Winter Studies and Competitions Begin

Temperatures have dropped over the last couple of days, and we’ve had a few inches of snow here in Middletown. Winter is really here.


Wesleyan athletes are already back and competing (congrats to women’s ice hockey on a strong win last night), and in a few days our Winter Session pilot program will be underway. Students will be studying foreign policy, statistics, the graphic novel, and computer science, and they will be doing so in a very intensive way. Another group of undergraduates will be working in Fullbridge’s “internship edge” program, while still others will be enrolled in programs through the Wesleyan Career Center. I look forward to hearing their reports on how we can make the best use of these early January weeks.

I am preparing my online and campus classes (having just turned in my grades for the fall semester). In the administration we also use this time to evaluate how we are doing on our annual goals. I’ve read through all the proposals on new ways to energize campus learning, and there are several terrific ideas on which we will be following up early in the semester.

Winter is here, and it’s time to start making 2014 a great year for Wesleyan!

Year-End Thanks

Dear friends,

This year has been exciting in so many ways, and as it draws to a close I want to express my gratitude to the entire Wesleyan family for their many contributions to making our university the creative, caring and engaged place it is. I think back to the first-Friday MASH (the music festival that began to tap into the amazing vitality of students, faculty and staff), the competitive fire of our athletes, the generosity of our volunteers, the passion of our activists…these were all on display over the course of the year. In this, my seventh year, the student body continues to surprise me with its exuberance, commitment and ardent devotion to pursuing lives of purpose and meaning.

In this season, I like to remind folks to check out the faculty bookshelf. From philosophical considerations of concern and communication, to histories of the Ottoman Empire, from accounts of how we learn from experience at the personal level, to accounts of how we have failed to do so at the policy level, our faculty continue to shape the culture all around us. The scholars who produced this work are also spirited teachers who inspire students every week of the semester.

None of the scholarship and teaching would take place without the thoughtful and dedicated contributions of the Wesleyan staff. They make all these achievements possible. The staff’s determined, inventive efforts—from reading admission files to planning graduation events—are at the heart of all we do.

The Board of Trustees guides this institution with generosity, care and intelligence. Whatever differences we may have about specific policies, we are all dedicated to ensuring that our university remains at the forefront of progressive liberal arts education. I am grateful for being part of this team.

With best wishes for a restful break, a joyful holiday and a very happy new year,


New Opportunities for Winter Studies

Today we sent an announcement to the campus community about new offerings for early January.

We are introducing Winter at Wesleyan – academic offerings and Career Center programs designed to provide students with immersion-style classes and a variety of opportunities to help with life after Wesleyan.

The faculty has approved Winter at Wesleyan, which will run for two weeks beginning January 8. We will be offering four Winter Session classes for full credit at a cost of $2,900 per course, and students may live in residence halls at no additional cost. An optional meal plan is available. These classes will be small, allowing for close interaction with faculty, and registration is now open. Limited financial aid will be available to students receiving aid during the academic year.

This is a small pilot program, and the faculty discussed at length the pros and cons of intensive courses of this kind. After thoughtful deliberation, they decided that we ought to proceed with this experiment to determine how effectively these kinds of classes complement the courses offered during the semester.

Winter on Wyllys includes a variety of career-related initiatives. For the first time, the Fullbridge Program will run its “internship edge” intensive at Wesleyan, which provides intensive training in business fundamentals. In addition, Career Center staff will be presenting two concurrent, week-long intensive programs: CareerLab for those preparing to enter the job market, and Choosing Good Work for those students trying to make sense of their options and personal goals. The Career Center also will offer their WEShadow externship program, as well as an alumni guest speakers series. For more information, please contact the Career Center.

I’m pleased to see the beginning of 2014 bringing to Wesleyan students new options and opportunities.

A “Break” for Getting Work Done

Every year around this time I hear comments from parents and students about the length of winter break. Like most of our peer institutions, Wesleyan begins classes for the second semester around the time of Martin Luther King Day. This year, we start up on the Thursday following the holiday weekend. By that time, many students will be eager to be back on campus, and their parents will be more than ready to help them pack.

