Wishing You Rest, Joy, and Peace

I recently sent this message to our on-campus community and wanted to share it with readers of this blog. I especially want to express my gratitude and best wishes to alumni and parent readers. We may not always agree on specific policy questions, but I know that the passionate interest of our off-campus Wesleyans is an affirmation of their devotion to this very special place. This commitment to ensuring that Wesleyan is at the forefront of progressive liberal education inspires all of us who work here.  In the words of the alma mater: “Time ne’er shall shake our deep devotion, Our deathless love for Wesleyan!”

Dear friends,

Before the horrific events in Newtown, I composed a year-end message to our community of hope and gratitude and joy. The sadness we now feel does not invalidate that message – for sadness is not the opposite of joy; indifference is the opposite of joy. And ours is not an indifferent community.

In so many ways this has been an extraordinary year, and as it draws to a close I want to express my gratitude to the entire Wesleyan family for their many contributions to making our university the dynamic, compassionate place it is. Thinking back to the warm welcome our athletes gave the new students on move-in day, I’m reminded also of their dedication and competitive spirit. I reflect on the startling art experiences that were part of the year, pushing deeply into the experimental and the traditional by turns. And have you looked at the faculty bookshelf lately? You’ll find there explorations of the biological dimensions of mental illness, and of lynching in American culture… studies of missionaries and mission statements, poetry and biographical triptychs. The scholars who produced this work are also spirited teachers who inspire students every week of the semester. Speaking of inspiration, I am continually awed by 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 at the heart of all we do.

The Board of Trustees, representing alumni, parents and students, continues to guide the institution with affection, intelligence and generosity. The trustees and the entire Wesleyan family are dedicated to ensuring that our university remains at the forefront of progressive liberal arts education. I am grateful for being part of this team.

With best wishes for a restful break, a joyful holiday and a very happy new year,
Michael Roth

Choosing to Act

The images and first-hand accounts from Newtown during the last few days have been wrenching. The specter of vicious violence turned against the very young makes us gasp for breath, makes us question the very fabric of our society. If this kind of thing can erupt in communities like ours, what kind of community are we?

There is another image from Newtown that is powerful in a different kind of way: the image of teachers rushing into harm’s way to protect their students, to protect their school. The care and courage of principal Dawn Hochsprung, who hid others before rushing to confront the gunman, is staggering, is inspirational. In the face of violence she chose to act. We should be motivated by her example.

Just a few years ago our school was deeply scarred by gun violence when Johanna Justin-Jinich was brutally slain. At the Commencement that followed that awful event, I asked our students to join in working to curb gun violence:

The second area where we need your help is gun control. I know many regard this as a lost cause because of the passionate effectiveness of the NRA. But it is only a lost cause if we give up. Johanna’s murder should remind us all of the idiocy of our handgun regulations. The status quo is unacceptable. With more than 30,000 people dying annually from gun violence in this country, and with more than 12,000 murders committed with guns, we need you to help us enter the world of nations governed by laws, not by violence. Debates about the 2nd Amendment and about the glories of hunting need not stifle reasonable law aimed at reducing violent deaths.

Reasonable law aimed at reducing violent deaths. Is that too much to ask? We know there are policies that have worked elsewhere – in Australia, Japan, Great Britain. We will be told that these places are very different from us, and they are. That is no excuse. We should demand that our representatives enact (at a minimum) restrictions on ammunition and on automatic firearms. And we need to act immediately.

If we falter, if we think the politics too difficult or too complicated, we should remember Johanna, and we should remember Dawn. Their care and courage should inspire us to move our country to a place where students don’t have to face wild-eyed gunmen, and where teachers don’t have to lay down their lives defending their schools.

“Our hearts are broken today”

Today we heard the shattering news of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Shock, horror, and deep sadness overwhelm us as we contemplate this terrifying event. The Wesleyan family sends condolences and sympathy to all those who are suffering tonight in the wake of the shooting. President Obama spoke for many of us when he said, “Our hearts are broken today.” May compassion and a will to prevent these awful occurrences be inspired by our grief.

Diversity Forum Update

A month ago, following on the student forum Diversity University: In Theory and In Practice, I proposed to our community three priorities on which to focus for making our campus culture more inclusive. As you may remember, the priorities are: (1) improving interactions between Public Safety and students, (2) increasing the scope and intensity of the Making Excellence Inclusive program on campus, and (3) enhancing town-gown connections to increase opportunities for positive interactions between the campus and the city. Feedback over the past weeks confirms that these priorities are on the right track, and I have been especially gratified to see that those who responded expressed willingness to help with their time and effort as well as their words.

I also received a number of initial recommendations from the Committee for Inclusion and Diversity, a subcommittee of the Community Outreach Committee of the WSA; these recommendations emphasize social justice training and increased resources in academic and administrative areas that facilitate deeper understanding of social justice issues. The committee plans to continue developing its recommendations and to publish them independently next semester. I also take note of the groundswell of support among faculty for better understanding of such issues as sexual harassment and hurtful behavior stemming from insensitivity to differences based upon race and socio-economic background. Faculty, students, and the administration are all moving forward, if sometimes on separate tracks, to make our campus more inclusive.

Next steps for the administration with regards to the three priorities above include:

(1)   Public Safety:  Reconstitute and review PSAFE advisory committee; review alert protocols so to avoid giving the impression of targeting any particular group; engage outside consultants to conduct a comprehensive review of the department.

(2)   Making Excellence Inclusive: Conduct Campus Climate survey; make Diversity the theme of new-student orientation; reinforce focus of Vice President for Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer on campus culture; continue (and track) MEI  training; focus on pipeline issues (McNair, Mellon, Upward Bound).

(3)   Town-Gown: The Vice President for Finance and Administration will convene a committee to look at opportunities to increase positive interactions between campus and the city.

As I indicated two weeks ago, I will give a report on the progress we make in these areas just after spring break, and then we can schedule another forum to discuss what has (and has not) been accomplished. The desire to build a more inclusive and caring community here at Wesleyan is sincere, and we will now take positive steps to do just that.


Wesleyan 2020 Update

Today I sent an email to the Wesleyan family with an update on our progress in meeting the goals set out in our framework for planning Wesleyan 2020. You can find the link to the current update here. The update is organized under the rubric of our three overarching goals: Energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; Enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; Work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values.

Over the last 12 months we undertook a major self-study as part of the regional Accreditation process. I don’t explicitly discuss that process in the update, but I can say we were very pleased with the first response of the Accreditation Committee that came to campus. We will be releasing the official Accreditation materials when they are available in 2013.

Over the last year we have been involved in extensive (and sometimes intense) discussions with faculty, students, alumni and staff about our present operations and our plans for the future. This is as it should be. Receiving the most attention so far is the change in how we will budget for financial aid (leaving us about 90% need blind), and in this update I review the rationale for the change.  Affordability, accessibility, and financial aid are key challenges for Wesleyan, and in the fundraising campaign we are launching, financial aid endowment (complemented by gifts to current scholarships through the Wesleyan Fund) is our highest priority.

We also added a button to the homepage that makes it easier to direct donations to financial aid. The site also collects links related to our conversations concerning financial aid and the university’s economic model.

As classes end and finals approach, campus life is in its end-of-the-semester mode. Study and practice spaces are full, and creative energies are being unleashed. Professors are holding extra review sessions, and expectations for strong performances to close out the semester are running high. Artists are planning exhibitions, scientists are conducting experiments…data is getting crunched, and wild interpretations are being molded into forms that will seem powerfully compelling. This is why (well, some of the reasons) we love to be here.

It’s almost the end of the fall term. The work will get done!