Towards a Healthy Thanksgiving and End of the Semester

For those of us on campus, we have two weeks of classes and residential life before the Thanksgiving holiday and long winter break. Kari and I have been very impressed with the mask wearing on campus. When we walk around with puppy Lola, folks are keeping their distance, though we also see people exercising, eating meals, and generally hanging out in small groups. It’s seemed safe enough, though everyone is conscious that the safety is fragile, and that we must remain vigilant against the spread of Covid.

Of course, now we are in mid-November, and the spread of the pandemic is accelerating around the country. Even Connecticut, which had been very successful in keeping the virus more or less under control, has seen an increase in the number of cases over the last month. For that reason, we have restricted our students to campus for all but essential local travel, making sure we maximize our chances to keep contagion at bay. There has been a moderate increase in positive tests over the past week, and so we want to be especially vigilant for these last 10 days. Wear your masks, maintain social distance, and keep washing your hands thoroughly—wherever you are. And of course, avoid large groups and keep your testing schedule as long as you are on campus. We want everyone to have a healthy holiday, and the Connecticut Department of Public Health has issued a holiday gathering preparation guide with good advice to reduce risk associated with holiday celebrations.

The last weeks of every semester can be stressful, and they can also be rewarding. Let’s stay healthy and get the reward of a more relaxing, healthy, holiday break.

 

Acknowledging Our Veterans

Today, November 11th, is Veterans Day, a great time to acknowledge the service of the many in the Wesleyan community who have served in the U.S. armed forces. In 1918, the Armistice was signed on November 11th, and after that brutal conflict that left tens of millions dead and wounded, the world hoped to put war behind us. Alas, that was not to be, and over the last hundred years we have at various times depended on servicemen and servicewomen to step into the breach.

There are now more than three million post-9/11 veterans, and many of them want to continue their education after leaving the service. About seven years ago, Wesleyan began partnering with the Posse Foundation to recruit veterans interested in a liberal education at the highest level. These students have contributed immeasurably to our campus culture, and I am very grateful for their participation in all dimensions of campus life. A few years after beginning our partnership with Posse, we began recruiting faculty members with military experience and academic expertise teach at Wesleyan. The divide between civilian and military culture does a disservice to both, and Professors Robert Cassidy and Joseph Slaughter make many contributions inside and outside the classroom.

You can read about a few of our Posse Veteran students here, and learn more about the research and teaching of Professors Cassidy and Slaughter on our website. Wishing all a good Veterans Day!


Patience, Kindness, Especially Now

Many of us were awaiting Election Day with great anticipation. After many months of advertising, emails, phone calls, essays and speeches, we were hoping the country would come to a conclusion about who would represent us in the coming years. Voting here on campus went very smoothly, and we know that thousands of students, faculty and staff made their voices heard with their votes. It’s been a very noisy season, and now we get to listen to what others have said with their ballots. Well, it will take some days before all the votes are counted, and so this means staying tuned in for a while more. After all that noise, now we need patient listening. I hope to listen to the roundtable planned with some faculty in Wesleyan’s Government department on Friday, November 6th at noon.

For many, this is just an additional layer of stress on top of what had already been a very anxious time. But we can get through this with the same practices that have gotten us this far: looking out for our friends, colleagues, neighbors and family members; listening respectfully to the points of views of others; finding some additional kindness in ourselves. We should find things other than the election news on which to focus. Watching the news obsessively won’t keep us any healthier than watching the COVID dashboard obsessively does – and I say that as someone who spends far too much time doing both things. Try to find time to relax, and to do the things that bring you joy – masked, of course!

It’s sometimes hard to work in a stressful environment like this one, but I hope you will find meaning and purpose in the work we do together. The University is preparing for preregistration, midterms are coming due, and the research, teaching and creative practice that enlivens the campus continues. I am grateful for that, and I trust you are, too. And it’s a beautiful fall day in New England. Find some time to exercise your patience outside!

After all the votes are counted, there will still be much work to do to as we try to find our way in these challenging times. Let’s do that with patience and kindness, and let’s do it together.

Foss Hill this morning, with the moon still hanging above the Observatory:

Patience and Kindness, Especially Now

Today I sent the following message to the Wesleyan community:

Dear friends,

Many of us were awaiting Election Day with great anticipation. After many months of advertising, emails, phone calls, essays and speeches, we were hoping the country would come to a conclusion about who would represent us in the coming years. Voting here on campus went very smoothly, and we know that thousands of students, faculty and staff made their voices heard with their votes. It’s been a very noisy season, and now we get to listen to what others have said with their ballots. Well, it will take some days before all the votes are counted, and so this means staying tuned in for a while more. After all that noise, now we need patient listening. I hope to listen to the roundtable planned with some faculty in Wesleyan’s Government department on Friday, November 6th at noon.

