Campus Update

Yesterday afternoon I sent the following message to the Wesleyan community:

Dear friends,

Welcome back from spring break! As we move toward the end of the year, I want to report back on two important developments in our Equity and Inclusion work: the external review of Wesleyan’s Title IX policies and procedures, and our plans to open a student Resource Center.

I want to express my appreciation to the Victim Rights Law Center (VRLC) for providing us with a comprehensive assessment of the ways in which our Title IX policies and practices affect students, faculty, and staff. The VRLC addresses three major themes: reorganization, training, and communication. We must ensure that staff roles are appropriate and clear; offer additional training to help all members of our community better understand our processes; and assure that our policies and procedures are clear and easy to find. The report offers much more detail that I hope will stimulate robust discussion and actions by the relevant offices.

The VRLC suggests several improvements. We need to build trust in our people and processes and reduce complexity wherever possible. We are working with appropriate committees on specific recommendations. The report also notes that our students have strong peer support, faculty members are committed and engaged, our partnerships with community agencies are strong, and the campus community, in its culture and conversations, understands the importance of Title IX related issues. We have work to do, but we can build on these strengths.

Another important step in our efforts to enhance inclusiveness on campus is the creation of a student Resource Center to advocate for students through a mission grounded in social justice with an awareness of what students require to thrive. I want to thank the members of the Equity & Inclusion Steering Committee for envisioning how the Resource Center, as their report notes, will help to meet the needs of students who are most vulnerable, maintain awareness of matters related to intolerance and inaccessibility, and empower collective work to address root issues of injustice and inequity. In this regard we will be helped by our new Dean for Equity & Inclusion, Teshia Levy-Grant, who has extensive experience in anti-bias education in and out of the classroom.

We will soon begin a search for a director of the Resource Center, and we have identified a space (the current Shapiro Creative Writing Center) that we will renovate for opening next fall, a year ahead of the original schedule.

Finally, I would like to solicit comments on Beyond 2020, the addendum to our strategic plan. The document is organized around the three overarching goals of our 2010 plan—energizing the distinctive Wesleyan education experience, building recognition of the university, and maintaining a sustainable economic model. The current draft has greater specificity about investments in faculty, financial aid, and facilities—investments made possible by the success of our THIS IS WHY campaign.

As the semester comes to an activity-filled close, I look forward to welcoming admitted students during WesFest, cheering on our spring athletic teams, and celebrating the many student performances and exhibitions. Commencement will be here before we know it!

Michael S. Roth


Thesis Writers Working Through Break

Every year around this time, as spring break meanders through its second week, I have to express admiration for those students who have been working hard throughout. Of course, there are the athletes who have been competing and practicing. I saw some in the gym this week getting ready for track and field competitions, and I’ve watched some fine games online as our lacrosse, softball, baseball and tennis teams compete in warmer climes.

There are plenty of students on campus holding down jobs in the library, science labs and other places. Do they have a spring break? Well, they have a break from classes, at any rate. And then there are the thesis writers. With the deadline for completion fast approaching, these folks may have what feels to be the shortest breaks of all. Here are some of the projects I’ve heard about through the academic deans and faculty advisors:

There are a whole bunch of C-Film students working in teams on films and individually on criticism projects. I’ll just mention Will McGhee (screenwriting) and Russell Goldman (film making). In art history, Carolina Elices is doing a senior honors thesis for both her majors in English and art history, focusing on the novelist and poet Thomas Hardy’s career as an architect who worked on preservation and restoration of medieval English churches, in the same period that he was creating his renowned novels like Jude the Obscure and Far from the Madding Crowd

In chemistry, Eric Arsenault and Prof. Stewart Novick are currently working on a paper almost certainly to be accepted in a special issue of the Journal of Molecular Spectroscopy.  Eric’s research includes the investigation of ring inversion in fluorinated cycloalkenes and the study of molecules containing atoms, particularly iodine, with large nuclear quadrupole coupling tensors. Eric will be joining the Ph.D. program in Chemistry at UC Berkeley in the Fall. Helena Awad, a BA/MA student in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, is trying to understand why mutations in a DNA repair protein lead to colorectal cancer. Her work with Prof. Manju Hingorani involves painstakingly isolating each mutant protein and studying its properties to discover why the mutation disrupts DNA repair and compromises the stability of the genome. 

