Time for Teacher Award Nominations!

It’s that time of year again. The university is soliciting nominations for Wesleyan’s Binswanger award for teaching excellence. Here’s a little history:

The Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching was inaugurated in 1993 as an institutional recognition of outstanding faculty members. One to three Binswanger Prizes are presented each year and are made possible by the generosity of the Binswanger family that counts numerous Wesleyan alumni, alumnae and parents in its ranks. The standards and criteria for the annual prizes shall be excellence in teaching, as exemplified by commitment to the classroom and student accomplishment, intellectual demands placed on students, lucidity, and passion.

Recommendations may be based on any of the types of teaching that are done at the University including, but not limited to, teaching in lecture courses, seminars, laboratories, creative and performance-based courses, research tutorials and other individual and group tutorials at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Juniors, seniors, graduate students and alumni from the last decade are eligible to nominate up to three professors. Nominations are made through Wesconnect here. GLS students can use their e-portfolio to make nominations. Professors who have taught at Wesleyan for at least a decade are eligible.

You can find out more about the Binswanger Prize, as well as watch or listen to interviews with some previous winners here.

Speaking of great teaching, this week I was able to attend the first lecture in the Center of the Humanities Monday Night Series. The talk by Catherine Malabou was intense, philosophical and very relevant to major issues in the world. The theme this term is comparison, and each week the Center serves up great presentations. On Monday, February 8 at 6 p.m. Wesleyan history Prof. Jeffers Lennox will speak on “Canada, the Revolution, and Creating the United States.”

Check out the new events calendar for a list of various happenings on campus.

Many, Many More Applicants to Wes

As readers of this blog know, I spend a lot of time writing about the value of a pragmatic liberal education. I even “predicted” a resurgence of interest in this great American form of education in an short piece for the Wall Street Journal.  But even I was surprised when I heard we had a tremendous surge in the number of applications we’d received at Wesleyan. The class of 2020 will be chosen from our largest applicant pool ever.  As of Feb. 1, 12,026 students had applied, marking a 22 percent increase over the previous year and a 10 percent increase over the previous all-time high three years ago for the Class of 2017. Here’s the Wes news story about the applicant pool:

“We’re very pleased by not only the sheer number of students who can see themselves at Wesleyan—amongst the highest of any liberal arts college—but also by the highly talented and diverse nature of the applicant pool,” said President Michael Roth. “I’d like to believe this is evidence that we’re about to see a resurgence of pragmatic liberal arts education in this country.”

The number of applications rose fairly consistently across the country and within different demographic groups. The pool is quite diverse, with 36 percent self-identifying as students of color. Increasing the representation of those first-in-their-family to go to college and international students are high priorities for Wesleyan, so “it is particularly exciting to see increases in applications from first-generation students” —up 41 percent from last year—and those outside the U.S. — up 24 percent, said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Nancy Hargrave Meislahn.

“We are excited to see such a high level of interest in Wesleyan!” Meislahn said. “Last year we felt that the word about our change to test-optional hadn’t yet reached all those top students who we want to look seriously at the opportunities here, especially students without sophisticated college advising or who might be intimidated by Wesleyan’s typically daunting score profile. This surge in applications is wonderful testimony to our success on that front.”

Regular decision applicants will be notified of admission decisions on March 25, and all 2020 prefrosh are welcome to campus for WesFest 2016 on April 13-15.

People have been asking me why we’ve had such strong application pool growth. Surely, our decision to go test optional is one factor. We did that because we believe that standardized tests only tell a small part of the story for many applying to college. Our research indicated that going test optional would bring us more applications from under-represented groups—and indeed this has been the case. But our application growth among those who did submit scores was also in double figures.

In any case, we are delighted that the message about Wesleyan is getting out to more students in more parts of the world. On campus we continue to work together to make Wesleyan more equitable and inclusive—a place ever more effective in empowering students to lives of meaning and purpose after graduation. That work will continue, and I look forward to finding out later this spring which new Wesleyans will be joining in this endeavor!

41 Wyllys to Become Boger Hall

41wyllysEarlier this week I announced a $20 million gift from outgoing Board of Trustees Chair Joshua ’73, P’06, P’09 and Dr. Amy Boger P’06, P’09 to the university’s THIS IS WHY fundraising campaign. In recognition of the Boger family’s generosity and leadership, the building located at 41 Wyllys Avenue on the university’s College Row will be named Boger Hall. Here’s the story from News@Wesleyan.

