Reject Political Violence

Feelings of sorrow and disgust last night as I heard the news of the assassination attempt against Donald Trump at his campaign rally. As of this morning, the gunman, deceased, has been identified, and former President Trump is recovering. One spectator is dead, and two others are critically injured. We know little more about the context for this sad, frightening event. Our hearts go out to those close to the victims.

We do know that the attempt to kill someone running for elected office is an attack on democracy itself. However flawed our political system, it should protect our ability to participate in the public sphere, to talk with one another about issues of common concern without the threat of violence. The gunman yesterday may have been aiming at Donald Trump, but we are all victims when someone stops a political rally with gunshots.

In the past when I’ve had to write about violence on this blog, I’ve turned to the philosopher Eric Weil. This refugee from the Nazis who remade his life in France taught that that the violent rejection of meaning and direction (what he called sens) was an ongoing threat against all attempts at reasonable politics. We can, though, choose speech as an alternative to violence. Politics, like education, depends on our ability to speak freely, to engage in public conversations. We need those proverbial safe-enough spaces to construct a political sphere worth participating in. Violence makes this impossible.

We don’t, as I’ve said far too many times, have to live this way. We must publicly reject violence and embrace freedom of speech and association. These are preconditions of any attempt to create a more just political sphere.

All of us can contribute to this vital endeavor.



Dream America on July 4th (and then to work!)

We hold these truths to be self-evident…. Ah the words still stir positive emotions in me even as our country seems to careen towards a moral and political abyss. Where to look for inspiration, for hope, on this Independence Day?

In past years, I often turned to Frederick Douglass, whose “What to The Slave is the 4th of July” remains one of the great pieces of American oratory. And I’ve turned to Jefferson and to Dewey, or to the ever ebullient Walt Whitman. During the pandemic, I found my points of orientation in the public intellectuals Darren Walker (Ford Foundation) and Danielle Allen (Harvard). They saw in our Independence Day a reminder to do better, to strive for more in our public life than provided by the status quo.

This year I turn again to my old teacher, the philosopher Richard Rorty, who saw with uncanny perspicacity what dangers would face the Republic. In the late 1990s he wrote that before too long the following would happen:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

Many quoted this passage in 2016, and I trust many will return to it again. Rorty was good at sketching out where our political crises were likely to come from.

Dick was even better at showing that in the face of those crises we should form alliances to create political changes that would ease the burdens of the most vulnerable while creating more space for additional, perhaps more thoroughgoing reform. This is the hard work of coalition politics. The work not of canceling those with whom one disagrees but of finding ways to work across differences for goals of common interest. Images of those common interests, our common interest, are made by artists — by poets, novelists, painters, and others who can imagine our community with a brighter future. We might call these dreamers:

You cannot urge national political renewal on the basis of descriptions of fact. You have to describe the country in terms of what you passionately hope it will become, as well as in the terms of what you know it to be now. You have to be loyal to a dream country rather than to the one to which you wake up every morning. Unless such loyalty exists, the ideal has no chance of becoming actual.

Sometimes it’s especially hard to summon those feelings of loyalty; sometimes it’s hard to dream. But that’s when it’s time to work with others to become practical idealists, working together to create the conditions for what we hope our country can become. Let’s recommit to that today, July 4th.

Colin G. Campbell

Yesterday I shared the following message with the Wesleyan community.

Dear Friends,

I am saddened to report the death of President Emeritus Colin G. Campbell, MA ’71, Hon. ’89 on Friday at the age of 88.

Colin guided Wesleyan through an exceedingly challenging time with great skill and fortitude. When he became president in 1970 at the age of 34, Wesleyan was adapting to profound social changes at the very moment when financial instability threatened to jeopardize the University’s future. He had the unenviable task of managing retrenchment in order to align Wesleyan’s high aspirations with constrained resources, all the while keeping vocal constituencies in productive dialogue. His ability to manage this daunting task while eliciting universal respect was nothing short of remarkable.

Colin believed deeply that the only way to reach a sound decision was through a sound process in which all parties had an opportunity to participate and be heard. He exuded civility and mostly, though not always, received it. His patience for process, for digging down to the nugget of a hard problem, was legendary. He dealt with campus controversies, such as divestment from U.S. firms in South Africa, by insisting that students immerse themselves in issues and learn from them. He rarely showed impatience, and if he needed relief from the demands of a turbulent campus, he found it on the water at his beloved Black Point home on the Connecticut shore.

A full list of Colin’s accomplishments during the 18 years of his presidency would be lengthy indeed. He oversaw Wesleyan’s transition to a fully co-educational campus while the University also sought to be more open and welcoming to students of color, a task that began a decades-long effort to address the persistence of racism in higher education. He worked with the faculty to bring more coherence to the curriculum, led Wesleyan’s first successful capital campaign, and oversaw numerous improvements to the physical campus, ranging from the opening of the Center for the Arts to the expansion of Olin Library.

