New Year’s Eve in Middletown: Main Street Celebration!

Thanks to Mark Masselli (Hon ’09, P ’15, P’16), Community Health Center and a group of dedicated sponsors (Wesleyan included), there is going to be a great new tradition starting in Middletown on December 31st. Midnight on Main promises to be a great family-friendly event starting at 3 PM and ending with tolling of the bells as the year turns. There are more than a 100 events up and down Main Street. A fireworks extravaganza is planned for 6 PM.

For more information about Midnight on Main, check out this website.


(photo from middletowneye)


It was great to see the happy crowds wandering around Main Street around the time of the stupendous fireworks display. All the restaurants were filling up, as were the many shows that were attracting folks from all over Central Connecticut. As I walked back up Washington Street to campus, I saw smiling groups emerging from Kidcity Children’s Museum. I was reminded of the museum’s founding director Jennifer Alexander’s (‘ 88, Hon ’09, P ’15, P’16) important work here in Middletown for over 20 years. It was wonderful to see Mark’s and Jen’s vision for Midnight on Main turn into such a successful even last night. Happy New Year!!


Year-End Thanks

Looking back on the year, I feel so grateful for the combination of caring and ambition, cooperation and intensity that marks our Wesleyan community. I think of the wonderful welcome our athletes gave the new students on move-in day, and of the stellar seasons that our men’s and women’s soccer teams had this fall. I think of the powerful theatrical experiences on campus – from the joy of musicals to the awe of classic dramas re-imagined by our students and faculty. Perusing the virtual faculty bookshelf, I admire the scholarly achievements of our professors, from studies of Frank Lloyd Wright to genealogies of racism, especially since I know well the contributions our scholar-teachers have made to the intellectual development of their students. And every day I am grateful for the contributions of the Wesleyan staff, who make all these achievements possible. The hard work of our staff, from reading admission files to planning graduation events, is the foundation of so much of what we are able to accomplish.

The Board of Trustees continues to guide the institution with affection, intelligence and generosity. Trustees, faculty, alumni, students and staff are dedicated to ensuring that our university remains at the forefront of forward-thinking liberal arts education. I am grateful for being part of this team.

I wish you all a restful break, a joyful holiday and a very happy new year.

Working on Wesleyan’s Curriculum

In Wesleyan 2020 we have listed several objectives under the overarching goal of “energizing Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience.” The first of these has to do with refreshing the curriculum by building on strengths. Here is a list of the specific ways in which we’ve committed to do that, with brief comments on how things are going.

1. Develop vibrant first-year program

    I have been working with Academic Affairs to develop a consensus on the core elements of what we want students to learn in their first-year seminars. Next year we will able to ensure that our seminars are structured so as to achieve these learning goals, whatever the specific content of the course.

    2. Develop meaningful capstone experiences for all students

    Last year the faculty passed a resolution to encourage all students to participate in a meaningful senior academic experience. All departments have offerings in this regard, and there are cross-departmental opportunities as well. This semester we have been working on making capstones more visible to students so that everyone has a chance to work on a project that is a transition from Wesleyan to whatever is next.

    3. Spur creativity and innovation across the university

    Over the past year we have had a series of structured conversations with the board, faculty and students about creativity and innovation at Wesleyan. There are differences of opinion (no surprise) about what counts as creativity and innovation, though everybody seems to think that our university can become even more imaginative and inventive. We will soon post a report on creativity across the curriculum, which may lead to more specific proposals.

    4. Develop civic engagement opportunities across the university

    We’ve been focused on this for some time now, and I’m pleased with the progress of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and the development of a variety of internship possibilities.

    5.  Bolster interdisciplinary work in ways that complement departmental strengths

    The past few years have seen the flowering of certificate programs that cut across departments, and this year the faculty is considering the possibility of adding minors. This semester I met with the directors of COL, CSS and COE to talk about the strengths of these interdisciplinary colleges. Should we have more interdisciplinary colleges? We’ve also received a major endowment grant to support the Center for the Humanities.  But there are difficulties in having the same faculty serve disciplines and these various programs. One person can have many interests, but that person can only be in one place at one time! We are working with Academic Affairs and faculty groups on this tough problem. (Maybe we’ll find a way of bending the laws of physics!)

