Reunion and Commencement Was a Blast!

It was great to see so many alumni back over the Memorial Day Weekend. Trustees had a very productive meeting, and we all cheered Eudice Chong’s ’18 historic victory as NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis Singles Champion. There were great Wesleyan seminars to attend, and many friends with whom to reconnect. This is Why.

Here are some fun video highlights

For me, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Commencement Speech was also historic. He connected with our students, alumni, and the deep reservoirs of his creativity. You can watch the speech here.

And now, students and faculty are getting ready for Summer Session! Go Wes!!

Perfect Start to Reunion & Commencement Weekend

What a glorious morning for R&C Weekend!

R&C 2015

It’s great to see all the Wesleyan families on campus.


After very productive trustee and trustee emeriti meetings on Thursday and Friday, we were treated to an amazing performance of Freestyle Love Supreme on Friday night.

Freestyle Love Supreme

Any moment the alumni parade begins. Here’s a video of the band getting ready.



We also enjoyed some student singers.


We’ll be updating this photo gallery of festivities throughout the weekend. You can also follow all coverage of the weekend on Storify.

This is Why.


Wesleyan in China

Last week I joined a group of Wesleyan professors and invited scholars for the third Forum jointly planned by the Social Sciences of China Press and our university. The topics of the first two seminars were Tradition and Enlightenment, and this third gathering focused on Modernization. We learned a lot from one another, not in spite of our differences but because of them.



Topics ranged from the different path of China for economic growth and social change, to comparisons with the Soviet Union, to political education and the legal system, to visualization of science, to education and modernization. We’ve met every two years, and the next gathering will be in Middletown.

While in Asia I attended Wesleyan events in Hong Kong and Shanghai. These were high energy receptions where alumni, parents and pre-frosh could meet and deepen their Wes connections. Here are some photos from the Hong Kong event:






Here are some photos from Shanghai:






Just before returning to campus, I gave a lecture at Fudan University on liberal education (what else?) where my host was Vice-Provost Ying Wang P’16. It was great to share ideas on a broad, contextual education with professors and students there. Here are a couple of photos from that event:



Wherever you go in the world, you can find Wes folks doing great things. THIS IS WHY.




Taking Wesleyan to the Bay Area

On March 9, I attended a wonderful Wesleyan event in San Francisco. More than 100 alumni and parents came out to hear about liberal education today, and to discuss the importance of financial aid support. I was joined by Jonathan Schwartz ’87 (shown below, far right), a scholarship kid who went on to do great things in the technology industry and who now runs CareZone, a company he co-founded to help families organize and attend to their health care data.

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

There were folks at the reception from across the generations, and we had a good conversation about reducing student debt and expanding the curriculum.

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

In the morning I visited our online partner Coursera to hear about some of their new specializations. I think Wesleyan can expand the quality and quantity of our MOOCs over the next several months.

I had spent the afternoon meeting with alumni and with colleagues at Stanford. I very much enjoyed the d-school’s open spaces and giddily innovative atmosphere. Some kinship with Wes at our best?



The next day, I headed to Menlo Park for a conversation with writer Michael Chabon P ’17 and Bozoma Saint John ’99, head of consumer marketing at iTunes and Beats Music.

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Fearlessly Working for Change

This past weekend I got to spend some time with two young alumni who are fearlessly working to change the world. Kennedy Odede ’12 and Jessica Posner Odede ’09 were back on campus (Kennedy is a trustee), taking a brief break from their leadership of Shining Hope for Communities. The two founded this organization when they were undergraduates, beginning with a school for girls and then a women’s health clinic in Kibera, Kenya.

Kari and I had seen them on television a couple of weeks ago in a segment of the PBS documentary A Path Appears. The film, created by Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, documents the work of change agents in various parts of the world. We were particularly moved by footage of the women’s health clinic, named after Johanna Justin Jinich ’10, a Wesleyan student who was murdered almost six years ago. Johanna’s memory is not only kept alive —  her spirit of care and energy is reinforced every day in Shining Hope’s good work in Kibera.

Here is a brief clip from the organization:


Jessica and Kennedy were talking with Bob Patricelli ’61, P’88, P’90, who has been key to establishing the Center for Social Entrepreneurship named in his honor. Many Wesleyan students at the Patricelli Center are learning the skills they need to build sustainable organizations that will make a positive difference in the world. They will be joining a long tradition of Wesleyan students who turned their education toward “the good of the world.”

You can find A Path Appears on iTunes, and you can learn more about Shining Hope for Communities here and here.

Lin-Manuel’s Historical Rhymes and Rhythms

Our expectations were high this week when Kari and I headed into New York to catch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (’02) new musical Hamilton. We had seen In the Heights with a raucous Wesleyan crowd several years ago when the show was having its Tony awarded season on Broadway — and we were blown away. Now we’ve been hearing all the great buzz about the new show. The New York Times ran a substantial article about it on Sunday, and The New Yorker published a long profile of Lin last week. My favorite line in this piece about his days at Wes: At Wesleyan, you can find resources for whatever cockamamie idea comes into your head. Lin will deliver the Commencement Address when he receives an honorary doctorate on May 24.

