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Campus Planning Framework

Last spring Sasaki Associates & Eastley+Partners worked with student, faculty, staff and alumni groups to develop guidelines for campus planning. After much brainstorming, conversation and analysis, they presented a report detailing five main principles:

1. Synergy of Residential and Academic Experience

How can we create spaces that tie academic work to campus learning more broadly?


2. Network of Informal Learning Spaces

How can we enhance the idiosyncratic spaces in which serendipitous encounters lead to deep learning?


3. Spectrum of Formal Learning Spaces

How can faculty and students collaborate in creating places on campus appropriate to the new ways we teach and learn most effectively?


4. Transparency of Indoor/Outdoor Spaces

How can we plan for spaces that weave a more seamless connection between the interior and exterior landscapes?


5. Engagement Local and Global

 How can the principles of sustainability and stewardship lead to more productive engagement for the Wesleyan community in Middletown and beyond?

You can find a link to the executive summary of the report here. Thanks to the Facilities Committee and all the other Wesleyans who contributed to this effort. Over the course of this year we will begin to plan for campus improvements guided by this work.

It’s an exciting time of year. Classes are just getting underway, and new students are getting to know the campus while many others are reconnecting with friends and teachers. Even though I’m the kind of person can easily get used to the rhythms of summertime, I just love the beginning of the school year. Tonight I met my philosophy and film class. After all these years, I still had butterflies just before class…

After we went over the syllabus, we watched two short films that deal with people displaced from their homes and their communities, often with the most awful consequences. When we watched the chilling images, I am sure lots of us were thinking about contemporary refugees fleeing Syria and other places of poverty, oppression and gruesome murder.

Many of us have been horrified by the response to the thousands of refugees struggling to get into Europe. I have been particularly appalled by the actions and rhetoric of xenophobic leaders who are bringing fascistic hatred back to public life. But what can we do about it?

Over the weekend Kari and I were talking about what we at universities might do, and we thought it would be an important question to put to our Wesleyan community. What can we do about this refugee crisis? As a university, a place devoted to learning and building community, what can we do to lend a hand in this terrible time? Should our role be one of advocacy, or should we try to find ways to sponsor a group of people who need asylum? Should we step out as a single institution, or work with other colleges and universities? What other ideas do you have?

I want to collect your suggestions and to talk about them with folks from different parts of the Wesleyan community. Perhaps we can come up with actions that will help, and we are sure to learn some things in the process.

Please send in your thoughts (either to this blog comment or to presoffice@wesleyan.edu) and stay tuned for other ways to participate as we think together about how we can respond to this acute crisis. I’ll share suggestions I get with Professor Rob Rosenthal, director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and talk with faculty, staff and student representatives about how we might proceed. I’ll write again on this topic within the month.

Our mission statement evokes “practical idealism.” Let’s live up to it!

I give a lot of speeches during the year, but one of my favorite opportunities for talking about liberal education and Wesleyan is Arrival Day. It’s great fun to meet with the families of our new students and to share some of my hopes for a Wesleyan education. This year, I was also thinking about having dropped off our daughter Sophie last week to start her frosh year. At the arrival day talk at Wesleyan, there are always lots of laughs and usually a few tears. Here is a video of part of my remarks.


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Arrival Day is Here!

I’m heading out to the residence halls to help our first-year students move into their new homes! Here is a picture of some early arrivals to Clark Hall.

Joshua Hochschild Early morning arrivals
I’ll be posting more photos throughout the day. Welcome to Wes!

Volleyballers on the job

Volleyballers on the job

Cardinal Pride at the Butts

Cardinal Pride at the Butts

Making Arrival Day Smooth at Clark

Making Arrival Day Smooth at Clark

Helping out at 200 Church

Helping out at 200 Church

Arrival Day Help at Bennet

Arrival Day Help at Bennet

Checking out new net chair at Clark

Checking out new net chair at Clark

Students Begin to Arrive

Today (August 30) international students begin to arrive. I’ve already begun to see many undergraduates working for Student Life on campus for training — and most graduate students have been around focused on their research. It’s an exciting time of year, and I’m always enthusiastic (and still a little nervous) for the start of school. Here’s the message I recently sent out to new students.


Dear friends in the class of 2019,

We are busy getting ready to welcome you to campus for the start of your Wesleyan education. I can imagine that you are experiencing a mix of emotions as you prepare to join us, and I hope your travels to central Connecticut are safe and smooth.

