Lauren Rubenstein

Associate Manager of Media & Public Relations at Wesleyan University

Grossman’s Op-Ed on the Libor Banking Scandal in the Courant

Richard Grossman, professor of economics.

Professor of Economics Richard Grossman published an op-ed in The Hartford Courant on August 7 about the global “Libor” banking scandal. Taking a lesson from the old mob-run “numbers racket,” Grossman proposes an elegant solution to fixing deficits in the Libor, and renewing public confidence in the banking system.

The Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) is currently calculated by asking a group of banks to self-report the cost for them to borrow money from other banks. The highest and lowest 25 percent of submitted estimates are thrown out, and the average of the remaining submissions is the Libor. Banks are supposed to submit their best estimate of their borrowing costs, but incentives to cheat are enormous, with millions of dollars in profits at stake, Grossman argues. Therefore, the Libor—the world’s leading benchmark interest rate—should be based on a market-determined figure, such as the recently launched GCF Repo index, published by the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.

Schug’s Exhibit Focuses on LGBT Behaviors of the Animal Kingdom

Mariah Schug speaks about the Faroe Island LGBT community during her exhibit's opening.

Mariah Schug speaks about the Faroe Island LGBT community during her exhibit’s opening.

This summer, Mariah Schug, visiting assistant professor of psychology, traveled to the Faroe Islands where she  produced a gallery exhibit on animal sexual diversity. The exhibit, titled, “What is Natural? Diversity of the North,” combined Schug’s scientific research and the work of Nordic artists. It was organized by LGBT Faroe Islands and funded by the Nordic Culture Fund, and ran from July 27 through Aug. 30.

According to Schug, the LGBT movement in the Faroe Islands is relatively new. While supported by much of the public, it faces serious criticisms from religious conservatives. Politicians and public figures who are opposed to equal rights for the Faroese LGBT community frequently argue that homosexuality is unnatural, and therefore, ungodly and immoral. Because, in fact, homosexual, bisexual and transgendered behaviors are very well-documented in the animal kingdom, the exhibit sought to educate the public about this fallacy through the arts and sciences, according to Schug.

"What is Natural? Diversity of the North," combined Schug's scientific research and the work of Nordic artists.

“What is Natural? Diversity of the North,” combined Schug’s scientific research and the work of Nordic artists.

Together with a collaborator, Eiler Fagraklett, Schug compiled a list of Nordic animal species that display homosexual, bisexual, and/or transgendered behaviors. They gave the list to artists in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Denmark, who then created paintings, drawings, sculptures and multi-media pieces representing the animals.

Schug then wrote up the scientific evidence describing the animals’ LGBT behaviors. These write-ups were displayed alongside the artwork in both English and Faroese. Also displayed were quotes from Faroese public figures arguing that homosexuality is unnatural.

Schug also presented her research on Faroese attitudes toward equal rights for the Faroese LGBT community at a lecture series coordinated with the exhibit.

Rosenthal’s Book Featured on the Colbert Report

Legendary folk musician and activist Pete Seeger appeared on The Colbert Report to talk about a new collection of his private writings, selected and edited by Rob Rosenthal, provost, vice president of academic affairs and the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, and his son, Sam Rosenthal. The book is Pete Seeger: In His Own Words. Seeger also performed a song, “Quite Early Morning,” on the show.

Rosenthal is Co-Editor of New Pete Seeger Book

Book co-edited by Rob Rosenthal.

Rob Rosenthal, provost, vice-president for academic affairs, and the John E. Andrus professor of sociology, is the co-editor of a new book, together with his son, Sam Rosenthal.

The book, Pete Seeger: In His Own Words, is a collection of the legendary folk singer’s private writings—including letters, notes to himself, published articles, rough drafts, stories and poetry—spanning most of the 20th century and into the 21st. Seeger has never published an autobiography, but these documents provide the most detailed picture available of him as a musician, an activist and a family man. From letters to his mother written as a 13-year-old, desiring his first banjo, to speculations on the future, this book covers the passions and struggles of a lifetime—the pre-WWII labor movement, the Communist Party, the blacklist, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam War protests, travels around the world, cleaning up the Hudson River and more.

