Remembering Joe Reed, Visionary Mentor

This week, the sad message went out to the Wesleyan community announcing the death of Joseph Reed, for many years professor of English and American Studies and one of the founders of the university’s work in film studies. His courses were inspirational, and his generosity and support for students were legendary. Here is the Provost’s announcement.

Joe arrived at Wesleyan in 1960 after receiving his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Yale University, and having served on active duty in the Navy. During his time here, Joe served as the chair of the English department and of the Sesquicentennial Committee, and was one of the founding architects of both American Studies and Film Studies at Wesleyan. He played an important role in cultivating numerous interdisciplinary initiatives on campus and was involved in a long-term collaboration with Jon Barlow, Professor of Music, focused on William Faulkner’s fiction, John Ford’s films, and Charles Ives’s music. He retired in 2004 after 44 years at Wesleyan.

Joe is fondly remembered for his legendary teaching of up to 200-400 students a year, his wide-ranging scholarship, and his kind and generous colleagueship. Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor of English, Emeritus said: “Joe Reed was my good friend and colleague for more than forty years. His intelligence was adventurous, and his scholarly and teaching interests ranged from 18th Century British literature, to Faulkner and the American novel, to movies and television.” Henry Abelove, Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of English, Emeritus said: “Joe was the most generous man I’ve ever known.”

Joe and his wife, Kit, author and former Resident Writer, were Wesleyan fixtures. They lived very close to campus on Lawn Avenue and were often seen walking their Scottish terriers. President Michael Roth remembers: “When Kari and I moved to Middletown in 2007, Joe and Kit were the first to welcome us with a meal, with animal stories, with art and friendship. We will cherish his memory.” In 2009, a labyrinth was built on campus near the Davison Art Center in their honor from funds gathered by their beloved students.

Joe is survived by his children, Mack, John, and Kate, and their families, including four grandchildren. The family is planning a private memorial in the fall. In lieu of gifts, the family asks that you consider making a memorial contribution in Joe’s memory to Alzheimer’s Los Angeles:


Remembering Thomas J. Serra

I was saddened today to hear the news that Thomas J. Serra, a long-term Middletown public servant and friend of Wesleyan’s, had passed away. A former mayor, high school principal and city councilman (among many other roles), Tom was for decades at the center of our city’s political life. “In everything he did, he put Middletown and the people of the city first,” said Robert Blanchard, a colleague on the City Council. Mayor Dan Drew pointed out that “Tom Serra was first and foremost a family man — a loving husband, father, and grandfather,” and that he was devoted to providing opportunities for youth as a teacher, principal and city leader. State Senator Matt Lesser, recalled how Tom was a mentor to him, and that he was always available to provide advice to those who wanted to enter public service. I met Tom and his brother, State Representative Joe Serra, shortly after I began my tenure as president, and I learned quickly of their devotion to the greater good of the city of Middletown.

On behalf of the Wesleyan community, I extend our sympathies to the Serra family, and to his many friends and colleagues. He will be missed.


Black History Month 2019

Every February, students, staff and faculty schedule a compelling series of events for Black History Month, and this year is no exception. From lectures on politics and academics, to workshops on mindfulness and love, this month offers a broad array of programs. 

This year African American Studies is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a wonderful selection of programs. You can find out more about that below:

Little Three Hockey Champs! (And More!)

A quick note of congratulations to the Wesleyan men’s hockey team, which won the Little Three crown this past weekend after a thrilling overtime victory up in Williamstown. The squad has been on a roll, notching 7 wins in a row. One of the key reasons for the success is the standout play of goalie Tim Sestak ’20, who has been named a NESCAC Player-of-the-Week twice this season.


The women’s hockey team was not to be outdone, as they knocked off Middlebury, the 6th ranked team in the country!

In other sports news, you may have heard about a Wesleyan alum who had some success Sunday. Congratulations to Bill Belichick ’75, P ’07, Hon. ’05 for his 6th Super Bowl win!


