Hot Winter Sports

I was delighted to learn this weekend that Wesleyan’s men’s hockey team defeated Hamilton for our first ever NESCAC tournament win! This is another step forward for Coach Potter and the guys, who had already accomplished much this season. They defeated Middlebury and Bowdoin on our rivals’ home ice — something Cardinal teams had never accomplished before. In our final regular season match, Wes scored 14 goals in a win over the University of New England. Let’s keep that momentum going!

There have been a bunch of standout performances this season, from Shasha Brown’s scoring heroics in men’s basketball to Cara Colker-Eybel’s record-breaking races in women’s swimming. Hats off also to our wrestling team, which won 16 of its 17 final matches and placed third this past weekend in the New England Championships! Coach Drew Black at last count has 131 career victories at Wesleyan in 13 seasons at the helm.  This eclipses the school record for career coaching victories in wrestling, held by John Biddiscombe, the college’s athletics director, who had 127 wins over 15 seasons. Drew, like all our coaches, is a thoughtful mentor and caring university citizen. We are proud of and grateful for his accomplishments!

Our hockey team is off to Williams on Saturday for the NESCAC semifinals. GO WES!!

Our Joshua Boger ’73: Philosopher, Chemist, Entrepreneur

Yesterday I received an email from a friend who has a relative who suffers from cystic fibrosis, “an inherited disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract. It is one of the most common chronic lung diseases in children and young adults, and may result in early death.” She was writing because she had just heard about the amazing results that Vertex Pharmaceuticals had achieved with a drug it had created to eliminate almost all symptoms of a form of this dreaded disease. The jury is still out, but the results so far are inspiring. My friend had read that Vertex was founded by Joshua Boger. “Is that our Joshua Boger?” she asked.

It is our Joshua Boger ’73, P’06,’09, Chair of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees. He reported the following to me:

We basically transformed most of these patients into biochemical normals; using biochemistry you could not tell they had a major metabolic defect, because we fixed it with one tiny pill twice a day.  Average lung function went, in 30 days or so, from barely being able to climb stairs to being in normal activity indistinguishable from the usual American coach potato.  We added on average a pint to every one of their breaths.  Some patents ran across a room for the first time in ten years.  Hospitalizable lung issues dropped 50%.  Patients, who have a hard time keeping up normal weight because the defect affects food absorption, gained an average of 7 pounds over six months.  All the effects are sustained through the entire study.  Side effects leading to stopping participation in the trial were something like 5x higher in the placebo group than the drug group.  It is without qualification the most spectacular clinical result I have ever seen.   Transformative.  First oral drug for any genetic disease that addresses the genetically defective protein directly.  A major paradigm shift in drug discovery.

And only took 13 years from start till here!  We should have this on the market by the first of next year.  Good stuff.

Joshua was a philosophy and chemistry major at Wesleyan, and he founded his biotech company to “transform the way serious diseases are treated” (the company’s other major drug in production is for Hepatitis C). He’s told me more than once that he has a “high tolerance for ambiguity,” and I can see how he thinks of the long run. These drugs take a decade or more to develop. They also have the potential to make a lasting difference in the lives of thousands of people.

I was so proud to respond to my friend that yes, that’s Wesleyan’s Joshua Boger. He is on campus today for our Board of Trustee meetings (he also chairs the board of the Harvard Medical School). If you see him wandering around campus this weekend, please say “congratulations and thank you!”

Housing Policy and Threats to Student Freedom

At the beginning of this month, we announced a revision to Wesleyan’s housing policy to clarify off-campus options for undergraduates. Our goal was to remove a dangerous ambiguity that has existed for more than five years: the Beta Fraternity seems to be a Wesleyan organization, but the university has no oversight over the house. We wanted to accomplish two things with this change: 1. to encourage Beta to join the other fraternities and societies in working together with the school; 2. to prevent similar situations from arising in the future with private homes adjacent to campus. Since this was not only about Beta, we used broad language, and we also wanted to announce this change before the housing process got underway so that students could plan accordingly.

