Happy Easter

For many of our students this is Holy Week, and I would like to extend best wishes on this Good Friday for a happy Easter filled with peace and with hopes for renewal.

Although I realize that Ralph Waldo Emerson has often been trivialized into cliches for coffee mugs, I am moved to quote him as we come upon Easter and upon spring:

“The earth laughs in flowers.”

We can all welcome renewal. Happy Easter!

Working Hard in Spring Break

Like many Wesleyans, I’ve had a very busy spring break. Along with colleagues from Advancement, I was in India to meet with alumni, current and prospective students and their families. It was great to be back in India after a few year hiatus (mostly because of the pandemic), and I even gave a talk in Bangalore about The Student: A Short History

Many of our athletes were also traveling, though not quite as far as my journey. Tennis, baseball and softball found climates warmer than Middletown, while our lacrosse teams were, as one would expect, toughing it out in New England’s unpredictable weather. We have some nationally ranked spring teams, and they are off to a great start. Izzy Weintraub ’26CK Giancola ’24, James Marsden ’26, and Jack Raba GLS have already picked up players-of-the-week honors from NESCAC.

Back on campus one can almost feel the heat generated by the scores of students busily working to finish up their senior theses. The art shows and music recitals will be starting soon, so be on the lookout for announcements. Be sure to catch a product design exhibit (Malcolm Davol), an architectural installation (Eliza Austin) and a photographer making 3D objects (Emlyn Mileaf-Patel). Scholars are busy working away, whether they are writing about Deleuze and Nietzsche (Tohma Mitsuya), abortion rights and French postmodernism (Margot Deguet Delury), sex toys and pedagogy in Santiago, Chile (Cate Levy), the legacies of fascism in France and Spain (Rebecca Drucker), or a Renaissance poem on the life of Jesus, modeled on Virgil (Tom Broadus). Jocelyn Wang is applying her computer science skills to evaluate how we can develop new approaches to defining speciation among bacterial strains.

So much work, so little time! Soon spring will be here in earnest. Meanwhile, Kari, Lola and I are expecting a little snow before heading back to Middletown. Lola wants to bring her stick! 

Ramadan Mubarak

Many at Wesleyan are beginning their observance of Ramadan, and I want to extend my warm wishes to our Muslim students, faculty, staff, and alumni for a month filled with blessings. The holiday begins at a painful time, as the war in Gaza continues and the humanitarian situation, already dire, becomes catastrophic. May there immediately be a cease fire, and, with a return of hostages, serious negotiations for a just peace and an end to the occupation.

What a joyful blessing that would be!

Spring Break Almost Here

A sure sign of spring at Wesleyan is watching the lacrosse teams practice in the snow and rain. Both teams got underway this past weekend, and for me that means spring will soon be upon us. I will then be able to freeze with the softball and baseball teams as they play their summertime sports in New England’s crazy March weather.

The week before break also means midterms for many students, and the libraries, science labs, and studios are buzzing with hard work. There’s also plenty of action on the campus’ various stages, as seniors finish the arduous process of mounting performances. I’ve seen great theater and heard wonderful song in the last week, and I know there will be plenty more to come as we move into the second half of the semester.

For many right now, world events steer attention away from on-campus activities. From the horrific war in Gaza to the threats posed by populist authoritarianism at home, many people at Wesleyan find it very hard to pursue “business as usual” here in Middletown. The work for peace and justice, democracy and freedom seems more daunting and more urgent. This, too, will be at the center of concern for many Wesleyans in the coming weeks and months.

The campus is a home for this diversity of practices, and the University’s culture can sustain them all as we make our way through the semester. As we find ways to continue to learn from one another, we also become more capable of meaningful work that will make a positive difference. The weather will change, but my confidence in this process will be steady.


Democracy in Action

Wesleyan recently hosted a gathering of activists, journalists, academics, students… and other citizens concerned about the condition and future of American democracy. We kicked things off with an extraordinary speech/sermon from Michael Eric Dyson, who challenged us all to protect the potential of our democratic experiment. Hardly uncritical, professor Dyson underscored that we must take responsibility for our public sphere, that we must not let it be poisoned by hate and resentment, and that we must find ways to work with our fellow citizens, despite our disagreements, to make “out of many, one” a promise worth fighting for. We heard from excellent panelists about civic education in these challenging times,  about art and activism, and about the role of the media in shaping or distorting our ability to act in the public sphere. 

The conference came to a close with a conversation with Anand Giridharadas, who made a passionate case for becoming a persuader in one’s civic life. By this he means listening deeply and finding points of contact between one’s own views and the views of people who differ from you. He argued that if we want to protect our democracy from the forces of authoritarianism, we must appeal to the emotions of people who feel the system has failed them, or just feel adrift in our rapidly changing world. By authentically connecting across differences while making the case for a more democratic and inclusive future, we might be able to resist the forces eroding our democratic norms and potential.


It was an inspiring gathering, and many of us left knowing there was much civic work to do.

