with Lauren and Peter; the very fact that President Roth is taking the time to do this makes it worth reading. Time will tell whether it becomes a venue for the obligatory politically correct announcements/statements that must come from such an office, or if it will remain a series of more personal musings from our President.

  4. Welcome to Wesleyan President Roth!

    This blog is a really great thing for you to be more accessible to the wesleyan student body and such an initiative should certainly be applauded by all. When we hear about how you going to freeman to workout or you putting on an orientation t-shirt to help students move in, well, what else can we say… you are simply a born Cardinal! Go Wes!


  5. As others have said, I love that you’re doing this (as well as other hands on things, like being part of Wes-Haul when the Freshmen moved in). Best of luck, and I look forward to continuing to read this.

  6. What a nice way to reach out to those on and off campus. I will be returning to classes next week with the rest of the GLSP students. Your words will be at the forefront of my endeavors:

    “I emphasized that our students learn that it is not enough to be intensely creative, and that it is not enough to be self-critical and experimental. We must also learn to deliver, to make something that others recognize as valuable.”

    Good luck.

  7. And a warm welcome to you!

    Jacon mentioned the “obligatory politically correct announcements/statements that must come from [the office of the President].” I’ve almost forgotten that there were other sorts of communication…

    Please do not underestimate these students. We’ve been fed not much but PR-speak from the administrative branch of our school for as long as anyone I’ve talked to can remember, and it’s frustrating (and incredibly condescending). It hasn’t done anything to help the relationship between students and administration, and I for one am hungry for more genuine dialogue. My optimistic first impression of you is that you would be invested in real communication.

    I am hopeful.

  8. President Roth, you are inspiring! Your welcome on Tuesday was inspiring, and your initiative here is too. I think Wesleyan students and faculty are going to have a good year.

  9. As a parent inspired by your remarks in the chapel before I bid my freshman farewell, I wish you would run them verbatim somewhere on Wesleyan’s Web site. You were not at all what I expected. I like that! Please keep up the authentic communication.

  10. As a Wes’ grad (’87), who benefited enormously from the environment and challenge you describe, I just wanted to add my voice to the many in saying how great it is to see you take the helm. It’s also wonderful to see you take this step, embracing the Wes’ community as a member, and not simply as its leader – it gives us all every confidence the institution will continue to be a spawning ground for leaders that want to change the world for the better. Congratulations – looking forward to the years ahead.

    Jonathan Schwartz
    President, CEO
    Sun Microsystems, Inc.

  11. As someone who remembers you from my own time at Wesleyan, and as the parent of a current Wesleyan student, I look forward to your leadership and welcome this blog, but I agree with those who say it will be counterproductive if it appears to be cheerleading. Please tell us what’s really on your mind. Too many educational institutions suffer from their administrators’ inability to trust in open communication with the constituencies they serve.

  12. In an email from my daughter today, she mentioned that she met you on her way back to her dorm. She said you were engaging, kind, and real. She enjoyed speaking French with your young daughter. That’s an email that warms a parent’s heart and makes one feel that Wesleyan truly is a nurturing community. Thank you and warm wishes in your new role.

  13. I’d just like to agree with the other voices that have already spoken so far – I’m really excited to see you take the lead as President. I think this blog is a great start toward open dialogue with students, which has been a weak point in the past. Thanks! I’m abroad this semester, but now I’m excited to get back!

  14. Yo, word up Roth: “to be experimental also means to be able to evaluate whether what one is trying is bull—-.” That’s about the realest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say at Wesleyan since I been here. It’s nice to know you were able to arrive in time to unpack with the freshman. Must have been a busy summer eh?

    Nah for real though, I’m about to leave to study abroad right now but I think the presidential search committee and everyone else involved in bringing you on board did a real nice job. I’ve yet to personally meet you on campus (after reading this message I’m sure you can’t wait) but when I do, expect a stiff shake and nod because you’re doing an excellent job engaging the Wesleyan student body. Champion good show ol’ boy. Champion good show.

