Some of the comments I’ve received on the blog and in person concern the limitations of Wesleyan’s initiative to reduce student indebtedness. Many wonder if we have created a financial aid paradigm that will result in entering classes of wealthy students and poor students (whose tuition is paid through grants). What happens, many ask, to middle-class families who can’t afford the tuition but don’t qualify for robust aid?This is a question we ask ourselves all the time. And the issue has led us to reduce student loan requirements for all who qualify for aid. A third of our aid recipients are from families earning more than $100k a year, and almost a quarter from families earning more than $125k annually. Like many of the most selective private colleges and universities in the United States, Wesleyan has chosen to focus its aid on need rather than to reallocate financial aid for merit scholarships. There is no reason to assume that merit scholarships would disproportionately aid students from middle-income households. In any case, can our school do more to identify real financial need among middle-class families? I bet we can, and that’s why we regularly review our financial aid allocations and formulae. In order to remain truly need blind, we must be sensitive to the variety of sacrifices families must make to send their students to Wesleyan. And our fundraising is focused on bringing more resources to support a creative use of grants to support middle-class and low-income families.Our recent initiative to reduce student indebtedness is, I realize, only one step in our efforts to enhance financial aid. With the generous support of the Wesleyan community, I am confident that we will be able to make further strides to reduce financial pressures on the significant percentage of our student body who need financial assistance to thrive here.————————————————————-Every morning I wake up to NPR on Wesleyan’s radio station, WESU (88.1 or WESUfm.org). In the afternoons there are engaging public affairs shows, with creative music programming in the evenings and on weekends. Now is the time to support the station’s pledge drive, and here’s how (courtesy of Jesse Sommer ’05):“WESU has really blossomed over the last three years. In that time, station members introduced Internet broadcasting, created a public affairs department, founded a nonprofit booster club, began publishing WESU Magazine, developed a regimented DJ training program, built new studios, initiated annual fundraisers, and fully upgraded the station’s technology. And WESU is still Wesleyan University’s largest student organization and most vibrant partnership with Middletown. The broadcast schedule now boasts a record 140 inhouse programs, including free-form music and local public affairs shows. Call our donation hotline at 860/687-7700, or donate online at www.wesufm.org ”
This past weekend Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees was in town for its first full meeting of the academic year. The Board is a devoted group of alumni and parent volunteers whose role it is to ensure the long-term health of the university. Some have been connected to Wesleyan for more than forty years; a few others are recent graduates. They meet with faculty and students, and they take on some issues facing the school: from fund raising to faculty welfare, from facilities to the quality of the student experience. In addition to the regular business of the Board, this time we also joined in signing the Campus Climate Commitment, which was a topic of many comments on an earlier issue of this blog. The Trustee Chair and I also met with a very thoughtful student group that is urging the university to divest from companies that manufacture weapons. We will be organizing substantial discussions of this issue with students and trustees later this semester.
During the formal board meeting, we’ve added time for an open discussion of an issue of general importance for the university. At this meeting we focused on Recruiting for and Admission to Wesleyan. We discussed at some length what kinds of students would really thrive here. What should Wesleyan be looking for as we recruit our next classes? Based on input from trustees prior to the meeting, we identified five broad categories: Intelligence, Demonstrated Achievement, Independence, Character, and Diversity. There were few surprises, really, but we benefited from a frank discussion of the personality of our campus community, how it is perceived, and how it is evolving. Words like “intensity,” “resilience,” and “experimental” came up often, and so did qualities like adventurousness, and a passionate engagement with ideas. My conclusion: Wesleyan students should have the courage to use their talents and intelligence to lead meaningful lives and contribute to the world.
After the Trustee meetings, we had the great pleasure of seeing the faculty-student production of Oedipus Rex. The play, directed by Theater professor Yuriy Kordonskiy, was staged with intensity and wit. The student actors brought out the political dimensions in their performance (Oedipus Tyrannus!) as well as the psychologically crushing confrontation of ambition and fate. Bravo!
