Talking Education at Middlesex Chamber of Commerce

Bright and early this morning I was the featured speaker at the Middletown Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast.  (Watch the full address here). This was the annual Business Education Recognition Breakfast, and there were a couple of hundred people there to celebrate mentorship, teaching and learning.



As I often do, I spoke of the three things everybody should learn in college: Discover what you love to do; get better at it; learn to share it with others. It’s not enough to pursue those things that you’ve done well in, and it’s not enough to “discover your passion.” All students should find the kinds of work that are personally rewarding, and then they should hone their skills to become more adept at whatever it is that gives them meaning and purpose. Sharing that work with others—in the marketplace or in the not-for-profit world—should also be a part of one’s education. I believe these are key elements of the American tradition of pragmatic liberal education.

I had occasion to talk about the many ways that Wesleyan contributes to the surrounding community. For example, through the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships, more than 750 students engage in programs every semester doing volunteer work such as tutoring and mentoring in local schools, addressing issues of housing with Habitat for Humanity, delivering food to three elementary schools to address food insecurity, and more.

Wesleyan’s direct and indirect economic impact is powerful: $434 million in labor income; $624 million in value added to state economy; supporting almost 7,000 jobs on campus and beyond. We hope to continue this by working closely with the city and Mayor Dan Drew on projects that are beneficial to all. This morning we issued a request for proposals to see if we can find a suitable space on Main Street for a new Wesleyan bookstore. Stay tuned!

Middlesex Chamber of Commerce
Middlesex Chamber of Commerce

Wesleyan Record Setters

Records aren’t broken every day, but this year has seen new marks set in track and field. Just last week,  Andrew McCracken ’19 took home first place in the pole vault with his mark of 4.40m,  and Kiley Kennedy ’16 won the pole vault with a mark of 3.45m. Both are school record holders.


Here’s an older photo of Kiley setting a record:


Christina Hebner ’17 holds the record in 3000 meter steeple chase and Alexis Walker ’16 holds the record in the 60. Alexis is also our long jump record holder. Sydney Cogswell ’16, Nikita Rajgopal ’17, Aida Julien ’18, and Aidan Bardos ’17 hold the fall 4×100 record, while Melissa Luning ’15, Ananya Subrahmanian ’18, Ellie Martin ’16, and Sarah Swenson ’18 hold the outdoor 4×400 standard.

Agbon Edomwonyi ’16 holds school records throwing the shot and the weight. I’ve gotten to know Agbon as a student in two of my classes, and it was a pleasure to watch him throw this past weekend. His mother took this pic last weekend at the J. Elmer Swanson Invitational.20160423_135807[1]

Our track team will be in Amherst this coming weekend for the NESCAC Championships. Maybe some more records will fall!


Vote on Campus!

Tuesday, April 26th  is primary day in Connecticut, and many people at Wesleyan will be able to vote right here on campus. Beckham Hall is a polling place for lots of folks in the area, and it will be open from 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. There will be more traffic in the area, and changes for the day in regard to parking. Here’s a note from Public Safety:

Tomorrow Beckham Hall will be used as a polling location for area voters. To facilitate access for voting, the extension lot E on Wyllys Avenue (smaller lot) will be closed to regular Wesleyan parking and reserved for voter parking. Some parking will be allowed on Wyllys Avenue for voters’ use, and this will be clearly signed. This will be an inconvenience for some members of our community who are accustomed to parking in this area. Increased vehicle traffic by people who may not be familiar with the area may present some traffic conflicts. Pedestrians should use extra care. Students should not park in this lot during the evening hours as the lot will be blocked off.

This election may turn out to be the most consequential in a long time. Please exercise your right to vote!


Earth Day 2016

On April 22, 1970, a political, cultural and educational movement was born to improve the environment, to protect the earth. As tells it, “20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.”

When I was a student at Wesleyan in the 1970s, the Clamshell Alliance was a prominent environmental group fighting against the reckless use of nuclear power. Today at Wesleyan, artists, activists, teachers and students are coming together to stimulate action that can make a significant difference in battling climate change—the most significant hazard facing countless species around the world. From the CFA to the Science Center, students, staff and faculty are working to raise awareness of environmental issues and to develop a coherent path forward. In 2009 we launched the College of the Environment, at which research, policy and creative performance come together on a regular basis. Wesleyan was one of the initial signatories of what is now the Climate Leadership Campus Carbon Commitment (was ACUPCC), through which we aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. We are making progress toward that carbon goal: emissions are down 21% from 2005 levels!