But for those on campus, there is anything but a “January break.” As I mentioned in a previous post, Wes athletes are already in stiff competition. On Monday, for example, swimmers were battling Hamilton in the water while the rest of us were side-stepping the melting snow outside. Over the next weeks, staff in Middletown are meeting to plan the rest of the year: developing ideas for new programs, for enhancements to the campus, and for greater efficiencies. It’s a time to make repairs and to dream big. This morning, I met with the whole crew for a second semester “kick-off,” and tomorrow I head out to maintain our fundraising momentum to support our highest priorities: financial aid and academic program endowment. It’s a privilege to ask for support knowing the dedication of the staff and faculty to providing the very best liberal arts education.

I see faculty members in the library, studios, labs and departmental offices busily trying to finish some of their research and their class preparation. Many of our professors have been at professional meetings sharing their scholarship, visiting archives, or just writing one more paper. Others are going over their syllabi to ensure that their students next semester will have access to the best work concerning whatever topic is at hand. Scott Higgins and I are scrambling to finish our Coursera classes, which launch on February 4. We are the first out of the gate in this new venture for Wesleyan. You can check out all the Wes offerings here.

So, there isn’t much of a “break” for faculty and staff at this time of year, and yet we are thinking now about new January programs that would be compelling for students. We’ll be consulting with student groups, faculty and others to figure out how to make future Januaries at Wesleyan even more lively!




Wesleyan Athletes at Work

Baby, it’s cold outside. Here in Middletown the snow and ice make it a good time to head to the gym to see some hot action.

Andrus Field with Snow


Tonight (Friday) the men’s and women’s basketball teams match up against Amherst. The men start at 6 pm, and the women get underway at 8pm. Just in the middle of these contests, the men’s hockey team will face off against Middlebury (at 7 pm). Women’s ice hockey is on the road at Middlebury, coming off a win against New England College on Tuesday night.

Tomorrow all the teams are back in action. Trinity dribbles to the gym for more b-ball, while Williams will skate into the rink for a mid-afternoon match. You can see complete schedules here.

This is a winter break for many, but Wes athletes are working hard! Go Wes!!

Re-Accreditation Thoughts

This week I met with staff at a convocation for the new semester. We shared the good news that the Old Squash Building has been beautifully reconstructed (on time and on budget!) as the new home for the Career Resource Center, the College of Letters and the Art History department. We also talked about the continued growth in our application pool and the flurry of generous giving that came at the end of the calendar year. The Physical Plant team, the Admissions Office and the University Relations Office have been awfully busy during this long winter “break.”

I shared with the staff some quick thoughts about the re-accreditation process now underway with the Northeast Association of Schools and Colleges. During our self-study, we are asked to assess and reflect on our progress on 11 “standards”. We are using this process to find places where we can improve the university’s operations, and in that spirit I mentioned a challenge for each of NEASC’s standards.

Mission and Purpose

In a joint community effort we created a Mission Statement about two years ago. This is it:

Wesleyan University is dedicated to providing an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism. At Wesleyan, distinguished scholar-teachers work closely with students, taking advantage of fluidity among disciplines to explore the world with a variety of tools. The university seeks to build a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.

Planning and Evaluation

How do we plan with data? How do we maintain tradition without carrying dead weight?

There are many things we do at Wesleyan because we’ve “always done them this way.” We must use data in order to plan programs that will give maximum support to learning and research.

Organization and Governance

How do we involve faculty and staff in planning for the future of the organization when contemporary needs are so pressing?

We have seriously reduced annual spending and the size of the support staff. This makes day-to-day operations more challenging. In this context it is imperative to involve faculty and staff in planning the long-term future of the university.

Academic Program

How will the liberal arts remain relevant for the future? What is curricular coherence?

In 2007 we were challenged by NEASC to articulate our view of the coherence of the curriculum. We believe that students at Wes should own their own education, but to do so requires serious advising and mentoring. By giving students the tools to develop their own education, we strive to provide intellectual cross-training –liberal learning that will shape the future.


How do we support a scholar-teacher model in a world increasingly concerned with immediate results?

We believe that students learn from the example of dedicated scholar-teachers. But much of scholarship is not immediately relevant to the classroom, and we know that deep research is not best judged by popularity. Our challenge is to maintain the subsidy for advanced research as a vehicle for first-rate undergraduate education.


How do we maintain vibrant student life in the face of a culture of entitlement and excessive drug and alcohol use?

Wesleyan has long been known for its progressive, creative and productive student culture. Like most colleges and universities, we also have a student culture plagued by abuse of alcohol and drugs by people who feel that this is “their time” to do whatever they please. How can we balance the forces of creativity and our responsibility to maintain a safe, educational environment?

