Arrival Day (Part Three)

Well, this isn’t really about arrival day, but about the “common moment” evening of orientation. The theme for the first year students followed our “Feet to the Fire” program concerning climate change, and this year students focused on issues about water. Readings, lectures and discussion groups examined the cultural, economic, and spiritual dimensions of water, with some important focus points on purification and distribution.

Friday night at least 500 of the frosh gathered at the base of Foss Hill to learn dances with a water theme from different cultures around the globe. The great Wes drummers and dancers led the event, and the rhythms were stirring. Prof. Barry Chernoff, who has been inspiring our efforts in environmental studies and our planning for the College of the Environment, helped stir up enthusiasm for the event with Pam Tatge, Director of the Center for the Arts. Dance professor Nicole Stanton was joined by grad students, faculty and staff in keeping the crowd moving. There was joyful participation (and great ice cream!). The program concluded with the fire dancing students of Prometheus. My camera phone isn’t adequate to capture the powerful scene, but here are a few snaps:

Fire Dance at Foss Hill
Fire Dance at Foss Hill
Fire Dance at Foss Hill (2)
Fire Dance at Foss Hill (2)

The frosh are now being joined by the rest of the students, with classes beginning Tuesday. This fall we will see the results of our small class initiative, which has added dozens of new classes to the curriculum. My own small seminar meets on Mondays, so I’ll have a bit more time to prepare, inspired by how Andrus Field and Foss Hill came alive Friday night.

[tags]arrival day, Feet to the Fire, Barry Chernoff, Pam Tatge, Nicole Stanton, class initiative, Prometheus[/tags]

Arrival Day (Part Two)

I’ve been strolling around, carrying the odd (and light) box, meeting new frosh and their families. Lots of fun to run into alumni parents bringing their sons and daughters to Wesleyan, as well as those who are totally new to the Wes experience. I’ll post a few more photos later in the day.

Cars filling up the field
Cars filling up the field

New Home
New Home
Unloading #2
Unloading #2
Prof. Weil moving the students
Prof. Weil moving the students

All but the first photograph courtesy of Olivia Bartlett

[tags]Arrival Day, Olivia Bartlett, Kari Weil[/tags]

Arrival Day (Part One)

It’s a beautiful late summer morning here at Wesleyan as we begin to welcome the class of 2013 to campus. Nervous parents and eager pre-frosh (or is it the other way around?) are clogging the streets with their cars and vans chock full of boxes, suitcases, musical instruments and sports equipment. Most new international students arrived a few days ago, and we welcomed them with a dinner in Beckham Hall. It was delightful to meet students from Japan, India, Germany and China — all within a few minutes. Today there will be lots of staff helping with the move in, a great Wesleyan tradition. We’ll see if my chronically sore back can take it.

Calm Before the Arrival Storm
Calm Before the Arrival Storm

I will post more pics and links at the end of the day or tomorrow.

[tags]Arrival Day, Class of 2013, international students, moving in, Beckham Hall[/tags]

Introducing Wesleyan’s Cabinet Officers

Yesterday I met with the Cabinet to discuss the year ahead in the context of some broad categories of planning for the next several years. Over the next weeks I look forward to continuing this conversation with faculty, students and alumni. In October the Board of Trustees will focus on planning at its annual retreat. I am hopeful that we will develop a consensus about what is most distinctive about Wesleyan in the context of American liberal arts education, and that we will take actions to enhance “our best self.”

The senior administrators in the Cabinet will have important responsibilities in regard to planning, and it occurred to me that many in the Wesleyan family might not know who they are. I thought it might be useful to introduce them (briefly) to you. I list the Cabinet officers alphabetically:

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost: Joe Bruno

Joe has been at Wesleyan for 25 years. He is a professor of Chemistry and has also been a Dean of the Division of Science and Mathematics. Joe is the leader of our academic programs.

Secretary of the University and Special Assistant to the President for Board and Campus Relations: Marianne Calnen

Marianne has worked at Wesleyan since 1998, and has long been deeply involved with projects concerning the Board of Trustees. She also helps with internal communications and a range of campus issues that build community.

Vice President and Chief Investment Officer: Tom Kannam

Tom joined Wesleyan in 1998 and has been responsible for developing our investment strategies. He works closely with trustees, but also with students interested in socially responsible investing and the Quantitative Analysis Center.

Vice President of Diversity and Strategic Partnerships: Sonia Manjon

Sonia is beginning her second year at Wesleyan. We worked together in California on programs on campus and that linked the school and the city. Sonia leads our efforts on affirmative action, and she partners with faculty, staff and off-campus organizations to promote civic engagement.

