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The baseball team just returned to campus after having a great run in the NCAA tournament. The NESCAC champs had some thrilling victories, and at times it seemed like every position player was going to take a turn on the pitcher’s mound. The game against Susquehanna was particularly thrilling, with the Cardinals coming back to win with 2 outs in the ninth. There were many standout performances you can read about here. Mark Woodworth and the guys did us proud, making this season one of the best in Cardinal history.

Speaking of Cardinal history, women’s crew is busy setting it. Since the end of the semester, the team has earned an invitation to the NCAA championships at the end of the month, after a great job in the regional races.  The fifth-place effort in the ECAC regatta was the highest finish by Wesleyan since last qualifying for Nationals in 2001. Clare Doyle ’14 and Kayla Could ’14 were named all-NESCAC rowers, and you can read more about the team’s accomplishments here. In men’s crew, Nick Petrillo ’14, Keegan Dufty ’14 and Peter Martin ’14 were named all-NESCAC rowers.

Finally, Sierra (If I had a Hammer) Livious ’14 has been on a tear through the competitions this spring. She has piled up the points, set Wesleyan records and is off to the NCAA tournament. Go Sierra!

Sierra Livious '14

THIS IS WHY.

 

As students were packing up their rooms, distributing good-bye hugs and posting final papers to Moodle, I had the great pleasure of meeting Oliver James ’14. Professor Barry Chernoff, the founding director of the College of the Environment, brought him by to show me the wonderful work Oliver did on his senior thesis.

Oliver James '14, Prez, Barry Chernoff

Oliver has many interests, and as a senior he wanted to combine his study of the environment with his interest in birds. How to represent the many birds he sees on campus? Oliver learned the great art of watercolor and used his observational skills to produce A Field Guide to Birds of Wesleyan. Artist, scientist, environmentalist? Why choose? THIS IS WHY.

birds of wesleyan cover

It’s finals week, and students are working hard to finish up their projects and study for exams. Still, on Monday about 100 very engaged students made the effort to express their strong concern about the current state of the African-American Studies program. They made the excellent point that a strong program is important for the health of the university. I have also heard from faculty and alumni, as have a number of trustees, the deans and the provost.

There are long-term issues and short-term ones. In the short-term, Academic Affairs has already been working on replacements for two wonderful professors in Af-Am who are leaving (one to Yale, the other to Harvard, alas). These replacements will be visitors who will ensure that we have classes staffed for the coming year. I have also talked with Academic Affairs about two hires on a more permanent basis. We will accelerate the plans to search for a tenure-track (or tenured) professor in African-American studies in global context whose research is in the social sciences. That search will get underway as soon as possible. After filling this first position, we will begin a second search for another social science scholar whose work in Af-Am complements that of the first hire.

While these searches are underway, the provost, deans and I will be talking with faculty across the curriculum whose teaching and research is relevant to African-American studies from a variety of post-national and diasporic perspectives. We have real strength in these areas, and we should tap into it more fully. Indeed, I will be talking with Wesleyan professors who have had shared responsibilities in the past and inviting some to devote their efforts full-time to AFAM in coming years. We will also ensure that the Center for African American Studies can play an important role in bringing some of the most interesting scholars to campus from a variety of fields. This will inform our search process as well as bring powerful intellectual benefit to campus.

We have a challenging but also rewarding endeavor before us, and we will count on the help of key leaders in this area like Professors Lois Brown and Ashraf Rushdy to help us in maintaining a strong curriculum, mentoring students in the program, and conducting successful searches.

Together, we can build a program that will be defined by inspired teaching, advanced research and compelling creative practice.

 

This past weekend I published some op-eds and did an interview on liberal education in conjunction with the appearance of my Beyond The University: Why Liberal Education Matters. There’s even a radio spot Wisconsin Public Radio!

The following op-ed is from the Boston Globe‘s Sunday opinion section.

 

‘Is c” — that’s all I have to type before the search engine jumps to “Is college worth it?” I hit return, and there are more articles on this question than even I, a college president, want to read. Pundit after pundit (most of whom have had the benefit of a liberal education) question whether so many Americans should be going to college. Pulling the ladder up after they’ve already made the climb, they can’t seem to see why future students would want the same opportunities that they’ve had.