  15. My daughter graduated from Wes two years ago, after an incredibly enriching and wonderful 4 year experience at Wes. Having just read the Wesleayan Parent listserve, and President Roth’s blog, I would love to hear your remarks to the parents in the Chapel on arrival day. I hope that they can be posted on the website.. despite being over one year out, I still find that contact and communication with Wesleyan is inspiring and makes me feel connected to the unusual community that it is! Thank you and I look forward to a continued relationship with this special university.

  16. I was at Yale with my girlfriend (a graduate of that other Connecticut university) a while back for a symposium on global issues that included their president. He was a sycophant and left the impression that all he was after was increasing alumni contributions to the school. There was no intellectual challenge (or promise) in his remarks. We left quite unimpressed and uninspired.

    Keep up the good work with your blog. I believe that the Wes community will respond to insights more than spin.

  17. Dear Pres Roth
    Thanks for using this modern mode of communication – it opens doors to sharing ideas that are truly marvellous. As parents who have just nudged their fledgling out of the nest, we wanted to share our own hopes for the new freshpersons! We hope that a Wesleyan education will provide them with a worldview that lets them see that they are a vital part of the world and lets them appreciatethe the unique privileges and responsibilities that this nation has, given its power and influence. Our fervant hope is that the class of 2011 will approach life after college as citizens of the world and that they will relish this challenge with all its pitfalls and pleasures.

    Wishing you all the very best as the custodian of these fresh minds!

  18. I read the remarks and felt the bittersweetness of a parent whose child has not thrived at Wesleyan. Rather than being inspired by the hopefulness of the comments, I am saddened by the gap between the words and my child’s experience. Entering Wesleyan in the fall of 2004, my child was eager to expand both intellectual and social horizons. Myriad rejections (special hybrid majors, study abroad first choice, sports) and odd, sometimes callous comments on papers have led my child to narrow what s/he sees as options at Wesleyan. When I left undergraduate, my perspective had been so enlarged and my appetite for learning so increased that I went on to earn my Ph.D. I don’t think that was the path for my child, but I am sorry to see that s/he willl leave Wesleyan after four years with less than the enthusiasm for learning than that with which s/he entered.

    It is easy, and therefore tempting, to engage the A students (as a faculty member, I know this!). My child did learn the lesson that the rich get richer by watching the A students receive more attention and more opportunities. I am very happy for all those who are having and have had an expanding experience at Wesleyan. My B+ child, however, has fallen through the cracks there. S/he will survive, but what a disappointment that no one noticed. The classroom has been a remarkably impersonal environment for a number of students. My hope for the new president is that over the course of his tenure, there will be fewer students leaving after four years whose intellectual potential was unrecognized and therefore untapped.

  19. Truly inspiring.

    If you find the time and technology allows, please add your photo and a short bio to the blog. I, for one, am very curious about your age — you seem young (in a good way).

  20. Congratulations on your appointment as the new president of our cherished Wesleyan.

    I am a graduate of the class of 1974 and I must say that the time I spent at Wes was one of the very best periods of my life. I love Wesleyan and all it stands for! Given everything I have heard and read, our selection committee could not have chosen a better person for the job. There is no doubt in my mind that your presidency will help propel Wesleyan to new and greater heights in the academic world.

    The very best of luck!

    Henry Avis-Vieira (Vieira ’74)

    p.s. this blog is a terrific idea!

  21. As both a faculty member and an alum, I was genuinely excited by your comments in the spring when you spoke at the Chapel. Then as now, your words were very well chosen, and spoke of a genuine passion for Wesleyan. My own passion for Wesleyan took a bruising the other day when I strolled for the first time through the new Usdan Center. Looking at the bland off-white color scheme, the place reminded me of nothing so much as an airport. LCD monitors everywhere; a little store stocked with items for tourists; long lines for food.

    I stepped back outside onto Wyllis Ave to reassess. The only things visible through the windows were an ad for Mac OSX coming from the computer store, and a big, glowing Bank of America ATM. Airport? Mall? Wesleyan?

    Back inside, big flowing banners hung from the ceiling, all with the Usdan logo on them. Some sported pictures of smiling students. They reminded me of the iconography on display at chain bookstores: meaningless, inoffensive pictures and slogans that simply reinforce the brand image.