Vice President for Finance and Administration: John Meerts

John has been at Wesleyan for 13 years, and before becoming the Treasurer he was in charge of our technology needs (which he once again is doing on a temporary basis). Most of the administrative departments report to John, including Public Safety and Physical Plant.

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid: Nancy Meislahn

Nancy has been head of our Admissions and Financial Aid offices since 2000. She has the daunting task of following up on a banner year in which we increased applications by 22%.

Director of Strategic Initiatives: Charles Salas

Charles came to Wesleyan last year from the Getty Research Institute, where he directed the Scholars and Seminars Program. An intellectual historian of Modern Europe, Charles is helping plan programs like the College of the Environment and the Summer Session.

Special Assistant to the President: Andy Tanaka

Andy is a Wesleyan grad and former Freeman scholar. He works on almost everything that comes through the president’s office, with a particular focus on University Relations, student life and communications issues. When I need to get something done, Andy makes it happen.

Vice President for Student Affairs: Mike Whaley

Mike has spent 12 years at Wesleyan, always focused on the student experience. Mike is responsible for our co-curricular efforts and our residential life programs. From orientation to senior week, Dean Mike works on behalf of Wes students.

Vice President for University Relations: Barbara-Jan Wilson

Barbara-Jan may not have been born at Wesleyan, but she has certainly spent the bulk of her career here leading efforts in Career Planning, Admissions and now University Relations. Having spearheaded the most successful fundraising campaign in Wesleyan history, today she continues to work closely with alumni and staff to support all that we do at the university.

The Cabinet meets as a group each week, and Joan Adams, Assistant to the President, always facilitates our work. I feel very fortunate to work with such a group of such dedicated and talented people. In future blogs, I’ll report on some of the key planning themes we are discussing.

[tags]Wesleyan Cabinet Officers, planning, Board of Trustees, Joe Bruno, Marianne Calnen, Tom Kannam, Sonia Manjon, John Meerts, Nancy Meislahn, Charles Salas, Andy Tanaka, Mike Whaley, Barbara-Jan Wilson, Joan Adams[/tags]

Senator Edward Kennedy Hon. ’84

Last night the nation lost one of its great public servants. It is difficult to think of another elected official since WWII who supported programs to help the most vulnerable members of our society with the energy, consistency and intelligence of Senator Edward Kennedy. His vision of justice was tied to a commitment to mitigate the cruel effects of inequality and entrenched power without unduly compromising economic growth and individual freedom. His support of education as a vehicle for the creation of opportunity has inspired countless students and teachers.

Senator Kennedy’s family had strong Wesleyan ties. The senator received an honorary degree in 1984, and his son Ted is a graduate. His step-daughter, Caroline Raclin, graduated in 2008, and we had looked forward to a Commencement Address that year from the Lion of the Senate. This was around the time when his illness first became evident, but despite the personal challenges confronting the family, they made sure to find a suitable speaker. Barack Obama’s moving tribute to his senate colleague, and his call for public service, will be long remembered by those who attended.

In this season of lies and distortions aimed to preserve profits and privilege, we have already missed him. In this season of posturing and bloviating without apparent thought of legislating, we have already missed him. We have already missed his uncanny ability to combine forceful advocacy with thoughtful, pragmatic compromise.

May the memory of his passionate and reasoned voice for health care as a right and not a privilege be the basis for extending and improving our health care system. This would be the greatest tribute to a remarkable man.

[tags]memorial, Edward Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Caroline Raclin, Barack Obama, healthcare[/tags]

Back to Campus

After some weeks away from campus, it feels great to be back in Middletown. We have had an enjoyable and productive summer, and now it’s time to get ready for our new students and those returning to Wesleyan. The ever active Physical Plant staff are busily getting buildings ready for faculty and students, while many on the faculty are focused on finishing the research mapped out for the summer.

It has been a busy time for the construction crews preparing the new Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. The old Scott Labs (then Davenport) building has been cleaned up on the outside and had a real makeover internally. The Shapiro Creative Writing Center and the Quantitative Analysis Center will both have great spaces in the new facility.


Speaking of creative writing, I just learned that our new Assistant Professor of English, Deb Olin Unferth, won the Cabell First Novelist Award for Vacation, published by McSweeney’s. What a great way to start off at Wes!