Students in this shortened week have been taking exams, finishing papers, while faculty have been grading and preparing for the final push of the semester. Winter athletics is now underway, and I had great pleasure of watching our men and women swim against Amherst on Monday. Although we did not prevail against our Little Three opponent, we offered tenacious competition, and some races were downright thrilling. I was proud to see our swimmers and divers striving for excellence, and in the process they pushed themselves beyond what they had thought they could attain. Another Bravo!
The campus is beginning to empty out, as students head off to Thanksgiving celebrations around the country, and staff members take some vacation days to prepare their own feasts. The weather now feels like the New England autumns I remember. Yesterday we had our first light snow of the season, and my daughter Sophie ran outside with glee to catch a few flakes on her tongue. “This move to the East Coast isn’t so bad after all,” she smiled. As my family gathers at our new home at Wesleyan, I know we have much to be thankful for.
Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Cecilia Miller’s class on European Intellectual History from the Ancient Greeks through the Renaissance. Professor Miller asked me to talk about how I became an intellectual historian myself, and the students (ranging from frosh through senior theses writers) read a few of my essays on history and memory. As I spoke with the students about my scholarly interests, I kept coming back to my own undergraduate Wesleyan education. My first book (Psychoanalysis as History: Negation and Freedom in Freud) was based on my senior thesis here, and my second book (Knowing and History: Appropriations of Hegel in 20th Century France) certainly came out of the work I did at Wesleyan on Hegel. My subsequent research and publications also were linked to the intellectual and political concerns that I began to develop at Wesleyan. My autobiographical reflections as an intellectual historian turned out to be reflections on the education we offer here.
The students in Prof. Miller’s class were awfully impressive. They asked good, probing questions about the links among my works, and about some central concepts I use (but perhaps don’t develop adequately!). I realized that I should have left more time for discussion because these were very able young men and women who had read some of my work with important critical insights. For example, in my introduction to a book called The Ironist’s Cage: Memory, Trauma and the Construction of History, I use the concept of “piety” to describe a vehicle for moving beyond ironic cultural criticism. Although I wrote this essay twenty years ago, I still need to develop that concept further. The students, bless their hearts, pointed this out. Teacher, you must keep learning!
On a very different, but equally impressive, level, this past week I met with a student group against the war in Iraq. Following on a resolution passed last spring by the Wesleyan Student Assembly, they are asking that the University divest from its holdings in two companies that make weapons used in the current conflict. If the university is going to be a socially responsible investor, they argue, it cannot maintain its holdings in these companies. The arguments of the students were thoughtful and well informed. Furthermore, they had gathered significant support from others on campus through a petition drive. As I listened to their presentation, I recalled my own student days when we urged Wesleyan to divest from companies doing business with South Africa. The students today, I thought, are better prepared than I remember being.
Wesleyan has the good fortune to have a Board of Trustees that listens to the views of students and faculty, and this committee will have a chance to make its case. I look forward to a productive conversation about these important matters with students, board members, and faculty. I told the students that I could not predict the conclusion of these conversations, but I could ensure that there would be a reasonable presentation of Wesleyan’s position after all the arguments were heard. Stay tuned.
Whatever one’s position on the war in Iraq, I think the Wesleyan community can be proud that we are offering support for returning veterans. Too often in our history, veterans have been badly neglected by the country they were asked to serve. In recent years few have had the opportunity to benefit from a first-rate liberal arts education. To address this, two of our alumni—Frank Sica ’73 and Jonathan Soros ’92—have generously contributed funds to secure scholarships at Wesleyan for those who have served in some branch of the military. This is an important signal of support for these men and women, and it will add to the real diversity of the Wesleyan campus. You can read about the specifics of this program at:
Technorati Tags: Cecilia Miller, European Intellectual History, Psychoanalysis as History, Knowing and History, The Ironist’s Cage, war in Iraq, divestment, Board of Trustees, Frank Sica, Jonathan Soros
I am finally coming down from the amazing experience of the events of the inauguration weekend. I was delighted to see how many people attended the ceremony in the Silloway Gymnasium, and I was especially grateful that my family and some of my childhood friends were able to attend. There were also some Wesleyan classmates whom I hadn’t seen in decades. Having my teacher, Carl Schorske (from my frosh year at Wes, who later supervised my dissertation), introduce me at the ceremony was intensely moving for me. Carl is now in his 90s, and his perspective on Wesleyan and on me was memorable. The combination of tradition and experimentation in the ceremony was so Wesleyan! I loved seeing the academic procession in regalia to the funky beat of Jay Hoggard’s great music.