    But what is the brand? The Wesleyan I thought I knew was a place of intense debate, iconoclastic people, and genuine weirdness. This place speaks of nothing but commerce and circulation. Why are all the tables for only four students each? (The tables at Mocon assumed big discussions amongst eight or ten…) In Davenport, one was immediately confronted with a cacophony of voices via giant, overflowing bulletin boards. Here, I couldn’t find one to save my life. And God forbid we have to be more than ten steps away from a terminal to check our e-mail with. I wondered whether there would be any music from WESU piped in once the semester started; then I remembered that this, too, took a sharp turn for the bland a couple years ago when they took on NPR programming for most daytime hours.

    I am not exaggerating to say that I’ve lost sleep over this. My cursory walk-through really made me wonder whether Wesleyan really meant anything unique anymore.

    Then I remembered that the semester hadn’t really started yet. The signage wasn’t complete, the place hadn’t been broken in. Soon the cacophony of flyers announcing improv comedy groups and trips to political rallies would overtake the place. Someone surely would find a way of democratizing the system for cycling the images on the LCD screens to include student art and WSA group announcements. The big painted banners that hung from the ceiling at Mocon would also find their way to Usdan.

    But will they? Wesleyan has had trouble knowing its own soul of late. It’s up to all of us to turn this space into one that really showcases Wesleyan’s uniqueness, rather than burying it beneath a blanket of bland. I for one hope and expect that our President will do the same throughout this university.

  22. Hello!
    As a student at fellow-liberal-arts Middlebury College, I am happy to see College presidents blogging! You may find that you are ahead of the trend, with other presidents and deans following your lead. Congratulations and best of luck!

    Ryan Kellett ‘09.5
    Middlebury College

  23. My Wesleyan education made me a skeptic. I am skeptical about almost everything, and that includes our new University president. (The choice about what to capitalize was deliberate.) I hope that in short order I will conclude that my skepticism is unwarranted. I hope that I will see a gentleman whose passion for all that Wesleyan is to all of us who studied here (and sent a child here) matches my own. Wesleyan demands people’s best. It demands people’s passion. I am sure I will disagree with President Roth about many things–that is okay. But, through those disagreements, I will be looking for evidence of that passion, evidence of a drive to make Wesleyan the best it can be, and evidence of a willingness to listen, learn and contemplate what others who love this school believe. I look forward to reading the postings and comments. When I agree, I’ll say so. When I disagree, I’ll scream so. But, I am from Wesleyan…would you expect anything else?

  24. Dear President Roth,

    As a staff member who assisted with the 2007 WesHaul, I would like offer a few suggestions for next year.

    Firstly, for the Butterfield dorms A, B, and C, please provide some type of moving carts, preferably, flat bed moving carts, to be made available to assisting the RAs and volunteers, in moving in next year’s Freshman from parking Lot L and Lawn Avenue to the dorm entrances. When I volunteered, I had no idea how much “HAUL” was in the T-Shirt that I was given to wear. Being that I work in Hall-Atwater Labs, in the Chemistry Department, I was able to borrow a flat bed cart from the loading dock and many RAs, parents, and students, were greatly relieved not to have to manually carry all of the luggage, refrigerators, TVs and etc. from the curb to the dorm entrances, which is a long distance from the drop off point. It is my belief that by providing flat bed carts to assist in the moving in process, we will sending a better message to the new Wesleyan Parents, right from the start, how much Wesleyan University, cares and wants, to help their child, in successful adapting to their new college home. Not to mention, how much the RAs and other volunteers, would appreciate not having to totally stress their bodies, with so much physical labor.

    Secondly, the planners for WesHaul did not take into account the number of volunteers and RA’s who would need a box lunch provided at their work assignment. The Butterfield area was provided only 19-boxed lunches. With all the staff volunteers who assisted over the lunch break there was a huge shortage of meals. Additionally, I found it distressing to learn, when the Head RA, went up to the Usdan Center to acquire more meals, she were turned away empty handed. The end result, was that the she purchased additional food from Thai Gardens, so all the tired, RAs and remaining staff volunteers, did eventually receive a good meal.

