Winter’s Spring Attractions

Although the temperature was below 20 degrees this morning when I walked to my office, what we call the spring semester is now fully underway. The campus is still blanketed in white, but the icy New England weather makes the snowy landscape deceptively slippery.

One of the most exciting bits of news we had over break was the extraordinary number of applications we’ve received for next year. More than 10,000 students have asked for a place in the class of 2013, a surge of well over 20% from last year. As many of you know, our Early Decision Applications were up over 30%, and we’ve now learned than most of our peer institutions are not seeing anything like this spike in interest. It’s a lot more work for the tireless group in the Admissions Office, but the fact that more and more people are hearing about the great things going on at Wesleyan is very good news indeed.

As I look around at the amazing array of courses offered this term, I can well understand why so many want a crack at a Wesleyan education. Here are just a few examples I’ve taken from the catalogue:

The 60s: Henry Abelove
This course will focus on the 1960’s in the United States. Topics to be considered will include: the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the Goldwater conservative movement, gay liberation, second-wave feminism, pop art, the New York School poets, Judson School dance, the new journalism, tendencies and developments within American Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism, student movements, the Black Power movement, the rise of Asian American and Latino/a cultural nationalisms, electoral politics, environmentalism, Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum, the Cuban missile crisis, the counter-culture.

Developmental Neurobiology: Jan Naegele
Near the top of the list of unsolved mysteries in biology is the enigma of how the brain constructs itself. Here is an organ that can make us feel happy, sad, amused, and in love. It responds to light, touch, and sound; it learns; it organizes movements; it controls bodily functions. An understanding of how this structure is constructed during embryonic and postnatal development has begun to emerge from molecular-genetic, cellular, and physiological studies. In this course, we will discuss some of the important events in building the brain and explore the role of genes and the environment in shaping the brain. With each topic in this journey, we will ask what the roles of genes and the environment are in forming the nervous system. We will also discuss developmental disorders resulting from developmental processes that have gone astray.

Zombies as Other from Haiti to Hollywood: Liza McAlister
The Afro-Creole religion of the Haitian majority is a complex system of inherited roles and rituals that Afro-Creole people remembered and created during and after plantation slavery. Called “serving the spirits,” or “Vodou,” this religion and cultural system continues as a spiritual method and family obligation in Haiti and its diaspora, and draws constantly on new symbols and ideas. A small part of Vodou mythology involves the zonbi: a part of the soul captured and forced to work. Vodou, and especially the zonbi, has also captured the imagination of Hollywood and television, and the entertainment industry has produced numerous films and television episodes, and now computer games, with “Zombie” themes. …What constitutes the thought and practice of Haitian zonbi? How is the Zombie represented in American media?…

Of course, I could list dozens of other classes from various parts of the curriculum that I would love to take, or others that are rather intimidating.  From the most traditional to the most experimental, you can find it all. I make my own small contribution to this list. After giving a seminar on photography and philosophy in the fall, this term I have my large class, The Past on Film.

A small selection of classes and lectures from Wesleyan can now be found on iTunes. If you look at the iTunes University section of the store, you can search for Wesleyan and see our first group of lectures (all free downloads). We are adding more regularly, so please check back often.

Before long on iTunes and on Wesleyan’s YouTube site you will also be able to find many student performances featured along with faculty presentations. There are auditions going on almost every night on campus at the beginning of the semester. Dance, music and theater are gearing up for performances that will be perfected before finals week. Much to look forward to as winter turns to spring!

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Ives, Ives, Ives!

When Wesleyan’s Professor of Music Neely Bruce told me about his plan to perform all 185 songs of Charles Ives over the last weekend of January 09, I thought he was kidding. Silly me. Neely Bruce doesn’t kid about music, unless, that is, the music calls for a wink and a grin.

Today through Sunday Neely and and a fine group of musicians and scholars will be exploring the vocal works of Charles Ives, that enigmatic yet quintessentially American composer. Ives seemed afraid of nothing in the world of sound, and he drew on it all to make challenging, delightful and thoughtful song. Tonight, Thursday January 29 at 8:00 pm in the Chapel, Kyle Gann will give the keynote address: “Must a Song Always be a Song?”

Much music will be made through Sunday. Check out the website:

Sing! Sing! Sing!

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Senator Michael Bennet ’87: Pragmatist with Vision

Michael Bennet ’87 was recently sworn in as the United States Senator from Colorado, the seventh Wesleyan alumnus to serve as a United States Senator. I’ve only met Michael briefly through his father Doug, just as Doug was finishing his very successful tenure as Wesleyan’s 15th president. Reading about Michael Bennet’s career this week, I am struck by how he exemplifies so many of the virtues and values we hope to impart to our graduates.

After Wesleyan, where he majored in History and graduated with Honors and Phi Beta Kappa, Michael went onto Yale Law School and a position in the Justice Department during the Clinton Administration. He then went into the business world, working for Philip Anschutz’s investment firm in Colorado. Learning on the job, he had real success turning around distressed companies, but eventually he went back into public service. The first stop was chief of staff for Denver’s mayor John Hickenlooper, a Wesleyan grad (and microbrewery entrepreneur from the class of ’74 !) Bennet then became superintendent of the Denver School system, where he was able to implement changes that have resulted in a surge in enrollment and test scores in the city.

I expect that Michael Bennet’s pragmatic approach to problem solving and long term investments in education will serve his state and our country well. I wish him well in Washington, and hope to see the red and black on the Senate floor!

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Dear Mr. President…

I sent the following letter to our 44th President a few days ago.

Dear President Obama,

I write just a few days before your Inauguration to send you my congratulations, best wishes, and deep hopes as you begin your tenure as president. The impact of your Commencement Address at Wesleyan University in the spring still echoes on our campus, and although we know that college students everywhere identify with your message of hope and change, we at Wesleyan feel a special kinship with you.

In a recent video communication you call on Americans to step forward in service to our communities, our regions and our country. This is a call that resonates powerfully with the Wesleyan family. For generations our students, faculty and alumni have connected their education with making a positive contribution to the world around us. We have long believed in the power of a liberal arts education to help one not only to live a more reflective and considered life as an individual, but to enable one to engage with one’s community in an effective and generous way.

In response to your call Wesleyan will strive to reinvigorate the public service dimensions of the education we offer. You have inspired us to find “our moon, our levee, our dream,” and we will set our goals and work together to accomplish them.

From the same marble terrace from which you delivered your Commencement Address, Martin Luther King Jr. told our students that “the arc of history bends toward justice.” Like you, he knew that we must join forces to realize the potential for justice in our country, in our history. Mr. President, I pledge that we at Wesleyan will do everything we can to help you in this endeavor.

Congratulations on your inauguration. With your leadership and our joint service we can make substantial progress in achieving our goals.

Yours sincerely,

Michael S. Roth

Congratualtions, Mr. President

click photo to enlarge

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