An inauguration ceremony itself is an affirmation of both institutional legacy and new beginnings. I was privileged to have three former Wes presidents in attendance, each of whom had an investiture with many similarities to my own. The alumni, faculty, and the board of trustees are also a powerful expression of institutional continuity. On the other hand, the marking of a new presidency, combined with the students’ incredible energy, are potent symbols of the importance of change. I tried to reflect on both of these dimensions in my speech. I spoke about the ideals behind Wesleyan’s approach to the liberal arts, but also about concrete initiatives (on the environment, on financial aid) that we are getting underway now. There is a link to my speech on the Wesleyan Web site: http://www.wesleyan.edu/president/speech.html. I must have made nine speeches over the weekend to various groups, but the most nerve-wracking performance was playing “I’m Old Fashioned” in front of all those people. I was sweating bullets!!
There were so many memorable moments. The football team put up a valiant effort in very difficult conditions. The Wes seminars were incredible, and I had the treat of hearing my former student, Darcy Buerkle, and former teacher, Henry Abelove, give back-to-back seminars. Walter Mosley was a very powerful speaker as we dedicated Beckham Hall during the Dwight Greene Symposium. I was delighted with the fundraiser for the Green Street Art Center, and my old friend Andrea Marcovicci gave a lovely concert of WWII songs to benefit our work in the North End of Middletown. I thought I was going to faint when she sang to me on stage, but instead I just took it all in.
Another highlight of the weekend for me was strolling over to Psi U with my brother, sons, and nephews around midnight on Saturday night. I got to sit in for a blues number with the amazingly talented Wesleyan faculty musicians of Busted Roses. It was great fun, and the students’ enthusiasm was exhilarating. The last time I was in Psi U was probably in the 1970s. I certainly never imagined back then that I would one day become the president of Wesleyan. I would have been more likely to fantasize about being in a rock and roll band. So, this weekend I got to rock a little as the prez. Pretty cool…. at least for one song!
I want to thank the Wesleyan community for the incredible welcome of these last few months, which all seemed to be crystallized in the weekend’s festivities. On this Homecoming Weekend, I really felt as though I had come home.
On a more sober, scholarly note: On Sunday the San Francisco Chronicle published my review of John Brenkman’s recent book in political theory. Here’s the link:
Technorati Tags: Inauguration weekend, Carl Schorske, Jay Hoggard, Darcy Buerkle, Henry Abelove, Walter Mosley, Beckham Hall, Dwight Greene Symposium, Green Street Arts Center, Andrea Marcovicci, Psi Upsilon, John Brenkman
Flying home from yet another trip to visit with alumni, I reflect on some of my recent conversations. In Chicago I had lunch with Burt Kaplan ’62, a dedicated alumnus who continues to draw on the liberal arts education he experienced at Wesleyan more than 40 years ago. I was delighted to discover our common admiration for Norman O. Brown, whom Burt knew while a student, and who became a hero of mine when I read Life Against Death as an undergraduate. A classics professor at Wesleyan, Brown had authored one of the great books on Freud and politics. He was confined by no disciplinary boundaries, and he was a truly learned man and an inspiring teacher.
Burt showed me his extraordinary home on Lake Michigan, designed by Peter Gluck, and his wonderful painting collection. We talked about how Wesleyan’s education transforms lives, and his interest in helping his alma mater. Though neither of us were music majors, we agreed that one of the great gifts that the university gave us was an openness to music from a variety of cultures. We spoke about enhancing Wesleyan’s ability to do that in the future because it is a gift we will always carry with us.
I went on to Los Angeles to meet with Jeanine Basinger and a few members of what in L.A. is called the Wesleyan Film Mafia (Professor Basinger calls them “my babies”). Jeanine has a wonderful new book out with Knopf, The Star Machine, and she is on a book-signing tour. It was exhilarating to see her effect on her former students. They positively light up when she enters the room, and then they restart conversations that date back to their undergrad days. Studio heads, award-winning writers, producers, directors, and actors become engaged students once again. Their affection for their teacher and for Wesleyan is palpable. We celebrated with Jeanine at a lovely dinner party at Michael Bay’s incredible house overlooking the city. Michael (’86) was recently at Wesleyan to donate a copy of his latest film, Transformers, as well as to make a gift for the new film building.