In English, Emily Apter, is writing a creative thesis involving “blurred genre” essays about 20th century Hartford. Jack Reibstein, is working on a group of short stories and essays about addiction. Miranda Konar, is doing a critical thesis on the history of emotions in Arthurian literature. And there are more!!

I received the following notices about theses in French studies: Alex Lee is writing on his own interaction, as a reader and translator, with French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s calligrammes, and an articulation of this process in the form of new poetry. Noah Mertz‘s “Memorial” is a nonfiction thesis crosslisted in the English and French studies departments that blends personal anecdotes, literary theory, and philosophy on the subject of untimely death. Rachel Rosenman‘s thesis is in French and music. She is writing about the French woman composer Mel Bonis (1858-1937), who remains surprisingly little known, despite leaving behind a considerable oeuvre comprising over 300 works. Rachel will also present a recital of vocal and instrumental chamber works by Bonis in April.

Anna Bisikalo (government/Russian, Eastern European & Eurasian Studies) is writing about the role of women during the Maidan revolution in Ukraine, including some interesting arguments about the way they have re-discovered myths of Ukrainian warrior princesses. She locates this against the backdrop of the transition from Soviet to market economy gender roles, and pushback from Ukrainian feminists against the importation of Western liberal gender models. Jeesue Lee is writing about the selling of the COIN counter-insurgency manual in 2005 as a “new” solution to the stalemate in Iraq, based on selective use of historical analogies – out with Vietnam, in with Malaya. She analyses this policy debate through the prism of counter-factual history, and the way history is used by policy makers. 

Ethan Yaro is writing on the notion of language, its epistemological function and its location in the economy of presence and absence. He presents readings of Condillac and Rousseau, along with the response to them by Herder. Ethan argues that Herder both pre-figures some 20th-century literary theory and offers solutions to some of the problems post-structuralism identifies in Western metaphysics.

Sofi Goode, Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies/ Economics, is working on a thesis titled, “In the Name of Protection: Queerness, Biopolitics, and Carcerality.” Sofi examines the impact of American prison policies that claim to protect incarcerated LGBTQ people. She makes the argument that “by restricting relationships with other incarcerated people and confining queer people in actively dangerous spaces, these policies seek to ensure the normativity of the general population while masking the violence they commit against queer people.” 

Dinayuri Rodriguez‘s anthropology thesis is entitled Revolutionizing the Quotidian: Intersubjective Processes of Self-making in the Dominican Republic and the Dominican Diaspora. Dinayuri is investigating processes of self-making and demonstrates that Dominican artists like Josefina Báez and members of the anarchic collective Cibao Libertario build and enact a relational sense of self through quotidian acts that are not typically understood as “revolutionary” precisely because they are so ordinary.

There are many recitals, exhibitions and performances this spring that are part of senior projects (like Senior Dance Recital the first weekend of April and senior exhibitions which begin April 5th) that you can find here. For example, in theater Jessica Cummings, Constance Des Marais, Nola Werlinich, and Cheyanne Williams have conceived and created Up Your Aesthetic, “a disruptive, devised, women-only performance piece juxtaposing the rage and grief felt by modern women with the Ancient Greek myths of the Amazons.”


Emma Broder’s SiSP thesis is entitled Whose Lyme Is It Anyway?: Epistemic, Culture, and Experiential Representations of Chronic Lyme Disease. Emma uses discourse analysis to investigate gender representations in the writings of scientists and doctors, patients, experts and celebrities who discuss the condition. In Lying-In to Lying Alone: The Medicalization of Reproduction in the United States, Sally Rappaport explores the emergence of obstetrics and gynecology as medical sciences that wielded expansive control over women’s bodies and reproduction. Deja Knight’s thesis in African American Studies titled Soul Food: The Plight of African American Food Sovereignty, Food Insecurity, and Resistance explains the problem of food insecurity in two Black public housing projects in Baltimore. She uses Geographical Informational Systems and detailed historical analysis to demonstrate the spatial dimensionality of food sovereignty, insecurity, and justice in these communities.

