Year’s End….. Looking Ahead

As we close out 2008 I find myself still dealing with ongoing projects from the fall while putting things in place for the beginning of next semester. Almost finished with my grading of my class on photography and representation, I am spending more time finalizing my syllabus for my spring course on movies and philosophy, The Past on Film. Although I have taught this class many times over the years (and as recently as last spring), I can’t help but rethink the readings and movies one more time.

As a historian interested in how people make sense of the past, I began teaching and writing about film and photography more than 15 years ago. In December I wrote a review for the LA Times on Annie Liebovitz’s most recent book:

http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-ca-annie-leibovitz21-2008dec21,0,6719282.story

Working with the photography collection in our Davison Art Center was a great treat this past semester, and I am looking forward to teaching again in our state of the art film facility. But first I have to finish this syllabus!

Once faculty and students return to campus we will resume work on our budget planning and curricular initiatives. There will be more difficult trade-offs, as we chart a course to keep Wesleyan on track during this economic crisis and beyond. I will continue to share information about the planning process on this blog and the Securing the Future website.

Maintaining access to a Wesleyan education through a robust financial aid program is an important value that guides our planning. Recently the political scientist Charles Murray has argued that we are encouraging too many people to pursue a college education. Yesterday I published on the Huffington Post a response to a recent op-ed piece by Dr. Murray:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-roth/no-time-to-back-away-from_b_154023.html

It is still very quiet here at Wesleyan, but now varsity athletes have returned for practices before next week’s tournaments. Before too long the campus will be fully back to life. Meanwhile, I send out best wishes to the extended Wesleyan family for a great 2009.

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Snowy Campus for the Holidays

Most of the students have left campus, which in the last days has been beautifully blanketed in snow. Foss Hill has become the center of sledding in Middletown, though Sophie and her friend Claire tell me that you get more “air time” on the terraced steps behind Olin.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a great 2009!!

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Consultations, Finals Prep, Early Decision

Over the last week of semester I’ve been meeting with different groups about our plans to deal with the impact of the economic crisis. (see: http://www.wesleyan.edu/administration/securingthefuture/ )

When I returned from California I had a long discussion with the Wesleyan Student Assembly. They had many good questions concerning the proposal I brought to the Board on how we would balance the budget over the next several years while continuing to protect and cultivate the core educational experience we offer. Although we talked about a variety of issues, the students returned frequently to whether we could successfully integrate an additional 30 students a year for four years. How much pressure would this put on our housing and dining facilities? How would it affect class access and the admissions process? These are all important questions, and we are drawing up plans in each of these areas to determine how we can temporarily accommodate an increase of about 4% to our student body.

Some commentators among trustees, students and faculty are reminded of the very rapid enrollment growth at Wesleyan in the 1970s, when the school more than doubled in size. I should make clear that we are studying a measured increase of only 4%, and we have no plans to go beyond that.

In the beginning of the week I met with faculty representatives and then with the faculty as whole. While I was traveling, there was considerable discussion online about the proposed salary freeze, the enrollment increase, and on whether there has been adequate consultation. Our face-to-face meetings turned out to be very productive. I underscored that the scenario I outlined to the board was a draft that we are open to revising – as long as we meet our budget obligations. There has been and will continue to be detailed consultation. The faculty members are clearly invested in working together to find a solution that will provide for the long-term health of the institution. Our professors take their responsibility to guide the university very seriously, and they are willing to join in making sacrifices as long as these will contribute to setting Wesleyan on a path to greater academic and economic strength. There are difficult trade-offs ahead of us, but I was reminded of how fortunate we are to have a faculty so devoted to our community.

At the end of the week I met with the senior administrative staff, to present these institutional leaders a sense of the economic challenges ahead. They, too, asked questions about potential enrollment increases, and about the possibility of a salary freeze. We are agreed on the importance of protecting jobs even as we become more efficient across the variety of departments. I made it clear that a potential salary freeze would start at the top – with me and with my Cabinet. But it is also important to recognize that those with the most modest pay are those likely to feel these changes most acutely. It’s for that reason we are exploring ways to mitigate the effects of any salary freeze on our most vulnerable employees.

While I meet with various stakeholders about the budget, most of the people around me are preparing for finals or grading them. Many students are putting the finishing touches on papers, performances and experiments, while others are up late cramming for those big exams. There is plenty of pressure, but we all know the holiday break is fast approaching.

While our students and teachers are finishing their work for this semester, lots of high school seniors are opening envelopes telling them that they will be starting their undergraduate education in Middletown next fall. The first round of Early Decision is complete, and our Admissions Office reports that the great surge in applications (over 35%) also resulted in an extremely talented pool.  I very much look forward to welcoming these first members of the class of ‘13 into the Wesleyan family!