The show is spectacular — I never realized American history could be so cool. An early song, “I am not throwing away my…shot” knocks you back in your seat. The musical plea for forgiveness near the show’s end makes you want to drop down on your knees. Tickets for the Public Theater performances are now sold out, I’m told, but we’re rooting for a return to Broadway!

Who Tells Your Story?
Who Tells Your Story?

Theater and music around campus this weekend: In the Patricelli ’92 Theater Friday and Saturday you can find  “Almost, Maine” and at Crowell tonight you can hear “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars” raising the roof.

Recognizing Great Teachers

It’s that time of year again. The university is soliciting nominations for Wesleyan’s Binswanger Award for teaching excellence. Here’s a little history:

The Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching was inaugurated in 1993 as an institutional recognition of outstanding faculty members. One to three Binswanger Prizes are presented each year and are made possible by the generosity of the Binswanger family that counts numerous Wesleyan alumni, alumnae and parents in its ranks. The standards and criteria for the annual prizes shall be excellence in teaching, as exemplified by commitment to the classroom and student accomplishment, intellectual demands placed on students, lucidity, and passion.

Recommendations may be based on any of the types of teaching that are done at the University including, but not limited to, teaching in lecture courses, seminars, laboratories, creative and performance-based courses, research tutorials and other individual and group tutorials at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Juniors, seniors, graduate students and alumni from the last decade are eligible to nominate up to three professors. Nominations are made through Wesconnect here. GLS students can use their e-portfolio to make nominations. Professors who have taught at Wesleyan for at least a decade are eligible.

You can find out more about the Binswanger Prize, as well as watch or listen to interviews with some previous winners here.

Speaking of great teachers, I was so pleased to see my teacher Victor Gourevitch, William Griffin Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, and his wife Jacqueline Gourevitch in the audience for a conversation about liberal education in New York recently. I studied philosophy with Victor, and we edited a book together with the letters of Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojève a few years after I graduated (On Tyranny). Jacqueline taught painting at Wesleyan for years, and my office benefits from having one of her extraordinary cloud paintings in it.

My undergraduate advisor, Henry Abelove, Wilbur Fisk Osborne Professor of English, Emeritus, has kindly agreed to come back to campus next week to introduce my talk on Tuesday, February 3 at 7 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. I am calling the talk “How to Destroy Higher Education,” and it is open to the public. Henry is a truly remarkable teacher (recognized with a Binswanger Prize early on), and it will be so lovely to have him back on campus. I’m hoping to see lots of current students, alumni and friends of the university there.



Taking Liberal Education on the Road

Last week in Washington I ran into alumni teaching at American University and nearby schools. I was there to talk about the deep tradition of liberal education in the United States and also about the long history of criticism of this current way of thinking. Our tradition is stronger because of these criticisms. I was encouraged by the faculty’s interest in broad, integrative learning, no matter the discipline in which they were working.

On Monday this week I participated in a panel on similar themes at the New York Public Library with Beverly Tatum ’75 and Anthony Marx (who spent a year at Wesleyan as an undergraduate). There were many Wesleyans in the audience, including current students, trustees and at least one professor emeritus. Bev has been president of Spelman College, a historically black women’s college in Atlanta, and has thought deeply about the psychology of race, prejudice, separation, and inclusion. Tony Marx was a major force for higher education opportunity as president of Amherst, and he has continued to work on behalf of literacy and access to learning at NYPL. It was an honor to share the podium with both.

Anthony Marx, Beverly Daniel Tatum '75 and Michael Roth at the New York Public Library
Anthony Marx, Beverly Daniel Tatum ’75 and Michael Roth at the New York Public Library

I’m now on my way to Miami to participate in a discussion about education with Joel Klein (former Chancellor of New York City Schools) and Mitch Daniels (president of Purdue and former governor of Indiana). We are likely to have very different approaches to education issues, and I look forward to a spirited discussion. When there are differences of opinion, the potential for real learning grows. Vigorous criticism, not echo chambers in which “correct” views are repeated, is essential for improving education.

Before heading back to campus, I’ll visit my mother, my first teacher. She’s become a great Wesleyan supporter, although she’s still ready to offer her son plenty of vigorous (and affectionate) criticism.

And I’ve got to put the finishing touches on the syllabus for The Modern and the Post-Modern. Classes will be starting before I know it!


My Mom shared this picture from my Wesleyan graduation in 1978

Lila and Michael Roth Wesleyan Graduation '78
Lila and Michael Roth Wesleyan Graduation ’78






Year End Thanks

Dear friends,

As 2014 comes to a close, I want to express my gratitude for all the contributions to our extraordinary university. Students, alumni, their families, staff, and faculty – we all learn from one another, teach one another. There have been more than a few challenges over the last twelve months, and many, many achievements. In a world of tension and acrimony, our community has modeled the aspiration for greater inclusion, equity, creativity and purpose. There is much work to be done, and we will do it together. The boldness, rigor and practical idealism of a Wesleyan education are evident in the talent, dedication and compassion of our students, alumni, faculty, and staff. THIS IS WHY we face the future with such hope and such confidence.

With thanks, I wish you and yours health, peace, and love in 2015.