When I began my freshman year at Wesleyan University more than 35 years ago, there were no search engines, and I had only a vague notion of what a liberal arts education entailed. My father and my grandfather were furriers, and my mother a big band singer. Giving their children access to a college education was part of their American dream, even if they had little understanding of what happened on campus. Today I head up the same institution where I first stumbled into courses like Intro to Philosophy and Art History 101.

Much has changed in higher education in the past three decades. In the past year, for instance, I’ve taught not only on campus but also more than 150,000 students enrolled through Wesleyan’s partnership with Coursera, a provider of free massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

But students and their expectations have also shifted. Many undergraduates now behave like consumers, intent on building resumes. Parents often want their children’s education to be immediately useful, and with a dramatically shrinking job market, undergrads themselves are often eager to follow a straight and narrow path that they imagine will land them that coveted first job. A broad liberal education, with a significant opportunity to explore oneself and the world, is increasingly seen as a luxury for the entitled and scarcely affordable in a hyper-competitive world.

Throughout most of our history, Americans have aimed to expand the realm of what counts as a liberal education. In recent years, however, in sync with growing inequality, critics have argued that some people just don’t need a broad education because these folks will not be in jobs that will use advanced skills. Richard Vedder, director at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, puts it this way: “Do you really need a chemistry degree to make a good martini?”

The bartender with a chemistry degree is the contemporary version of the Jeffersonian ideal of a farmer who reads the classics with pleasure and insight, or John Dewey’s image of the industrial worker who can quote Shakespeare. For generations of Americans, these have been signs of a healthy republic. But, for many critical of liberal education today, these are examples of a “wasted” — non-monetized — education. Furthermore, if ever more people are encouraged to get a college degree, won’t the degree be worth less — who wants to be a part of a club with that many members? We should beware of critics who cloak their desire to protect privilege (and inequality) in the garb of educational reform.

But employers do recognize the importance of a liberal education. The majority of those hiring agree that what’s important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success is having both field-specific skills and a wide range of knowledge. According to a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 80 percent of employers agree that, regardless of the major, every college student should acquire a foundation in the liberal arts and sciences.

Even many of those enrolling in online courses want this broad-based education. The “massive” part of these open courses is the least interesting thing about them. And I don’t treat my students online like a mass. My aim, the same as with my “in-person” classes, is to “ignite the fire of learning” — as a student from Singapore put it — while bringing them into a more thoughtful and productive conversation with the world around them. I am trying to help them develop their critical thinking skills while also inviting them to become absorbed in great achievements in philosophy, history, and literature. And they respond with curiosity and enthusiasm and, most importantly, a desire to continue learning. “Learning makes me feel alive,” an older student in South India related.

The willingness today by some to limit higher education to only certain students or to constrict the college curriculum to a neat, instrumental itinerary is a critical mistake, one that neglects a deep American tradition of humanistic learning. This tradition has been integral to our nation’s success and has enriched the lives of generations of students by enhancing their capacities for shaping themselves and reinventing the world they will inhabit. Since the founding of this country, education has been closely tied to individual freedom, and to the ability to think for oneself and to contribute to society by unleashing one’s creative potential.

The pace of change in American higher education has never been faster, and the ability to shape change and seek opportunity has never been more valuable. Our rapid search engines can only do so much: If we want to push back against inequality and enhance the vitality of our culture and economy, we need pragmatic liberal education.

Yesterday a group of students marched to South College to demand more resources for the African-American Studies major. The program has struggled in recent years, and it recently suffered a blow when two wonderful professors, Leah Wright and Sarah Mahurin, decided to move on to other institutions. Both Leah and Sarah are extraordinary scholar-teachers, and I am very sorry that they are leaving. Given the problems that were already afflicting the program, students are rightly concerned about the fate of Af-Am at Wesleyan.

Almost 100 concerned students met with Provost Ruth Weissman and me late in the afternoon yesterday. We were mostly in a listening mode, as students described to us what they saw as long-term weakness in African-American studies here. Although there was real anger in the room at times, I also heard some interesting ideas from students about potential directions we might take in the future. I was very sorry to hear the frustration in the students’ voices, and their real concern that this field had been allowed to fall into disarray at Wesleyan.