For many, this is just an additional layer of stress on top of what had already been a very anxious time. But we can get through this with the same practices that have gotten us this far: looking out for our friends, colleagues, neighbors and family members; listening respectfully to the points of views of others; finding some additional kindness in ourselves. We should find things other than the election news on which to focus. Watching the news obsessively won’t keep us any healthier than watching the COVID dashboard obsessively does – and I say that as someone who spends far too much time doing both things. Try to find time to relax, and to do the things that bring you joy – masked, of course!

It’s sometimes hard to work in a stressful environment like this one, but I hope you will find meaning and purpose in the work we do together. The University is preparing for preregistration, midterms are coming due, and the research, teaching and creative practice that enlivens the campus continues. I am grateful for that, and I trust you are, too. And it’s a beautiful fall day in New England. Find some time to exercise your patience outside!

After all the votes are counted, there will still be much work to do to as we try to find our way in these challenging times. Let’s do that with patience and kindness, and let’s do it together.

Yours ever,
Michael

Please Vote! Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3rd

What a time it has been! This is a political season unlike any other, with a pandemic raging while candidates present starkly different visions of the present and the future. Millions have already voted around the country, and on Tuesday we will have a polling station in Beckham Hall on campus at which those registered in this area can cast their ballots. If you missed the registration deadline this week but still wish to vote in Connecticut, you can register and vote at the Election Day Registration tent behind Freeman Athletic Center. Both sites will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. More info on registering and voting is available on the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships’ website.

Do you have a voting plan? If not, you can get help making one here.

Many predict that we may not have a clear outcome on Election Night. It could take days or weeks to count absentee ballots, and nobody will be that surprised if results are challenged in the courts. We must remain vigilant and protect our democratic practices should they be put under pressure. Protect the Results puts it this way: We will honor the valid results of the 2020 election, ensure that every vote is counted, and show up to demand that the losing candidate put their ego aside and concede for the good of our country. The organization has resources on its website for different ways of  “showing up” to defend democracy.

Whatever the outcome, there will be a range of emotions in our community. I encourage students to support one another during this time, while being respectful of those with different political views. Maybe you’ll hear some at the Pre-Election Fireside Chat (with S’Mores!) on Monday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. Masks, social distancing, and advanced RSVP are required. A virtual Fireside S’mores event will be held for remote students; please RSVP here.

Make a plan to vote, and then let’s defend the results.

On Two of My Great Teachers & Intellectual Diversity

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed about teachers who made an impact on my life. I’ve been very fortunate in this regard, having benefitted from mentors who very generously helped me set out on a path of learning and teaching. I chose to talk about two of my Wesleyan teachers, Henry Abelove and Victor Gourevitch. They were very different kinds of teachers, but what united them was an uncanny ability to invite students into deeply attentive modes of reading. That kind of attention, I think, is a model for so many other things in life.

I was also asked by Bob Greenberg (who puts together the Brainwaves video anthology) about why I think intellectual diversity is so important. Here’s my response.

These ARE dangerous times. The election is only 10 days from now. Make a plan to vote!

Virtual Homecoming/Family Weekend

This is the time of year we’d normally welcome a few thousand visitors to campus. The leaves are still hanging on, with a blaze of color to boot. The athletic teams would be gearing up for big games against our Little Three rivals. Theater and dance performances would be in process, poster sessions being prepared… Alas, we are going to have to be content with looking forward to all that after the restrictions of the pandemic lift. The leaves are still hanging on, and the teams are practicing — as are our performers and scientists. But visitors will have to be virtual for now.

But this is STILL Homecoming/Family weekend, and we do have an interesting program for folks who want to Zoom into contact with campus. There are classes in psychology and classics to attend, exhibitions to see, and panel discussions in which one can participate. The schedule is here.  You’ll see that there are discussions of careers and climate change, of movies and science, and–what a surprise!–politics.

I wish we could welcome you back to Wesleyan, but for now we have to make do with these programs and the great content they offer. You’ll have to take my word for it, the campus looks beautiful, and we will welcome folks back when it’s safe to do so.

Testing tent and concert stage for students

 

Tough Times, But There ARE Jobs Out there!!!