He had a prodigious memory for the names of people, their children, and their concerns. His personal warmth, his rapport with students, and his devotion to Wesleyan were evident in all he did. He and his gracious wife, Nancy, were a welcoming presence at innumerable campus and alumni events. Wesleyan honored them with the Colin Goetze Campbell and Nancy Nash Campbell Reference Center overlooking Andrus Field and the Colin and Nancy Campbell Chair for Global Issues and Democratic Thought. The couple was instrumental in preserving Wesleyan’s history even as they steered the University into the future.

Colin was my Wesleyan president. I shook his hand when I crossed Denison Terrace in 1978, and he was among the first to call me with congratulations when I was appointed president in 2007. For his many contributions to Wesleyan’s growth as a leading liberal arts institution, we acknowledge his passing with gratitude, admiration, and deep respect. May his memory be a blessing.

He is survived by Nancy, chair emerita of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; four children, Betsy Campbell, Jennifer Celata, Colin M. Campbell, and Blair Campbell; as well as son- and daughters-in-law Robert Celata and Liz Campbell; and eight grandchildren.

A service will be held at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, at 2 p.m. on Monday, July 8, 2024. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and Hospice of the Lowcountry in Bluffton, South Carolina.

Michael S. Roth

Crew! Crew! Crew! Crew!

What a weekend for the Wesleyan crew teams! The men won the National Championship for the first time in team history, just nosing out the team from Williams College. This is a great group of scholar athletes who have arrived at the pinnacle of their sport.

The women’s team was right behind them, finishing in 2nd Place at the National Championships. This is the second year in a row that the women’s crew team are national runners-up, and this is a great display of teamwork, grit and perseverance. 

This weekend closes out our spring sports season. So much to be proud of!

Wesleyan Ends Encampment

This afternoon (May 18th) I sent the following message to the Wesleyan community. Over the weeks and months to come, I look forward to working with students, faculty, alumni and staff to help our university continue to be a force for positive contributions to the public sphere. THE WORLD NEEDS MORE WESLEYAN!

But now, we will be preparing for Reunion and to celebrate the class of 2024 at Commencement!

Dear friends,

Over the course of the past three weeks, the Administration has been in meaningful engagement with the group of pro-Palestinian protesters on campus. Our conversations have been rooted in a shared affection for Wesleyan and a desire that the institution be aligned as fully as possible with its community’s values. Provost Nicole Stanton and Dean Mike Whaley have now successfully concluded their discussions with representatives of the group of protesting students and their faculty monitors.

In these meetings, the University explained that as of December 31, 2023, 1.7% of Wesleyan’s endowment was invested in companies categorized as Aerospace and Defense businesses. None are directly involved in the manufacturing of weapons. As of the same date, 0.4% of the endowment is invested in companies in Israel, all of which are software companies. The protesters did not ask for information about investments in any other countries, but we can say that Wesleyan’s endowment is not invested in any companies listed by the protesters.

Later this month representatives from the pro-Palestinian protest will meet members of the Investment Committee. In the fall, the Committee for Investor Responsibility (CIR)—a standing representative body of students, faculty, alumni, and staff—will be able to propose changes to the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework for investment/divestment for consideration by the Board at its fall meeting.

Agreement Ending Wesleyan’s Encampment

The protesters have agreed to clear their camp by Monday morning. No students will face disciplinary sanctions for being in the encampment, but after the camp is cleared normal university regulations will be enforced. The protesters agreed not to disrupt Reunion and Commencement events. Individuals who refuse to comply will be suspended and face legal action.

It is always important that we maintain a safe enough environment on campus for people who disagree with one another and who embrace opportunities to learn from people with various points of view. Yes, protests are demanding for all constituencies of a university. At their best, they help turn our attention to issues that really matter. I am hopeful that soon we can re-direct our collective efforts to urging our lawmakers, both here in Connecticut and in Washington DC, to do everything in their power to create a resolution in Israel and Gaza that will result in the return of the hostages, an end to the fighting, and a commitment to a process that will recognize the rights of all parties. More generally, I have hopes that the political energies recently displayed by our students will play a positive role in addressing the momentous questions before this country in the coming elections.


Michael S. Roth


As classes have ended and students prepare for finals, many athletes are reaching peak performance time. This is certain true for the Men’s Crew Team, which this past weekend won its First NESCAC Championship! Congratulations to Coach Carney and the guys.

The Women’s Crew team places third in the very competitive NESCAC Conference. All our rowers have had tremendous seasons.

Speaking of tremendous seasons, the Men’s Lacrosse Team won the NESCAC conference for the third time in team history, and both men’s and women’s lacrosse teams hosted the NCAA’s this past weekend on campus. The men lost a tough one on Saturday, while the Women’s Lacrosse Team had a decisive victory to advance to the next round of the national tournament. They will meet Colby next weekend.

The Women’s Tennis Team continued its dominant ways with its 5th straight NESCAC conference championship a week or so ago. The conference named Caitlyn Ferrante ’24  the 2023-24 NESCAC Player of the Year and Jackie Soloveychik ’24 won the conference’s Rookie of the Year award. And then on this past weekend they won big victories in two rounds of NCAA play. They move on to play Emory in the next round.  