Some of the questions that came up include: What is the relation of African-Studies to recruiting and retaining students of color? How can we bring more disciplines into AF-Am? What connections should there be between American Studies and AF-Am? Between African studies and our program? How can cross-listing classes from various departments help provide the depth and breadth that a strong major requires?

There are many more questions, to be sure, and we will be discussing them with administrators, faculty and students. Together we will find ways to develop the intellectual energy and range of courses that will best serve our program and our university.

 

 

 

Wesleyan won its first ever NESCAC championship in baseball this afternoon, beating Tufts 6-4. Mark Woodworth’s team had a tremendous regular season, finishing first in the division and winning The Little Three. Behind great pitching, terrific defense, and wonderful fundamentals (oh, those squeeze bunts!) the Cardinals found ways to win.

The same held true in the tournament. Beating Bates and then Tufts in consecutive days, Wes needed to win one of two against the Jumbos on Mother’s Day. The guys dropped the first game, and Tufts kept fighting to keep things interesting until the final out. With the tying run at the plate, the Cardinals completed their victory with a force out at second base. Wesleyan has its first NESCAC championship!

Congratulations to Coach Mark and all the players (and especially their mothers!). A great day for Wesleyan athletics!!

wesbaseballnescacchamps2014forweb

 

As of this afternoon, more than 200 girls are still missing, presumed kidnapped from their school in Nigeria. IT HAS BEEN THREE WEEKS SINCE THEY WERE ABDUCTED. This is what the Washington Post reports:

Three weeks have now passed since dozens of heavily armed men descended upon a darkened dormitory where hundreds of Nigerian girls slept, abducted them and disappeared into the night. Three weeks since authorities erroneously stated that only 100 Chibok girls were missing — when in fact it was 276. And three weeks since hundreds of parents last saw their children, since they’ve launched protests that have swept a nation, since some of the girls were reportedly sold for $12 and vanished.

Today Agence France Presse reportedly had a video from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, claiming responsibility for the attack. In Shekau’s extremist version of Islam, the education of girls is a Western plot to destroy the culture of authentic piety and submission.

As Jill Filopovic wrote in the Guardian:

No girl should be a hero for getting an education. But for many girls around the world, walking through the schoolhouse doors isn’t a right or an assumption: it’s a victory over conservative fanatics – some of whom carry guns.

Three of the major factors in the basic oppression of women in the developing world are child labor, child marriage and gender based violence. Getting girls into primary school and giving them the opportunity for secondary education are important tools for addressing these sources of vulnerability. That’s why we must speak out against this heinous attack on human rights meant to stop girls from learning and terrorize parents and kids. Keeping girls in school reduces marriage rates for the youngest, a key vehicle for helping families escape poverty. Funding scholarships for these families is an important tool in this regard, as long as we can protect the children from violence. Keeping girls in school also has the benefit of reducing child labor, which effectively raises wages for those in the labor market.

And as Amartya Sen has put it:

There is definitive empirical evidence that women’s literacy and schooling cut down child mortality and work against the selective neglect of the health of girls. They are also the strongest influence, among all relevant causal factors, in cutting down fertility rates.
You’ve likely heard a lot more recently about natural disasters, transportation accidents and sports than you have about the missing Chibok girls. But make no mistake about it, the attack on these little girls is a war on women’s rights, on education and on creating the possibilities that all people, as philosopher Martha Nussbaum has put it, can lead a fully human life.
Heroes are fighting back. Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani girl who has fought for the rights of all young people to get a decent education. She stood up to Taliban thugs who tried to keep girls out of school, and she remained hopeful and defiant even after they shot her. When Jon Stewart asked Malala where the love of her education came from, she answered that it came from recognizing that as a human being she had a basic right to learn. When groups tried to take this away under the aegis of (male) religious authority, she had to fight back.
YouTube Preview Image
Education for Malala became a right worth fighting for. It still is.

