Classes Are Underway…

I want to thank the folks who so generously expressed their support and welcome in their comments on my first entry. I am new to blogging, and undoubtedly I will make some mistakes. I guess that’s part of the drill.

Classes are now underway, and it is exciting to see the returning students mixing with our new frosh. Of course, there are the frustrations of the beginning of the semester. Not everyone gets the classes they want on the first try, and advisors are scrambling with their students to put together a rewarding collection of courses for every student. I remember my own disappointment long ago, when the creative writing professor discovered that I wasn’t in the “Junior or Senior” category and had to kick me out of his class. As a frosh, I was very annoyed (and even a little offended by the idea of class entry hierarchy), and I wound up sitting in a philosophy class taught by a visitor. I was very fortunate, and it turned out to be a life changing class. I loved the course, and I still study the philosophers I began reading that semester.

I know not everyone will be that fortunate, and that’s why we will closely monitor our ability to deliver courses that meet students’ needs as early in their careers as possible. We’ve enhanced our advising work this year so that we can meet the needs of our students more efficiently and intelligently. We will study the results of the enhancement to see if it is working.

Walking through the bookstore, I enjoy just perusing the shelves to see what my colleagues are assigning. It has been thirty years or so since I’ve been in the Wesleyan bookstore, but in some ways the experience is very familiar. The store itself seems spiffier, and there are certainly more items for sale to remind us of alma mater. But the textbooks still offer wonderful examples of continuity and change. I see classics that I studied (or wish I had studied!) in my youth, and intriguing new titles that remind me of how much more there is to learn. There are courses, like one in political theory, with many books (one per week, I suppose). Others, like a frosh seminar I wish I could take, with a single slim (and endlessly deep) volume. There are the fat, up-to-date science textbooks, and the skinny poetry paperbacks – each promising measures of insight and mystery. Religions of the world are represented through their sacred texts and commentaries, and the philosophical critiques of faith are there, too.

I am reminded that a great university, like Wesleyan, has an obligation to be innovative, cutting edge, and experimental. And it has an obligation to take care (to understand, appreciate, sometimes preserve) of the cultures that cannot be so easily integrated into our contemporary ways of thinking.
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This weekend is my first meeting with the Board of Trustees since assuming the presidency. I have been very impressed with the individual conversations with board member over the last few months. They are all alumni or parents of students, and they care deeply about Wesleyan. Like the alum who posted a comment on this blog, they are reasonably skeptical. They are not satisfied with what is going on at any particular moment because they want, as I do, Wesleyan to remain self-critical, ambitious, and demanding. Next week I’ll be able to relate some of the major issues that get discussed at the retreat. But being at the trustee retreat means I’ll miss the first sports events of the season. Even the president can’t be everywhere!

Besides blogging and learning the presidential ropes, last week I sent off book reviews to the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. It is important for me to continue to write about topics independent of my administrative work. In this case, the books had to do with Sigmund Freud, on the one hand, and contemporary political theory, on the other. I’ll post the links to the reviews when they are published. On Monday, I am to give a lunchtime talk at the College of Social Studies about my recent scholarly work. I am eager to meet the CSS community, and I’ll be able to report on my impressions of this unique aspect of the Wesleyan community.

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11 thoughts on “Classes Are Underway…

  1. President Roth,
    I am just really happy that you continue to update this blog, it shows how receptive you are to the changing times in our society and that you value the input the student body wants to give you. I hope that translates into policy changes for the University as a whole, but that’s another story for another day. As a sophomore, I am both ecstatic and saddened at the prospect of declaring a major, but I feel the drop/add provides a bit of wiggle room for me to explore the majors I was thinking of in freshman year. In the same respect, the competition that drop/add process undeniably fosters makes it almost impossible to take the courses that I feel would be the most enriching. I long to take a class at Wesleyan that I would be able to look back on fondly as the one subject that changed my life, as you do now, but I suppose the quality of courses I have been taking as made me a bit cynical and doubtful that such a experience is possible for me, although I hope it is for someone else.
    I can see that you value the importance a Wesleyan education and the benefits it provides not only in the classroom, but in the world outside of the “Wesleyan Bubble”, but if there’s one thing I wish someone could advocate for is the creating of a system to bring more well-qualified professors and lecturers into the classrooms, so that more students, especially the freshman can realize the value of a collegiate education early on in their careers. I also want someone to review the provisions of tenure at this university, not only for visiting professors seeking it, but more importantly for professors who have attained this esteemed privilege. I had the extreme displeasure of taking a course with a tenured professor that completely changed my views on the value professors have for the quality of their teaching. I don’t want to feel as though I wasted my time and my parent’s money taking an “awful” course, but I do, and I know I am not alone. Even if I don’t get a response to this comment, I hope at least you will take what I have said here to heart and be the spokesperson for the Wesleyan Community at the Trustees meetings. What you do really matters to all of us, you have done an amazing job so far by making yourself so accessible to this community and that makes me so happy you are our President.
    Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to speak to you, it means alot.