I made two mistakes in this. First, the language (as many students have pointed out) is just too broad. Many students appear to see this as a threat to their freedom, and I want to be sensitive to that. The university has no interest in regulating the social lives of our students when they are away from campus, and the language we used suggests otherwise. We will change the language. My second mistake was not consulting enough with students. I did meet with some of the Beta undergrad leaders (and we have been talking about this with their alumni representatives for four years!), and I was hopeful they would join Psi U, DKE and ADP. Alas, they decided otherwise.

I told the WSA leadership yesterday that I would ask Dean Mike’s team to meet with the relevant committees to craft language that conveys that residential Greek societies adjacent to campus must be recognized by the university in order to remain open to Wesleyan students. This is the only way we can continue to have a safe system that includes our historic residential fraternities. That’s all we want to achieve with this revision.

I want to be as clear as possible: if the Beta Fraternity does not join with the other Greek fraternities and societies, it will be off-limits to undergraduates next semester. Students who violate this rule will face significant disciplinary action, including suspension. This is not an attempt to regulate the expressive activities of our students. It is an attempt to minimize unsafe conditions adjacent to campus.

I want to thank the vocal Wesleyan undergraduates for reminding their president to be more careful in his use of language, and to be more attentive to student culture. Of course, I should have known this already, but hey, I try to keep learning.

At Friday night’s trustee dinner we will be celebrating recent campus activism, such as efforts to combat sexual violence on campus, to confront housing and poverty issues in Middletown, to promote flood relief in Pakistan, and to create educational opportunities and free health care in Kenya. I know that there is a protest planned Friday about the fraternity housing policy, and there are other opportunities for making student voices heard. The state of Connecticut and the federal government both have proposed dramatic cuts to financial aid. Hundreds of current Wesleyan students depend on the programs that are threatened. This seems to me a dramatic threat to student freedom, and we are joining with other colleges to make our voices heard in Hartford. Planned Parenthood supporters plan to hold a rally here on campus Saturday afternoon to combat recent attacks on reproductive rights, another important threat to our freedom. Of course, students don’t take activism instructions from the president, and they may still want to protest for the right to have Beta remain outside the fraternity program at Wesleyan. That’s up to them.

Near the end of my first year as president of Wesleyan, I wrote a blog post about the role of fraternities and societies at Wesleyan: I have found them to be energetic, vital student organizations capable of making contributions to the campus as a whole. I know many Beta brothers; I cheer for them at games, and I enjoy having them in my classes. I hope their fraternity decides to join with the other residential student organizations. That’s up to them.

Black History Month

We’ve just passed the mid-way point in February, which means that there have already been a number of interesting events celebrating Black History Month. Students and faculty have been planning lectures, concerts, and social events that commemorate important events in the history of African Americans and other groups in the African Diaspora.  This Sunday at 5 pm at Crowell Concert Hall is Jubilee, an annual event that celebrates the talents of students, faculty and community members. Wesleyan’s Center for African American Studies has a long, distinguished history of scholarship and activism, and you can find out more about events in Black History Month by visiting the Malcolm X House at 343 High Street.

I had lunch today with Ann duCille, Professor of English, who for more than two decades has been teaching students about literature, race, history, gender and theory. We talked about the changing landscape for Black Studies, and about the potential for doing some exciting things at Wesleyan in this field, in creative writing, and in our diversity efforts across campus. Ann’s interests range from Barbies to black feminist theory, and she has deep roots in the arts and academia. Ann has decided to retire at the end of this year, and she will be sorely missed by students and faculty alike. Only after I left the lunch did I realize that it was Ann’s birthday! To make up for this gross oversight, I’ll extend these birthday wishes publicly!!

Writers Among Us!

There are so many extraordinary writers coming through campus these days that I find it hard to keep up. James Kaplan ’73 came back to campus last week to talk about his new Frank Sinatra biography The Voice. Kaplan was an art major at Wes and has gone on to a distinguished writing career. Alas, I was out of town visiting with alumni, but I hear it was a wonderful reading. Sarah Ruhl, a MacArthur genius award winner whose Vibrator Play shook up Broadway last year, talked to a large crowd in the Chapel. She also met with students who are currently rehearsing her Melancholy Play, directed by Michael Rau ’05. Performances are scheduled for February 24, 25, 26th. How exciting it must have been for the performers to talk with the writer about their interpretation of her work!

