Summer at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts

The Wesleyan campus has summer sessions, sports camps, and many researchers from mid-June through mid-August, but it does become a quiet place for a few months. Not so the arts on campus, which continue to provide enlivening, beautiful and thought-provoking programs. The College of Film and the Moving Image has its annual free July film series, this year featuring Gary Cooper. All screenings take place at C-Film on Tuesday nights at 7:30 p.m., beginning on July 11. The movies will be introduced by Marc Longenecker.

  • Tuesday, July 11:  BALL OF FIRE
  • Tuesday, July 18:  MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN
  • Tuesday, July 25:  HIGH NOON
Gary Cooper Film Series

On Tuesday, August 1 C-Film will sponsor Spotlight on the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival:  WALK WITH ME, THE TRIALS OF DAMON J. KEITH. Marc will also introduce this film.

Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts is sponsoring a series of events:

  • The series opens on Thursday, June 29 with a free outdoor concert by singer-songwriter, acoustic guitarist, and conga player Aurelio and his band in the CFA Courtyard (rain location: Crowell Concert Hall). He performs traditional Garifuna music from Honduras, which has its roots in West Africa, and has shared the stage with Youssou N’Dour and recorded with Orchestra Baobab, among other artists. 
  • Jazz vocalist Alicia Olatuja brings her quintet to Crowell Concert Hall on Thursday July 6. She has worked with Christian McBride, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Chaka Khan, and others. She was also the featured soloist with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013. Following Wesleyan, she will perform at the Montreal Jazz Festival. 
  • The New England premiere of “Beyond Sacred,” an interview-based theater production by Ping Chong + Company, takes place in the CFA Theater on Thursday, July 13.  The work explores the real-life stories of five young Muslim Americans, from a range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, coming of age in New York City at a time of increasing hostility towards, and violence against, Muslims in the United States. This is a continuation of the “Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan” programming that began during the 2014-2015 season at the Center for the Arts, which expanded awareness, knowledge, and understanding of Muslim cultures through the lens of performance.  
  • Wesleyan’s John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce presents the twelfth in a series of CD-length recitals of his piano music on Sunday, July 16 in Crowell Concert Hall. The free concert will feature three world premieres of his compositions, plus guest artists Professor of Music Jay Hoggard on vibraphone, and Wesleyan Jazz Ensemble Director Noah Baerman on piano.

Summertime and the arts at Wesleyan!

Support WESU — Community Radio

Today I received the following email from Ben Michaels, station manager at WESU radio. I’m passing it on, hoping you will join me in supporting the station.

Help preserve the legacy of WESU with a donation today!

As we approach the home stretch, the flow of incoming pledges has diminished to a trickle and we need your help to achieve our goal.  This has been a challenging pledge drive and we know there are many organizations that are likely asking for your support.  Know that your gift is essential to sustain free form community programming and our diverse offering of public affairs. Your donation also helps to ensure WESU will remain common ground for students and community volunteers to work together in service of communities that stretch far beyond the footprint of Wesleyan University.If you’ve been holding out on making your contribution, now is the time to take action. For nearly 80 years WESU has offered discerning listeners music and ideas outside of the main stream. WESU is a place where listeners expect to hear new music and challenging concepts from a variety of perspectives.  Help us wrap up this fiscal year and protect this important legacy with a donation today! www.wesufm.org/pledge 

PS-If you’ve already made a contribution, please consider reaching out to a friend on behalf of WESU. Perhaps who you know someone else who also values WESU, that can help us bring our spring pledge drive to a close.

Supporting the Paris Accords on Climate Change

Since the cynical, know-nothing announcement from the Trump Administration that it was withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Accord on Climate Change, many people across the country have reaffirmed their commitment to take action to reduce the pernicious effects we have been having on our environment. Here at Wesleyan, we have been taking a public stand to fight climate change. I am among over a hundred university presidents who, together with mayors, governors and business leaders, are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets outlined in the Paris climate accord. This early story in The New York Times describes the effort. Wesleyan has reported on this and other efforts here.