[tags]back to school, Allbritton Center for Public Life, Shapiro Creative Writing Center, Quantitative Analysis Center, Deb Olin Unferth, Cabell First Novelist Award[/tags]

Epicenter of “Brooklyn Surrealist Pop”

I have often marveled at the extraordinary musical adventures offered by the Wesleyan campus. Having helped inaugurate the field of ethnomusicology, Wes has been a home for the most traditional and the most avant-garde musicians for decades. Gamelan concerts are packed, and the environmental sound experiments from students and faculty push the boundaries of how we listen to and discern the sounds around us. Senior theses might involve a rock band performance at which professors expected to give grades can’t help moving their feet and smiling broadly.

Just now I read a link from the Village Voice that declares Wesleyan the “epicenter of Brooklyn surrealist pop.” You know about MGMT, but there’s also Amazing Baby, Das Racist, and Boy Crisis. Wesleyan has clearly been both a home to and a launching pad for creative musicians for decades now. This is a vibrant part of our student culture.

Check out the article at:

[tags]music, ethnomusicology, sound experiments, Village Voice, Brooklyn surrealist pop, MGMT, Amazing Baby, Das Racist, Boy Crisis, indie[/tags]

Summertime, and the Living is…Scholarly

How many times do professors hear “how lucky you are to have the entire summer off!” Off? As August has replaced July and the Wesleyan “summer send offs” are well underway, my colleagues and I can hear in the distance the hum of the oncoming semester growing louder and louder. How are we likely to react? Read more, write more, recalibrate that experiment or crunch those numbers! Summer is an essential time for faculty to make progress on the research that often plays a key role in the courses they will be teaching.

Kari and I have been away from campus for a few weeks now, and we often hear from friends how important it is to “take time and relax.” Sure, but we both also have book contracts and spend every day reading and writing (and rewriting!) in hopes of making progress on the manuscripts. She is critically exploring how writers and philosophers have re-framed “the animal” so as to describe what “the human” might be with the goal of reconceptualizing how humans and non-human animals might relate to one another. I am wrestling with how photography has changed the ways we make sense of  the past. Both of us will use the research we are doing now in the classes we will teach this fall.

Intensive summertime research is very common at Wesleyan. Historian Phil Pomper, with whom I studied when I was an undergrad, is in the office daily writing a biography set in the Russian revolutionary period, philosopher Lori Gruen is completing a book on animal morality, while German Professor Krishna Winston (whose translation of Werner Herzog’s memoir was twice recently reviewed in the New York Times) has multiple translation assignments underway. Chemist Stew Novick leads an amazingly prolific team studying “exotic molecules” with microwave spectroscopy that can create super low temperatures.  Having just finished her term as Chair of FGSS, Jennifer Tucker, is putting the finishing touches on a volume about photography and history, while the indefatigable Jeanine Basinger writes a new book on marriage in the movies. Biologist Dave Bodznick can be found at the Cape for a good part of the summer, but that’s because he has a lab at the Marine Biological Laboratory Woods Hole where he studies the electroreceptors in skates. French Professor Andrew Curran has been finishing his book on concepts of race in the 18th century, while sociologist  Alex Dupuy is doing research on parallels and disconnections between key figures in the American and Haitian revolutions. Finally, COL Director Ethan Kleinberg explores the concept of forgiveness in his book about French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

I should probably ask forgiveness for leaving out scores of faculty research projects in this tiny sample! But I trust this gives some small idea of how faculty are actively advancing their fields in ways that will come back to inform the classroom.

Ah, the sun will soon be setting on another beautiful summer day…  so I better get back to work!

[tags]summer, Kari Weil, research, professors, Phil Pomper, Lori Gruen, Krishna Winston, Stew Novick, Jennifer Tucker, Jeanine Basinger, Dave Bodznick, Andrew Curran, Alex Dupuy, Ethan Kleinberg[/tags]

Live Biology!

From my windows at South College, the campus looks very quiet. The young students from the Center for Creative Youth and other programs stroll across Andrus Field for meals in Usdan, but on the whole it’s just too calm. So just before leaving for some time away from Wesleyan, I stopped into the Hall-Atwater labs to check out the action there

The pace changes completely when you cross Church Street and visit the science labs. There dozens of undergraduates and graduate students are busily working with faculty on sophisticated research projects in chemistry, molecular biology, physics and neuroscience (to cite just a few of the examples). There are countless examples of interdisciplinary work in fields like neuroscience, biophysics and environmental science. Much of the research going on during the summer month is funded by the Hughes Summer Research Program — — as well as funding from departments and faculty research grants. Many of our students will turn this work into theses projects, and some will be fortunate enough to become co-authors with faculty on articles in the best scientific journals. Graduate students play a crucial role in the ecology of research in the sciences. They bring experience and a depth of learning that allow them to help mentor younger students, and they complete independent projects that launch their own careers after receiving their degrees. Grad students don’t substitute for faculty at Wesleyan, but they are an essential complement to them. One of the reasons our science faculty is extraordinarily productive compared with our peer institutions, is that they have great collaborators at different levels. This benefits everyone, and it helps advance the fields in which our faculty work.