Good luck with the final push, and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

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WESU from the West Coast

I write this post from Los Angeles, where I have been visiting with alumni and other members of the Wesleyan family. When I’m on the road, I often listen online to WESU, our wonderfully creative and original radio station. Not only does WESU bring us international, national and local news from perspectives we otherwise might not hear, they offer genuine community-based radio. I am grateful to station manager Benjamin Michael and the volunteers who keep WESU a vital source for radio that makes a difference in Central Connecticut.

 

Anna Gevalt ’09 performing at WESU
Anna Gevalt ’09 performing at WESU

Like all community-based radio, WESU depends on our support. Through December 14 the station is holding a pledge drive. To show your support for WESU, donate online at www.WESUFM.org or call 860-685-7700 during the drive and make a pledge. Premiums will be offered for donations of $20 and above. I just called in my pledge. Won’t you please help?

Last night I was asking for help when I met with more than 200 alumni in Los Angeles. I’ve been talking with writers and editors, teachers and musicians, producers, doctors and yoga instructors. It is a difficult time to ask for support. Many of the people I’ve met here are frightened by the financial turmoil and concerned for their livelihood. All agreed that we are in the midst of the most serious financial crisis in generations. Still, the loyal Wesleyan community members with whom I am meeting are eager to hear about what’s happening on campus and willing to lend their financial and moral support. It is especially gratifying to see this expression of generosity during these challenging times.

After a quick stop to meet with our San Diego alumni group, I am heading back to Middletown. It’s always great to be back in California, but I am eager to return to campus for this weekend’s production of The Threepenny Opera and the other end of semester events.

I’ll also be meeting with student, faculty and staff groups to discuss our budget proposals. We still have a couple of months before presenting our next draft budget to the Board in February, and I am eager to hear new ideas on how we can deal with the substantial fiscal challenges ahead of us. The proposals that I shared with the Wesleyan community represent one scenario to deal with these challenges. We will continue to develop these ideas with input and imagination. Input and imagination – just like WESU!

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Gratitude and Legacy

An e-mail message is going to the campus today summarizing some of the conversations we had over the past weekend with the Board of Trustees. Our major theme at the board meeting was the challenge of the current economic climate. We are faced with reduced income from our endowment over the next few years and a challenging environment in which to raise money for our financial aid program. We have proposed a group of budget cuts, a salary freeze for next year, and a modest and temporary increase in the size of entering classes for four years. More information on these proposals can be found at the Securing the Future website: http://www.wesleyan.edu/administration/securingthefuture/112508.html.

The trustees have a tremendous responsibility for Wesleyan. Our job is to ensure that the quality of the education we offer remains at the highest level, and that it is sustainable for generations to come. We are protecting our core values: access to Wesleyan regardless of ability to pay, and first-rate curricular and co-curricular programs for faculty and students who are advancing their fields through research and creative work. This is the legacy we have inherited, and it is the future we are building.

After the long and tense discussions of the weekend, I went to the Freeman Athletic Center for a little exercise. As I looked back across the campus on a beautiful and brisk fall evening, I felt very lucky to be at Wesleyan. Working together with a talented group of faculty, staff, students and trustees, we will chart a course in these turbulent times that combines prudence and ambition, idealism and practicality. We will not only preserve the precious legacy of this university, we will build upon it. The progressive liberal arts education that we offer, an education that enables graduates to lead meaningful lives and contribute to the world around them, has inspired generosity and hard work from families and faculty, from staff and from students.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I am so grateful that I work in a community with a legacy and prospects for the future like ours. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Transitions

This is a time of transition in the rhythm of the school year. Faculty and students know what to expect from their classes now, but the great challenge of execution to meet the highest standards is still ahead of us. After Thanksgiving there is a mad dash to the finish line of the semester, but now there is music to hear, lectures to learn from, theater or sports in which to participate, and, of course, there’s mountains of work to do. Transitions.

Looking out on our beautiful campus, one can see those same transitions. Suddenly the temperature rises and it feels again like late summer. And then, like yesterday, the wind kicks up, the leaves swirl, and the sky reminds you that winter is coming. This morning, as I write this, the temperature hovers just above freezing, but the bright sunshine still works magic with the leaves, the increasingly bare trees, and the stately buildings of College Row. Tonight we may see our first flurries. Transitions.

photo of campus by Olivia Bartlett
photo of campus by Olivia Bartlett

Even within what our students call the Wesleyan bubble, the campus community watches the world’s economic malaise with great trepidation. In the administration, we are adjusting to these turbulent times by trimming our expenses, making a case for the strategic value of our programs, and by planning for reduced revenue over the next few years. But we are also protecting the academic core of our university, and continuing to recruit an extraordinary faculty and student body. We work for the best even as we plan to deal with a worsening economic context. Transitions.

And of course we hope for change. Whatever our political affiliation, we hope that a new leadership team at the national level will make a positive difference. We desperately need another model for economic growth and social cohesion. Transition, we trust.

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Veterans Day and Open House

It’s Veterans Day, and at Wesleyan that will mean many visitors flocking to campus to check out the university. High School juniors and seniors, transfer students and their families will be coming to Middletown to check out the distinctive constellation of qualities that make our school so special. I know our students, faculty and staff are ready to share their thoughts on what it means to be a Wes student today, or simply to show visitors where to get a good sandwich or the best cup of coffee.