Library and Info Resources

How do we maintain vibrant up-to-date access to the best information across a wide variety of fields?

The Wesleyan Library is one of the jewels of the campus, and it remains a great study space and intellectual resource. It is also part of a network of resources that connect student and faculty to the materials they need for study. Increasingly, this means access to information rather than ownership of materials.

Financial Resources

How do we rebuild our endowment base while competing right now?

For the last few years we have been focused on building our endowment, so that the financial strength of the university will be at least as great 25 years from now as it is today. We must balance that long-term building with the needs of the students, faculty, and staff today.

Public Disclosure

Can we maintain a culture of transparency in a highly political environment?

Since the financial crisis, we have been making all our financial and planning materials as public as possible. We must continue to do so, even in a context of competition and critique.

Physical Resources

We have a beautiful campus that thousands consider home. It is aging. How do we maintain it and modernize it?

Many say that Wesleyan’s campus has never looked more beautiful, and the new buildings work well side-by-side with our historic structures. We must continue to maintain our history even as we modernize our physical plant to become more energy efficient and networked to the wider world.


How can we be honest about our challenges and forthright in our commitments?

I am very proud of the achievements of our university — from staff and faculty members who go far beyond the call of duty to students who achieve focused excellence while broadening their educational experience. I am also proud of the ways that our community prods us to do even more, pointing out where we fall short and encouraging us to live up to our mission to: think critically and creatively and… value independence of mind and generosity of spirit

In a few weeks, new drafts of our accreditation self-study will be posted online. I hope many of you will comment on our work thus far. Together, we will make Wesleyan a university that can be an ever deeper resource for its students, alumni, faculty and staff — a university that can be an admirable example of the best in American progressive liberal arts education.

Break? What Break? Research Continues…(Part One)

In early January each year, many students (and more than a few parents) start wondering about the length of the Wesleyan winter break. The holidays are over, and yet the semester won’t start for another few weeks. Although the campus is quiet (and just now, very cold), there are students in the library, the gym and the science labs already hard at work. The winter sports teams have been playing and practicing as they get ready for intense conference competition, and science research continues regardless of whether classes are in session.

And then there is that special class of students busily working on their senior theses and essays. Though most of these won’t be due until April, the winter break is a crucial time to make significant progress on challenging research topics. I’ve asked around for some examples of theses and essays in various sectors of the curriculum, and here is a sampling. I’ll be adding more later in the week.

In Theater, Sarah Wolfe is working on a thesis project entitled “The Role of Women in the War Play: Euripides The Trojan Women.”  In her essay, Sarah explores how adaptations of The Trojan Women have been used as anti-war plays in America, and she did her own adaptation with the play Lift Your Head, which was staged in December.  Emily Steck examines “the world’s oldest profession” by focusing on female transgression and agency through the lens of the whore in the performances of Lydia Thompson and the British Blondes, Mae West, and Annie Sprinkle.

In Literature, Laura Bliss is writing about Wallace Stevens’s late poems, especially those collected in Transport to Summer. Laura combines creative non-fiction with more traditional literary critical analysis to explore the way Stevens treats the idea and experience of summer. This sounds particularly good right now!  Brianna van Kan is writing a thesis about the underground culture of jazz in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s.  She will bring together all three of her majors (Russian, COL and Music) for this project. Christopher Wade is doing a poetry thesis that involves translation, literary analysis, and poetry writing, focusing on two major Russian poets. Matthew Alexander is translating Lost Modern Love, a postmodern play by Lord Schadt that he will also direct in a spring production.

In Music, Alan Rodi has written (that’s right, it’s finished) an opera about Mao Tse Tung. The characters are Mao, his wife, and a peasant couple who are trying to be good revolutionaries. Sean Curtice is  composing a piano concerto in the style of Mozart, and writing a paper about the Mozart piano concerti. Lana Lana is writing a big paper on Amir Pasaribu, the first modern composer of Indonesia, in the sense of writing a distinctive music that combines European techniques and instruments with Indonesian techniques and instruments.