At the dinner Jeanine turned the conversation to Wesleyan. But she and her former students didn’t want to just dwell on the good old days of their youth; they wanted to talk about Wesleyan’s future. I told them about our priority-setting process, and about how we were continuing to cultivate an experimental community that is demanding and productive. The combination of spirited, passionate learning, jubilant play, and of compelling creative work is what we all value. The Film Studies department exemplifies those qualities and has become an essential part of the university as a whole. As it turned out, that’s what we were all celebrating, led by Jeanine.
I am eager to get back to Middletown to see my family. This week will be especially intense, as we prepare for my inauguration (and Family Weekend, Homecoming, the dedication of Beckham Hall). Monday night starts President’s Picks, a series of movies the film dept asked me to put together for the week of my inauguration. We begin with Ernst Lubitsch’s Shop Around the Corner, a perfect little gem of a movie.
P.S. There was a lovely review of Prof. Basinger’s The Star Machine in this morning’s (1/31/07) New York Times. Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/31/books/31grim.html?_r=1&oref=slogin.
Last week we had the stunning news that one of our faculty members, Gary Yohe, was recognized as part of the team awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on global warming. Gary is a senior member and coordinating lead author on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the prize with Al Gore. We are very proud of this Wesleyan economist’s scholarship, which lies at the intersection of liberal learning and public life, of public policy and quantitative analysis.
Gary has taught at Wesleyan since 1977, and is now the Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics. His recent work on climate change has focused on modes of measuring relative vulnerability to global warming. He has been able to show the dramatically unequal effects of changes to climate, allowing for a more empirically based discussion of the social justice issues that we face in regard to the costs of adjusting to a warmer planet.
Gary and his colleagues have developed a concept of “adaptive capacity” as a vehicle for understanding how various species cope with changes to the environment. Some species of dragonflies now can be found more than 90 kilometers north of their traditional habitats. Birds are laying eggs earlier; hibernation schedules have found a different rhythm. Some species will adapt; the most vulnerable will disappear.
I’ve been thinking about this notion of “adaptive capacity” as I consider how we at Wesleyan can commit to having a less harmful impact on our environment. Do those with more resources, with a capacity to change, have a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable? Wouldn’t this extend beyond the environment to other issues of social justice?
How adaptive are we? At Wesleyan we cultivate the courage to change, the ability to adapt by creatively responding to our culture, our environment. And we want to cultivate a productive self-consciousness of how change affects the most vulnerable. Courage should entail responsibility.
Wesleyan has been learning from Professor Gary Yohe for decades. We are delighted that the world has recognized the importance of his teaching. Congratulations, Gary!
I am writing this blog entry from San Francisco, where I went for a quick trip to participate in the centenary celebrations of California College of the Arts, where I was president from 2000 to 2007. CCA had organized an alumni reunion for the weekend, and it was a treat for me to catch up with faculty, my colleagues in the administration, board members, and my old students. The school seems to be thriving, and I was especially pleased to see the new Graduate Center, which was recently completed in the South of Market section of San Francisco. This was a project that we had planned over the last few years, and it was exciting to stand in the new buildings that look over what is now an SF campus that also offers a perspective on downtown San Francisco. CCA emphasizes learning through the arts, and I know that some of our Wesleyan alumni have gone onto its graduate programs in design, architecture and fine arts. Larry Sultan, who has taught photography there for years, told me that his studio assistant is coming to Wes to teach in the spring.
Before heading out to California I visited with alumni in New York to talk about, among other things, our plans to enhance financial aid. This is a project that the Wesleyan family can support no matter when they graduated, no matter what their particular majors. We want our school to maintain rigorous admission standards, and these are only meaningful to us if we are sure that access to the university is open to people regardless of their ability to pay. Fellow blogger (and Sun CEO) Jonathan Schwartz encouraged me to ensure that our students have the support they need to succeed. He reminded me that he had no resources when at Wesleyan, and that if not for a scholarship he would never have graduated. Alumni support equitable access, and their financial contributions actually make it possible. Tuition only covers about 2/3 of the cost of a student’s education, and so we are dependent on the generosity of our alumni, parents and other supporters to subsidize the college careers of all our students. This generosity is especially important to ensure that our financial aid packages allow students with high economic need to thrive once they enroll (and not to graduate with too much debt!). Later this semester I hope to be writing more about new initiatives at Wesleyan in this regard.