Gary Yohe, Huffington Professor of Economics and Environmental Science, has been working for decades to understand more deeply and to mitigate more effectively the effects of climate change. Prof. Yohe has underscored the importance for institutions at various levels of civil society and for individuals to do their part to meet the goals set forth in the Paris Accord. Along these lines, just yesterday colleagues from MIT sent the following message:

We are writing to invite you to join academics across America in signing a new statement on climate change that is going live right now: http://academiaunited.org/This statement enables the faculty, staff, and students of American universities and colleges to join groups of mayors, business leaders, and university/college presidents who are announcing that even though the federal government is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, we will do our parts to fight climate change. Please consider signing the statement, and forwarding this invitation to any colleagues at any American university or college who you think might be interested.

The silver lining in all this, I suppose, is that citizens are becoming more engaged in working for sensible environmental policies. As I’ve said to the press, it’s extraordinary that supporting a basic commitment to lessen a source of pollution in the world is seen as a particularly strong civic or political act. It is nonetheless crucial at a time when the White House is promoting an anti-scientific assault on public policy and research, that universities defend the values that are necessary for us to be institutions of learning. The economic nationalism promoted by the administration is in great tension with our mission as educational institutions, if only because inquiry and pedagogy take place across borders. The environmental nationalism currently embraced by the White House is an exercise in lunacy. What’s next….Americans will be told that we can smoke without fear of lung disease, or that we no longer have to wash our hands after using the bathroom? Is this what “America First” will mean?

Protecting the environment is not a partisan issue. It is a vital responsibility for our time. Wesleyan will continue to explore ways to do our part.

 

Tennis Rules

Hearty congratulations are in order for Eudice Chong ’18 and Victoria Yu ’19, for their extraordinary success in the NCAA Division III Tennis Championships. Eudice is first person in Div III tennis history to win three consecutive singles championships. She did this by winning a thrilling three-set match against Rebecca Ho from Washington University in St Louis.

Not long after that singles victory, Eudice teamed up with Victoria to claim the national championship in doubles. They were unstoppable all year long, and they earned the national championship in decisive fashion. This is the first time that Wesleyan students have won the crown.

 

 

NCAA_doubles

Is it any wonder that coach Mike Fried was named Division III Coach of the Year by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association? He has built a fabulous program, with both men’s and women’s team achieving top 10 national rankings. He’s a great mentor to many Wesleyan students.

Fried

 

Congratulations! Go Wes!!

 

Welcome Home!

Yesterday trustees, trustee emeriti, parents, graduating seniors, alumni from reunion classes — thousands began arriving on the Wesleyan campus for Commencement and Reunion Weekend. This morning, I am having a public conversation with the scholar/public intellectual Leon Wieseltier, and then off to other great Wes Seminars, Alumni Parades and a bevy of celebratory festivities. It all culminates in Commencement tomorrow.

The fun has begun! (keep those pictures coming!)

 

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Senator Michael Bennett addressing Trustees
Senator Michael Bennett addressing Trustees

 

Selfi with Koki
Selfi with Kofi
Selfie with Austin
Selfie with Austin

IMG_3238                                                                                                         Phi Beta Kappa Inductees

Alumni on Foss on Commencement Eve
Alumni on Foss on Commencement Eve

 

Tent Party Dancing - Commencement Eve
Tent Party Dancing – Commencement Eve

Wesleyan’s New Bookstore Opens on Main Street

Wesleyan’s new bookstore is opening this week, and it is a fantastic new addition to Main Street, Middletown. I was there yesterday for the ribbon cutting, and it is a beautiful space for looking for new books, stocking up on Wesleyan gear, or eating a great meal from grown, the organic food eatery there. We are partnering with RJ Julia, one of the best independent bookstores in America, and I am looking forward to the many contributions the store will make to our university and the broader Middletown community.

Shannon Allen, Founder of grown
Shannon Allen, Founder of grown
Roxanne Cody, Founder of RJ Julia Booksellers
Roxanne Coady, Founder of RJ Julia Booksellers

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You can read more about the bookstore in the Hartford Courant.