The Bogers are the largest donors to the campaign. Their gifts include $11 million to establish the Joshua ’73 and Amy Boger Endowed Wesleyan Scholarship Program, which has already benefited more than a dozen Wesleyan students and will provide access to Wesleyan to many more in the coming years; $3 million to endow the Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, currently held by Professor of Chemistry David L. Beveridge; and $2 million for the Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, P’09 Endowed Fund for Student Research, which provided lead funding for 50 faculty-mentored student research fellowships in 2015.

“It is truly gratifying to honor a family that exemplifies Wesleyan’s ideal of passionate, generous, forward-thinking individuals who believe in the importance of a pragmatic liberal arts education,” Roth said. “The Boger family’s commitment to Wesleyan will provide students now and in the future with an opportunity to face 21st century challenges head-on to make positive and profound changes in the world.”

Speaking about the value of liberal education, Boger said, “In an age of instant information access, the core skills for the 21st century are information curation, critical analysis, and cross-discipline integration. Increasingly, it is apparent that needed progress in complex fields like healthcare innovation requires balance and judgment across technical, social and political areas. Wesleyan excels at offering precisely this kind of broad and deep engagement in our most important human challenges, and it gives Amy and me great pleasure to support this important mission.”

Joshua Boger has had an extraordinary career as a scientist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. A philosophy and chemistry major at Wesleyan, he founded Vertex Pharmaceuticals in 1989 to, in his own words, “transform the way serious diseases are treated.” Vertex is a member of the S&P 500 and was named by Forbes magazine recently as the No. 15 most innovative company in the world. See how Wesleyan set Boger on his professional path in the 2011 Wesleyan mini-documentary, “Cure Entrepreneur.”

The building at 41 Wyllys Avenue is an iconic part of College Row at the heart of the Wesleyan campus. Built in 1934 to house the university’s squash courts, it was completely renovated in 2012 (see photos here) and now is home to the university’s state-of-the-art Career Center, College of Letters, and Paoletti Art History Wing. This award-winning, LEED “Platinum” certified building will be formally dedicated as Boger Hall in May 2016, as part of the university’s Reunion & Commencement celebration. The ceremony will also mark Joshua Boger’s retirement from the Board of Trustees, on which he has served as a member since 1999 and as chair since 2009.

One of the great things about being president of Wesleyan is acknowledging the support of people like Joshua and Amy. Their affection, loyalty and commitment to our university and our community is inspiring!

The Wellness Experience: Feelin Alright!

This morning I signed up for Wellness Experience sponsored by Wesleyan’s Health Center. I have to confess that as a student of Michel Foucault’s I was filled with trepidation at joining what might be a bio-political engineering program designed for increased homogeneity. Ha! Instead, when I looked at the various ways in which I could join other Wesleyans in reducing health risks and building resistance against various stressors…I happily signed on. Here are a few key things Tanya Purdy from WesWell wrote me about that caught my attention:

  • Try autogenic relaxation – use this progressive body relaxation meditation a couple times this week. Here is a helpful guide
  • Practice holistic gratitude–Tell the people in your life what you appreciate about them, what you are grateful for, and the impact they’ve had on you. (Not sure how to get started or looking for community to learn/share in this transformative practice? Monday, 2/8, at 4:30pm at the Spirituality Lounge at 169 High St.).
  • Fuel your body!–Strive to eat three “colorful” meals each day! Take the opportunity to try a new fruit or vegetable, and aim for at least five different colors on your plate.
  • Take a break from substances when socializing—attend a substance-free event or go out with friends. Take in your whole experience and enjoy socializing substance free. You can find CFA events here, The Wes Film Series here, and UCAB/WesUnights events here.

Here‘s the announcement page from WesWell, where you can sign up for the Wellness Experience. And here’s a snippet from the Smokin Lilies (yours truly on keys and vocals) playing Feelin Alright at the Mash! in September.

Exciting New Art Exhibition — We-Chat Opens!