The feast continued this week with Liz Lerman reading from her new Wesleyan Press Book, Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer. Liz has been working with Wesleyan students and faculty for years, and it was great to hear from her “notes.” Liz’s artistic practice is predicated on breaking down the boundaries between media and between disciplines. At Wesleyan, she has worked closely with scientists on embodied learning, and this work has resulted in some remarkable dance pieces. Be on the lookout for the performances from her group later this semester.

Tonight, February 16 at 8 in the Chapel, Michael Cunningham will be on campus as the Annie Sonnenblick Lecturer. Cunningham, the author of several novels, including The Hours and the recent By Nightfall, will read from his work and then be on campus for a couple of days to offer master classes for Wesleyan students. It will be thrilling for our young writers to talk with Cunningham about his fiction and his work for film.

These events are just a sample of the creative writing energy that is percolating on campus. The English Department and the Writing Certificate Program, the Koeppel Visiting Professor in Journalism and the Kim-Frank University Writer in Residence are all catalysts for new student writing. On top of it all, Amy Bloom offers regular opportunities in the Shapiro Creative Writing Center to meet together to discuss how to get that sentence just right. Now there’s something I should be attending!

February Thoughts of Spring and Summer

Our expected snow turned out to be mostly rain, and the fact that this is a cause for a great burst of optimism tells you what kind of winter we’ve been having. Sophie said to me as we drove to school (she doesn’t want any more snow days!): “Does this mean it’s going to get warmer and warmer?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her “no.”

But it does certainly mean we can start thinking of warmer times. For example, I just noticed that the winter silent auction to raise money for the Green Street Art Center has been postponed until April 8. It’s just been too hard to get around, and the staff thought we’d be safer planning our celebration of the great work of the GSAC in the spring. But the online auction is still on for another week to raise money for Wesleyan’s wonderful civic engagement initiative in Middletown.  The online auction officially closes Sunday, February 13th! Please encourage anyone you know to check it out and help us raise money for our students! Visit our online auction.

Kari and I are auctioning off a dinner at the President’s House (she’s a great cook and a better dinner partner; I’m a pretty good dishwasher), and if people don’t bid soon my mother is likely to get it! PLEASE HELP!!!

This is also the time that students can register for Wesleyan’s Summer Session. Between now and March 31, students can sign up for these intensive classes in the first part of the summer. You can take Foreign Policy at the Movies with Douglas Foyle, or travel to the Gulf Coast with Barry Chernoff to investigate the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. You can also make progress on general education expectations or try playing Gamelan. Check out the offerings.

It’s still winter, but it helps to think of some of the good things to come in spring and summer!

Colleagues, Books and Good Cheer

On Friday afternoon last week a group of faculty members gathered at Olin Library to celebrate the publication of books by humanities and arts professors over the last couple of years. Dean Krishna Winston (who herself has published five translations of major German writers in recent years) compiled the list of books and authors, and we raised our glasses together to salute the achievements of our colleagues. What variety! From Jonathan Best’s history of the early Korean kingdom of Paekche to Elizabeth Willis’s contemporary poetry, from Joel Pfister’s study of the education of the “Yale Indian” Henry Roe Cloud, to Jane Alden’s history of the Chansonniers of the Loire Valley, our scholar teachers are shaping the future of the fields in which they teach. I enjoyed the chance to talk with Uli Plass, one of our great young teachers of critical theory whose books on the philosopher Theodor Adorno and on Frantz Kafka were nicely displayed. Uli is already working on a study of Adorno in Los Angeles. And what a delight to see the new (and huge!) manuscript from historian of architecture Joe Siry, whose latest study of Frank Lloyd Wright will be published by the University of Chicago Press in the coming year. Soon you’ll be able to see these – and the dozens of others – on the Wesleyan website: a new “virtual bookshelf” will help make the work of all the faculty at the university visible to students, parents and alumni.

Dean Winston has been a strong advocate for the vitality of the arts and humanities programs at Wesleyan, and Friday afternoon we had another reminder that this sector of the university continues to do such strong work. I was proud to be at Olin surrounded by colleagues, books and good cheer.