    Lastly, WesHaul, needs to embrace better recycling practices for glass, plastic and cardboard. It would be helpful for some RAs to be in charge of breaking down the cardboard boxes, as it is brought out for the trash. As I was the one with the flat bed cart, at the end of my shift, an environmentally concerned RA, recruited me to assist him in recycling and moving the cardboard to the proper area for recycling. While I was working at this task, I observed how the parents and students, started to break down their boxes and etc., to assist us in recycling the paper produces. For next WesHaul, please make sure there are firm recycling guidelines and practices in place. It is my understand, that Wesleyan University, does receive some monetary retribution by properly recycling plastics, glass and paper.

    Thank you for reviewing my suggestios and please pass them along to the planners for the 2009 WesHaul planners.

    Respectfully yours,
    Roslyn N. Carrier-Brault

  25. Great stuff! Love to see inspiring leadership from day one that engages and inspires the breadth of the Wesleyan community. This blog is a great way to rally the community around a variety of topics.
    How about this idea: Let’s rally around Wes and another noted blogger and leader: Jonathan Schwartz who is CEO of Sun Microsystems and who posted above. To kick start the effort, I will match the first $25,000 in JAVA stock donated to Wesleyan over the next few months. Let’s put these stock gifts in a fund for financial aid. I believe that Jonathan’s leadership will lead to sustainable significant gains in the stock price over the next few years such that our contributions today in backing one of the great young CEO’s will help educate those with financial need in the future!

    I’ll call Barbara Jan but let’s get the community moving. As you well know, Wesleyan offers an amazing set of experiences that prepares people for leadership in the modern world.


    Andrew Lacey ’89
    Deputy Chairman, Lazard Asset Management

  26. I am struck by Jacob Bricca’s comment (#27). I visited the campus a few weeks ago, but I have not seen the interior of the new campus center. I concluded my visit troubled by the low aspirations of Wesleyan’s campus design program over the past couple of decades. This complex campus has not fared well recently (both in new elements and in respect for old ones). Perhaps blogs like this can provide a forum to explore these issues.

    Peter Scherer ’79

  27. “Learn to deliver, to make something that others recognize as valuable, or something that works”. I love it. I always felt liberal learning is a great foundation, but let’s focus the ivory tower prep to a practical end. This blog is terrific exchange of ideas, and I applaud our new President on his smart innovation and his effort to reach out.

  28. President Roth-
    As an alum, parent ’08, and fellow classmate of yours, I am so thrilled to have a person whom I (marginally) knew at the helm. When we were students President Colin Campbell was in charge and he added so much to the quality of my experience at WESU. I still follow his distinguished career and know that you will enjoy the same loyal following given your intellectual and social passions. Good luck! May the BLOG be with you….

  29. Welcome President Roth-What a breath of fresh air to see you assist my son and his roommate move into their dorm. If anything I would like to see the Class of 2011 which coincides with your inaugural year at Wesleyan a ONE lasting accomplshment,change whether it be citizenship, academics, sports…etc. Sort of a lasting CLASS accomplshment for the Class of 2011. While this may be extremely difficult at a Liberal Arts school this is the challenge that a college education is all about! Let the brainstorimg begin….

  30. Welcome President Roth to Wesleyan. Thank you for accepting the challenge to lead a first class university. In my long career, I attended 27 universities. None of them compared to the quality and challenges I received at Wesleyan. As a leader and motivator, you will find those who agree with you and those who vigorously oppose you. By being passionate, standing on principles, and doing what is in the best interest of students and faculty, you can make a difference. We expect good things from you and every indication is that you will deliver. This blog is a first step in open communication – a great idea.