    6. Extend global reach of the curriculum

    During my trip to China with Wesleyan colleagues the value of international partnerships became even more apparent. But how should we measure success in this area? Faculty and students are doing more international study. Even American Studies defines itself as “post-national.”

    7. Invest in technology to support and inspire academic innovation

    We heard some great reports recently on how the Quantitative Analysis Center is  using technology in the classroom in very interesting ways. Across the curriculum, are we using technology in a robust way to enliven our classes? We are searching now for a new Chief Information Officer, who should be of help in this regard.

    8. Improve assessment mechanisms to regularly monitor student learning

    Every department has been asked to consider this issue, and some of them have developed interesting protocols for understanding how students regard what they’ve learned in and out of the classroom. We are also running a pilot with advisors to think about assessment within the advisor-student exchange.

    9. Improve course access

    We are a university that prizes the learning that goes on in small classes, but that also means that many students won’t have access to the particular class or instructor they want. We have been adding many classes to the curriculum to deal with this issue, but we know there is more work to be done. We are particularly focused on ensuring that students have early access to gateway courses in the most popular areas of the curriculum.


    The work to refresh Wesleyan’s curriculum happens every day of the semester as faculty and students work hard at the joint endeavor of learning. Students begin their final exams today, and faculty are already busy writing comments on papers or evaluating experiments and performances. They are already enlivening the curriculum with their creativity, rigor and engagement. 

    Remembering Bob Burnett ’62 and the Highwaymen

    I often celebrate the musical culture generated by the students, faculty, and staff at Wesleyan. Indeed, I’ve told prospective students to check out the music scene here if they really want to understand the personality of our school and to compare it with other places in which they are interested. I thrilled to hear Persephone Hall sing the national anthem at a football game, to listen to Sam Friedman ’13 play piano anywhere, or to marvel at the vocal ingenuity of our a cappella groups. I’m told that Eclectic still controls the music scene in Brooklyn (hence, the world), and I take great pride in the rock ‘n roll chops of Wesleyan’s Treasurer (John Meerts), Provost (Rob Rosenthal), head of the faculty (Gil Skillman) and dean for academic advancement (Louise Brown). Don’t even get me started on the all-star musicians in the Music Department! From the experimental to the traditional, they play with nuance and intensity.

    This past week, we lost a storied voice in the chorus of Wesleyan’s music history. Bob Burnett died on December 7 at his home in Rhode Island. Bob and four other frosh were told to put on some entertainment for their fraternity in 1958, and they decided to become a folk band. While they were still undergraduates they had a #1 hit with their version of “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.”

    Bob Burnett is at the lower left. After graduating Wes he went to Harvard Law School, and it looked like he’d left the music business behind. But more than three decades after that freshmen concert, the original Highwaymen started performing and recording again — and winning great praise! I started hearing about Bob and the Highwaymen almost on my first day on the job at Wes. They inspired friendship and devotion. They still do.

    I took the photo here from Bob’s obituary in the New York Times. You can read more about the Highwaymen here and here.



    Fall Phi Beta Kappa Inductees — An Extraordinary Group!

    Yesterday I participated in one of my favorite events, the December induction ceremony for Phi Beta Kappa. The thirteen seniors we recognized have all excelled in their studies, and they have contributed mightily to the campus culture of inventive, rigorous work. All of these students have faculty mentors who are proud of them, who cheer them on, and who are among the first ones to acknowledge their accomplishments. Staff members, too, have contributed to their success, and it was wonderful to see them at the ceremony, beaming with pride. In Yiddish we call this kvelling, a feeling of fullness from pride and happiness, a gushing of pleasure in someone else’s accomplishment. There was plenty of kvelling at the ceremony today!

