Please Vote! It’s Election Day!!

We’ve all heard about the supposed apathy of young voters, about the cynicism and the fatigue. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is an important election in Connecticut today and crucial races all over the country. Please exercise your right to vote!

Here is some information on where you can vote, if you are registered in Middletown. Most students vote at the Senior Center just past the bookstore at 150 William Street. You can check on your polling place below.


6 a.m.-8 p.m.


Voter Registration Lookup

Polling (Voting) Locations


9 a.m.-8 p.m. (departures every ten minutes from Usdan University Center)


Drivers’ license, WesID, utility bill, paycheck or other ID needed (Identification Requirements)


Connecticut now offers Election Day Registration (EDR). You can register and vote in person on Election Day at your town’s Election Day Registration location. Election Day Registration only applies to regular elections; it does not apply to primaries, referenda or special elections. Contact your local Registrars of Voters for information about location, hours of operation, and the identification requirements.


Dark Money Destroying Democracy

I’ve already posted about the great work of the Wesleyan Media Project, but I want to point everyone to their new website,

Many of us are turned off by the negative political advertising that dominates the airwaves– so much of it from groups that don’t have to disclose where their money comes from. The new WMP website puts it this way:

“…a growing body of evidence suggests that ads work better if they are sponsored by unknown groups, which further encourages the growth of dark money. Not only is there no transparency that could help voters better filter the barrage of messages, but there is less accountability in elections. You cannot punish a group in the same way that you can a candidate or a party by not voting for them. This is a problem for democracy. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. This site is intended to help educate Americans on the problems of dark money, who the dark money organizations are, and what you can do about it.”

Negative advertising has become so pervasive and so detached from honesty, that the following may not even seem like a parody:


But here’s the key: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!

Defend the possibility of democracy: VOTE NEXT WEEK!!


Wesleyan Media Project

For the past several years, Professor Erika Franklin Fowler has been conducting sophisticated research with her students on American electoral politics. This isn’t surprising; Prof. Fowler is in the Government Department, after all. Like many of her colleagues in that distinguished group, her work has reverberations far beyond campus. In this election cycle, journalists across the country are using analysis from the Wesleyan Media Project. Directed by Prof. Fowler with colleagues from Bowdoin College and Washington State University, the Wesleyan Media Project conducts quantitative and qualitative research to understand more fully the role of spending in races across the country. As the Knight Foundation puts it, “by tracking this data year by year, the project is establishing a reference point that journalists, scholars and citizens can rely on to trace the root of campaign funding and hold officials more accountable.”

More than 20 student researchers are providing real time analysis of spending patterns at a time when many are trying to hide campaign donations. In Sunday’s New York Times, for example the WMP’s work was cited in an article exploring how Democratic donors are coordinating their efforts on a few key messages while G.O.P. spending is far more diffuse. The goals of the WMP are as simple as they are important: “to develop a definitive database that tracks all advertising by source (corporation, union, interest group, party, or candidate), and to enhance the ability of scholars, citizens, and journalists to hold government accountable by providing public information on how special interests are attempting to influence American democracy in general and political campaigns in particular.”

Prof. Fowler was recently interviewed in or quoted on MSNBC, PBS Newshour, Wisconsin Public Radio, WNPR’s “Where We Live”, International Business Times, and Fox CT, among others. Other highlights include stories in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

This is engaged learning at its best! Stay tuned for more research from the Wesleyan Media Project on Oct 13. THIS IS WHY.



Moving Our Campus Community Forward

Today I emailed the following message to Wesleyan students:

As I sat nervously watching election returns Tuesday night, I wondered how the country would digest the outcome, whatever it turned out to be. This election cycle has been so bitter and brutish, would representatives be able to work together to get things done? Would we find ways to tackle the important problems that we all know are undermining our economy and our culture?

In his victory speech, President Obama evoked the spirit of service that he also spoke about in his Wesleyan Address at Commencement in 2008. He talked about the sacrifices that people make for one another in tough times, and about the shared hope for a better future that he believed would overcome our differences. “The task,” he said, “of perfecting our union moves forward.”

At Wesleyan this year we have seen our fair share of differences on issues ranging from teaching loads for visiting professors to the possibilities of building a small cogeneration plant for backup power in the event of emergencies. The most important issue that has sowed divisions has been our decision to allocate a defined amount of the budget for financial aid, which we expect will mean we are “need-blind” for about 90% of the entering class. I think this will allow us to meet the full needs of the students who are here, preserve diversity, and keep our debt levels low while restraining future tuition increases. Others think we are abandoning not just a technique for achieving diversity but a key principle. We have our differences.