For the last few years, the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has received intense national and local attention. As the scale of the problem has become more widely recognized, many institutions have taken steps to improve their preventative and disciplinary procedures. At Wesleyan, we significantly revised our sexual assault policies and have focused on three kinds of activity: supporting survivors; punishing assailants; and changing the culture so as to eliminate elements that lead to assault. Bystander intervention is an important facet of most of our efforts in this area. The role of student activists has been crucial to the changes we have made, as has input from faculty, staff, parents and alumni.

As I wrote in the summer of 2013, sexual assault is, among other things, a problem of equity and inclusion. Fear of assault reduces educational opportunity. Sexual assault, I said then, “has rightly become a major issue for educators who want their campuses to be safe places at which all students can experience the freedom of a transformative education.”

Over the past few months the place of single-sex, residential fraternities at Wesleyan has been at the forefront of our discussions, in large part because of the large campus social spaces controlled by all-male organizations. On April 18 an impressive list of students and faculty published a call to action in the Argus demanding that our three all-male residential fraternities “choose to co-educate and drastically reform their societies to be welcoming and safe organizations and spaces for students of all genders.” Two days later the Wesleyan Student Assembly passed a resolution that put a time-frame to this demand: that our fraternities demonstrate “a clear and swift plan of action… beginning with an initial co-educated pledge class in spring 2015.”

The issue of fraternities attracts strong emotions “for and against,” but I’ve been pleased to see that most discussions of the issue here – be it in public forums, letters published in the Argus, or emails to the president – have been conducted in ways that aim at shared understanding. On our campus these issues are complex, and we have a variety of organizations. For example, at Wesleyan we have co-educational societies that have a fair amount of autonomy and, in some cases, residential space. These societies claim the same feelings of community and solidarity that the all-male fraternities prize.

On a campus that so fully embraces coeducation across all aspects of our lives, the presence of single-sex fraternities raises questions about our commitment to gender equity.  And although it is obvious that not all sexual assaults happen in fraternities, there are strong questions raised about fraternity culture and what researchers call “proclivity” to discrimination and violence. While the fraternities have made it clear that they wish to be part of the solution, it’s also clear that many students see fraternity houses as spaces where women enter with a different status than in any other building on campus, sometimes with terrible consequences.

Many of our peer institutions have entirely eliminated “exclusive societies” like fraternities, while a few others have charted different paths. I’ve already made clear to the residential fraternities that we will not accept the status quo. We have informed them that they must allow Public Safety the same level of access required of any other student residence. Failure to agree to Public Safety access will put an end to that fraternity’s existence as a student residence, and given the fact that the owners of the buildings have not yet agreed to this expectation, students now slated to live in fraternities (including Alpha Delta Phi) should make contingency plans with Student Life.

It’s up to all of us to create the kind of campus climate we value, and it’s become very clear that fraternities, as presently constituted, pose challenges to that ongoing effort.  I expect to make a further announcement with respect to the role of fraternities on campus after consulting with trustees at the Board meeting in May. Meanwhile, I‘ll continue to listen to and learn from a variety of perspectives on how to create the best residential learning environment we can.

 

The Wesleyan baseball team once again won the Little Three title this weekend, taking 2 of 3 from Amherst. This left the Cardinals atop the NESCAC West division moving into the playoffs. THISISWHY!

Speaking of playoffs, the mighty men’s lacrosse team beat Connecticut College to advance to the semifinals of the NESCAC tournament. We face Amherst Saturday at Tufts University, with the winner going on to play for the championship the next day.

LaDarius Drew ’15 kept his winning ways at NESCAC men’s track championship this past weekend, winning the 200 meters and the long jump. LD also finished second in the 100 meters. Agbon Edomwonyi ’16 was a standout in the hammer throw and the shot put. I think it was the history/philosophy/literature classes that gave them the jump on the field….

Speaking of the hammer and shot, Sierra Livious ’16 placed in these events and another at the NESCAC women’s championship. Ellie Martin ’16 finished an incredible close second in the 400m race.

Congrats to all our athletes finishing up their spring seasons! Go WES!

 

I just posted this on HuffingtonPost and thought it would also be relevant to many in the Wesleyan community.