    Here are the thirteen new inductees:

    Brittany Laine Baldwin-Hunter

    Alicia Doo Castagno
    American Studies

    Ali Khalid Chaudhry
    Economics/Mathematics & Computer Science

    Lee Solomon Gottesdiener
    Chemistry/Neuroscience & Behavior Program

    Zin Lin
    Mathematics & Computer Science/Physics

    Cassidy Siegel Mellin
    Neuroscience & Behavior Program/Psychology

    Rachel Leah Merzel

    Emma Kathryn Mohney
    English/Romance Languages & Literatures

    Emma Elaine Paine

    Reed Leon Sarney
    Mathematics & Computer Science

    Allegra Stout
    Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies/Psychology

    Brianna Megan van Kan
    College of Letters/Music/Russian Languages & Literature

    Kathryn Emily Wagner
    Biology/Molecular Biology & Biochemistry




    In Memoriam: Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

    I received the sad email message from Professor Paul Schwaber on Friday: his close friend and COL colleague Elisabeth Young-Bruehl had died quite suddenly. Elisabeth was a philosopher, psychoanalyst, teacher…a great friend and mentor to many of my fellow-students at Wesleyan in the 1970s and for many years afterwards. She was a presence in the College of Letters, where she taught everything from ancient Greek philosophy to contemporary political theory. Although I did not study with her myself, I remember her vividly. Her questions from the back of the room at the Monday night Center for Humanities lectures often punctured the puffed up and pretentious, yet she was given to warm, easy laughter. We knew one another from a distance, but the devotion she inspired from her students was always evident. Evident and admirable.

    Elisabeth’s intellectual biographies of Hannah Arendt and Anna Freud combined dogged empirical research with sophisticated theoretical analysis. Over the last several years, she was working as a psychoanalyst, having made a major contribution to this field with her Anatomy of Prejudices, among other works. Recently, the editor we both work with at Yale University Press sent me a glowing review of Elisabeth’s latest book, Childism:Confronting Prejudice Against Children. It’s an urgent call for action to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of prejudice and violence: children. The book will be published in the next month or so.

    I last saw Elisabeth a few years ago in New York, when she stopped by to say hello after a talk I’d presented on the photographer David Maisel. She seemed vital and engaged, and she was generous and welcoming. The writer Dominique Browning, who studied with Elisabeth at Wesleyan in the mid 1970s, offers a loving tribute to her friend and teacher on her blog.

    The legacies of great teachers continue on and on. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s memory will be a blessing for so many of her students, friends and readers.


    Wes Students: Exceptional in Any Element!

    I met yesterday morning with Ben Travers, who for the last few months has been making very cool videos about Wesleyan students. For example, there is this wonderful, short piece about Mary Vallo ’13, who is doing research on epilepsy with Prof Jan Naegle’s team. Mary is one of the many Wes students who are able to contribute to sophisticated research in the sciences. And check out the video of Oscar Takabvira ’14, who has the great line: “I love numbers and I think they like me back.”Arya Alizadeh ’13 is portrayed as the active citizen he is. I know him from his role with the WSA, but it was great to learn more about his ambitions in engineering and history — and that he rows crew. Senior Carmen Yip also has a memorable line: she hates sweating! Carmen has come to Wes from Hong Kong, but that didn’t satisfy her urge to travel and study. She spent a semester in Regensburg, and has already landed a job with Deutsche Bank!

    Ben has also made videos of athletes (including Arya). Casey Reed ’12 is a devoted volleyball player from California, a fundraiser for Wesleyan and a sketch comedy performer. Arthur Burkart ’14 was welcomed onto the crew team, into the African students association and has given back by being a note taker for students who need that assistance. In her video, soccer star Laura Kurash ’13 tells us that she is getting ready for medical school (her memorable line: I’ve seen a lot of blood squirt out; it’s cool). Laura also shows off her musical talents (without using her feet too much!).

    One of the coolest (certainly the most fiery) videos Ben has made so far is on Prometheus, Wesleyan’s fire performance group. The students actually are not on fire, but they certainly do light up the night!

    If fire isn’t your element, go under water with the swim team. And watch out for Ben as he makes his way around campus, video camera in hand.