We have been discussing these issues with students, faculty, alumni and staff, even as we try to raise more funds for financial aid. For the first time in its history, Wesleyan is entering a fundraising campaign whose highest priority is endowment for financial aid. I have been traveling around the country seeking support for this campaign, and alumni and parents have been responding with great generosity. Last year we secured more than 60 million dollars in gifts and pledges, and we are keeping up that pace this year. I believe that supporting financial aid is more important now than ever, and on this, I think, we agree.

Debates about financial aid have exposed divisions within our campus community. To ensure a sustainable economic model, some think we should raise tuition more aggressively, others think we should lay off staff or faculty, while others want to cut programs they deem less important to the student experience. I’ve been listening to and participating in these debates, and I’ll continue to do so. We have significant financial resources, and we have enormous talent on this campus. We will continue to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience while working within a sustainable economic model. We have our differences, but what unites us is far more important.

In a far uglier vein, recently some have tried to exploit or create divisions in our campus community by appealing to racism and hatred. In anonymous posts on websites known for their vulgarity, homophobia and misogyny, there have been racist comments posted about Wes students and Middletown residents. They are hurtful to students of color and to all who value diversity and inclusion.  I have not spoken out on this until now because I think such comments are beneath contempt.

Students have also raised concerns about recent campus security alerts that used racial identifications in describing alleged perpetrators. Were these more hurtful than useful? I have also heard complaints from students of color who feel marginalized or intimidated by certain aspects of our campus culture. We must make diversity meaningful on campus by creating a culture of inclusion. There is work to do.

On Monday night in Beckham Hall at 7:30 pm students have organized a forum to discuss issues of race and inclusion on campus. Sonia Manjon will moderate a panel on which I will participate with student and Public Safety representatives. I hope there will be a good turnout so that we can have a frank conversation about how we can create a campus climate in which all are treated with respect. More than that, we want a campus that builds on acceptance, creating bonds of affectionate solidarity.

The project of building this community is ongoing, and I am eager to help lead it. I want students to know that I am available to meet with any group, formal or informal. I have regular office hours on Monday afternoons, and scheduled sessions with the WSA, and Argus editors during the semester. I frequently meet with student groups at various times throughout the week. The open forums I’ve held with students have been candid exchanges, and I’ve learned much from them. I’m happy to hold additional meetings of that kind. I am eager to hear your views and find ways to join forces to enable our school live up to our aspirations for it.

I am continually inspired by the talent, energy and purpose of Wesleyan students – on stage, in athletic competitions, in classrooms, studios and research labs. We are not, to paraphrase President Obama, as divided as our politics sometime suggest. We are brought together in shared hope to ensure that Wesleyan will be a champion of progressive liberal arts education for generations to come. Together, we will move our campus community forward.

Election Eve Thoughts: Can We Still Be Inspired?

With thanks to Gabriella De Golia ’13, I am passing along some information on voting tomorrow:

  • The Middletown registrars should have updated all the residential information of registered students so as to reflect their current housing situation.
  • All students except those listed below will be voting at the Senior Center, located close to Broad St. Books at 150 Williams Street.
  • Students living in La Casa, Interfaith/Lighthouse, Full House/Writing House and Park Washington Apartments will be voting at Macdonough School, located at 66 Spring St. All other Washington St. residents will be voting at Senior Center.
  • Shuttle rides to both polling locations will be provided all day to students, leaving every ten minutes from the Wyllys Avenue entrance to Usdan.
  • It is recommended that students bring both a government-issued ID and their WesID to the polls in the event that there were confusions regarding their registration.
  • Polls are open from 6AM to 8PM. If students are in line to vote by 8PM, they can still vote even if they do not get to the voting booth before 8PM.
  • If there are any questions regarding a student’s registration status or polling location, the Registrar’s Office can be reached at (860) 344-3518 (Democratic Registrar) or (860) 344-3517 (Republican Registrar).

Students can watch returns in Usdan Cafe beginning at 7. The American Studies and Government majors will be watching returns at Woodhead Lounge.

I remember well the exuberance on campus on the night of Obama’s election in 2008. I came over to Usdan late (for me) at night to find a great celebration going on.