The book was published by Paradigm Publishers in June 2012.

How the Civil War Became a Revolution

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times and an interview on NPR’s Fresh AirEmeritus Olin Professor of English and American Studies Richard Slotkin discusses how the North and South strategies changed in the summer of 1862, marking a turning point in the Civil War. At that time, both sides committed to an all-out total war and Lincoln squared off against Gen. George McClellan, an ardent Democrat who held fantasies of both a dictatorship and a military coup against the Union.

Rosenthal’s book featured on The Colbert Report

Legendary folk musician and activist Pete Seeger appeared on The Colbert Report to talk about a new collection of his private writings, selected and edited by Rob Rosenthal, Wesleyan Provost, Vice President of Academic Affairs and John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, and his son Sam Rosenthal. The book is Pete Seeger: In His Own Words. Seeger also performed a song, “Quite Early Morning,” on the show.

Devoto’s Study Contributes to the Understanding of Birth Defects, Muscular Diseases

By studying a gene in zebrafish, Stephen Devoto and his students have a better understanding of what causes birth defects and diseases affecting human musculature.

Professor Stephen Devoto and his students have identified a gene that controls a critical step in the development of muscle stem cells in vertebrate embryos. This discovery will allow scientists to better understand the causes of birth defects and diseases affecting human musculature, such as Muscular Dystrophy, and opens doors for the development of effective stem cell therapies for such diseases. Devoto is professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

The study, “Fss/ Tbx6 is required for central dermomyotome cell fate in zebra fish,” was published in July in Biology Open. Though the research was done on zebrafish, the gene, known as Tbx6, exists in all vertebrates, including humans. The lead author was graduate student Stefanie Windner. Other co-authors, all part of Devoto’s lab, were Devoto, post-docs Nathan Bird and Sara Patterson Ph.D. ’08, and lab manager Rosemarie Doris. Funding was provided, in part, by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

A number of undergraduate students also assisted in the research, and are extending this work further.

“Chantal Ferguson ’13 and Jaewon Chung ’13 are deeply involved in every step of research—from grant writing to discussing theories and models to doing experiments,” Devoto remarks. “They’re working side-by-side with graduate students and post-docs, part of the kind of research group typically seen only at research universities.”

For this paper, members of Devoto’s lab studied a mutant strain of zebrafish, which were missing a functional copy of the gene Tbx6. They observed that the embryos of these mutant fish had a defect in the dermomyotome—a tissue comprised of stem cells that can give rise to muscle fibers. These stem cells can either proliferate into other dermomyotome cells, or differentiate into muscle cells—which, themselves, cannot divide further. Thus, when the stem cells develop into muscle, they hit a dead end of sorts, precluding any additional muscle fibers from developing in the future. The group concluded that Tbx6 functions as a key part of the mechanism which either triggers the development of the dermomyotome, or inhibits the development of muscle.

“Tbx6 is a critical component of the switch that regulates the proportion of embryonic cells that become stem cells as opposed to muscle fibers,” explains Devoto.

Barth’s Study Finds Mental Connections between Space and Time

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior.

“We’ve moved the meeting/truck forward.”
“That was a long wait/ hotdog.”
“We’re rapidly approaching the deadline/guardrail.”

English speakers use a shared vocabulary to talk about space and time. And though it’s not something we’re necessarily conscious of, psychologists have found that the identical words we use to describe our wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles and the length of an especially impressive hotdog are not a fluke, but rather are telling of the cognitive processes involved in thinking about time. Past studies have shown that priming people with spatial information actually influences their perceptions of time. For example, people primed to imagine themselves moving through space will make different judgments about the temporal order of events than people primed to imagine objects moving through space toward themselves.

Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is working to better understand the mental connections between space and time. She recently published an illuminating new study in the June 2012 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. According to Barth, it seems we use the more concrete world of space to think about the more abstract world of time.

Barth and co-author Jessica Sullivan ’08—formerly one of Barth’s student in the Cognitive Development Labs, now a graduate student at the University of California-San Diego—noticed that though past studies in this area attribute the effects on participants’ temporal judgments to the spatial qualities of the prime used, most of the primes involved both space and movement. For example, previous studies have used primes that involve a stick figure walking toward a plant or pulling on a wagon—scenes that use motor words like “run” and show actors engaging in self-powered motion.