Tim has just earned another Player-of-the-Week NESCAC award!!

Get Warm With Wesleyan Art

On these cold winter days, it’s a wonderful thing to get warmed up with an intelligent art exhibition. There’s much to choose from on campus these days! In the Zilkha Galleries, you can find Audible Bacillus, a contemporary art show that explores co-evolution, decay, revival…and much more. Here’s an official description: “What does it mean for our world concept, language, ethics, and knowledge, if we accept that human bodies co-evolved with their microbiomes? Audible Bacillus posits a reconnection of our consciousness from the inside out, presenting our coexistence at a metaphoric register rather than representing or speaking for the beings within us.”

In the gallery at the College of East Asian Studies, you can see some extraordinary landscape photographs of Korea by Young-Il Kim. The website tells us that “Sound of Korea presents five landscape photographs by Young-Il Kim as well as two single-channel videos. His photography became well-known when he did some official photography related to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The exhibit was curated by Phoebe Junghee Shin, ‘P 17.”

In a few days you will be able to find animals in the Davison Art Center. Bestiary opens on February 7 with a gallery talk by University Professor Kari Weil, the exhibit “blends moralizing tales, natural history, and fascinating images of non-human animals to astonish and entertain. We continue to regard beasts in similar ways—as emblematic devices for understanding our world and ourselves. How we define the non-human can shape our conceptions of what it means to be human, our codes of morality and ethics, our ideas about rights and obligations.”

Are you away from Middletown? I was in New York this week and had the good fortune to see an exhibition co-curated by Ahmed Badr ’20 at the Juilliard School of the performing arts at Lincoln Center. Unpacked  is a moving, beautiful and haunting show that humanizes the refugee experience with installations and recordings that testify loss and resilience. You can read more about the show here.

Also in New York, next week painting professor extraordinaire, Tula Telfair, has a solo show of her new landscape paintings opening at Forum Gallery at 475 Park Ave and 57th. Reverie continues the artist’s exploration of memory, imagination, dreams, emotions and place, and I can hardly wait to see it!

And if you are reading this in Los Angeles, why not go see the extraordinary young alumnus/artist Cameron Rowland’s (’11) show at the Museum of Contemporary Art. D37 draws our attention to racism and property, politics and property. When you pay attention, you may think, when you think, you may act…

I’m sure there’s more in the Wesleyan world, but this should help keep us warm for a while.

Winter at Wesleyan….Thinking about India

As cold weather descends upon New England, I find myself thinking about India as we get ready for the new semester. I made a very interesting trip to Mumbai in the fall, and shortly thereafter I learned that Wesleyan had received a major grant to expand our teaching of Hindi and Urdu. This two-year $165,699 grant under the U.S. Department of Education’s Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) program will support language teaching, the research of STEM faculty and students in India, and the increase of cultural programming related to South Asia.

“This grant will allow Wesleyan to become one of a very small number of liberal arts institutions in the country with classroom instruction in Hindi and Urdu,” said Stephen Angle, director of the Fries Center for Global Studies. “We are excited about the ability this grant will give us to support STEM faculty and students doing summer research in India as a way of growing opportunities for international experiences in the sciences. Together with our existing faculty strength in South Asian studies (currently nine faculty across the arts, humanities, and social sciences) and the president’s initiative to expand Wesleyan’s visibility in India, the new grant will help to further solidify Wesleyan as a leader in South Asian studies.”

Recently, I read about English faculty member Hirsh Sawhney’s trip last term to participate in the festival Tata Literature Live. Among other things, Hirsh ran a writing workshop for aspiring writers and local college students in Mumbai. They focused on cultivating a sense of place — something he does marvelously well in his South Haven (Akashic Books, 2016).

Applications from India are up again this year, and we look forward to more cooperative programing between cultural and educational institutions there. We are already planning future visits!


Best Wishes for the Holidays!