Even those who weren’t thrilled with Obama felt part of a historic moment. The mood seems so different this year. Is that because of the sorry state of the economy, or because of the nasty and brutish campaign run by both candidates? Is our campus more divided about our own local issues, or has our capacity for ironic distancing overwhelmed our capacity to be inspired to serve something larger than ourselves? Despite these differences, I trust Wes students will get to the polls, and that in the aftermath of the election we can find ways to work together on issues of mutual concern — both national and right here on campus.

  Here are some thoughts I posted on HuffingtonPost this past weekend.

As Election Day draws near, I find myself thinking back to Barack Obama’s 2008 Commencement Address at Wesleyan. He was just candidate Obama then, coming to the end of a tough primary fight, substituting for Ted Kennedy at our graduation ceremony. I was just finishing my first year as president of alma mater. It was a day of excitement, of hope and of inspiration.

Obama told our graduates that they should be skeptical of the notion that there were two different stories ahead of them: one the private tale of jobs and families, and the second the account of what happens in the wider world. He related how many had told him when he was graduating that he should focus on the first story: that economic security and building a family were all that really mattered. They had told him, as many were telling our undergraduates, that it was foolhardy to think you could really change the world for the better.

Candidate Obama told our graduates not to listen to such advice because it would narrow their futures and impoverish the nation. He reminded them that generations had long believed “that their story and the American story are not separate but shared.” He stressed that he himself had found his calling through service to community, through significant acts of citizenship.

Service also helped define Mitt Romney’s path to adulthood, though he doesn’t like to dwell on his time in France as a Mormon missionary or his very active efforts as a church member to help those in his community in need of assistance. He does, of course, often refer to his leadership of the 2002 Olympics, but he does so to point to his managerial expertise rather than his public service or civic engagement.

Obama’s message resonated with our graduates in 2008, and it captivated the majority of the nation by Election Day. We wanted to believe that the story of our private lives is not divorced from our public activities as citizens. How distant that message has seemed during the 2012 campaign! Over the last several months we have heard talk of taxes and of deficits, of investment and of outsourcing, of education as workforce preparation. Of course, these topics are of undeniable importance, especially in these difficult economic times. But the economic times were also difficult in the spring of 2008, and they were rapidly getting worse. Yet back then Obama chose to try to inspire us to link our ambitions for economic security to our dreams for building a more just and humane society. He chose to talk about service as well as salaries.

Why are both candidates today so reluctant to call for service? Why do they continually appeal to our desire to have our country do something for us, but rarely ask that we make personal sacrifices to improve our collective future? Have they concluded that given the tough times, they can win only be satisfying private individual’s desires, without evoking our public aspirations to create a society that fosters community and individual freedom?

In 2008, candidate Obama sounded a different note: “It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role that you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in the American story.” He was right about that. As a society, we will not be admired because of the thinness of our tax rates or of our computers. Smaller tablets and more convenient apps inspire neither compassion nor greatness. We will realize our true potential as individuals and citizens when we respond to a call to protect the most vulnerable while helping others to fully develop their abilities.

Obama ended his Wesleyan address by noting that “we may disagree as Americans on certain issues and positions, but I believe that we can be unified in service to a greater good.” That belief in service to a greater good is exactly what we will need after this bitter, nasty electoral contest. We will need a call to service that will combine idealism with effectiveness, that will merge our private and public stories. We will need to hitch our wagons to something larger than ourselves. Who will try to inspire us to do so?

Election Season: Listen, Discuss, Vote

There is a definite nip in the air, and each day the sun seems just a little more apathetic as it makes its way over the Connecticut River Valley. Fall is here. So are political elections, and the air has been ringing with the sounds of…nastiness. As the Wesleyan Media Project has shown, both sides are playing the negative game. Here in Connecticut, we are treated every day to a barrage of negative advertising in a Senate race pitting a very rich wrestling magnate against a congressman trying to replace Joe Lieberman. Watching this slug-fest is even less entertaining than watching pseudo-wrestling. We’ve all seen fakery before, and so it’s easy to become cynical about the mudslinging.

It’s easy to become cynical about the political process, too, but that would be a big mistake. This election offers some of the starkest choices that American voters have been faced with in generations. This is a time for students to make their voices heard – whomever you are supporting in November. Wesleyan students have a long history of civic engagement – I saw that first-hand when I met with a large group of concerned students last week to talk about financial aid. You can see a video of the forum here. Public support for education in general and student aid in particular are very much in play in this election – and of course that’s just one of many issues on which candidates differ.