Most of you have selected classes for the fall, but some of you will make changes to your schedules as you get more information, meet friends and teachers, and decide to try new things. The first semester presents opportunities to discover more about what most deeply engages you, and I am confident that you will find a constellation of courses that is challenging and fulfilling. You will be encouraged to think for yourself while also sharing your views with others. Doing so should promote a spirit of inquiry that extends far beyond the coursework.

And beyond the coursework you will find many opportunities for engagement. I trust that you’ll find the Wesleyan community to be welcoming as well as invigorating and caring. We look out for one another, and we cheer each other on. The goal is a campus that is safe and inspiring. Please take advantage of the opportunities to make this community your launch pad into politics, the arts, athletics… all sorts of things that will add to what you learn at Wesleyan.

I hope to get to know many of you while you are undergraduates. My office is in South College (office hours, late afternoon on Mondays), and I live right on campus. I’ll always try to find time to meet with students, so please stop by. On September 17, the Wesleyan Student Assembly is sponsoring an open meeting in Memorial Chapel in which I will briefly discuss the “state of the university.” You can also follow me on Twitter @mroth78 and through my blog.

Some of you will choose to finish in three years, others will take four (and a few will take a break in the middle). Whatever your itinerary, I am confident that at Wes you will find “boldness, rigor and practical idealism” – students, faculty and staff who are dedicated to a broad, pragmatic liberal education.

Go Wes!

Michael Roth

Middletown’s Mayor Dan Drew has put together a great little film series at the College of Film and the Moving Image. This Saturday (August 29) Angels with Dirty Faces screens at 7:30 pm. Next Saturday, September 5, the mayor has chosen The Usual Suspects to be presented at the same time. The series began last week with The Maltese Falcon.

Admission to each movie screening is free, but we are suggesting a $5 donation, which will go to the Buttonwood Tree, a nonprofit performing arts and cultural center in Middletown.

“All these films are crowd-pleasers and the mayor made great choices,” department founder Jeanine Basinger told The Hartford Courant. “It’s a pleasure for all of us at the Center for Film Studies to be able to present these films for the community.”

On September 26, Wesleyan celebrates “Middletown Day.”  There are great athletic contests on campus that Saturday, and we are planning some family activities. More on that in a few weeks!



Fifty-two years ago today, on the day before The March on Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois died. Born in Great Barrington, Mass. just after the end of the Civil War, he had been a champion of civil rights and the pursuit of equality, a tireless advocate for African-Americans, and a writer of extraordinary power. A prodigious intellectual with a devotion to education, Du Bois had bachelor degrees from Fisk and Harvard, a Ph.D. from Harvard (the first black person to receive one there), with more advanced work in Berlin. He was a classics professor and a historian who wrote sociology, poetry, plays and fiction — to name just some of the fields in which he worked.

I wrote about Du Bois in Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. He championed liberal learning, seeing it as a vehicle for the development of humanity. As he said:

The function of the university is not simply to teach bread-winning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a center of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.

Du Bois believed that educational institutions should aim to stimulate hunger for knowledge — not just contain it or channel it into a narrow path destined for a job market that will quickly change. Education should not teach the person to conform to a function, a repetition of slavery, but should provide people with a wider horizon of choices.

Du Bois repeatedly defended liberal education against those who saw it as impractical. In an address at the Hampton Institute in the beginning of the century, he lamented that “there is an insistence on the practical in a manner and tone that would make Socrates an idiot and Jesus Christ a crank.” At one of the centers of industrial learning for blacks, Du Bois argued that its doctrine of education was fundamentally false because it was so seriously limited. What mattered in education was not so much the curriculum on campus but an understanding that the aim of education went far beyond the university. And here is where Du Bois issued his challenge:

The aim of the higher training of the college is the development of power, the training of a self whose balanced assertion will mean as much as possible for the great ends of civilization. The aim of technical training on the other hand is to enable the student to master the present methods of earning a living in some particular way . . . We must give our youth a training designed above all to make them men of power, of thought, of trained and cultivated taste; men who know whither civilization is tending and what it means.

Du Bois believed that a pragmatic liberal education made one more human, to be sure, but it also gave one an awesome responsibility. Education, as he consistently stressed, was a mode of empowerment, and those who benefited from it should help empower others. When liberal learning worked, students became teachers, creating a virtuous circle of education.

As we prepare to begin the academic year, let’s remember Du Bois’s challenge — and his hope!


So excited to see the new Center for the Arts program announced this week. Michelle Dorrance is on the cover, and her troupe will be performing on campus Sept. 25-26. Michelle is an amazing tap dancer, and she brings a profound musicality and exuberance to this great American art form. Kari and I have seen her perform a few times at the Jacob’s Pillow summer festival, and we are really looking forward to her visit.