In philosophy Sid Issar is writing a comparative study of Spinoza and Bhagavad Gita. In Science in Society, Kelsey Vela is doing an empirical study of the ways that experimental psychologists report on the race of their subjects. Erin Kelly is using case studies to examine the evolution of federal drug regulations in mid-twentieth century America and the influence of these regulations on contemporary medicine. Chris Russell is examining the standards of justification applied to the evidential uses of forensic technologies in criminal and civil trials.  Charlie Hanna is examining the introduction and reception of the most recent class of sleep medications, given FDA approval in 2001. He is charting the FDA approval process, the subsequent experimental and empirical reports on the medication, patients’ responses and media coverage.

As I said, this is just a sampling of some of the impressive work our students are doing for their capstone projects. I’ll be adding more examples that the Deans collected later in the week.

From beaches to snow drifts

Over the last week I’d been traveling out West, and many Wes parents (and some of their sons and daughters) wondered how they would cope with the return to colder climes. Walking on the beach on Santa Monica, Sophie asked me more than a few times “Why did we ever leave this place?!” (Sophie was born in Santa Monica when I was at the Getty Center and Kari at UCLA.) Watching the sun come up was a treat:

Sunrise in Santa Monica

I met with more than 200 alumni, students and parents who attended a great event at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and I then went on to Arizona to meet with a smaller but no less energetic group. The beauty of the beaches and then the desert was striking, but returning to Middletown’s snowy landscape has been invigorating.

As I make some final edits to my syllabus for the Past on Film, I wonder how our returning students will react when they see their campus filled with snow drifts from what journalists here are calling one of the “storms of the century.” Wes looks like a winter wonderland, and Foss Hill has been filled with young folks racing down into the snowpack of Andrus Field. And some of the sledders aren’t so young! Kari got me out there yesterday (even though I told her I’d grown allergic to velocity), and it was fun careening down the hill. Here’s the proof:

Roth on Foss Hill
Kari Weil on Foss Hill

I remember well the last “storm of the century” when I was a student at Wesleyan struggling with my senior thesis in 1978. Having the snow to fall into, Foss Hill for sledding, and plenty of camaraderie from professors and friends made the winter warm and welcoming, as well as quite spectacular. It still does!

Looking Ahead, Getting Ready

With the holidays now behind us and the students not yet back from winter break, this is a time some of us use for planning our projects for the next semester. Which is not to say there isn’t plenty of activity on campus. The Admissions Office hasn’t had much of a break at all, as the staff there has been busy preparing the thousands of applications we’ve just received for the thorough evaluation they will get in the coming weeks. The library is open again, and I see professors (and more than a few seniors) moving through the stacks getting their materials for research projects and senior theses. And in the science labs — staffed by graduate and undergraduate students along with faculty — the work continues on subjects ranging from Hedgehog signaling to the surprising capacities of songbirds, from self-medicating insects to self-regulating ecosystems.

I see athletes in the fitness center whenever I get over there and some of the coaches sweating off the extra holiday inches. Men’s and women’s basketball are already in the thick of tough competition, and the track team is competing at the US Military Invitational this weekend. We anticipate a great start to the new semester. Geoffrey Canada, who runs the Harlem Children’s Zone of Waiting for Superman fame, gives the MLK lecture on January 21, and on January 28 the great saxophonist Charles Lloyd brings his quartet to campus.

I’m looking forward to teaching my Past on Film class again, and have recently spent some time thinking about big-picture philosophy. Here’s a review I wrote about a book by two philosophers that was published in the New York Times this week.

Admiration and Gratitude at Year’s End

Looking back on the year, I am filled with gratitude and admiration for Wesleyan’s capacity to create conditions for individual excellence and for intense commonality  — the all night work that tests one’s intellectual endurance, and the joyful dancing, cheering and singing that expands our horizons. I think back to the senior theses writers being toasted for their accomplishments, to cheering on the softball team’s first NESCAC conference championship, and to the accolades for the extraordinary student performances in Richard III. I remember with sadness and respect our times of mourning, and I recollect with wonder the social entrepreneurship of our students building schools in Kenya, raising money for flood and earthquake relief around the world or working with elementary school students right here in Middletown.

The university continues to thrive because of the dedication of those who work and study here. Current and former students, I thank you for your exuberance and devotion to alma mater. Faculty who inspire us, and staff who make it possible for all of us to work at our best, I thank you. The ‘independence of mind and generosity of spirit’ of the Wesleyan community is apparent each and every day, and I am so grateful to you for continually creating this extraordinary place.

Best wishes for a restful break, a joyful holiday, and a very happy new year!