Tomorrow (Wed) night some Wesleyan student groups have set up PAC 001 so that the campus community can watch the presidential debate from 9-10:30pm. Usdan will also have snacks and debate in the café area.

If you plan to vote in Connecticut and haven’t registered yet, there’s still time to register. The website of CT’s Secretary of State has all the information you need.

It’s election season. Participate in the process: listen, discuss. And then let’s turn out to vote!


One Week Before Elections – Don’t let Cynicism Win!

On Sunday I published an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the dangers of becoming cynical in this period of intense negative campaigning. The level of public discourse has gotten so low, so mean-spirited, that it is turning off people who might otherwise want to participate in the public sphere. Traveling to various cities, I am more aware than ever of the waves of negative advertising washing over the country. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s embrace of anonymous influence, we often don’t know who is paying for the mud that’s being tossed around, and the result is a general decline of confidence that anything important and meaningful is to be found in the public sphere. The Wesleyan Media Project, led by Professor Erika Fowler, has been offering important data on how money is being spent by independent groups this fall. The massive amount of money washing over the political system turns many of us off from wanting to engage with the electoral process. Should we describe this decline of confidence as the growth of cynicism, or just as an intelligent reaction to our contemporary context?

Cynics are no fools, and one might even describe cynicism as the effort to protect oneself from appearing foolish. One of the hallmarks of contemporary cynicism (with ancient roots) is the rejection of conventional standards. The cynic delights in rejecting the criteria of those with power and privilege, and this rejection is often mixed with contempt. Cynics “know” that the established order is wrong — corrupt, unnatural and unjust — and their knowledge can give them a sense of superiority. We reject the established ways of the world because we know better.

But cynicism about politics and the public sphere doesn’t lead to efforts to change the way things are. Instead, it leads to a withdrawal from public life, a withdrawal that is justified by the cynic’s belief in his or her own superiority. We cynics know better, and we know that participation in public life is for those who just don’t understand the ways things really work.

Another dimension of cynicism is the belief in one’s own self-sufficiency. Cynics don’t have to engage in the public sphere because they have developed a way of life that doesn’t require engagement. They have nothing to gain from interacting with others who don’t share their views, and they find reinforcement from other cynics who also reject this kind of interaction. A community based on rejection reinforces its members’ contempt for the dominant culture and their proud alienation from it. They feel they don’t need to engage because their cynicism gives them a sense of self-righteous autonomy.

Cynicism may be particularly prevalent among young people, and psychologists even have a specific measure for adolescent cynicism, Acyn2, on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. As an educator, I find this youthful attitude to be particularly worrisome, because above all it protects students from learning. Behind the façade of the knowing rejection of the status quo, behind the defense of the self-sufficient community, is the fearful refusal to engage with new possibilities. Cynics have already made up their minds, and people who have made up their minds believe they have nothing to learn.

When you participate in the public sphere, you have to open yourself up to the views of others, and real engagement means being open to change. That’s why political participation should be part of every student’s education. Participation is a public experiment through which you discover things about the world, about yourself and about the possibilities for change. Public engagement is challenging because you may be surprised that the people or systems about which you’ve already reached conclusions are more complex than you’d ever imagined — more complex and more important for shaping the future.

In this age of degraded political discourse and anonymously funded attack ads, it’s easy to see the reasons for the cynical withdrawal from public life. But we must turn back the tide of cynicism; we must show our jaded, withdrawn young people that they are not self-sufficient, and that if they don’t engage in shaping their future, somebody else will do it for them. When students turn themselves off to engagement and participation, they are cutting themselves off from learning. They are also depriving our public sphere of their energy and ideas. There is comfort in belonging to a community of cynics, but there is much more stimulation and rewarding work to be found by engaging with others in trying to make the public sphere a more meaningful environment for all of us.

One step in that process is to get out and vote next week. Voting, of course, is just one dimension of political engagement, but it is a crucial one. Two years ago groups of Wes students worked to help get people to the polls, and I hope to see them out there again. Those who participate in the system know it isn’t perfect, but they also know that if they don’t play a role in these elections, someone else will be only too happy to do it for them.