After folks have gotten settled in to their semester routines, Octobers are usually a very busy time at the Gordon Career Center. And this year is no exception. Surprised? I was, too. After all, unemployment is high, and the pandemic is having a dramatic impact on the workforce. Yet, companies and not-for-profits are still recruiting, and many of them are interested in college graduates with a well-rounded education. In changing times, those practiced in liberal learning are empowered to continue to adapt and make contributions to the organizations of which they are a part.

The Gordon Career Center has many resources to help Wesleyan students navigate the current internship and job environment. Most importantly, a visit with the staff at the GCC will help students reflect more deeply on the connections between what they are studying at the University and the the kinds of work they would like to explore after their undergraduate years. Becoming more intentional and strategic about their work goals will serve them well in the long run.

The GCC is open for operation virtually, with 100 events still to go this semester. They include information sessions with employers like the National Health Corps, Urban Teachers, and Venture for America; “Ask Me Anything” conversations with career advisors; and Cardinal Connection meetings with alumni in a variety of fields.

The Executive Director of the GCC, Sharon Belden Castonguay recently answered questions on Coursera Live about finding meaningful work in our current context. You can find a link to her presentation here, and, better yet, you can find out more about connecting with the staff at the Gordon Career Center here.

Good luck!

Resist Governmental Attempts to Undermine Anti-Racism

These days there are so many national issues of concern to those in higher education that it can be difficult to decide which one to focus on when. This difficulty generally serves the interests of the current administration, which constantly seeks to shift attention away from non-partisan challenges (climate change, Covid-19) toward partisan issues (law and order, pro-life judges) that it can use to galvanize its base of support. Another such issue has just been manufactured by the Department of Education, and it is one that we in Higher-Ed must focus on now.

About a week ago, the DOE announced a potential investigation of Princeton University – and the issue was race. This shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, the Trump administration had allied itself with the group suing Harvard University over its affirmative action policies (Harvard won the suit, and there is an appeal in process), and it has begun an investigation of Yale University over its use of race in admissions. Now it’s  Princeton being targeted. Christopher L. Eisgruber, the university’s president, had announced to the community that the school would do its best to root out legacies of racism, and that they would work to build a more inclusive community by recognizing that “racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the university itself.”

Enter the DOE,  which wants to investigate Princeton because it has “admitted” to racism. Assistant Secretary of Education Robert King writes that since the university has acknowledged that systemic racism affects its campus even today—a problem affecting higher education institutions across the country which they too are working to address—it may not be entitled to the federal aid it has received since that aid was predicated on declarations of non-discrimination. With language right out of George Orwell’s doublespeak dictionary, the DOE threatens a university with failure to be non-discriminatory because it is trying to become less racist.

It would be easy to just shake one’s head at this latest abuse of power, but we in higher education have a duty to call out such harassment and hypocrisy.  During a pandemic, schools, colleges and universities need all the help they can get to protect the most vulnerable members of their communities – especially people of color who are disproportionately affected by this crisis. Instead of helping educational institutions fulfill their obligations to their students and the nation, the DOE engages in cynical attacks on those aiming to strengthen their communities.

Amherst College President Biddy Martin and I have asked dozens of schools to stand against this outrageous attempt to stifle positive change through the statement below. We have been gratified by the response. We stand together in the conviction that trying to serve all members of our communities should not be made the target of costly federal investigations.

 

September 24, 2020

Wesleyan University’s President, Michael Roth, and Amherst College’s President, Biddy Martin, have written the following statement regarding the DOE’s investigation of Princeton surrounding racism and adherence to federal non-discrimination law:

Across the nation, individuals, families, communities, businesses, corporations, and educational institutions are coming to grips with the country’s legacies of slavery and racial oppression,  which stretch back over four hundred years. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education announced that it will be investigating Princeton University for possible misrepresentations in its reports of adherence to federal non-discrimination law because its president publicly recognized that historic racism has been embedded in the institution over time.

It is outrageous that the Department of Education is using our country’s resources to investigate an institution that is committed to becoming more inclusive by reckoning with the impact in the present of our shared legacies of racism.

As presidents of colleges and universities, we, too, acknowledge the ways that racism has affected and continues to affect the country’s institutions, including our own. We stand together in recognizing the work we still need to do if we are ever “to perfect the union,” and we urge the  Department of Education to abandon its ill-considered investigation of Princeton University.