 

Ever since the founding of this country, we have recognized that education is indispensable to our vision of a democratic society. All men may be created equal in the abstract, but education provides people concrete opportunities to overcome real circumstances of poverty or oppression. Thomas Jefferson argued that the talented poor should be educated at public expense so that inherited wealth would not doom us to rule by an “unnatural aristocracy” of wealth. As I describe in Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, a few years after Jefferson’s death, African American shopkeeper David Walker penned a blistering manifesto pointing out that “the bare name of educating the coloured people, scares our cruel oppressors almost to death.” Some years later the young slave Frederick Douglass received a “new and special revelation,” namely, that learning “unfits” a person for being a slave.

Promoting access to a high-quality education has been key to turning the American rhetoric of equality into genuine opportunity. And throughout our history elites threatened by equality, or just by social mobility, have often joined together to block access for groups striving to improve their prospects in life. In the 20th century, policies were enacted to keep immigrants out of universities and to limit the number of Jews who enrolled. And in 2006, the citizens of Michigan passed an amendment to the state constitution banning consideration of race at their universities, undermining opportunity for minorities in the state.

This week the Supreme Court voted to uphold the rights of these citizens to forbid race-sensitive admissions policies. Previous Court decisions had allowed schools to consider race among other factors, but this judgment affirms the voters’ right to overrule university policies. Under the guise of democracy and supporting the political process, the Court has allowed States to close off opportunities for those who would benefit from them the most.

As Justice Sotomayor argued in her dissent, in Michigan you can now lobby those who control admissions to pay more attention to how many alumni relatives applicants have, and you can urge the deans to recognize how much money these relatives might give the school after applicants graduate. But you can no longer successfully advocate making the universities in Michigan more racially diverse — even if the governing boards recognized that a more diverse campus benefits everyone on campus.

Residential colleges and universities have for many years emphasized creating a diverse student body because we believe this results in a deeper educational experience. In the late 1960s many schools steered away from cultivated homogeneity and toward creating a campus community in which people can learn from their differences while forming new modes of commonality. This had nothing to do with what would later be called political correctness or even identity politics. It had to do with preparing students to become lifelong learners who could navigate in and contribute to a heterogeneous world after graduation.

At residential universities, homogeneity in the student body undermines our mission of helping students develop personal autonomy within a dynamic community. That’s why we are eager to welcome students from various parts of the United States and the rest of the world to our campuses. That’s why we ask our donors to support robust financial aid programs so as to ensure that our students come from a variety of economic backgrounds. A “dynamic community” is one in which members have to navigate difference — and racial and ethnic differences are certainly parts of the mix. All the students we admit have intellectual capacity, but we also want them to have different sorts of capacities. Their interests, modes of learning, and perspectives on the world should be sufficiently different from one another so as to promote active learning in and outside the classroom.

Creating a racially diverse campus is in the interest of all students, and it offers those from racial minorities opportunities that have historically been denied them. That’s why governing boards and admissions deans have crafted policies to find students from under-represented groups for whom a strong education will have a transformative, even liberating effect. Education, as Douglass said, makes you unfit for slavery.

The federal government has often had to step in to ensure that states provide access to political and economic opportunity. As Justice Sotomayor put it in her dissent, in the past the court ruled that the equal protection clause of the Constitution, “guarantees that the majority may not win by stacking the political process against minority groups permanently, forcing the minority alone to surmount unique obstacles in pursuit of its goals — here, educational diversity that cannot reasonably be accomplished through race-neutral measures.”

But this week’s ruling allows states to forbid university officials from considering race when determining access to higher education. When seen in the context of recent decisions undermining voting rights, it’s hard not to think that we are witnessing elites, “scared almost to death,” holding onto their privileges by limiting access to social mobility and economic opportunity.

Jefferson’s “unnatural aristocracy” is working hard to increase its advantages, but at universities we must recognize our responsibility to provide real opportunity to those groups who historically have been most marginalized. University admissions programs are not the place to promote partisan visions of social justice, but they are the place to produce the most dynamic and profound learning environments.

It would be an enormous step backward to force our admissions offices to retreat to a homogeneity that stifles creative, broad-based education. We must find ways to protect the diversity (racial, economic, cultural) that has become absolutely crucial to the dynamism of our universities, and to lives of learning and opportunity.

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