This should also be a day when we remember the service of our veterans — the men and women who have defended the freedoms that the rest of us often take for granted. It is especially important to acknowledge this service while we are mired in an unpopular (and often invisible) war. At Wesleyan we are fortunate to have alumni who have created a scholarship for returning veterans, and we hope to be able to attract more applications from those who have served. At our Open House today I will be joined by two of our current veteran scholarship recipients, and it will be an honor to stand beside them to represent Wesleyan.

Thousands of our alumni and parents have been checking out reports of our election day celebrations on campus last week. Let’s also remember that the service of our vets have made it possible for us to have elections and to celebrate in peace.

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Hope and Purpose

Last night I went to sleep after knowing that all the networks had called the Western states for Barack Obama (Hon ’08), ensuring his victory in the election. We’d spent much of the evening with colleagues and friends watching the electoral map turn blue, but it was late and Sophie had school in the morning….

photo by Jessica Brownfeld '10
photo by Jessica Brownfeld ’10

Sometime after midnight I awoke to hear more than the usual roar from outside our windows. I regretted that I hadn’t gotten over to Usdan earlier in the evening, and I lay in bed thinking that this was a campus celebration I shouldn’t miss. Throwing on some clothes and a Wes softball cap, I headed over to the University Center and saw folks dancing, cheering and chanting. Students who had worked hard on campaigns, and others who had just invested their hopes in Barack’s message of change were out in force on the terrace of Usdan, sharing in this historic, glorious moment. We waved an American flag, and I marveled at the feelings of hope and enthusiasm that were rippling through this Wesleyan crowd.

photo by Jessica Brownfeld '10
photo by Jessica Brownfeld ’10

I have been proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff as they have registered voters, organized neighbors, and articulated fundamental issues. As our president-elect said last night, we have a long road ahead of us, but if we can work together with a spirit of optimism and purpose, we have an opportunity to improve our country. Let us seize that opportunity!

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Vote! Vote!


At long last this campaign is coming to an end, and I just returned from the polling station in Middletown. I was pleased to see Wesleyan students coming out of the building having already cast their ballots at 7:00 AM, and even more pleased to see some of our undergrads volunteering as poll workers.

Last week I wrote on the Huffington Post about participation as a form of education. At Wesleyan we believe that learning takes place not just by being spectators, but by doing the work oneself. Here’s the link to that piece:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-roth/participation-as-educatio_b_139598.html

We do a lot of talking about politics at Wesleyan, and of course I don’t want to reduce politics to casting a ballot. But this is a crucial moment in the political process, and I hope to see a steady stream of Wesleyan students, staff and faculty heading down William Street to cast their ballots. Tonight many of us will be gathered at Usdan University Center to watch the results, or hanging out with friends and together holding our collective breath.

Tomorrow will be the beginning of a new chapter in our political lives. I trust we can build on the momentum of these last months to continue to engage in the public sphere, to work with our neighbors and co-citizens to develop a vision of how we want to change, and then to join together to get there. But first, please vote…whether it’s by walking down William Street, or wherever you make your voice heard.

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Wes Coast-to-Coast

I am writing this from the airport in San Francisco, at the end of a West Coast trip to see alumni and parents. Although I am eager to get home, it is always informative to visit with our far-flung Wes community. In the Pacific Northwest, I met with grads who have been out for more than 50 years, and others who just finished up in the spring. There were lots of questions about how the international economic downturn is affecting alma mater, and plenty of generous support—despite the fact that many of these same people are feeling the crisis in their own budgets. In Seattle I was particularly impressed with the growing network of professionals in a wide variety of fields who reach out to help new Wesleyan alumni arriving in Washington or Oregon.

The San Francisco reception took place at the spectacular new Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, a great accomplishment of architect Renzo Piano. Some Wesleyan friends were kind enough to host the reception there, and we had more than 300 attendees. Here, too, people wanted to know about economic issues, and again there was great support for building a robust financial aid program for the future. We talked about the seven planning areas that I’ve written about before on this blog, and there was a great deal of excitement about the College of the Environment and the other initiatives.

It felt strange to be back in the Bay Area with a rented car, scurrying around like a tourist in the place that had been my home for 7 years. I did have a moment at the end to visit California College of the Arts and my old friend Steve Beal, now the school’s president. CCA is thriving, and it was delightful to see some of the projects we began a few years ago now working so well.

I’ll be glad to return to Connecticut for this weekend before Election Day. Many faculty, staff and students are engaged in getting out the vote. The Wesleyan Student Assembly canceled its Sunday meeting, and each member instead is spending three hours this week in community service or civic activism. WSA VP Saul Carlin ’09 reports the following:

“Here are a few examples of the types of activities WSA members may be engaged in:

My flight is about ready to board. Can’t wait to be back on campus!

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