The university is releasing a new Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), a very useful tool to help us cut our campus carbon footprint while also addressing sustainability in our curriculum and all aspects of campus life. It involved over 130 students, faculty, and staff, shepherded by our Sustainability Office. The SAP is a detailed blueprint of our intended goals, objectives, and strategies over the next 5 years.

The SAP is short on rhetoric and long on action items. It really is a big deal, demonstrating Wesleyan’s commitment to making our campus sustainable. The plan covers three categories: what we do institutionally (Administration), what we do academically (Academics), and how we maintain our campus (Operations). The primary focus is on environmental sustainability, but with significant attention to social issues and economic viability.

A big shout-out to Sustainability Director Jen Kleindienst, who has shepherded the plan through all its stages. None of this would have been possible without SAGES, our campus sustainability committee, which developed the plan and is leading implementation.

This is not just a document gesturing toward a long-term future. Many here at Wesleyan are already hard at work: Of our 112 strategies for the 0-2 year range, we have already completed six and have started on 47 others.

The Sustainability Action Plan is an invitation for all of us to make sustainability part of all that we do. You can find a link to the complete document and discover more about how you can participate here. You can email questions and comments to Jen Kleindienst at

Celebrating Slobin

I was delighted to welcome guests to a conference in honor of Mark Slobin on Saturday. Mark, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, has taught at Wesleyan since the early 1970s, and he has had a mightily distinguished career as a scholar-teacher.


Growing up in the remarkably rich musical soundscape of Detroit (which he is currently writing about), Mark did early fieldwork in Afghanistan, followed by research on musical subcultures in various parts of the world. He is at home with all kinds of sounds, and his students (many of whom were present at the conference) work on everything from Mongolian throat singing and African funeral music to hip-hop and klezmer. He’s even written the book on music at Wesleyan.

In addition to academic talks celebrating Mark’s leadership in ethnomusicology and his caring, inspiring mentorship, there was a concert Saturday night with performances of Irish, Jewish and very hybrid music (to name only a few). The culmination was a Gamelan Ensemble performance in Professor Slobin’s honor—with shadow puppets, too.

Mark spoke briefly at the conference about how Wesleyan has fostered groundbreaking research, practice and teaching in music for a very long time. Thanks to him, and to his colleagues and students, we expect that to continue far into the future.


Mazel tov, Mark Slobin!!

How to Choose a (Our) University

The happy emails and web links have gone out (replacing those thick envelopes of yesteryear), and all those fortunate enough to have choices about what college to attend will make a big decision: picking the college that is just right for them. They are trying to envision where they will be most likely to thrive. Where will I learn the most, be happiest, and form friendships that will last a lifetime? How to choose? As I do each spring, I thought it might be useful to re-post my thoughts on choosing a college, with a few revisions.

Of course, for many the decision will be made on an economic basis. Which school has given the most generous financial aid package? Wesleyan is one of a small number of schools that meets the full financial need of all admitted students according to a formula developed over several years. There are some schools with larger endowments that can afford to be even more generous than Wes, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of others that are unable even to consider meeting financial need over four years of study. Our school is expensive because it costs a lot to maintain the quality of our programs. But Wesleyan has made a commitment to keep loan levels low and to maintain only moderate (very close to inflation) tuition increases. We also offer a three-year program that allows families to save about 20% of their total expenses, while still earning the same number of credits.

After answering the question of which schools one can afford, how else does one decide where best to spend one’s college years? Of course, size matters.  Some students are looking for a large university in an urban setting where the city itself plays an important role in one’s education. New York and Boston, for example, have become increasingly popular college destinations, but not, I suspect, for the classroom experience. But if one seeks small classes and strong, personal relationships with faculty, then liberal arts schools, which pride themselves on providing rich cultural and social experiences on a residential campus, are especially compelling. You can be on a campus with a human scale and still have plenty of things to do. Wesleyan is somewhat larger than most liberal arts colleges but much smaller than the urban or land grant universities. We feel that this gives our students the opportunity to choose a broad curriculum and a variety of cultural activities on campus, while still being small enough to encourage regular, sustained relationships among faculty and students.