Congrats to Wes Women Ultimate Frisbee Stars!

Ultimate Frisbee Joy
Ultimate Frisbee Joy

Yesterday Wesleyan’s Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team — Vicious Circles —  finished second IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY in the Division III national championships. This club team traveled to Kentucky to compete in the tournament with a combination of cooperation and exuberance. Mutually supportive teamwork helped this squad upset higher ranked clubs and the Wesleyans gave the defending champs a run for their money.

Here’s part of the report from UltiWorld:

[Captain] Luci Salwen’s [’17] persistent flick hucks kept Wesleyan in the game. Salwen was able to find cutters in traffic on the endzone line and also send them deep the next point. Cutters Claire LeGardeur [’17] and Lily Gould [’19], in particular, scored several points off of Salwen’s assists. [Grad student] Tessa Hill was found all over on Wesleyan’s offense, handling against the zone and then coming down with some huge endzone skies.

The article goes on:

“We’re so happy to be here,” said senior captain Oona Wallace ’17. “Our goal all tournament has been to work hard and play our best.” Instead of committing themselves to an end goal, Wesleyan focused on playing every point as a point they could be proud of.

In addition, the Wesleyan captains maintained that “the team plays for each other” and that “before ultimate, we created an encouraging, positive environment that provided a supportive network for women.” They made it a priority to “make sure people absolutely feel they deserve to be on the field when they’re playing.” Each player on Wesleyan played her heart out because she knew giving her best to her pumped up teammates was exactly what the team needed, and was simply enough.

So proud of these Wesleyan athletes who played their hearts out at the highest level. Congratulations, Vicious Circles!! Go Wes!

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On Intellectual Diversity

Some weeks ago, I wrote an op-ed arguing that the free-market approach to freedom of speech (often identified with the University of Chicago) is inadequate for bringing more intellectual diversity to college campuses. The recent string of right wing provocateurs successfully baiting left leaning students on college campuses is, I think, a symptom of a deeper problem. We need to find productive ways of dealing with intellectual/ideological difference. The Wall Street Journal published the piece this past weekend under the title “The Opening of the Liberal Mind.”

I have received plenty of responses from readers—some applauding my call for greater intellectual diversity, some angered by my use of “affirmative action” as a label for the kind of proactive work that universities should be doing in the humanities and social sciences to explore different viewpoints with students. I thought the irony was obvious; legacy preference in admissions, after all, is often described as “affirmative action for the wealthy.” My point is that we can’t rely on the market of ideas to create intellectual diversity; we must be intentional in seeking out serious ideas from traditions under-represented on campus. This is critical for our students’ intellectual development, giving them the opportunity to test their own thinking against different approaches to enduring questions.

Since I took an early stance against what I called “the Trumpian Calamity” and have urged resistance to attempts by the current administration to curtail civil rights, others have asked how I could now call for more scholarly attention to conservative ideas and intellectual traditions.  It should be clear that I do not regard the president’s incoherent leadership—which is so often driven by impulse, resentment and prejudice—as belonging to significant streams of conservative thought, even broadly conceived. And we already study the dynamics of authoritarianism.

My example of the Posse Program for Veterans as contributing to intellectual diversity does not, of course, imply that all our Posse Scholars (or all veterans) are conservative. The point is that these older students have different life experiences than most undergraduates, and that this likely leads to a different mix of political views.

I should emphasize that the courses supported by the endowment gift mentioned in the op-ed will be created and taught by faculty—not donors—as is always the case.  The goal here is to expose students to a wider range of thought—with especial attention to the classical liberal tradition—and develop their capacities to engage with those who may hold positions different from their own. We are regularly developing our curriculum to fill gaps in instruction and provide students with a broad education. We have engaged in similar fundraising to develop: the Quantitative Analysis Center; The College of Film and the Moving Image; The College of the Environment; and the Creative Writing Program—just to name a few.