  2. Ah – the temptation of books for other peoples’ classes. It was only the knowledge that I would be taking a required book out of someone else’s hands that kept me from buying more books than I could carry (and certainly more than I could read in a single term)! I wonder if students would choose different courses if they could easily flip through the books from the reading lists *before* registration.

  3. spiffier????
    Seriously, thank you for your insights, and involvements. I think this blog is a wonderful idea, and that you have many more wonderful ideas in store for us. Welcome!

  4. President Roth,

    First of all, I have to join everybody else in welcoming you and saying thanks for making this blog. It seems like such a small thing to do but I think it does a lot in the minds of students in terms of closing a gap between the student population and the administration that I know is perceived to have become rather large. By all means, please keep this trend going!

    Second, I have a question regarding the frosh seminar with only a single, slim volume to read that you wish you could take. Would this by any chance be the course on Thoreau by Professor Abelove? I took that course my freshman year after being denied entry into another freshman seminar, and in similar fashion to your own experiences in the philosophy class you wound up in, it changed my life and profoundly influenced my way of thinking even to this day. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, it’s so nice to know that students and the president aren’t as far removed from each other as some would like to think, and that we can all communicate on this common ground.

  5. Dear President Roth:
    My daughter is a freshman (Film major) here at Wesleyan U. I cannot tell you how happy she is being here at Wes. The Orientation Week activities were wonderful, the “help” moving in was wonderful, her RA in Clarke hall is wonderful, everything has exceeded our expectations. With a little help from her advisor Gary Shaw, and the instructors, she was able to get the classes she wanted. Amazing! She also met with Rabbi David and was welcomed at a Shabbat Dinner last Friday night. As she is not coming home for the holidays, I am so pleased that she will have an opportunity to celebrate with some of the students and Rabbi David.

    Rachel’s comments to me last Thursday night were, “Mom I was happier this week than in 4 years at Long Beach HS”. We knew last summer after visiting that WES would be her choice. But she still went through the process, applied to 10 schools (Vassar, Cornell, U of Rochester, Colgate etc.) She made all 10. Some of the schools offered wonderful Merit Scholarship packages. But she decided on WES. She said, “when I close my eyes and imagine where I will be happiest, on a campus in New England with smart and diverse students, I knew it would be Wesleyan.”

    So thank you for your wonderful welcome. I am sure you will love being president of such a wonderful university.

    Vicki Cabrera
    (daughter: Rachel Cabrera)

  6. Spiffier!!!

    It’s really encouraging to have a President who is so engaged with the community. I’m pretty certain that I’ve seen you at least every other day somewhere on campus.

  7. Is there anything that can be done to conserve electricity in the new Usdan center? The lights in the upper levels have been left on all night…very inefficient.

  8. President Roth, welcome aboard. It’s particularly nice for my ’11 Wes student’s career to coincide with your own return to wesleyan. I’m sure it’s a remarkable experience to be on the other side now, like you alluded to with the positive/negatives of “permissive” describing a college which you now lead.
    I am a blogger – it’s great fun, but of course in your case, you do have a presumptive readership, and that is not without its challenges.
    Just a piece of blog-smithing. It is very simple, and a fun creative pursuit, to add images found either through google.images or probably from the wesleyan archives. It adds panache and visual elegance to your post.

  9. President Roth, welcome aboard. It’s particularly nice for my ‘11 Wes student’s career to coincide with your own return to wesleyan. I’m sure it’s a remarkable experience to be on the other side now, like you alluded to with the positive/negatives of “permissive” describing a college which you now lead.
    I am a blogger – it’s great fun, but of course in your case, you do have a presumptive readership, and that is not without its challenges.
    Just a piece of blog-smithing. It is very simple, and a fun creative pursuit, to add images found either through google.images or probably from the wesleyan archives. It adds panache and visual elegance to your post.

  10. Seriously, thank you for your insights, and involvements. I think this blog is a wonderful idea, and that you have many more wonderful ideas in store for us. Welcome!

    David

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