All the selective small liberal arts schools boast of having a faculty of scholar-teachers, of a commitment to research and interdisciplinarity, and of encouraging community and service. So what sets us apart from one another after taking into account size, location, and financial aid packages? What are students trying to see when they visit Amherst and Wesleyan, or Tufts and Pomona?

Knowing that these schools all provide a high-quality, broad and flexible curriculum with strong teaching, and that the students all have displayed great academic capacity, prospective students are trying to discern the personalities of each school. They are trying to imagine themselves on the campus, among the people they see, to get a feel for the chemistry of the place — to gauge whether they will be happy there. That’s why hundreds of visitors come to Wesleyan each week and why there will be the great surge starting today for WesFest. They go to classes and athletic contests, musical performances and parties. And they ask themselves: Would I be happy at Wesleyan?

I hope our visitors get a sense of the personality of the school that I so admire and enjoy. I hope they feel the exuberance and ambition of our students, the intelligence and care of our faculty, the playful yet demanding qualities of our community. I hope our visitors can sense our commitment to creating a diversity in which difference is embraced and not just tolerated, and to public service that is part of one’s education and approach to life.

Whatever college or university students choose, I hope they get three things out their education: discovering what they love to do; getting better at it; learning to share it with others. I explain a little bit more about that in this talk to admitted students a few years ago:

We all know that Wesleyan is hard to get into, especially this year with a record number of applications. But even in the group of highly selective schools, Wes is not for everybody. We aspire to be a community committed to boldness as well as to rigor, to idealism as well as to effectiveness. Whether in the sciences, arts, humanities or social sciences, our faculty and students are dedicated to explorations that invite originality as well as collaboration. The scholar-teacher model is at the heart of our curriculum. Our faculty are committed to teaching and to shaping the fields in which they work. The commitment of our faculty says a lot about who we are, as does the camaraderie around the completion of senior projects that we are seeing right now on campus.  We know how to work hard, but we also know how to enjoy the work we choose to do. That’s been magically appealing to me for more than 30 years. I bet the magic will enchant many of our visitors, too.


Equal Pay Day on April 12th

Antonio Farias let me know about the work of Krystal-Gayle O’Neill, an Area Coordinator, who is helping to draw attention to “Equal Pay Day,” which is being observed this week. Here’s what she writes about it:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016, is the national observance of Equal Pay Day, the day when women and men around the country recognize the wage gap between working women and men, and offer remedies to address pay inequity. According to statistics released in 2014 by the United States Census Bureau, women are paid, on average, 79 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid – a gap of 21 cents.
Here in Connecticut, working women do a little better than the national average. They are paid about 83 cents on the dollar compared to men. That’s hardly a cause for celebration, when women and their families are being shortchanged thousands of dollars a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. With more families relying on women’s paychecks for their livelihood, the US must address the wage gap for the sake of American families and their financial stability.
How can you show your solidarity –  wear red on equal pay day.

Visit the Women at Wes webpage for more information on events related to this one.

On “The Argus” and Freedom of Expression

With the recent WSA discussions concerning funding for The Argus, I have been asked several times about my views on the status of freedom of expression at Wesleyan. I have pulled together some earlier things I’ve written on the subject, and added some new thoughts on recent debates.

Wesleyan students have long been concerned with issues of “freedom of expression,” and since 1991 the topic has been the focus of our annual Hugo Black Lecture. Several years ago Justice Scalia was our speaker, two years ago it was Aharon Barak, President of Israel’s Supreme Court, and this year it was scholar Stanley Fish. For several months free speech issues have been vigorously debated on our campus centering on questions about the role of the student newspaper The Argus. The immediate catalyst for these discussions was an op-ed written by a student, Bryan Stascavage, raising critical questions about the Black Lives Matter movement. I trust the editors thought that Bryan’s essay would spark real conversations — the kind that make newspapers a vital part of so many communities’ cultural ecology. The editors got more than they bargained for. Some students argued that the essay was racist (I don’t think it was), or at least that it participated in systems of racist domination. They made the important point that opinion pieces like these facilitate the ongoing marginalization of a sector of our student population, and they angrily accused The Argus of contributing to that marginalization.

I’m very glad these important issues were made public — sometimes quite forcefully. Those who think they favor free speech but call for civility in all discussions should remember that battles for freedom of expression are seldom conducted in a privileged atmosphere of upper-class decorum.

Unfortunately, in addition to sparking conversation, the op-ed also generated calls to punish the newspaper. Protests against newspapers, of course, are also part of free speech. But punishment, if successful, can have a chilling effect on future expression. Many students (I think the great majority) quickly realized this. They also realized that funding a single newspaper for the campus raised all kinds of issues about representativeness and inclusion, but also about editorial autonomy and freedom of expression. Students are trying to figure out how to bring more perspectives to the public with digital platforms, and I am confident they can do this without undermining The Argus. More recently, the Wesleyan Student Assembly used a standard accounting measure to redistribute funds among student groups as the end of the academic year gets closer. Argus supporters were afraid this was an attempt to take away donated dollars that might be necessary in the future should they lose some funding. Again, students are meeting to discuss their concerns together, and I am confident that they will find a vehicle that protects editorial autonomy without just writing the newspaper a blank check. A resolution recently passed by the student government attempts to do just this.

Unfortunately, many of the student discussions this year have taken place under the harsh spotlight of the national press. As once major newspapers and magazines are remade just to attract “more eyeballs,” as budgets for investigative journalism are slashed, journalists around the country have gotten all lathered up about The Argus. While economic freedom and political participation are evaporating into the new normal of radical inequality, while legislators call for arming college students to make them safer, we see lots of attention given to the dangers of political correctness on campuses. But are efforts to fight discrimination and marginalization at universities really the most important threats to free expression? I fear that this focus only diverts attention from far more dangerous threats.

Students, faculty and administrators want our campuses to be free and safe, but we also acknowledge that the imperatives of freedom and safety are sometimes in conflict. A campus free from violence is an absolute necessity for a true education, but a campus free from challenge and confrontation would be anathema to it. We must not protect ourselves from disagreement; we must be open to being offended for the sake of learning, and we must be ready to give offense so as to create new opportunities for thinking.

Don’t get me wrong, because there is so much intense discussion these days, campuses can be challenging places. Conversations about race and about the economy, about bias and sexual assault, about jobs and the shrinking middle class…all these topics stimulate strong emotions, intense language, and, sometimes, bruised feelings. Sure, some people will complain that they don’t want to speak up because they don’t want to be “criticized” or “stigmatized.” These people should recognize that their fear isn’t a sign of a lack of free expression; it’s just a sign that they need more courage.

Debates on campus can get nasty, but compared to what one sees on the national political stage, I feel pretty good about our community’s ability to tolerate conflict. I hope there are other places in America today where arguments about important issues are taking place among people from different backgrounds, and where the conclusions aren’t set in advance. However painful this may be at times, I am proud these conversations are happening on our campuses.

Education worthy of the name is risky — not safe. Education worthy of the name does not hide behind a veneer of civility or political correctness, but instead calls into question our beliefs. On today’s campuses, this may come from deeper investigation of conservative and religious traditions – from bodies of thought and modes of inquiry that challenge the status quo. This may come from recognizing how many of our ideas are just conventional, no matter how “radical” we think those ideas might be. We learn most when we are ready to consider challenges to our values from outside our comfort zones of political affiliation and personal ties.

I applaud the students, faculty and staff who have been engaged in discussions of how to maintain, even enhance, a campus newspaper’s editorial autonomy while ensuring that it continues as an organization open to publishing a variety of views and engaging writers from diverse segments of the student body. I have every confidence that the newspaper will have the funding it needs to remain an effective platform for news and opinion.

Wes Conversations Making a Difference

This morning I sent the email below to all Wesleyan students. I want to remind students that many of the issues they have raised have resulted in positive changes at Wesleyan. Of course, we haven’t pleased everybody, but we have listened carefully to how we can make alma mater an educational institution that aims at continuous improvement.

Dear friends,

A little over a week ago, after taking in some wonderful thesis projects at the Zilkha Gallery, I went over to Davison to view the exhibition of renowned photographer Philip Trager ’56 and listen in on his conversation with his long-time friend Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak. Andy has written an essay for Phil’s latest book, based on the pictures on display. The exhibit itself reflected a half-century’s visual conversation between Philip and his wife Ina and stimulates deep contemplation about long-term relationships. Certainly Philip and Ina have had a long-term relationship to Wesleyan, and they announced at the Davison that they have made yet another generous gift of prized images to the university collection.

When Philip was a student here in the ’50s, he surely never thought he’d be back in 2016. I doubt few of you have thought about being back here decades hence, but I have no doubt that many of you will be back. For Wesleyan has made contributions to your life and you have contributed to the life of Wesleyan. Indeed, the two are intertwined – in the projects that you’ve shared with others, in your athletic efforts on behalf of your teammates, in your theatrical collaborations, in the friendships you’ve made. And, of course, in your ideas on how to improve our university.

You’ve made your ideas known through gentle suggestions, vigorous public demonstrations, written arguments, and informal conversations passed along over a meal. And we have heard you. Your concern about social life with the closure this year of Greek Houses prompted us to make more funds available to sponsor large gatherings. Many students were experiencing long wait times for certain counseling services, and so we hired a new staff member in CAPS and have focused on more responsive protocols. When young alumni pointed out that even small loans could be a burden for folks from low-income families, we increased the no-loan threshold of family income. This, combined with changes to expected family (often student) payments, should ease some of the burdens we’ve heard about, as should our new emergency fund to support those in need who encounter unexpected expenses during the school year. When students expressed worries about running out of meal points before the end of term, we set up a fund to help; we also plan to provide more flexibility for students to use meals during the semester. And when students pointed out problems with our summer housing, we reduced housing costs for students with high financial need. Don’t get me wrong: I know that these steps haven’t eliminated all the issues, but I do think they are signs of progress.

We also launched a mentoring program and skill-building workshops for those students who might benefit from additional support as they transition to Wes. We have responded to your concerns about course access by adding additional sections in high-demand areas, such as computer science, economics, and psychology. Our shared concerns about faculty departures in African American Studies has led to hiring two new full-time members of the program and others who work in this field. The new Workshop at Hewitt 8 is the result of a student proposal last year. And we will soon see the report of the Equity Task Force, which should help us improve the campus experience more generally. Again, these steps are not meant to be definitive. We must continue to address issues raised by students, faculty and staff.

At Wesleyan we respond to students not as consumers in a transaction, but as members of a community, as participants in an extended conversation. Our goal is always to improve the distinctive quality of the educational experience of our students, whether we’re hiring a new staff member, renovating a building, or deciding a tenure case.

I look forward to hearing more from you—be it at a scheduled appointment (my Drop-In hours are most Mondays 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.), at an impromptu meeting over lunch, or if our paths cross at some event. When we talk about improving our university, we may not always agree, but I trust we are all listening closely. It’s a conversation helpful to Wesleyans now and those who follow. And who knows? It’s a conversation that may last a lifetime.

Saluting Pam Tatge and Wes Dance Seniors

CFA Director Pam Tatge
CFA Director Pam Tatge

Director of Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts Pam Tatge has been named the head of Jacob’s Pillow, a great venue for contemporary dance in the Berkshires. Many colleagues gathered together to salute Pam’s extraordinary contributions to campus and community over more than fifteen years.

Jay Hoggard plays the vibes
Jay Hoggard plays the vibes

Lots of folks in attendance had benefited from Pam’s creative contributions over the years. Professors Nicole Stanton, Lois Brown and Jay Hoggard have been supported in their collaboration on “Storied Places,” a project inspired by African American histories of migration and arrival. A dance concert from the project will take place on April 14-15 at the CFA Theater at 8 pm. Jay treated us to a selection from the piece.

Last night Kari and I were fortunate to see the senior thesis dance recital at the Patricelli ’92 Theater. Trinithas Boyi, Eury German, Lakisha Gonsalves, Sarah Greizer, Ari Kaufman and Djiby Sall choreographed an evening of moving, funny, elegant and challenging performances. This was the final night of performances —  a full house —  and we were thrilled to be there to see these young artists.

"Cinderella" at Senior Dance Recital
“Cinderella” at Senior Dance Recital