Wesleyan folks are in for a great opportunity to see exciting new art from China. We-Chat, curated by Barbara Pollock, opens at the Zilkha Gallery this afternoon (Tuesday) at 4:30 pm. Here’s what the Center for the Arts website says about the show:

Born after the end of the Cultural Revolution, young artists are challenging traditional notions of Chinese identity and inventing new ways to shout out in the global arena. This exhibition debuts at Wesleyan, and features works by Sun Xun, Jin Shan, Ma Qiusha, Lu Yang, Bo Wang, Pixy Liao, Liu Chuang, Shi Zhiying, Guo Xi, and Yan Xing that reflect the state of China today, and raise questions about the sustainability of national and cultural identity in an increasingly globalized world. The exhibition is curated by Guest Curator Barbara Pollack.
The opening reception will include a gallery talk at 5 p.m. by artists Pixy Liao, Bo Wang, and Jin Shan, as well as Guest Curator Barbara Pollack.

Pixy Yijun Liao, "The King Under Me,"

Pixy Yijun Liao, “The King Under Me,”

Check out the CFA website for more cool events this semester.

Snow, Snow…. and Sports

Kari and I made our way across campus to the Freeman Athletic Center Saturday afternoon to get a workout in. The Andersen Fitness Center was packed with students who had a similar idea (and snow boots). After getting in a little cardio, I was able to check out the amazing Wesleyan squash team. These people are soooo skilled! I am ever impressed by their poise and their athleticism. And were winning their share of matches, to be sure.

The women’s hockey team may have felt at home in the wintry weather. They were facing a formidable squad of skaters from Hamilton, but they were certainly putting real pressure on the Hamilton goalie while I was there. The men’s basketball team was coming off an exciting overtime win against the nationally ranked Tufts’ team, and they looked great against Bates. They led throughout the game, and senior BJ Davis had SEVEN three pointers!

At the foul line...

At the foul line…

On my way home, I encountered the physics research project known as sledding down Foss Hill. Here is a research team known as “The Onezies.”

During Storm:


Onesies in the Snow

Onezies in the Snow


Physics Research

Physics Research


Morning after:

Somebody loves the snow!

‘Beyond the University’ Awarded AAC&U Ness Prize

The Association of American Colleges and Universities today awarded Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters the Walter Ness Award for a book that “best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education.” This morning I heard stirring speeches from outgoing AAC&U president Carol Geary Schneider and Freman Hrabowski, the president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Both have done so much to foster equity and inclusion in higher education.

Carol Geary Schneider

Carol Geary Schneider

Freeman Hrabowski

Freeman Hrabowski









I am very honored to receive this award and post the AAC&U’s press release below:

AAC&U Presents 2016 Frederic W. Ness Book Award to Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters by Michael S. Roth

Jan 21, 2016

Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announced today the winner of its Frederic W. Ness Book Award: Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters published in 2014 by Yale University Press. The Ness award is given for the book that best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education, and will be formally presented to the author, Michael S. Roth, at AAC&U’s Annual Meeting, on January 21, 2016, in Washington, DC. Michael S. Roth is president of Wesleyan University.

In Beyond the University, Michael S. Roth recounts the historic debates over the benefits—or drawbacks—of a liberal education. In this provocative contribution to the disputes, Roth focuses on important moments and seminal thinkers in America’s long-running argument over vocational vs. liberal education.

“As I argue in the book, a liberal education is more important than ever,” said Michael S. Roth, author of Beyond the University. “In 2016, we can work toward the wider recognition that liberal learning in the American tradition isn’t only training; it’s an invitation to think for oneself—and to act in concert with others to face serious challenges and create far-reaching opportunities. I’m honored to have the book recognized by AAC&U.”

This year’s Ness award winner was selected by a committee of higher education leaders including Johnnella Butler (chair), Professor, Comparative Women’s Studies, Spelman College; Sanford Ungar, Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Georgetown University; Elaine Maimon, President, Governors State University; and Reza Fakhari, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, City University of New York Kingsborough Community College.

“Michael Roth provides the historical and contemporary rationale for the pragmatic, aspirational, and innovative liberal education to meet the changing twenty-first-century realities both within and beyond the university,” said Johnnella Butler.

The Ness Book Award was established by AAC&U in 1979 to honor AAC&U’s president emeritus, Frederic W. Ness. Recent award winners include Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning by José Antonio Bowen; Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession by Dr. Anne Colby, Thomas Ehrlich, Dr. William Sullivan, and Dr. Jonathan R. Dolle; Why Choose the Liberal Arts? by Mark W. Roche; Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education by Peter Sacks; Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More by Derek Bok; Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money by James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield; Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi; Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past by Sam Wineburg; and Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education by Martha Nussbaum.