This is just the tip of the thesis iceberg. If anyone would like to add others to this list, please send them in. And good luck to all the students working hard as spring “break” comes to an end! 


Looking Beyond 2020

In the week before spring break, Donna Morea, Chair of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees, announced that I had agree to extend my contract as president of the university through 2023. I am very grateful to the board for this opportunity to continue to work with faculty, students, staff and alumni on behalf of the school I care so deeply about.

Since the summer of 2016 I have been in discussion about an addendum to our 2010 strategic plan, Wesleyan 2020. At the end of the fall semester, after several discussions with various Wesleyan stakeholders, we posted a draft of that addendum. I have continued to receive good feedback on our plans, and at its March meeting the board had an opportunity to see a new draft of what we are calling Beyond 2020. The document remains organized around the three overarching goals of the strategic plan—energizing the distinctive Wesleyan education experience; building recognition of the university; maintaining a sustainable economic model. The current draft, available here, has more specificity about investments in faculty, financial aid, and facilities. Thanks to the generosity of the Wesleyan family through the THIS IS WHY campaign, we have already added significant funding to financial aid, and we are creating new faculty positions that should facilitate research and project-based work for our students. In regard to facilities planning, we are developing a priority list of projects that will improve care of our art collection, enhance the Film Studies Center, dramatically improve the Public Affairs Center and replace a good portion of our science facilities with up-to-date labs and teaching spaces.

I’ve re-written the beginning of Beyond 2020, which I am pasting in here. There is still time for input, as we hope to have this guideline for planning complete before the Annual Meeting in May.

This is a crucial time for higher education in America – full of promise but also of dangers. In some ways, the vitality of the best universities in the United States has never been more apparent. Not only do American research universities dominate the lists of the world’s best educational institutions, students from across the globe have increasingly looked to our schools as the best places to pursue post-secondary learning. At the same time, here at home colleges are often viewed with suspicion if not outright hostility. American universities are facing enormous pressures to demonstrate the cash value of their “product,” while at the same time the recreational side of college life is attracting more attention than ever. To meet enrollment goals or to climb in the rankings many colleges offer the “full spa experience,” while being sure to emphasize the value of what young consumers are learning while enjoying themselves outside the classroom. The curriculum and high-quality instruction may be tolerated but rarely celebrated. These efforts at brand promotion through everything but what happens between faculty and students may be good for short-term appeal, but in the long run it only makes the educational mission of universities more fragile.

At another crucial time in the history of higher education in America, under the leadership of President Victor Butterfield, Wesleyan redefined its role as a center of interdisciplinary learning, a reservoir of innovative research and creative scholarship, and a pioneering advocate for increased access to the empowerment of a liberal education.

When I arrived at Wesleyan for my first year in college, it was almost 10 years after Butterfield had stepped down from the university’s presidency. During his tenure of more than twenty years, Wesleyan had become known as one of the most progressive and innovative schools in America — and one of the wealthiest.  By the time I got to campus in 1975, things had already begun to change. The university was still known for its pioneering ways, its great research output from the sciences to the arts, its demanding and productive faculty, and its creative, rambunctious students. But the giddy spending of the late sixties and early seventies, the inattention to fundraising and a loss of focus on the academic mission, were already eroding the university’s foundation. Over the next decades, our spending habits changed and fundraising did increase. However, the university’s aspirations were still seriously out of sync with its economic capacity.

The beginning of my presidency overlapped with the Great Recession, and since then we have worked to overcome this disjunction. Over the last eight years we have supported the organically developing educational mission of the university while improving the three core components of its economic model: spending, investment, revenue. We did this in conjunction with our strategic plan, Wesleyan 2020, which was adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2010.