And catching up on late things, I failed to acknowledge that Baseball won the Little Three this year, and the skillful and courageous men’s Rugby Team was crowned New England Champs this year, and this earned them a spot in the Nationals. 

Lots of great effort and many great achievements. Go Wes!


Update on Campus Protests

This morning, CNN released the podcast conversation I had with Audie Cornish about current events on American college campuses. We talk in its second half. Below, I have included the announcement I sent to the campus community today. 

Dear friends,

As the pro-Palestinian protests and encampment continues, we have seen students, faculty, and staff express their political views, have intense conversations, and call on the University to do more to help alleviate the suffering in Gaza. But we have also heard from students who have felt bullied by their teachers or fellow students, who are offended by attacks on their identities, or who object to the protesters’ taking over what is supposed to be public space. We have tried to address all these concerns, and, most of all, to maintain an environment free of violence and harassment. The protesters’ cause is important—bringing attention to the killing of innocent people. And we continue to make space for them to do so, as long as that space is not disruptive to campus operations.

In addition to the legitimate expression of political views, there have unfortunately also been acts of vandalism, which the University will not tolerate. The recent defacement of University property (including the back of Olin Memorial Library, Dennison Terrace, and the Center for the Arts) are serious violations of University rules and of the law. We will take all appropriate measures to hold those responsible accountable. To be clear, this may include suspension, expulsion, and legal charges.

We do not want to move in this direction unless necessary and much prefer to talk with protesters about things we can do as an institution to address the war in Gaza. Recent agreements at Brown University and Northwestern University might show the way. We have communicated with the protesters in order to find vehicles to address their concerns and hope for a positive response.


Michael S. Roth


On protests, encampments, freedom of expression

I’ve been writing about the situation in Israel and Gaza since October 7th when I posted a blog entry here. More recently, I have called for a humanitarian cease fire, considered issues of academic freedom, and thought about the relevance of Passover to these events.

Yesterday, I sent the following message to the Wesleyan community about protests on campus. I reproduce it here:

Dear friends,

This morning you can find pro-Palestinian protesters camped out behind North College. The students there know that they are in violation of university rules and seem willing to accept the consequences. The protest has been non-violent and has not disrupted normal campus operations. As long as it continues in this way, the University will not attempt to clear the encampment. The University will not tolerate intimidation or harassment of students, staff, or faculty. Protesters assure us that they have no intention of engaging in these kinds of actions. We will continue to monitor the situation to keep everyone safe and will send updates as necessary.

There will be many on campus who cheer on the protesters, and many who are offended or even frightened by their rallies and messages. But as long as we all reject violence, we have opportunities to listen and to learn from one another. This may not happen during the chanting and drumming, but it can happen during some of the planned discussion sessions and deep conversations that will take place throughout the week.

This is a challenging time in world affairs and in the lives of many—including college students—concerned about their own relation to the brutal war in the Middle East. May we at Wesleyan find ways to learn from this difficult moment—determining what it is we can do to serve the goal of a sustainable peace—even as we finish out this academic year.

With hope,

Michael S. Roth

Don’t Forget About Crew!

As readers of this blog know well, I like to note athletic achievements from time to time. Of course, the risk here is that I leave people out (like the great Frisbee teams, whose parents want recognition for the joyful, creative feats of their kids!), and that my attention is not as fairly distributed as it should be. Vicious Circles and Nietzsch Factor, you know who you are! Case in point: How long has it been since I’ve written about the crew teams?? Too long, and now they are national powerhouses.

The women’s team has been strong for a long time and this year is building on its tradition of excellence. They have been dueling with Tufts and other New England teams for top honors and have been ranked #1 in the nation for part of this season. Although the Jumbos bested us this past weekend, we are aiming high as we head into the final part of the season. Head Coach Pat Tynan leads a great group.

The men’s crew team is currently ranked #1 in the country! These guys have been creating a wake effect all year long, and they head into the final part of the season with plenty of momentum. Head coach Phil Carney heads an impressive, talented group of student-athletes, all of whom are committed to showing how individual effort and extraordinary teamwork can be combined for success in all things.

I find it hard to cheer for crew—where is the boat? Can they hear us? But let’s give a big Wesleyan cheer for both teams!

And while you’re at it, cheer on the Wesleyan men’s tennis team, who upset the highly ranked Williams boys this weekend. And the Wes Women’s tennis team, which again won The Little Three Championship!

Go Wes!

Lacrosse Little Threes

I’m on the road again for Wesleyan but just read the great news that both lacrosse teams won their Little Three Championships yesterday. In Amherst, the women’s team continued their dominating play, and in a true team effort secured the Little Three by a score of 17–8, winning the title for the eighth time in team history. Laura Baine ’24 notched 8 points—the most by a Cardinal in at least 15 years.

Back in Middletown, the men’s lacrosse team held on for a dramatic 12–11 victory over Amherst on Citrin Field. The Cardinals built a first half lead, but the Mammoths clawed their way back and were threatening until the final seconds of the game. This marks the 13th Little Three championship in team history. Grad student Jack Raba ’23 had 4 points and CK Giancola ’24 added 3 of his own.

Please join me in congratulating our lacrosse teams!