Our present political circumstances should not prevent us from engaging with a variety of conservative, religious and libertarian modes of thinking, just as they shouldn’t prevent us from engaging with modes of thinking organized under the banner of progressivism or critical theory.  Such engagement might actually lead to greater understanding among those who disagree politically, and it might also allow for more robust critical and creative thinking about our histories, our present and the possibilities for the future.

Naturally, I didn’t expect my op-ed would generate agreement among all readers, least of all among all Wesleyan readers. I am pleased it has generated conversation. That’s the idea!  

 

There is no denying the left-leaning political bias on American college campuses. As data from UCLA’s Higher Education Institute show, the professoriate has moved considerably leftward since the late 1980s, especially in the arts and humanities. In New England, where my own university is located, liberal professors outnumber their conservative colleagues by a ratio of 28:1.

How does this bias affect the education we offer? I’d like to think that we left-leaning professors are able to teach the works of conservative thinkers with the same seriousness and attention that we devote to works on our own side of the political spectrum—but do we?

It is hard to be optimistic about this challenge in the wake of recent episodes of campus intolerance for views on the right. Would-be social-justice warriors at Middlebury College transformed the mild-mannered political scientist Charles Murray into a free-speech hero, and campus appearances by the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald and the right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter have been handled badly, turning both women into media martyrs.

Most colleges, of course, host controversial speakers without incident and without much media coverage. In March, for instance, Franklin & Marshall College gave a platform to the Danish editor who published cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad. There were protests and arguments but no attempt to silence the speaker.

Academics worried about attacks on free speech have felt the need to respond, and they have articulated sound principles. Princeton professors Robert P. George and Cornel West recently attracted lots of supporters for a statement underscoring that “all of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views” and that “we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree—especially on college and university campuses.”

The issue, however, isn’t whether the occasional conservative, libertarian or religious speaker gets a chance to speak. That is tolerance, an appeal to civility and fairness, but it doesn’t take us far enough. To create deeper intellectual and political diversity, we need an affirmative-action program for the full range of conservative ideas and traditions, because on too many of our campuses they seldom get the sustained, scholarly attention that they deserve.

Such an effort can take many different forms. In 2013, Wesleyan decided to join Vassar College in working with the Posse Foundation to bring cohorts of military veterans to campus on full scholarships. These students with military backgrounds are older than our other undergraduates and have very different life experiences; more of them also hold conservative political views.

One notable episode illustrates how this program has contributed to broadening discussion on campus. A student named Bryan Stascavage, who had served almost six years as a U.S. Army military intelligence analyst in Iraq and Haiti, came to Wesleyan to study social sciences. In the fall of 2015, he published an op-ed in the student newspaper questioning the Black Lives Matter movement, which enjoys widespread support here. He asked whether the protests were “actually achieving anything positive” because of the damage done by the extremists in their ranks.

The essay caused an uproar, including demands by activists to cut funding to the school newspaper. Most students, faculty and administrators recognized that free speech needed to be defended, especially for unpopular views. They rose to the challenge of responding substantively (if sometimes heatedly) to Bryan’s argument. As for Bryan himself, he felt that he had “field-tested” his ideas. As he told the PBS NewsHour in an interview about his experience at Wesleyan, “I don’t want to be in an environment where everybody thinks the same as me, because you just don’t learn that way.”

At Wesleyan, we now plan to deepen our engagement with the military. We have been working with the U.S. Army to bring senior military officers to campus, and starting next year, the first of them will arrive to teach classes on the relationship between military institutions and civil society.

Another new initiative for intellectual diversity, launched with the support of one our trustees, has created an endowment of more than $3 million for exposing students at Wesleyan to ideas outside the liberal consensus. This fall, our own academic departments and centers will begin offering courses and programs to cover topics such as “the philosophical and economic foundations of private property, free enterprise and market economies” and “the relationship of tolerance to individual rights, freedom and voluntary association.”

We are not interested in bringing in ideologues or shallow provocateurs intent on outraging students and winning the spotlight. We want to welcome scholars with a deep understanding of traditions currently underrepresented on our campus (and on many others) and look forward to the vigorous conversations they will inspire.