  31. This response is to Marty, the parent who posted above. I was rejected by housing options and special majors as an undergrad (a couple of decades ago). At the time, I felt that I wanted to be attending a school at which, after having been accepted, I could get what I wanted on demand, but in retrospect, I don’t think I was mis-served by being constantly assessed and judged. This same testing applied not just to housing options and class assignments, but also to my ideas and arguments. By being constantly challenged to defend my beliefs and ideas, my own understanding of my beliefs grew stronger, as did my ability to argue for and defend them. I don’t think these characteristics are separate from your criticisms. Wesleyan is not a place that coddles its students. As such, it’s not easy to float along happily there. But having been buffetted by a few harsh winds and plenty of criticism from both fellow students and professors’ assessments of work, students tend to graduate as stronger, more capable people. That said, I hope that your child is able to look back having both enjoyed her time at Wes as well as feeling that it made her better able to positively affect the world.

  32. I’m a recent grad. It’s always grounding to hear the goals of liberal arts ed articulated well. I like the way your words cut to the chase, and your enthusiasm. Best wishes.

  33. I have just spent about an hour relishing each entry on Pesident Roth’s blog and in that short time memories of 14 years of study work and play at Wesleyan came roaring back. This is Wesleyan to me and we are all so luky to be or to have been a part of it.

    The tradition continues. Long live the “Wesleyan Community”

  34. Dear President Roth:

    I was delighted to receive the Wesleyan Magazine “special issue” introducing you and your family. Yet, we have already met!

    Indeed, I have been at Wesleyan University since 1975–I have known you as a student. And, I am thrilled to still be at Wesleyan University when you return as our 16th president!

    I was the Administrative Assistant at the Center for the Humanities at the time you were a CFH Student Fellow. In that position I worked with CFH Directors: Richard Stamelman, Louis Mink, Khachig Tololyan (English Department), and Richard Vann (College of Letters). Hayden White was in residence as the Kenan Professor; Andy Szegedy-Maszak (Classics) as a Faculty Fellow.

    In 1987–Twenty years ago–I transferred to the newly opened Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies. The FEAS Center was initially modeled after the Center for the Humanities. However, given the focus of the FEAS Center, we shifted from Wesleyan faculty fellows in residence to hosting foreign scholars from China (Zhang Jie), Tibet (Tonga) and others who have inspired our FEAS Student Fellows.

    Professor Vera Schwarcz is the “Founding Director” of the Center for East Asian Studies and she has returned this year–our 20th–as Director of the FEAS Center and Chair, East Asian Studies.

    I look forward to saying hello to you next Tuesday morning when you come to the Center for a visit with Vera.

    Again, welcome home. Shirley Lawrence

  35. I have read with surprise and interest about the arrival of Wesleyan’s new President, shortly after reading with sadness about my undergraduate school, California College of Art, losing it’s President. Michael Roth is the person I was reading about in both instances.
    I am looking forward to attending the 100th anniversary of CCA in Oakland this October, and am delighted that President Roth’s vision and energy will continue to be part of my academic experience!
    Best wishes for a long tenure as President of Wesleyan University!
    Melissa Slattery, GLSP, ’09, BFA, CCA(C), 81

  36. After the reign of Dougie B, where we could even understand the president when he was talking to us, I look forward to the clarity of the new regime. Thanks for blogging. I hope that this kind of communication continues.

  37. Over the coming months and years the students and faculty of this esteemed learning institution will come to realize what a truly exceptional choice was made in hiring Mr. Roth. I say this not out of envy but from personal experience. Assuming a little luck had played a small roll alongside all the hard work put in by the selection committee, the university should consider itself the luckiest organization in the free world. Congratulations Wesleyan!!!!!

  38. William Holder in the alumni relations office suggested I write you on this blog. When I returned to campus for reuinion 5 years ago, I was disappointed and disturbed to see that the Wesleyan book store had been moved off campus. Not only is it off campus but students have to walk through a very unsavory part of town to get there. If I were a parent trying to decide which university I should send my tuition checks to, believe me this book store thing would be a big turn-off. An institution of Wesleyan’s stature should have its book store on campus. Not only is it less than safe for students to walk there . . . it sends a terrible symbolic message. Books are the life blood of a university. To have the book store off campus makes it seem as though books are a parenthetical after-thought at Wesleyan. It is my hope, President Roth, that you work to find some way to bring the book store back on campus where it belongs.

    John Frisbie ’67

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