Making Ideals Effective

This past week Wesleyan’s students’ “Fast-a-Thon” raised $11,000 for the Amazing Grace Food Pantry in Middletown. Growing out of the observance of Ramadan, this was a great initiative to encourage students to be more mindful of the meals we eat, and to remember those who can’t afford to put food on the table. Starting with our Muslim students and extending across the religious and secular spectrum, this was a strong reminder of how our spiritual communities reach out to do good work on and off campus. Wesleyan students find ways to make their ideals effective!

The Board of Trustees just had its annual Fall Retreat on campus, working through some complex issues facing the university in these uncertain economic times. The trustees, all of whom are alumni or parents of students, volunteer their time, expertise and their financial resources to help make Wesleyan a stronger, even more dynamic institution. At this meeting we planned our work for the year, and we re-examined some of the financial assumptions in place for our major projects going forward. Over the next few months the staff will be gathering information to present to the Board in November, so that we can continue to develop resources to enhance the educational experience of all Wesleyan students. We have great aspirations, and we try to balance them with practical realities.

This is the season when I, like many Jews around the world, reflect on the past year and consider how I might turn more of my thinking and action to worthwhile goals in the future. It’s also a time to express gratitude for what we have, and for those who are close to us. The past year has been an extraordinary one for my family and for me. I so appreciate having been welcomed back to the Wesleyan community, of having the opportunity to be its president, and of sharing the commitment with you to build a university dedicated to offering the very best progressive liberal arts education in the world.

May it be a sweet year!

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8 thoughts on “Making Ideals Effective

  1. The best “progressive” liberal arts college? Thank you for reinforcing the perception of Wesleyan as an SDS front group, Mr. President.

  2. Mytheos, you aren’t seriously willing to give up “progressive” to just the SDS, are you? If you think education should lead to “regress” or just “stasis” why study at all?

    But perhaps you didn’t mean to be serious, Mytheos.

  3. No, Mr. President, I am not prepared to concede “progressive” to SDS, the same way I’m sure many of my early twentieth century predecessors didn’t want to concede “progressive” to HG Wells with his “liberal fascism”, or to Woodrow Wilson, or to Margaret Sanger, but it happened anyway. The term “progressive” as commonly understood has nothing to do with progress and everything to do with being a renovation of the term “liberal” or “Leftist.” I am sure no one disagrees with your idea that liberal education should be concerned with progress, but I seriously doubt that any politically minded student or alumnus or prospective student could read the term “progressive” as anything other than a political designation, rather than a commitment to the idea of progress. This will be a danger if you want to sell Wesleyan as the fantastic and, properly speaking, apolitical institution which it richly deserves to be.

  4. Thanks for the clarification. I’m not “selling” Wesleyan as “fantastic.” I think we can agree that it should be an institution where many different kinds of political engagement (and an open-minded political education) are possible.

  5. Speaking of progressive, a shoutout to iconic Wesleyan professor Anthony Braxton. The prestigious jazz label Mosaic Records is releasing an 8 CD box set of The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton. I would like to think that President Roth was using the word ” progressive ” to include groundbreaking music like Professor Braxton’s rather than in a limited political sense. I am proud to think of Wesleyan as “progressive”. What makes small liberal colleges and universities special is that they can develop a mission and then make that mission happen. While Wesleyan provides a rigorous liberal arts education much like its competition, it does it in its own unique way.

  6. Thanks for your participation in the Fast-a-Thon, President Roth! And to everyone else who participated in the event and made it such a great success. Here’s looking forward to making next year’s even bigger and better!

    As for the discussion of “progressive,” I think that it would be premature and incorrect to only attribute a political definition to the word. I think that the idea of that which is “progressive” is certainly not limited to what are traditional liberal or Democratic ideas: there is much on all parts of the political spectrum that is far from progressive. What makes Wesleyan unique is its focus on precisely that which is progress. For example, the interfaith movement is progressive: it is making progress toward breaking down boundaries that keep people apart. I would hope this is something that individuals with a broad range of political beliefs could agree on as both progressive and positive. I think our cutting-edge science research is also progressive, and something that Wesleyan prides itself on strongly, especially compared to other liberal arts schools. I think you are discrediting the word prematurely and perhaps unnecessarily, Mytheos.

  7. It’d be kinda cool if Wesleyan was an SDS front group… we’d have so much more money.

    Also I don’t think SDS ever claims to be progressive, we generally prefer radical.

  8. President Roth….It’s of little interest to me to enter the debate re “progressive”. I will just say the word worries me too as it relates to your plans for Wesleyan.

    What worries me more is how you and the Board intend to measure your progress this year, next year and the following.

    Years ago, when your predecessor was in his first year or two, I asked him (at a lunch in Naples, FL) what were his goals. He replied…to make Wesleyan one of the top 3 universities in the country. Not only didn’t he succeed (from what one can see), we’ve witnessed a lowering in the Wesleyan ranking on all the lists/polls I can find.

    It would be interesting and, perhaps, sort of a rallying cry, to read of the performance objectives set for you and the Board.

    One of our grandchildren is considering Wesleyan. My hope is you will use your time wisely and enjoy the journey.

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