While I was away (and many of our students are away on fall break), our student athletes had another great weekend of contests. I was able to watch parts of the football game on the web, and I heard about the other contests from excited fans who emailed me. Congratulations to all, and let’s all of us maintain the momentum in the second half of the semester. GO WES!!
One of the most interesting aspects of returning to Wesleyan is the combination of tradition and change that I experience in meeting with members of the university family. This week that combination was especially powerful.
Looking back. This week I met with alumni groups in Philadelphia and Washington. The discussions were lively and heartening. It was great to hear an alumnus who graduated 50 years ago talk about diversity as a value he has learned through his long-term connection to our alma mater. We all agreed that we valued an education that taught you how to have an open mind – how to keep listening to ideas that were disturbing or that caused you to “stretch” from your assumptions, your comfort zone. We also agreed on how important faculty relationships had been to our learning experience, both formal and informal. And we agreed that we were committed to giving Wesleyan the resources to continue to offer robust financial aid so as to remain accessible to anyone who has the talent and ambition to thrive here.
Looking forward. Before heading to Philadelphia I attended my second faculty meeting. I talked about the planning process of the next few months, and how I hoped that after consultation with key university stakeholders we would develop a handful of key priorities on which we can work for the next five years. There were important questions concerning the process (will it be inclusive enough? will there be opportunities to critique results before they become finalized?) and the results (what happens to elements of our curriculum that don’t make it into the final handful of priorities?). I am looking forward to ongoing discussions of these issues so that we can focus on some key objectives in our fundraising, but also so that we can continue to support a wide-ranging curriculum with plenty of room for studies that don’t cultivate popularity or donors.
Looking back. On Friday I participated in a memorial service in the Chapel for Stephen Crites, for decades a beloved professor of religion and philosophy at Wesleyan. Although I didn’t study with Steve, we knew one another when I was a student in the 1970s. Somehow, he knew that I was interested in Hegel (he was a great scholar of Hegel and Kierkegaard), and we would chat about this from time to time. He offered me suggestions on some key texts, and I would always look forward to his interventions at public lectures. He was generous and jovial, acute yet open. At the memorial I met his former students, some of them now professors with their own followings. We heard from colleagues from Wes and elsewhere, and their eloquence was matched only by their affection for our departed colleague. The glorious music (Steve was a formidable singer) brought us together in a community of remembrance and gratitude. As a philosopher, Steve had explored how narrative shapes our very experience. As a faculty member, he is forever part of this university’s narrative, and his legacy still shapes and deepens the many lives he touched.
Looking forward. I was delighted to learn that a faculty/staff/student committee recently met and unanimously recommended that I sign the Presidents’ Statement on Sustainability. The committee is also looking for ways that we can go beyond this statement, so it’s not just my signature on a document, but a community-wide commitment to becoming more environmentally responsible. Once I receive the recommendations, I will be able to write more specifically on what we will be doing. Meanwhile, I am grateful for all the input on the blog, and I am looking forward to signing the document in the context of a wide-ranging effort to ensure that Wesleyan has a more positive impact on our environment.
Our campus community exists to educate students to think more deeply and effectively, and then to connect that thinking to the world in ways that are fulfilling and effective. That’s at the core of what makes an education at Wesleyan meaningful decades after graduation. The president, too, must find ways to stretch his mind, and to keep it open! I have been reading with great interest the comments on my blog posts, and I am trying to learn from them. Our campus community is a learning community. And it’s making me think harder about how we can be more effective in our teaching, and in our engagement.
Michael Roth, What are you doing about global warming? These were the words I saw graffitied on the sidewalk near my office this week. There were a few more global warming tags at the Usdan Center and walkways. What an important subject, but what a dumb way to articulate it! We asked physical plant workers to clear the surfaces, using even more energy resources than we already were doing. And how was I supposed to respond – with graffiti? I don’t think that would be very effective.