My final stop in my little tour was at Prof. Janice Naegele’s lab. Jan‘s work is in neuroscience and stem cell research, and several of her students are working on problems related to epilepsy. I was so impressed by the students’ presentations of their specific projects. They were able to explain their specific investigations and also give this non-scientist a sense of the context for their advanced work. Fludiona Naka ’11 and Raghu Appasani ‘12 gave concise yet informative descriptions of their lab activities. It also helped me that senior Efrain Ribeiro is a joint philosophy-neuroscience major, and so he could put things in terms even I could understand! All were clearly excited about their independent experiments, and they also had an impressive ability to describe how it fit into the work of the team. Other members of the lab are Debra Hall, Xu Maisano, Jia Yang and Sara Royston.

You can learn more about the exciting work of the biologists at Wesleyan by visiting the cool new website:

The sciences at Wesleyan exemplify the success of the scholar-teacher model that has long been key to our school. Long live Biology!

[tags]Biology, Hall-Atwater, research, lab research, Hughes Summer Research Program, graduate students, Debra Hall, Xu Maisano, Jia Yang, Sara Royston, Janice Naegele, Fludiona Naka, Raghu Appasani, Efrain Ribeiro[/tags]

Through the Eyes of Visitors on Independence Day

July 4th weekend in Middletown has been a wonderful time to show off our town and campus to some relatives visiting from Norway. It’s always interesting to see where one lives through the eyes of visitors. We grow accustomed to the beauty of the campus, with its impressive array of facilities — from the Freeman Athletic Center to the Center for the Arts. Kari’s cousins’ reactions to seeing Wesleyan for the first time was a reminder of how special university environments are. As the gloomy weather lifted, Middletowners came out in force to enjoy a perfect 4th. Check out recent posts by biology professor Steve Devoto and by alumna Jennifer Alexander ’88 on the Middletown Eye.

I had the curious task of leading my weekly Torah study group on the 4th of July, pinch-hitting for our vacationing rabbi. This week’s texts included the famously paradoxical purification ritual of the “red heifer.” I didn’t attempt to solve the enigma that is said to have stumped even Solomon but instead used the coincidence with the American holiday to talk about how a people achieves “independence.” In the case of the Jews wandering in the desert, this has to do with independence from the experience of slavery (without forgetting that experience). In the case of America, one might say that we are still working out what independence means in a dynamic, multi-polar world.

American Studies has been at the forefront of interdisciplinary academic work at Wesleyan, for years inspired by the popular culture analysis of Richard Slotkin. His work in film studies along with Jeanine Basinger’s has been fundamental to establishing film studies here. Recently, American Studies at Wes has been in a “post-national” key, exploring social and cultural formations that go beyond national borders. I’ve learned about that trend from Professor Claire Potter, who recently stepped down as Chair of the program. Claire writes about pornography, the FBI and has a very active blog: . Wesleyan’s government department is home to prolific and influential scholars of American law and politics who are also great teachers. Here are just two examples: John Finn, an expert on law, civil liberties and political violence who has just published a new edition of his co-authored American Constitutional Law; and Elvin Lim, whose incisive work on the American presidency and politics has been getting enormous attention (check out his blog: ).

Although I am a European historian, I’ve often written on American topics, especially in the press. In some of my classes we read Emerson’s take on self-reliance, or Stanley Cavell’s essays on the “unfinished project” of freedom for Americans. A few years ago I was asked to review a French philosopher’s take on the USA in American Vertigo, by Bernard-Henri Levy. Like many other reviewers, I thought the book shallow and self-serving. Today the San Francisco Chronicle published my view of Simon Schama’s new book, The American Future: A History. Although the book has its faults, I thought this British historian (now a long-term US resident) provided an interesting perspective on recent American politics in relation to some long term historical themes:

Well, my Norwegian guests are ready for the next round of activities. I wonder what else I’ll learn about Middletown from them!

[tags]July 4, Steve Devoto, Jennifer Alexander, Middletown Eye, Torah study, independence, Richard Slotkin, Claire Potter, John Finn, Elvin Lim, The American Future: A History, Simon Schama[/tags]