There are so many exciting things happening at the CFA this fall. Nicholas Payton, one of the world’s great jazz trumpet players, will be bringing his trio to campus on Sept. 18. You can find out more about tickets to this and other events here.

On the first Friday of the semester, Sept. 11, we will have the fourth annual MASH. This is a festival of the Wesleyan music scene, culminating in a picnic on Foss Hill with live music from Smokin Lillies, 5 Guys, Chef and The Rooks. I’m playing keyboards with the Lillies, and really looking forward to hearing all the bands let loose.

It’s mid-August, and I’m preparing to return to campus after several weeks away. Every week I receive lists of media updates – articles where Wesleyan is mentioned. Here are some thoughts on some that I’ve found particularly striking.

I often tell students that my hope for them is that they will discover what they’re interested in, get better at it, and share what they’ve learned with others. This is definitely the story of Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, whose new musical Hamilton (he created it and is the star) is the toast of the town. Of course, Lin gave the Commencement address this past year, and is well known among alumni, faculty and students. We are taking over the Richard Rodgers Theatre on October 2 (already sold out, I’m afraid), for a financial aid Hamilton fundraiser, and I am delighted to see all the positive attention being showered on Lin, director Thomas Kail ‘99 and the crew.

An article from the BBC features the work of psychology professor Psyche Loui (yes it is a great name given her interest!) studying the goose bumps you can get when listening to a particularly powerful piece of music. She describes the feeling as “skin orgasms.” Her work on the erotic aspects of music is receiving a lot of attention, and it’s been speculated that these frissons can promote communal goodwill.

There’s also a comparison made here to the addictive pleasures of certain drugs, and this brings me to another of this week’s media hits from The Washington Post, one considerably less positive. It’s the tragic story of a UVA student, also a music lover, who took Molly at a concert, then collapsed and died. The article refers to Wesleyan, which became a national story when a number of students here were hospitalized last February after taking drugs. All survived, thank goodness, but the legal ramifications for the students involved in distributing the drugs continue to unfold. Wesleyan will continue to enforce our own rules as well as applicable laws. Most importantly, I ask all students to please, please make healthy, safe choices with respect to drugs and alcohol. And be helpful to those around you.

Wesleyan is a venerable institution with great traditions. In this article in the Hartford Courant, you can read about preparations for the centenary celebration of the Van Vleck Observatory. Designed by the same architect who designed the Lincoln Memorial, it crowns Foss Hill, a permanent invitation to use this university to explore the world beyond it.

Another article in The Washington Post refers to our new test-optional admissions policy, which is bringing more applicants first in their family to go college, more applicants of color, and more applicants from abroad. At Wesleyan we are serious about our commitment to access and inclusion.

Part of that commitment involves our partnership with the Posse Foundation, bringing veterans to study at Wes, and the updates include an article by one of the Posse vets on his experiences to date.

I enjoy reading about the achievements of our students, faculty and alumni – from theater to sports to research. But more, I love to be on campus to witness the exuberant process that goes into making it all possible. Very soon, we’ll all be back at it.

This year the National Endowment for the Humanities announced a new program for public humanities scholars. As per the NEH website:

These are the first awards made under NEH’s new Public Scholar grant program, which was created in December 2014 as part of The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, an agency-wide initiative that seeks to bring humanities into the public square and foster innovative ways to make scholarship relevant to contemporary life.

The Public Scholar Program builds upon NEH’s 50-year tradition of supporting the publication of nonfiction works that have profoundly influenced the way we understand history, politics, literature, and society. The Public Scholar awards support books that use deep research to open up important or appealing subjects for wider audiences by presenting significant humanities topics in a way that is accessible to general readers.  

Andrew CurranThere were almost 5oo applications for the new program, and only 36 were successful. Of these, two are Wesleyan faculty!

Andrew Curran, the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities, has taught in the Romance Languages department and just finished a stint as Dean of Arts and Humanities. He is writing an intellectual biography of Denis Diderot, the French philosophe long overshadowed by Voltaire and Rousseau. When Andy’s book comes out, that will surely change, as he shows how relevant and provocative Diderot’s ideas remain.


Jennifer TuckerJennifer Tucker has taught in the history, FGSS, and SISP programs, and not long ago was running the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. Jennifer has long been interested in the intersection of visual culture and science, and her project on the emergence of facial recognition system technology will have broad impact. Jennifer expects to write a wide-ranging account of how the project of capturing the defining features of an individual face has led to current modes of surveillance and law enforcement, digital privacy and individuality.


I have many reasons to be proud of our faculty’s accomplishments, and I am a big fan of these particular projects. And, of course: THIS IS WHY.

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