Participation in Fall Politics

Wesleyan students are known as a political group, and often this means that we have been the scene of plenty of campus activism. I’d like to think that as an educational institution we develop capacities for citizenship in our students (and not just the capacity for protest), and that we have a culture in which people take seriously ideas from various points in the political spectrum. Sometimes schools like ours are criticized for being too homogeneous politically, and we should recognize that we have often been a place that has marginalized conservative voices. In recent years I have sensed a change in that regard, as groups of students who identify as conservatives have organized and gained more of a presence on campus.

Now we are little more than a month away from national elections, and we are being bombarded with advertisements. Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that deemed money to have the protections of speech, the pace of “investing” in the political arena through large donations has accelerated. The Wesleyan Media Project, under the guidance of Prof. Erika Fowler, is tracking these expenditures and getting a lot of attention in the press. Who is trying to influence us, and for what purpose?

All of this mass media politicking can seem like so much noise after a while, and there is a tendency to tune out. I want to remind the Wes family, especially our students, that this is precisely the time when you should be paying the most attention to politics. I want to remind our students, whatever their political affiliations, to get their absentee ballots or arrange to vote here in Middletown.

Please don’t neglect political participation because of some general dissatisfaction with the whole system. It would be a terrible waste if our campus community became merely skeptical about politics and didn’t participate. If you don’t exercise your power to vote, someone else will be making decisions for you.

[tags]politics, vote, Wesleyan Media Project[/tags]

Dear Mr. President…

I sent the following letter to our 44th President a few days ago.

Dear President Obama,

I write just a few days before your Inauguration to send you my congratulations, best wishes, and deep hopes as you begin your tenure as president. The impact of your Commencement Address at Wesleyan University in the spring still echoes on our campus, and although we know that college students everywhere identify with your message of hope and change, we at Wesleyan feel a special kinship with you.

In a recent video communication you call on Americans to step forward in service to our communities, our regions and our country. This is a call that resonates powerfully with the Wesleyan family. For generations our students, faculty and alumni have connected their education with making a positive contribution to the world around us. We have long believed in the power of a liberal arts education to help one not only to live a more reflective and considered life as an individual, but to enable one to engage with one’s community in an effective and generous way.

In response to your call Wesleyan will strive to reinvigorate the public service dimensions of the education we offer. You have inspired us to find “our moon, our levee, our dream,” and we will set our goals and work together to accomplish them.

From the same marble terrace from which you delivered your Commencement Address, Martin Luther King Jr. told our students that “the arc of history bends toward justice.” Like you, he knew that we must join forces to realize the potential for justice in our country, in our history. Mr. President, I pledge that we at Wesleyan will do everything we can to help you in this endeavor.

Congratulations on your inauguration. With your leadership and our joint service we can make substantial progress in achieving our goals.

Yours sincerely,

Michael S. Roth

Congratualtions, Mr. President

click photo to enlarge

[tags] President Barack Obama, Inauguration, Commencement Address, community engagement, public service, Martin Luther King Jr.[/tags]

Hope and Purpose

Last night I went to sleep after knowing that all the networks had called the Western states for Barack Obama (Hon ’08), ensuring his victory in the election. We’d spent much of the evening with colleagues and friends watching the electoral map turn blue, but it was late and Sophie had school in the morning….

photo by Jessica Brownfeld '10
photo by Jessica Brownfeld ’10

Sometime after midnight I awoke to hear more than the usual roar from outside our windows. I regretted that I hadn’t gotten over to Usdan earlier in the evening, and I lay in bed thinking that this was a campus celebration I shouldn’t miss. Throwing on some clothes and a Wes softball cap, I headed over to the University Center and saw folks dancing, cheering and chanting. Students who had worked hard on campaigns, and others who had just invested their hopes in Barack’s message of change were out in force on the terrace of Usdan, sharing in this historic, glorious moment. We waved an American flag, and I marveled at the feelings of hope and enthusiasm that were rippling through this Wesleyan crowd.

photo by Jessica Brownfeld '10
photo by Jessica Brownfeld ’10

I have been proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff as they have registered voters, organized neighbors, and articulated fundamental issues. As our president-elect said last night, we have a long road ahead of us, but if we can work together with a spirit of optimism and purpose, we have an opportunity to improve our country. Let us seize that opportunity!

[tags] Election, Barack Obama, Usdan University Center, celebration, president-elect, opportunity [/tags]