The three overarching goals in Wesleyan 2020 are:

  • Energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience
  • Enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution
  • Work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values

Although economic issues were at the forefront of our concerns after 2008, the most important priority in our planning and operations has been articulating and supporting our distinctive educational mission: “providing an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.” At the heart of this mission is the faculty’s guidance of students’ intellectual development in ways that enhance their ability to translate academic learning to the world beyond the campus. Whether one is studying mathematics or film, economics or literature, our faculty guides students toward a deeper understanding of themselves and the tools they can use to solve problems and create opportunities beyond the university.

The program for co-curricular learning in a residential setting also aims to develop in students both a greater sense of autonomy and a greater ability to participate in groups. Through their athletic, political, artistic and community engagement activities, Wesleyan students are becoming more independent while also developing life skills that will translate into resources for teamwork, for participating in their local communities, for engaging as citizens, and, most generally, for working with others toward shared goals.

Many universities today tend toward greater specialization. They have gotten really good at education as a form of narrowing, and the public is treated to the spectacle of pointy-headed specialists great at one thing but not to be trusted beyond their small subfield. Of course, advanced work in any area requires rigorous work and real technical competence. But we must not confuse being a competent technician with being an innovative scientist who can make discoveries or a teacher who can inspire students by translating complex technical issues into terms clearly relevant to pressing human concerns. Wesleyan recognizes that in today’s culture and economy we should provide students with intellectual cross-training – an education that strengthens their independence of mind and generosity of spirit in ways that make them better equipped to deal with a rapidly changing world.

Since developing Wesleyan 2020, we have increased our economic capacity so as to be able to pursue our institutional mission with renewed vigor and purpose. In December 2016, we posted a report detailing our progress and where we need to do still more.

2020 is almost upon us, and over the last several months I have been talking with various Wesleyan constituencies about how to extend our framework for strategic planning into the next decade. In this brief document, I outline some of the new investments we can make to ensure that Wesleyan remains at the forefront of pragmatic and liberal education. Through the dedicated work of faculty and staff, we will continue to provide our students with a variety of tools to explore the world, to create opportunities and to solve problems. Wesleyans have long found ways to embrace particular traditions while being open to innovation. Whatever one studies at Wesleyan, one is deepening one’s ability to translate from a campus culture of immersive learning to a life beyond the university.

Save the NEH and the NEA!

This morning President Trump released his blueprint for the budget for the coming fiscal year. Given the rhetoric of the campaign, and the selective leaks over the last several weeks, no one should be surprised by this intense militarization of federal spending, nor by its attempt to dramatically downsize aspects of government that protect the environment and care for the most vulnerable. These are subjects that one can read about elsewhere.

As the president of an educational institution, I want only to underscore how these plans undermine some of the most important resources for cultural preservation, for research and inquiry, and for the dissemination of ideas. In other words, these plans are counter-educational. The budget blueprint represents a radical abdication of governmental responsibility for our nation’s culture. It calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Non-military scientific research will also see significant cuts to funding. The combination of cuts would be a disaster for education.

Like many colleges and universities across the country, Wesleyan has benefitted greatly from federal support for innovative programing in the arts and humanities. But it’s also the broader American public that benefits from advances in arts and humanities work. Recently, the NEA “Art Works” program has helped Wesleyan University Press publish some of the best American poetry in print, and the NEH has helped fund seminars fostering interdisciplinary inquiry and research like Sumarsam‘s on Indonesian performing arts, and Andrew Curran’s and Jennifer Tucker’s separate projects connecting historical inquiry with broad public purpose. The NEH also has helped us make out-of-print publications available in free e-editions through the Humanities Open Book Program. From a government agencies point of view, these are all small grants. But from the recipients’ point of view, this support can be essential for facilitating progress on scholarly research, providing a platform for sharing ideas, or both.

The current administration calls for putting “America first,” but it seems to believe that only our military matters in this regard. We must resist government plans that make support for American culture last. Please let your representatives know that higher education depends on adventurous research and expression, and that eliminating federal support for scholarship and the arts will undermine one of the most important dimensions of our cultural ecology.