Who Would Ever Want to be a College President?

Who would ever want to be a college president? That was the question that Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics asked me when we scheduled our interview early in 2024. Since I love my job, I was eager to talk with him about this. The result is this interview

I also had fun talking about related topics connected to campuses and free speech with Khalilah Brown-Dean on WNPR’s Disrupted. We discuss safe enough spaces in the second half of the show. 

Access, Education, and Practicing Freedom

In the last week, I’ve talked about being a student with audiences at Brown University, here at Wesleyan’s RJ Julia, and at John Hopkins University’s new public humanities program in Washington, DC. At Brown, our subject was affirmative action, and I was joined by an economist, the Dean of Admissions, and a political theorist. All of us were concerned about the ways in which highly selective schools in the US are much more likely to reproduce inequality than they are to open doors of social mobility. We discussed how we can address our country’s history of racial injustice in the new legal context established last summer by the Supreme Court. It was a good discussion, but there was too much agreement, for my taste, among the panelists about the error of the court. I missed the opportunity to engage with voices critical of affirmative action.

At RJ Julia in Middletown, I was talking about my book, The Student: A Short History. It was fun to summarize the main themes of the book and then to focus on how, in the modern period, the idea of the student gets wed to the desire to “practice freedom.” That’s a phrase I use a lot in the book, whether I’m talking about Kant on thinking for oneself, about Du Bois on education as empowerment, or about Jane Addams on the crucial links of learning and social sympathy. There were thoughtful questions from the audience about some of my key concepts and also how they are playing out these days in academia.

I write this returning from Washington, DC, where I had a wonderful public conversation with some humanities professors from Johns Hopkins about liberal education, free speech, difficult conversations and how to be a student today. There was an impressive turnout from Wesleyan folks in the area—and some pointed questions.

Are we really living up to our promises of open inquiry and intellectual humility? Not everyone thinks so, and that’s one of the reasons why being a student, like being a teacher, means always attempting to do better. And that’s only possible through attentive listening, trust building, and openness.


Remembering Ron Daniel

It is with sadness that I note the death of D. Ronald Daniel ’52, Hon. ’88, P’77, ’82, ’91, GP’22, and Wesleyan Board of Trustees Chair Emeritus. Ron passed away on December 16th surrounded by his family.  

After graduating from Wesleyan in 1952 with honors and distinction in Mathematics, Ron earned his MBA from Harvard Business School. He was awarded the Baldwin Medal, Wesleyan’s highest alumni award, in 1981, and received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 1988. 

Ron spent his career at McKinsey & Co, retiring as Managing Partner Emeritus. At Wesleyan, Ron served on the Board from 1969-1987, was elected Chair, and was subsequently elected Trustee Chair Emeritus. Along with his very close friends Ezra Zilkha and John Jacobson, and supporting President Colin Campbell, Ron provided decisive leadership to alma mater.

Ron was proud of the fact that his children David ’77, Stephen ’82, and granddaughter, India ’22 attended Wesleyan. Countless Wesleyan alumni received his career guidance and support over many decades. The Daniel Family Commons, the space in the Usdan Center where Wesleyan Board meetings are held, is named after Ron’s family.  

Ron is survived by his wife Lise Scott P’91, children Peter, David ’77, Stephen ’82, stepdaughter Amanda Hampton ’91, and numerous grandchildren.

After Giving Thanks, Say No to Hate

The Thanksgiving break couldn’t have come fast enough this year, or so it seemed to me. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza had been growing worse by the day, with thousands of Palestinians falling victim to bombings and many more living in increasingly desperate conditions because of Israel’s war against Hamas. So many children have been killed, it is heartbreaking. These last few days bring some measure of hope, as some of the hundreds of civilians kidnapped in the terrorist raids in Southern Israel have been exchanged for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel’s occupying forces. A fragile cease fire has provided some modest respite for Gaza’s desperate conditions. We permit ourselves a little hope that this will be the base of a more lasting effort at peace.

But for many people the Thanksgiving break was punctuated by fear and grief. On Saturday evening three Palestinian students were shot in Vermont while on their Thanksgiving break. As I write this on Sunday, the shooter remains at large [update: an arrest has been made], and the men are still recuperating from their injuries. The investigation is ongoing as to the motive of the attacker. All of us should join in solidarity with these Palestinian students and their families by rejecting violence in our own environment as we hope for their recovery and for justice.

And yet in so many places in the United States and around the world, we see expressions of hate and of violence. As tempers flare, old anti-Semitic slurs are hurled by self-righteous protestors, and people who otherwise consider themselves good citizens indulge in base Islamophobia. We can prevent these things from happening on our own campus by remembering that we are here to learn together. We can study together the history of this conflict, together remain open to people with different points of view, contribute together, in whatever ways we can, to possibilities for peace.

There are two weeks left of classes this semester. During this time, we don’t have to agree about the war or about other political issues that face us. But we can work for peace, for mutual understanding, and for the ability to continue to learn together.