Many of our undergraduates already have a strong desire to break out of their ideological bubbles. Recently, the student Republican and Democratic clubs began jointly hosting lunchtime lectures and discussions. Catherine Cervone, a member of the Wesleyan Republicans and an organizer of the series, put it this way: “We recognized the necessity on this campus for dialogue and communication. We decided to reach across the divide to team up with WesDems in hosting this speaker series, a discussion forum with the purpose of really understanding what the other side thinks.”

Trying to understand the logic of someone else’s arguments is a core skill that schools should be paying more attention to, and it doesn’t always require elaborate new programs. The group Heterodox Academy, which includes faculty from many universities and from across the political spectrum, has recently launched the “Viewpoint Diversity Experience,” an online effort to combat “the destructive power of ideological tribalism.” The aim is “to prepare students for democratic citizenship and success in the political diverse workplaces they will soon inhabit.”

Such efforts are sorely needed, but they can succeed only if we do a better job of bringing underrepresented points of view into the mix. Simply relying on the marketplace of ideas isn’t enough. We need an affirmative-action program for conservative, libertarian and religious modes of thinking.

As someone who identifies with the political left, I welcome this intellectual diversity—and as a teacher, I know that education requires it. If you are on the right, you might call this a remedy for political correctness; if you are on the left, you might prefer to call it the “new intersectionality.” Whatever the label, the result will be a fuller, more meaningful educational experience for everyone.

Hamilton Prize Winner Audrey Pratt  

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to call Audrey Pratt, a senior at Needham High School in Massachusetts, to tell her that she is the winner of the 2017 Hamilton Prize for Creativity. Audrey submitted a short story, and her work was selected through a process that included faculty rankings and final selection by an all-star committee of creative Wesleyan alumni.

Audrey’s “Thorns, Black and White,” is a spooky, unsettling tale. One of the judges called her “a startling and inventive writer.” Another said she “demonstrates sharp narrative instinct…generic suppleness…and raw writing talent/love of words.”

Audrey, who was accepted to Wesleyan early decision, is a top student at her public high school. The committees reading her work didn’t know this, but I can add that she had nearly perfect standardized test scores and is a captain on her school’s speech and debate team.

One member of the alumni jury had this to say about the range of work submitted for the prize: “Very impressed with all of these. What an artistic group of people. I can’t believe that artists this age are so active in so many forms.”

So active in so many forms….. that’s a great description of many Wesleyan students as they develop their creative capacities in a variety of fields, from chemistry and religion, to music and economics. We look forward to welcoming Audrey Pratt as she joins their ranks!!

CONGRATULATIONS, AUDREY PRATT, WINNER OF THE 2017 HAMILTON PRIZE FOR CREATIVITY!!

Casablanca and the Past on Film

This essay on Casablanca and teaching Philosophy and the Movies appeared in last week’s issue of the Chronicle Review. I’ve been teaching this class in various configurations for more than 20 years — and some of what I describe here (like watching Now, Voyager) is based on my experiences several years ago. Each week, I watch the movies with my students, and this year I’ve been particularly gratified by the applause that follows every screening, and the good questions that arise for class the next day. The films are steeped on old conventions, but my Wesleyan students most of the time find ways to open themselves to their power as works of art. I don’t know how to show that the films themselves are “timeless,” but the questions to which they give rise seem to be. 

 

At Wesleyan I teach a course called “The Past on Film,” and one of the films screened is Casablanca, now celebrating its 75th anniversary. It’s the most iconic (and possibly also the most romantic and political) American film on the syllabus, and on my way to class to talk about it, I found myself even more curious than usual about students’ reactions.

In a media landscape in which each individual “chooses” only what algorithms predict he or she will like, would the status “iconic” even be meaningful to them? In a political landscape filled with ultra-jaded cynics, how would they react to a movie that meant to bolster a nation’s commitment to fight for its values?

Today, an almost endless stream of films is readily available. But most students have difficulty getting beyond their everyday habits — the ways they get pleasure from the screen. Not only do I have to forbid the distractions of competing devices in the classroom, I have to encourage students to open themselves to the pace, the acting styles, and the conventions of classical Hollywood cinema. I push my smart, hip, and often progressive students to give up their condescending attitude toward the past.