Visit http://www.wesleyan.edu/president/book.html to learn more about this book.



On “Break” with Wesleyan Athletes

Alexis Walker runs!

Alexis Walker runs!

Yesterday I had the treat of watching some great competition at the Freeman Athletic Center. We were hosting the Little Three Track and Field contests, and there were plenty of great efforts. On the women’s side, Allegra Fils-Aime ’19 was a stand out with a first-place finish in the 200 meter dash, while also placing third in the triple jump. Senior Alexis Walker finished the 60 meter dash in second-place. She also won first place in the long jump.

The Cardinal relay team captured first-place in the 4 x 400 with the team of Sarah Swenson ’18, Ananya Subrahmanian ’18, Alexandra Dibrindisi ’19 and Jennifer Aguiar ’18. The 4 x 800 team, which consisted of Aida Julien ’18, Isabella Reilly ’19 and Claudia Schatz ’19, and senior Syndey Cogswell, finished second overall.

Senior Kiley Kennedy tied for second place in the pole vault. The Cardinals captured second and third place in the shot put event as well, with senior Ellie Martin coming in second, and Katie Maehl ’19 placing third.

Track fans!

Track fans!

Higher! Higher!

Higher! Higher!

Moving up!

Moving up!

Pushing hard!!

Pushing hard!!


On the men’s side there was also some great performances. It’s a pleasure to congratulate senior Agbon Edomwonyi, who took home two first-place finishes with wins in the shot put and the weight throw.

Agbon Edomwonyi '16

Agbon Edomwonyi ’16

I also got to see part of the contest in which the men’s hockey team fight back to a 2-2 tie with Colby. James Kline ’17 and frosh Andy Espinoza scored goals. The women’s basketball team looked great as they rolled past Trinity, 70-46. Brenna Diggins ’17 scored a game-high 18 points and pulled in five rebounds. Olivia Gorman ’19 was a scoring machine with 13 points in just 14 minutes, and was spectacular off the bench in the second half. It was an impressive team effort as the Cardinals got their first NESCAC win.

Cardinals moving so fast they're a blurr

Cardinals moving so fast they’re a blur!

Winter session students, thesis writers and athletes have already been working hard, and soon we’ll be joined on campus by the rest of the student body. Go Wes!

City on a Grid

Gerard Koeppel ’79 is an unusual writer. He combines passion, wit, intelligence and tons of research into history books that are interesting to a very wide range of readers. He has published books on the making of the Erie canal (Bond of Union: Building the Erie Canal and the American Empire) and about how New York city has developed mechanisms to deliver enough fresh water to support its population (Water for Gotham: A History). Over the break I’ve been reading City on a Grid: How New York Became New York, which examines the architectural and urban planning history of New York City.

Gerard shows that in the early 1800s a small commission imposed a grid on the development of the city so as to create rectangle after rectangle, right angle after right angle. There were some who argued that this was tyranny (these men “would have cut down the seven hills of Rome”), but in many ways the future of the city was laid out by that early commission. “Streets and avenues were drawn on the plan with complete disregard to natural features, and, over the decades…and natural features were simply cut down, filled in, and paved over.”

Gerard will be talking about his book and reading from it at Wesleyan on February 18th at 4:30 pm in Usdan 108.

Toward the end of his fascinating book, Gerard writes “It is very hard to design the future. It is easier to understand the past.” His understanding of New York’s gridded past should inform any plans to create a more sustainable city for tomorrow.


Campus Update: Equity Task Force

Today, I sent the following message to the Wesleyan community:

Dear friends,

At the end of last semester I indicated we would be creating a task force to explore the establishment of a multicultural resource center as part of our broader effort to improve equity and inclusion on campus. This task force will be tri-chaired by Professor Gina Athena Ulysse, Shardonay Pagett ’18, and Antonio Farias, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion. Their initial report is expected next month and final recommendations by May 1. You will be able to find updates on their work and related events, including a community dialogue to be held early this semester, at http://equity.wesleyan.edu. This is important work, and I thank the members of this task force for their participation.

It need hardly be said that making our campus more equitable and inclusive is a communal goal and must be a communal effort. In the course of this work we will be challenged to truly listen to differing viewpoints and to learn from them. In 2016 let’s each and every one of us do what we can—be it personal, political, or intellectual—to contribute to equity and inclusion at Wesleyan.

Michael S. Roth