5 Questions With . . . Richard Grossman on the Libor Scandal

Richard Grossman, professor of economics.

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of Professor of Economics Richard Grossman. In July, Grossman spoke to the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s about the Libor scandal rocking the global financial industry. Grossman’s 2010 book, Unsettled Account: The Evolution of Banking in the Industrialized World since 1800, reviews banking crises over the past 200 years in North America, Europe and other regions, and considers how they speak to today’s financial crises around the world. He blogs at Unsettledaccount.com.

Q: Professor Grossman, what is the Libor, and what is this scandal all about?

A: “Libor” is the London InterBank Offered Rate. Produced daily for the British Bankers’ Association, it is calculated by asking a group of banks how much they estimate it will cost them to borrow money. Banks are asked to provide estimates of borrowing costs for 15 different maturities ranging from overnight to one year in ten different currencies, so Libor is not one interest rate, but 150. Because not all of the banks deal in all maturity-currency combinations, somewhere between 6 and 18 banks are polled. The highest and lowest estimates are thrown out and the remainder—about half–are averaged to yield Libor. Libor plays a vital role in the world financial system because it serves as a benchmark for some $800 trillion in transactions–everything ranging from complex derivatives to simple home mortgages.

Because so much money is riding on Libor, traders have an incentive to pressure their banks into altering submission estimates to improve their profitability. The scandal is that they did just that. Even a small movement in Libor can lead to millions in extra profits–or losses–for banks.

It has also been alleged that the British authorities encouraged banks to lower their submissions in the wake of the 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy to give the impression that banks had access to plentiful and cheap funds and were therefore less vulnerable to the crisis than they actually were.

Q: Sounds like a big deal for the banks, but why should an average person like me care?

A: If the interest rate you pay on your mortgage, home equity loan, or credit card balance is tied to Libor—and it may well be—then you should be concerned that the rate is set fairly.

Shusterman, Students Teach Local Pre-K Summer Program

Wesleyan students taught a five-week pilot Kindergarten Kickstart at Macdonough Elementary in Middletown this summer.

Inspired by her students’ passion for education reform, Assistant Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and several of her students launched an innovative five-week pilot program this summer to prepare children entering kindergarten at Macdonough School in Middletown.

Fifteen children participated in this research-based program, with a curriculum designed by Shusterman, her students and a Macdonough teacher. According to Shusterman, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten with academic skills up to two years behind their peers. Research shows that quality early childhood education makes a huge difference in helping to shrink this achievement gap. In fact, economists estimate a $7 return for every $1 invested in early childhood education, resulting from lower spending on school remediation, incarceration, unemployment and other programs that become necessary when children do not start out on the right foot. About 80 percent of Macdonough students are on free and reduced lunch programs.

The summer program was taught by Taylor Deloach ’13, Sydney Lewis ’14, Julia Vermeulen ’14 and Andy Ribner ’14 in collaboration with Shusterman and an early-education certified teacher, Felicia Johnson. Julie Kastenbaum ’06, who is working toward a Ph.D. in school psychology, volunteered her time to administer a standardized assessment at the beginning and end of the program.

Rani Arbo, a local folk singer, visited the Kickstart program.

The daily and weekly lessons were designed to help children walk in as ready as they can be for the first day of kindergarten. According to Shusterman, activities were designed to boost a few high-impact target areas based on current research in child development and school readiness. These included dramatic play; outdoor play; science and math games; stories and letters; focus games and goal-setting conversations. The group also took weekly field trips to the local children’s museum and the library, and participated in daily activities led by Wesleyan students, including dance, yoga, sign language and music. Children were also provided with free breakfast and lunch.

A graduation ceremony will be held Aug. 2 at Macdonough School.

The project was made possible by an intensive collaboration between Shusterman, Macdonough Principal Jon Romeo, and Izzi Greenberg ’05, executive director of the community organization NEAT. Shusterman and her students independently raised funds to run the program.

Ongoing updates are available at a blog written by Lewis. Ribner ’14 shares photos of the program on his web site.