Michael Roth, President, Wesleyan University
Biddy Martin, President, Amherst College


Jeff Abernathy, Alma College
Barbara K. Altmann, Franklin & Marshall College
Carmen Twillie Ambar, Oberlin College
Teresa L. Amott, Knox College
David R. Anderson, St. Olaf College
Joseph E. Aoun, Northeastern University
Roslyn Clark Artis, Benedict College
Lawrence Bacow, Harvard University
Bradley W. Bateman, Randolph College
Sian Leah Beilock, Barnard College
Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity College
Scott Bierman, Beloit College
Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia University
Leon Botstein, Bard College
Elizabeth H. Bradley, Vassar College
John Bravman, Bucknell University
Robert A. Brown, Boston University
Mark Burstein, Lawrence University
Alison Byerly, Lafayette College
Michael T. Cahill, Brooklyn Law School
Roger Casey, McDaniel College
Kimberly Cassidy, Bryn Mawr College
Shirley M. Collado, Ithaca College
Paul Condrin, Bentley University
Marc C. Conner, Skidmore College
Nancy Crimmin, Becker College
Ronald J. Daniels, Johns Hopkins University
Elizabeth Davis, Furman University
Sean M. Decatur, Kenyon College
Kent Devereaux, Goucher College
Harry Dumay, Elms College
Sister Janet Eisner, Emmanuel College
Harry J. Elam, Jr., Occidental College
Margee Ensign, Dickinson College
Damián J. Fernández, Eckerd College
Jacquelyn S. Fetrow, Albright College
David Fithian, Clark University
Carol L. Folt, University of Southern California
William L Fox, St. Lawrence University
Michael L. Frandsen, Wittenberg University
John Fry, Drexel University
Jorge G. Gonzalez, Kalamazoo College
Jonathan D. Green, Susquehanna University
Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania
Philip J. Hanlon, Dartmouth College
Dennis Hanno, Wheaton College
Kathleen Harring, Muhlenberg College
Anne F. Harris, Grinnell College
David Harris, Union College
Majorie Hass, Rhodes College
Antoinette Hays, Regis College
Elizabeth L. Hillman, Mills College
Jonathan Holloway, Rutgers University
Lily Hsu, Laboure College
Joyce Jacobsen, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Paula Johnson, Wellesley College
Rock Jones, Ohio Wesleyan University
Marisa Kelly, Suffolk University
Cristle Collins Judd, Sarah Lawrence College
Thomas Katsouleas, University of Connecticut
Water Kimbrough, Dillard University
Maria Klawe, Harvey Mudd College
John C. Knapp, Washington & Jefferson College
Frederick M. Lawrence, Phi Beta Kappa Society
Laurie Leshin, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Ronald D. Liebowitz, Brandeis University
Hilary L. Link, Allegheny College
Maud S. Mandel, Williams College
Biddy Martin, Amherst College
Michael C. Maxey, Roanoke College
Dwight A. McBride, The New School
Kathleen McCartney, Smith College
Patricia A. McGuire, Trinity Washington University
Scott D. Miller, Virginia Wesleyan University
Anthony Monaco, Tufts University
Kathleen Murray, Whitman College
S. Georgia Nugent, Illinois Wesleyan University
Melvin L. Oliver, Pitzer College
Lynn Pasquerella, Association of American Colleges & Universities
Laurie L. Patton, Middlebury College
Christina Paxson, Brown University
Lee Pelton, Emerson College
Martha E. Pollack, Cornell University
Steven Poskanzer, Carleton College
Vincent Price, Duke University
Wendy Raymond, Haverford College
Ravi S. Rajan, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)
L. Rafael Reif, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mary Lou Retelle, Anna Maria College
Suzanne Rivera, Macalester College
Paula Rooney, Dean College
Clayton Rose, Bowdoin College
Thomas F. Rosenbaum, California Institute of Technology
Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan University
Peter Salovey, Yale University
Ruth J. Simmons, Prairie View A&M University
Valerie Smith, Swarthmore College
Jane Snyder, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis
Timothy Law Snyder, Loyola Marymount University
Clayton Spencer, Bates College
G. Gabrielle Starr, Pomona College
Kurt Steinberg, Montserrat College of Art
Sonya Stephens, Mount Holyoke College
Tania Tetlow, Loyola University New Orleans
Lara Tiedens, Scripps College
Stephen E. Thorsett, Willamette University
Laura Trombley, Southwestern University
Laura R. Walker, Bennington College
Jianping Wang, Mercer County Community College
Wim Wiewel, Lewis & Clark College
Edward Wingenbach, Hampshire College
David Wippman, Hamilton College