But it is such an important question. Michael Roth, what are you doing about global warming? I don’t think I’m doing enough. I am more conscious now of the energy I use, be it in the car, or in the office, or at home, and my family has become pretty good at recycling and composting. But we should do more, and we are working at it. But whoever scrawled the question near my office probably wanted to know what Wesleyan is doing about global warming. This is a great question, and my answer is similar. We have started to become a much greener, more sustainable campus, but we have much more to do. Recently I met with a group of students, the Environmental Organizers Network, and this group is very well informed about what steps Wesleyan can take to become a more responsible user of energy. We have appointed staff who are now responsible for ensuring that the university moves in a green direction. Our major facilities projects will all be subject to evaluation on their use of energy, and we will hold ourselves to high standards. And I will continue to meet with EON, with faculty and staff to get ideas about how we can do better as an institution to reduce our negative impact on the environment. Finally, we are developing curriculum, from the Center for the Arts to the Exley Science Center (with the Public Affairs Center as hub) to educate our community about the dynamic of climate change and how we can change it. This is not a subject for sloganeering, but it is an important topic for curriculum development and institutional change.
Last week I met with Ashley Casale ’10, who, along with Michael Israel just returned from a walk across the country for peace. I had heard about her efforts when I was in Berkeley, and I was filled with pride that a Wesleyan student was asking the country to wake up to the importance of the struggle for peace in our current political context. We had a small reception for Ashley and some of her friends in South College, and we talked about what Wesleyan is doing to call attention to the war in Iraq, and to efforts to promote peace and justice more generally. We are not doing enough, I said, but if the students have ideas as to how we can promote education about the dynamics of the current war, or about education for political engagement on issues from the war to global warming, I would do my best to support these ideas. I’ve already received some suggestions. Wesleyan should be the place where we can connect our liberal arts education to issues in public life – be they about mismanaged wars, global warming, or threats from terrorism. The connections are not simple (they can’t be reduced to graffiti), but they can be productively explored in classes, in “teach-ins,” and in a variety of co-curricular programming. We are working on it.
Let’s work together – faculty, staff, students – to use our educational resources to have a more positive impact on the culture and on the environment around us!
Just a quick note about a fascinating discussion I had with a group of Wesleyan science faculty on Friday over lunch. I was asked to speak on what was distinctive about science education at Wesleyan. There is much to be proud of. Wesleyan receives extraordinary support for our research in the sciences in the competitive world of foundation and government funding. Our undergraduates co-author papers (and go on to do Ph.D. work) at rates that surpass almost all our peer institutions. Our small graduate programs in the sciences add an element of peer mentoring to our educational context, and the grads continue their research and teaching at institutions across the United States.
The scientists turned out in large numbers for my brief remarks (maybe it was the free pizza!). I explained how I thought that the culture of experimentation and research characteristic of our science programs should become a key part of our university-wide culture. I had questions about the graduate programs, about the makeup of our academic Division III (which includes psychology and mathematics), and about what we could do to get the word out about the quality of science education at Wesleyan. There was a lively conversation on topics such as merit scholarships, graduate admissions, and whether math was empirical. I had several e-mails over the weekend that followed up on these and other issues. Clearly, our scientists are eager to engage with academic planning and innovations to curriculum. And this doesn’t even include talk about the great new science facility that we will be building! On this, I knew they had strong views.
I believe that science at Wesleyan has always managed to combine excellence in specific disciplines with a consideration of the context for scientific research. We are committed to understanding the relation of the sciences to public life, and this has never been more important than it is today. That’s the beauty of studying science at a small university: you get to do high level research, but you also stay connected to other fields, and to a broad cultural context.
The work in psychology that I pursued as a student at Wesleyan had little relation to the natural sciences. As someone who studied Sigmund Freud’s contributions to 20th century culture, I was eager to explore the critical social theories that were part of Freud’s writings. I have grown more interested in Freud’s relation to the sciences, but have also continued to explore the political dimensions of his ideas. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review published my review of Mark Edmundson’s wonderful new book on Freud’s last year, and on the legacy of his ideas. Here’s the link: