New Year, New Future for Liberal Education

This past weekend the Wall Street Journal published a group of articles on the coming year. They asked me to participate in this journalistic  symposium, and I offered an optimistic perspective on a “comeback” for liberal education. I cross-post it here.

Wesleyan’s president argues that 2016 should be the year we resist efforts to steer higher education toward pseudo-practicality

After a decade in which broad, conceptual learning was often bashed, 2016 will see a resurgent commitment in higher education to a pragmatic liberal-arts education. Not only traditional classrooms but also new pedagogical tools like MOOCs (massive open online courses) will be used more extensively to teach everything from Great Books to transformational historical trends to landmarks of scientific thinking. In 2016, liberal education, American-style, will flourish.

Many liberal-arts colleges have been under extraordinary duress in recent years, while many big public universities, when not just focused on specialized research, seem to have abandoned broad, contextual learning in favor of vocational majors, TV-friendly athletics and cultivating a party atmosphere for millennial customers and their hovering parents.

But liberal education in America has been under pressure before, and this is one of those moments when it can emerge stronger than ever. The stakes in 2016 are high, from a national political debate desperate for critical thinking to an economy eager for innovation. This should be the year we find the courage to resist those who want to steer higher education in the direction of a pseudo-practicality. A strictly utilitarian education produces graduates who will conform to the status quo, but in our period of extraordinary change, the status quo almost immediately becomes obsolete.

Liberal-arts education today can be pragmatic, empowering students with potent ways of dealing with the issues they will face at work and in life. In the years ahead, liberal learning will link engineering with design and economics, the arts with computer science, the study of philosophy with building more just institutions. From Thomas Jefferson to W.E.B. Du Bois to Jane Addams, Americans have recognized that a broad, contextual education protects against mindless tyranny and haughty privilege. In 2016, we can recognize again that liberal learning in the American tradition isn’t only training; it is an invitation to think for oneself—and to act in concert with others to face serious challenges and create far-reaching opportunities.

Year-end Appreciation

I sent this message to the Wesleyan community earlier this week:

 

Dear friends,

As I reflect on 2015, I find a number of ongoing challenges but also much to be proud of — and be inspired by. I see many in our campus community who proved unafraid to take risks for the sake of positive outcomes, who demanded much of others for the sake of learning, who put themselves out there for the sake of others. At Wesleyan, boldness, rigor and practical idealism can be found in classrooms, in athletics, in protests, in labs, in performances. “We are all educators,” I’ve said to staff on many occasions this year, for they, like our marvelous faculty, create the conditions for this kind of education. And I saw boldness, rigor, and practical idealism at work in our alumni as well: in how they lead their lives, contribute to their communities, support alma mater.

The Wesleyan I’ve seen in 2015 is a place of exuberance and reflection, a place of compassionate solidarity. We had our challenges but accomplished much; for details please see my update on our progress toward the goals set forth in our framework for planning, Wesleyan 2020.

Our THIS IS WHY fundraising campaign continues to surpass expectations and now has just six months to go! My thanks to all who contributed to Wesleyan this year — through your hard work and through your support. Go Wes!

Sincerely,

Michael S. Roth

President

Celebrating Wesleyan Athletics!

As we get to the end of the semester, I find myself revisiting some of its highlights. One such moment was when coaches Mark Woodworth and Joe Reilly visited my office just before Homecoming. They were coming by to present me with NESCAC Championship Rings from the baseball team and men’s basketball team. The record of excellence for both teams is most impressive. Baseball has become a conference powerhouse, and last year the basketball team had an extraordinary run through the tournament to emerge with our first NESCAC title in the sport.

Coaches present championship rings

Coaches present championship rings

At Homecoming we had the occasion to celebrate other NESCAC champions, including the amazing tennis star, Eudice Chong ’18, who went on to a national championship. These student athletes do us proud!

NESCAC Champs

NESCAC Champs

On campus, we all know that athletics isn’t confined to those who win championships or even those who suit up for varsity sports. Every day you can find students, faculty and staff on the ice, tracks, bikes, courts, fields, sailboats, horses….and (speaking for myself) stairmasters! We cheer one another on, and, sometimes, go beyond what we had imagined we could accomplish.

Even our varsity athletes get a break after finals, but they will be back in competition weeks before the new semester begins. Let’s cheer them on!

Go Wes!

Go Wes!

Jeanine Basinger and Film Studies

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This week The Hollywood Reporter has a great story about Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies Jeanine Basinger. New York Times film critic and Wesleyan’s Distinguished Professor of Film Criticism, A.O. Scott puts it this way: “I took a job teaching at Wesleyan as an excuse to hang out and talk about movies with Jeanine. There’s nothing she doesn’t know.” The article focuses on Jeanine’s amazing group of former students who have gone on to extraordinary careers in the film industry — and they couldn’t get everybody!  “When I started teaching at Wesleyan,” she writes, “I realized the students were fabulous — they had so much imagination, intelligence, originality,” she says. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why don’t these people work in the film business?’ I told them, ‘Somebody gets those jobs. Why not you?’ And I started encouraging them to become the people they have become.

(Photos courtesy of Smallz + Raskind)

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Political Correctness Not Our Problem

The op-ed below ran in the Washington Post and was reprinted on The Huffington Post.

 

‘Tis the season to write disparaging commentaries on college students. They are coddled, some say, others say they don’t understand the value of free speech, while still others predict the demise of American higher education as a whole because of a lack of openness to new ideas.

I have written on why free speech is so crucial to any educational institution but also about why the biggest threat to freedom of speech isn’t on college campuses. I have described why I’m tired of reading about pampered college students, and now I am moved to hit the keyboard again as I encounter columnists who see political correctness run amok, or who simply can’t stand the fact that groups only recently welcomed onto elite campuses aren’t just grateful for being admitted. I work with students everyday, and I have had protesters at my office, and I don’t see their realities reflected in public discourse.

I agree whole heartedly with Fareed Zakaria’s recent argument that learning is most powerful when people with very different points of view engage in conversation that brings out those differences for reflective consideration. Like him, I am a great admirer of W.E.B. Du Bois’s commitment to liberal education, reflected in his comment: “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not…Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas. . . I summon Aristotle and Aurelius . . . and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension.”

The great African American intellectual Du Bois could summon these great figures as equals, but on campuses today students of color still find plenty of “scorn” and “condescension.” For the backlash against anti-racist efforts is well underway, usually under the rubric of not giving into “political correctness.” In 1829, David Walker, a free American black, put the real reason in words that should still resonate: “for colored people to acquire learning in this country, makes tyrants quake and tremble on their sandy foundation.”

Walker wrote when slavery was still legal in the United States, but the struggle for equal rights is far from over. In the realm of scholarship, we have only begun to turn back centuries of blindness (and worse) toward cultures that didn’t fit into the standard narratives of American unity at home and exceptionalism vis à vis other nations. Do we need any more evidence of the persistence of the mainstream account than hearing that people are shocked, really shocked, that Woodrow Wilson didn’t just have what historians like to call “the prejudices of his day” but that he was an aggressive, virulent racist bent on turning back the gains of Reconstruction! Is it really such a surprise that at Princeton, far more diverse than in Wilson’s day, not everyone feels equally welcome at the school of international studies that bears his name?

When students support Black Lives Matter or take classes in Africana Studies, or Asian American Studies or Women’s Studies, they are not just “studying themselves;” they are studying groups of people who have been systematically kept out of the mainstream narrative of our culture’s history. Sure, the narrative has been changing, and now one can find English departments with a much expanded canon and history departments that look at the struggles of diverse groups in different places and times. But these changes have taken place because of the efforts of activist students and their faculty allies.

And contrary to what you might have read, students taking ethnic study classes are also engaged in other academic pursuits. At Wesleyan more than three-quarters of the students in our versions of ethnic and gender studies have a second major. These students aren’t just trying to reinforce their identities; they are trying to expand their horizons in just the way one would expect at an institution devoted to liberal education.

I write these sentences as a university president, but I also write them as a guy who teaches a European Great Books survey course. I teach mostly the dead white males. In my classes we talk about Rousseau and Marx, Kant and Nietzsche, Mill and Darwin, Flaubert and Woolf, Freud and Butler. And we deal with politics and religion, equality and revolution, gender and evolutionary biology. I have always had large classes and in 30 years of teaching have never been asked for a trigger warning.

We also talk about thinkers who form part of a conservative tradition, like Smith and Burke, Tocqueville and Strauss. I do think I should do more on this latter trajectory. Although I am a person of the Left, like many commentators I worry about the political tilt of many humanities and social science departments. We need to support our conservative students and confront our liberal ones with the deep conservative bodies of thinking.

Does that mean I, too, see the specter of political correctness haunting college campuses across the country? No, I see political correctness as a charismatic bogeyman with strange powers to titillate liberal and conservative writers alike. Sure, there are groups that form around common values and ideas, and sometimes a group can be close-minded. But I see vigorous discussion within the faculty about ideas that matter, and I hear plenty of students rebelling against the notion that young people all think alike. For example, on my left-leaning campus, there is more religious practice than there has been in years, and we have had forceful discussions with large groups of students about everything from the role of fraternities to the economic/political possibilities of a carbon tax.

Of course, some people do shout down others, and sometimes a group of students will want to retreat to a place with like-minded friends. This has always happened, whether such spaces were called “safe” or not. That the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal echoes a gaggle of columnists in calling demonstrations and posters “political intimidation” would be merely curious if the editors and writers didn’t also claim to be protectors of free speech.

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. I hope there are other places in America today where these arguments 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’m sure glad these conversations are happening on our campuses.

At a time when major presidential candidates demonize difference, and when attackers respond to groups they’ve been inspired to hate with terrorism, let’s recognize the constructive value of ongoing debate and that politicized campuses remain places of confrontation and of real learning.

Photographic Gems at Wesleyan

Have you been to the Davison Art Gallery lately? Located in the Center for the Arts at the historic Alsop House, the Davison sponsors compelling art exhibitions with a focus on works on paper. For a few weeks still, you can see Tanya Marcuse’s powerful show, Phantom Bodies. Marcuse’s work challenges our perception of the body, and also of time, science and gender.

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Tanya Marcuse’s photographs are on view through December 13.

We have an active collection at the Davison Gallery, ably curated by Clare Rogan. Recently she told me about a great new acquisition — a gift from Profs Andrew Szegedy-Maszak and Elizabeth Bobrick in honor of Peter and Laurie Frenzel. The picture, by Lewis Hine, (American, 1874-1940), is a portrait of a 10 year old tobacco picker working in Gildersleeve, Conn. (1917). This is just across the river in Portland. Hine’s pictures often documented child labor, and his work was instrumental in raising awareness about the exploitation of children.

Lewis Hine -- 10 year-old Picker on Gildersleeve Tobacco Farm

Lewis Hine — 10 year-old Picker on Gildersleeve Tobacco Farm

The gift of this stunning gelatin silver print is a wonderful complement to our photographic collection and honors friendship and commitment in our Wesleyan community. How fortunate we are!

 

Wes Students Making an Impact

I’ve been hearing about some great new social impact initiatives from Wesleyan students. I recently met Trevon Gordon, who is finishing his third year at Wesleyan, majoring in chemistry and heading to Columbia University for the “2” part of the  3:2 engineering program.

Trevon Gordon

Trevon Gordon

Trevon is working with SAHA Global to bring solar power electricity sources to Ghana. He has already put together funds for creating a locally led group to develop and run the power source, and he is raising money to participate in the implementation stage for this project here. He’s getting close, and every gift brings him that much closer.

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There are many other individual Wesleyan students and groups organizing worthy endeavors on campus and around the world. You can read about many of them on the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s website.

Students with the Wesleyan Refugee Project are giving their time to assist refugees from not only Syria but around the world. They are volunteering with local community organizations—helping refugees with resettlement applications and accessing housing and energy subsidies, and tutoring them in English—as well as fundraising for international NGOs and agencies, and organizing speakers here on campus. Read more about their efforts here.

And Wesleyan’s Invisible Men group recently started the Invisible Men Experience Grant Program. Beginning this summer, the Invisible Men hope to award two grants of up to $5,000 to students who normally wouldn’t be able to afford a particular professional development opportunity. Anyone interested in donating to this effort can do so here.

I’m always interested to hear about students engaged in social impact work. If you’d like to share your project, please submit a comment on the blog!

 

Giving Tuesday for Financial Aid

UPDATE: We did it!!!

Thanks to the generous participation of the Wesleyan family, we met the challenge and surpassed 3,000 gifts. Mike Fries ’85 will add $300,000 to financial aid. Yeah!! This even got a wag from Mathilde!!

Wesleyan holds its third consecutive Giving Tuesday on December 1. #GivingTuesday is a national day of generosity, it’s a day when your personal contribution can make a huge impact in our Wesleyan community. Our goal is 3,000 gifts between November 20 and December 1, Giving Tuesday. Please help us unlock this important gift to financial aid by making a donation today.

If we reach our goal of 3,000 gifts by the end of Giving Tuesday, new Board member Mike Fries ’85 will give an additional $300,000 for financial aid. Any gift between now and the end of Giving Tuesday counts toward the goal. Every gift—of whatever size—counts! Please give!!

Here’s Hamilton and In the Heights director Thomas Kail on why it’s so important to give:

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You can see more videos here, where you can also make an online gift.

Use Your Break Wisely! Register for Winter Session!!

As many students are coming back to campus after the brief Thanksgiving break, it’s a great time to consider signing up for a Winter Session Class. Remember the winter break is long! Why not make the most of it! Winter session offers intensive classes for academic credit, as well as co-curricular career planning opportunities (see below the classes).

Winter Session Courses

January 6-19, 2016

Registration is now open!

Housing and dining deadline: noon on Wednesday December 2.

If students do not require campus housing or dining, they may register up until December 18.

AMST245 Personalizing History
Indira Karamcheti
ARTS490 Introduction to Digital Arts
Christopher Chenier
ASTR111 The Dark Side of the Universe
Ed Moran
COMP112 Introduction to Programming
James Lipton
ENGL234 Jane Austen and the Romantic Age
Stephanie Weiner
GOVT155 Peace Versus Power: International Relations in the Modern Age
Giulio Gallarotti
GOVT311 U.S. Foreign Policy
Douglas Foyle
QAC201/SOC257/GOVT201/PSYC280/NS&B280 Applied Data Analysis
Lisa Dierker

What follows are some not-for-credit career development options offered over Winter Break.

Winter on Wyllys

Winter on Wyllys 2016 encompasses a variety of career programming options designed for students to focus on their own career development over Winter Break.

WEShadow Externship Program: January 4 – 15

Provides undergraduates an opportunity to explore careers by shadowing an employer partner or Wesleyan alum/parent during Winter Break. Shadow opportunities typically range from one to two days and can include observing a professional during daily work activities, or participating in a specific project. Please be mindful of the calendar if you are planning to complete a WEShadow placement prior to another Winter on Wyllys offering.

Careers by Design: January 11 – 15

Do you know what you want to do when you graduate? Next summer? Even next semester? Careers by Design is a week-long program designed to help you identify what factors may be influencing your choice of major, internship, or career path, and help you to be mindful of your decisions and do what is right for you regardless of what messages you may be receiving from others. Careers by Design will run in the mornings only. NOTE: Due to scheduling and the intensive nature of this program, Careers by Design cannot be taken in conjunction with a Winter Session course, CareerLab, or Teacher Generation. There is a materials fee of $100. Financial aid is available. Registration opens on October 30th on CareerDrive.

CareerLab: January 11 – 15

CareerLab is a week-long, boot camp style introduction to everything you need to know to start your internship or job search. You will come out of the week with an understanding of how to research fields and organizations, make full use of LinkedIn to engage with alumni and trade groups, interview effectively, and launch yourself as a professional in your field of interest. CareerLab will run in the mornings only. NOTE: Due to scheduling and the intensive nature of this program, CareerLab cannot be taken in conjunction with a Winter Session course, Careers by Design, or Teacher Generation. There is a materials fee of $100. Financial aid is available. Registration opens on October 30th on CareerDrive.

Winter WESpeakers: Week of January 11th

In collaboration with Alumni and Parent Relations, the Career Center will be hosting several alumni to speak on career-related topics in the afternoons during Winter on Wyllys. These talks are open to all Wesleyan students on campus that week.

Teacher Generation: January 11 – 15

Introducing Teacher Generation, a new program offered by Achievement First  designed for Wesleyan University juniors and seniors interested in education and education reform who would like to explore a career in teaching. Applicants will be chosen through a competitive process to complete a one week placement at Achievement First Elm City Middle School in New Haven.  There is no cost: housing, meals, and travel will be provided by Achievement First in New Haven, CT.

Wall Street Prep: January 19 – 20

The Wesleyan University Career Center will be hosting Wall Street Prep’s financial training seminar at Wesleyan University on January 19-20, 2016. This intensive 2-day seminar is led by former investment bankers with applied expertise in financial and valuation modeling methodologies, and bridges the gap between academics and the real world to equip students with the practical knowledge they need to excel during the recruiting process and on the job.Students learn to build financial and valuation models using real case studies, employing the same tools and methodologies they would on the job. Upon course completion, students receive high-quality materials and access to resources that enable them to revisit concepts as they prepare for interviews, internships, and full-time positions. This seminar is for all students pursuing positions in investment banking, corporate finance, private equity, portfolio management, business development, capital markets, and equity & credit research. Cost: $199. Financial aid is available. If you would like to request a fee waiver, please contact the Career Center at 860-685-2180. Students interested in participating in the 2-day program must register here by December 1.

Statement from Antonio Farias on Equity and Inclusion

Antonio Farias, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Officer, has just issued a statement on his work with students, faculty, and staff. He notes that “we will be scheduling recurring community town halls, forums, and focus groups in order to take a robust accounting of current needs as well as to tap the vast community expertise we possess in the service of creating sustainable and significant changes designed to enhance our individual and collective ability to thrive.” In his statement he notes various ways in which his office will track this work.

Antonio underscores the importance of filling the open position of Dean for Equity & Inclusion. He emphasizes that the person we hire will “continue to engage with students from historically marginalized communities, with a particular mandate of increasing underrepresented and gender equity in STEM fields.”

I am grateful to Antonio and his team for their tireless efforts at building a fair and welcoming community of learning. While we are far from perfect, we are steadfast in our commitment to eradicating discrimination while strengthening the foundations for achievement.