Students have finished up their finals, and the rush of grading and end-of-the-year tasks grows intense for many on campus and off. I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all your efforts this semester, and to wish you joyful holiday celebrations — and some rest, too. Many students are still working, as are plenty of staff who see to admissions applications, December donations, the safety and functioning of the campus (to name only some of the active departments!)…while faculty colleagues are reading papers, grading exams and preparing syllabi.

Still, on this first day of winter, I hope you see your holidays approaching.

May the new year bring you peace and purpose, happiness and health!


Ordinary Education in Extraordinary Times

This was published today in Inside Higher Education. As we take and grade finals on campus, I thought I’d share it with the Wesleyan community.


People sometimes say that we on college campuses work in a bubble. I suppose that means we are impervious to outside influences and that events in the world don’t really affect us. That certainly isn’t true these days.

In fact, with all that’s going on beyond campuses, I’m often asked, what’s the point of education as usual? To which I respond that these are uncommon times, to be sure, but our traditional educational practices of valuing learning from people different from ourselves have never been more important.

It’s been a difficult season. So much of our nation’s and institutions’ energies were directed toward the U.S. Supreme Court nomination and then the elections, and controversies about their legitimacy remain. Frequent mass killings have started to produce numbness, as hate-fueled, disturbed and well-armed men stalk African American shoppers, Jewish worshippers and college students dancing in a bar.

One would have to be numb not to be awed and appalled by ferocious fires raging in California, killing scores as they tried to escape the inferno. As firefighters struggled in all but impossible conditions, as houses and lives were lost, the president of the United States tweeted his senseless and heartless claims about mismanagement. Climate change alters our seasons and ignites deadly fires, but it doesn’t inspire political change.

It’s in this context that I had to turn to grading papers in my Virtue and Vice humanities class. As I did so, I found myself less focused on today and more toward considering the enduring questions with which the students were wrestling. How does contemporary scientific research influence traditional arguments for equality? What are our obligations to the most vulnerable people among us? What are principles worth to a person who is committed to the pursuit of happiness? How much can one learn from thinkers whom one judges to be immoral?

I left the news behind while I contemplated all these questions with my students, who were considering different points of view without insult or invective. Those students were putting themselves, or trying to put themselves, in someone else’s shoes in order to see what the world looked like from another perspective.

I teach history classes, and this semester we’ve marked the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht and the centenary of the end of World War I. On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, gangs of citizens inspired by racist, anti-Semitic hate attacked Jews all over Germany. “How could it happen?” my students have asked. It wasn’t the government that ordered this pogrom, but its rhetoric of hate and dehumanization legitimated violence against those perceived as less than fully German. Dehumanization and scapegoating are the familiar tactics of the people who want to incite violence without being directly accountable for it.

My students have struggled to understand the dynamics of World War I –“the war to end all wars,” as it was called. They are puzzled by the nationalist gusto that propelled the first few months of fighting, dissipating into a war of attrition that inspired no one. Millions died in those bloody battles, and by the end of it all, few people could remember the reasons why governments were willing (even eager) to send their young people to the slaughter. Peace did not last. And now nationalism is again on the rise.

Amid all of this, we who work on college campuses are meant to be studying for or grading exams, writing papers, or processing registration for classes — in other words, going about the ordinary practice of education. But as students look out at a world of hate and violence, of senseless killings and orchestrated oppressive practices, they may ask, why go on studying philosophy or mathematics, computer science or creative writing? What’s the point?

But, in fact, in a world scarred by violence, instigated polarization and managed parochialism, these educational practices of consideration, critique and empathy are beacons of hope. Seeing the world from someone else’s point of view is no simple task, but you get much better at it when you practice. That’s what we are doing much of the time on our campuses.