It is easier to do this with literature and philosophy than with film — perhaps because movies are familiar to students in a visceral way. They are ready to vote “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on a movie more quickly than on a novel by Virginia Woolf. They don’t need a teacher to “get” a melodrama about an overbearing parent (we watch Now, Voyager, 1942) in the same way they might be willing to rely on a teacher when reading To the Lighthouse (1927). So, when something in an old movie strikes them as “cheesy” or violates their political sensibilities, they are quick to react — often, quick to close themselves off from further engagement. Most of my undergraduates believe it’s a great taboo to be intolerant of others, but intolerance of the past escapes the self-scrutiny of even the most eagle-eyed critics of “privilege.”

Casablanca is usually the movie on my syllabus with which students are most familiar. As Noah Isenberg details in his excellent new book We’ll Always Have Casablanca, the 1942 film is a case study of how history gets depicted for popular entertainment, but it is also a powerful example of how the Hollywood machine produced work that intersected with political commitment while still holding fast to its romantic conventions.

Like Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick Blaine, in 1941 many Americans embraced neutrality — tired of “foreign entanglements” and feeling deceived by participation in World War I. As Rick famously repeats in the first half of the film, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Gradually, however, with the help of Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), he awakens to his responsibility to others and “who he really is.” That is someone prepared to sacrifice the happiness of “three little people” for the greater good. Not someone looking for a fight, and certainly not a bully, Rick is an American ideal — someone who accepts his duty to do good in a world gone crazy.

My students tend to be skeptical of this aspirational image of the American — though perhaps some feign skepticism in the face of a campus culture that often views loyalty to country as an oppressive force meant to preserve patterns of unjust domination. But when there are Nazis in the picture, it is harder to retreat into irony about all forms of political engagement, and this year I felt solidarity percolating in the screening room as the resistance fighter Victor Laszlo leads the band in singing the “Marseillaise” to drown out the voices of the German officers.

Students are especially interested to learn that the team that made Casablanca was dominated by immigrants, refugees in one way or another from Hitler. Michael Curtiz, the director, was Hungarian, and the crew was filled with actors and technicians who had fled to Hollywood from other countries. The evil Major Strasser was played by Conrad Veidt, who noted the irony of getting star treatment for portraying the kind of character who had forced him to leave his homeland.

This year, the immigrant story at the heart of Casablanca is more powerful than ever. Many of my students are sympathetic to refugees escaping brutal conditions, and in our current political atmosphere this is no small thing. But Casablanca’s themes go deeper than that, depicting a world in which people are willing to work together across differences for shared political goals. There can be no litmus test of political or moral purity when the threat is real and the task is to find common ground from which to take effective action.

On college campuses it is easy to stay locked in the bubble of one’s own friends and allies. A campus may, like Rick’s cafe, pride itself on diversity, but student groups (and faculty allies) often self-segregate, so they rarely put aside their differences to join forces, or increase mutual understanding through conversation and debate.

While administrators talk a lot about helping the world, colleges often seem content to prepare students to maximize personal gain after graduating, encouraging a retreat into a private life in which other people’s problems and political struggles don’t inspire concern — let alone commitment and action.

Despite the lofty rhetoric, colleges are reluctant to stick their necks out for anybody, except their own students, alumni, and faculty. Casablanca forces us to consider what it takes for good people to act in a corrupt world, not just turn their noses up at the corruption. What does it take to say “no” to abuses of power? How does one come to risk one’s life by publicly affirming basic human values?”

These are questions that Casablanca raised when it was released 75 years ago. Today’s undergrads may resist its earnestness and romanticism, and they can easily point out deficiencies in its portrayal of race and gender. But Casablanca’s story of how diversity and solidarity can be combined to fight tyranny still resonates, even if that combination remains more aspiration than reality on campuses. I suppose that’s one reason I continue to teach the film: When neutrality is no longer an option, aspiration counts for a lot.