International Women’s Day – Be Bold for Change

March 8th is International Women’s Day. The theme this year is “Be Bold for Change,” encouraging substantial action to help create a more gender inclusive world. This is also the first week of Women’s History Month, and there are many events on campus to related to its themes. Today, March 8th, there is an event to commemorate International Women’s Day at 4:30 p.m. in the Smith Reading Room in Olin Library. It will feature Lois Brown, Madalena Henning, Laura Patey and Krishna Winston, and is organized by Womxn at Wesleyan, and co-sponsored by OEI/Academic Affairs/Student Affairs.

On Thursday, March 9th,  Ansley T. Erickson, a historian who focuses on educational inequality in U.S. and African American history, will be lecturing on “Making the Unequal Metropolis” at 4:15 p.m. in PAC 001 – the Hansel Lecture Hall.

Also on March 9th, Creative Campus Fellow in Music and dynamic composer/performer Pamela Z will be presenting a sonic and visual experience, “Correspondence,” at the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall at 8 p.m.

If you get to New York, don’t miss frequent Wesleyan Visiting Artist Eiko’s ongoing performance and installation at St. John the Divine Church. Eiko has been working with historian/photographer William Johnston for years, and their current project on Fukishima is breathtaking. You can read more about it here.

After Spring Break there are more Women’s History Month related events on campus. Let me just mention a few. On Thursday, March 30th Michelle Murphy will share her feminist techno-studies scholarship at 7 p.m. in PAC 001. Her Diane Weiss ’80 Memorial lecture is titled “Chemical Exposures and Decolonial Futures.”

On Friday, March 31 at 2 pm.. in Memorial Chapel, Reina Gossett, Donna Murch and Nikhil Pal Singh will join in a conversation titled “Race, Class and Gender After the Elections: Old Conflicts, New Hegemonies.”

There are many more events on campus, and practices by Wesleyans, that boldly aim for a more gender inclusive world. That’s work for the entire year.

Wes Athletic Powerhouse!

Yesterday I received word that the men’s basketball team will be competing this weekend in the NCAA Div 3 basketball tournament. Congratulations to Coach Joe Reilly and all the guys on putting together the strong season that led to this invitation to participate in the national tournament. This is the second time in the last three years. The hoopsters play Union today (Friday, March 3) at 5:30 pm.

On Saturday, the men’s hockey team is moving on to the semi-finals of the NESCAC Championship, having gained a great upset victory over Colby College last weekend. Coach Chris Potter and his band of high flying skaters, who already have won the Little Three crown, are off to Hamilton, NY for the next NESCAC round, and we wish them all the best.

Speaking of all the best, dual-sport athlete and Middletown native, Devon Carrillo ’17, has been named Connecticut’s 2017 Male Athlete of the Year, as voted on by the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance (CSWA). Carrillo is the first Wesleyan athlete to receive the prestigious award, which began in 1973. “This is a tremendous honor for Devon, Wesleyan and the city of Middletown,” said Wesleyan Director of Athletics Mike Whalen ’83. “He is an amazing athlete both on the football field and on the mat. After not wrestling for three years, Devon is now competing at a national level. This is truly a remarkable accomplishment!”

Excellence is something we see in many competitive arenas in athletics these days. Laila Samy ’18, a standout on the women’s squash team, was recently named the 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year! Her athleticism and determination are amazing to behold! In 2016 she was named an All-American, and she continues to compete in the national tournament this month. She is joined at the national championships by seniors Chris Hart and David Sneed.

Speaking of athleticism and championships, our frosh swimmer Caroline Murphy has had a truly amazing year. Caroline became the first-ever member of the women’s swim team to win a NESCAC Championship (50-yard backstroke).  She, along with Hannah O’Halloran (another frosh and another backstroker), will be competing in the NCAA’s this weekend.

Spring sports are getting started, but let’s take a moment to cheer our Cardinal athletes for their fall and winter successes!