When we foster intellectual diversity, we are practicing learning from others different from ourselves. Sure, sometimes people retreat to the “bubbles” of their own tribe, whether they call that safety, tradition or prejudice. But much of the time, our teachers, students and staff encounter difference and try to figure out how to learn from it, sometimes finding out that commonalities are more significant than the distinctions that first impressed them.

Such encounters are woven into the fabric of our everyday educational practices. These days, they are hopeful alternatives to the normalization of violence and the pollution of our public sphere. Now, more than ever, we must work to protect them.


Sustainability Beyond 2020

Shortly after arriving as President eleven years ago, I signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (now the Climate Leadership Campus Carbon Commitment), committing the Wesleyan campus to carbon neutrality by 2050. Our sustainability efforts are being guided (through 2021) by our Sustainability Action Plan (SAP). You can find a report on our progress in that regard over the past two years in the first SAP Progress Report. Below I give some highlights of steps we’ve taken recently toward our sustainability goals and steps beyond the scope of our current plan that we plan to make going forward.  We have a long way to go to get to that goal of carbon neutrality, and we will get there only if we quicken our pace. Because sustainability is central to Wesleyan’s planning, I’m framing these remarks using the three overarching goals of our most recent planning document, Beyond 2020. Those goals are: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; and to work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values.

Sustainability and Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience

The College of the Environment (COE), characterized by Wesleyan’s distinctive interdisciplinary ethos, continues to be a powerful locus of research, teaching, and practices that explore the connections between environmental work and social and political issues. This year, the Robert F. Schumann Foundation completed its funding of the Robert F. Schumann Institute, which is extending the reach of the COE across campus and the greater Middletown community by collaborating with other centers, colleges and departments within Wesleyan. These collaborations are providing joint and enhanced environmental programming, curricula and research across the campus – particularly in the areas of global studies; civic engagement; arts, environmental justice and sustainability; and food security and agriculture.

The Sustainability Office, in collaboration with the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, hosted the Sustainability Across the Curriculum program (SATC) in October 2016 and January 2018. The program was led by Prof. Suzanne O’Connell and has resulted in thirteen faculty participants amending 13 courses so as to incorporate sustainability as a learning objective. That’s terrific, and there is more to be done here. The Sustainability Office and Prof. O’Connell have convened interested faculty to discuss changes to SATC so as to enliven and grow its efforts to equip students across the disciplines with tools to help them connect their learning to global environmental, social, and economic challenges. Prof. Anthony Hatch will be taking the faculty helm of this program for 2019-2020, and we expect to see more and more courses every year with integrated sustainability content. We are also developing a sustainability and environmental justice course cluster to help students identify these courses and provide recognition for faculty working in this important area. Some of these courses will be First-Year Seminars, a new target for SATC. We hope to reintroduce sustainability into First Year Matters (perhaps by restarting Feet to the Fire). And we will conduct a student sustainability literacy assessment and follow-up assessment to determine what students are learning about sustainability during their time at Wesleyan.

Sustainability and Recognition of Wesleyan as an Extraordinary Institution

Wesleyan must contribute to a sustainable world not just by doing what it does so well – teaching and research – but also by being a model of sustainability itself. In 2013, Wesleyan received a silver rating from AASHE STARS (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System), a sustainability rating for colleges and universities, and that rating was re-certified in 2016. The Sustainability Office employs 20-25 students each semester working on student involvement in recycling, composting, energy conservation, and engagement with social and political issues bearing on environmental concerns. Our citywide recycling signage project (for which we received a grant in 2017) is creating unified signage connecting campus and Middletown community in the recycling effort. This year, Ingrid Eck ’19, intern at the Sustainability Office, prepared and submitted the City of Middletown’s Sustainable CT Bronze certification, and we expect to continue our support of the City’s sustainability efforts through our paid student internships. As our current Sustainability Action Plan guides us only through 2021, it will soon be time to think about the next plan, which must place more emphasis upon reaching carbon neutrality, integrating sustainability into the curriculum, and building a campus culture rooted in sustainability.

Sustainable Economic Model and Core Values

We continue to address what it means for Wesleyan to be a sustainable campus: in the administration (with respect to planning, engagement, health and well-being), in academics (curriculum and academic operations), and in operations (buildings, grounds, dining, energy, purchasing, transportation, waste, and water). And we’ve focused on sustainability in developing plans for new construction over the next decade, notably in Film, PAC and Science. Part and parcel of these efforts is our new Wesleyan University Building Sustainability Policy. This policy was developed by the Sustainability Office and Green Building subcommittee, working under the auspices of the Facilities Planning Committee and Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship (SAGES. It outlines guidelines and operating procedures for reducing Wesleyan’s carbon footprint, yielding cost savings through reduced operating costs, providing healthy work environments for students, employees, and visitors, and assessing life cycle costs. This policy was adopted in concert with the Purchasing Sustainability Guidelines and Energy Conservation Policy. We also just developed a Grounds Sustainability Policy to be reviewed annually as we integrate sustainability in the maintenance of our campus landscape.

Going forward, we plan to integrate sustainability education into the Residential Life curriculum: Res Life and Sustainability Office student staff will work together on informing students about such things as recycling, composting, and energy conservation. As we integrate sustainability into upcoming new construction and major renovation projects, we will strive to get as close as possible to net zero energy certification, incorporating principles of Living Building Challenge and making these changes visible through educational signage. We expect to continue our annual investments in comprehensive energy projects, now entering their 12th year, to address lighting, mechanical equipment, windows, and insulation so as to decrease energy consumption. Finally, with the help of consultants, we will develop a framework, list of actions, phasing, estimated cost and proposed dates to achieve carbon neutrality for the core campus by or before the established 2050 target date. But we can’t just think about projects in the long term. We must also identify, design and implement near-term projects in moving us closer to our sustainability goals – including, for example, piloting a hot water heating loop, as using hot water rather than steam will better enable Wesleyan to switch to solar, geothermal, fuel cell, or other renewable technologies in the future.

Yes, 2050 is a long way away, but there is so much to do before then. The environmental challenges facing the world are monumental, and they are bound up with social and economic issues difficult to resolve. Our university – though its research, its teaching, its outreach and in modeling sustainability itself – is in a position to make an outsize impact. And that’s what we’ll do.


It’s Almost here! #GivingTuesday

I’m still eating turkey leftovers and expect to be doing so for a few more days. No complaints on that score. Our daughter Sophie was home for the holiday, and she joined  some Wesleyan students, friends and family at our table for Thanksgiving. This undoubtedly makes Kari and me feel especially thankful this year. Now Sophie is heading back to her own campus, and those students are home writing papers and preparing for the final weeks of the semester.

There are so many ways to express gratitude, and I find a powerful one to be showing generosity toward organizations and people one cares about. A few years ago, my friend Henry Timms (director of the 92nd St Y in New York) came up with the idea of a “giving day” to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And so #GivingTuesday was born. It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to act philanthropically. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Generosity is contagious! Be a part of a national celebration of our great tradition of philanthropy.

#GivingTuesday has become internationally recognized as a time to show one’s support for the values and missions one cares about. People all over the world use the occasion to support their favorite causes. This is Wesleyan’s fifth year participating. During that time, thousands of Wesleyan alumni, parents, students and friends have chosen to make donations. Together, we have unlocked millions of dollars in matching funds for financial aid.

This year, when 1,831 members of the Wesleyan community make gifts by or on Giving Tuesday, November 27, our new trustees— Souleymane Ba ’03, Essel Bailey, Jr. ’66, Susannah Gray ’82, Andy McGadney ’92, Michele Roberts ’77, and Luke Wood ’91—will donate $250K to financial aid to support our students.

We need your help to achieve that important goal. Just visit our #GivingTuesday homepage:

Thanks in advance for your support in making a transformative Wesleyan experience possible for so many excellent students.