In the wake of the LIBOR banking scandal, Professor of Economics Richard Grossman recently spoke to the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s about banking regulation throughout history. “It’s guaranteed to be a losing battle,” he says. “The incentives in banking are so strong and the money is so big. As soon as you close off one area, someone is going to think of a new way to do things.” He adds that governments and the public have a short memory when it comes to financial crises, so that regulations that seem prudent in one era become the next generation’s “political red tape.”
by Lauren Rubenstein •
John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of the neuroscience and behavior program, in May published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience on neurogenesis in songbirds. He recently spoke about his research on WNPR public radio and in The Hartford Courant.
Q: Professor Kirn, you study the neuroscience behind song learning and production in zebra finches. Please tell us about your research, and the surprising findings to come out of your most recent work.
A: I’m interested in the normal functions of adult neurogenesis—the continual addition and replacement of neurons. This happens to a limited extent in humans but is very widespread in the brains of birds. It is a widely held view that this process helps us learn, because young neurons might be more malleable than older ones. In some songbirds, like the canary, the highest numbers of new neurons are added annually when birds are learning new song. But neurons are also added when song does not change.
In the zebra finch too, neuron addition is highest when they are juveniles, learning their song. But song learning is over by adulthood and yet new neurons are still added. Why? We think that neurogenesis may also function to preserve pre-existing knowledge. Our most recent work, though still only correlational, supports this notion. If you deafen an adult zebra finch, song structure breaks down, as is also true with human speech. We recently showed that birds that preserved their songs the longest after deafening also had the highest number of neurons added to a brain region that appears to be critical for the maintenance of song structure.
Q: What are the implications of these findings?
A: They might indicate that adult neurogenesis serves more than one purpose. Depending on the brain region and type of cell produced, perhaps in some cases it promotes the acquisition of new information, while in other cases, it promotes stability of older information.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Assistant Professor Maria Ospina, who recently completed her first year in the Romance Languages and Literatures Department at Wesleyan, can trace her academic interests directly back to her childhood in Colombia and her longtime interest in history.
“My interests in violence, memory and culture stem in part from my own experiences growing up in Colombia during the 1980s and 90s, in a very complex region that has been marked by armed conflict, the hemispheric War on Drugs and different waves of migration. The combination of political turmoil and a vibrant cultural production that actively reflected on the histories of violence and crisis in the region fostered my interest in the relationship between aesthetics, politics and historiography,” she explains. “Realizing that it is in Latin American literature, art, fiction and performance where the most productive social and political reflections about the region have and are taking place led me to want to study it in depth.”
Ospina left Colombia when she was 18 to attend Brown University, where she studied history and cultural studies. After working in New York for a few years, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in Hispanic Literatures from Harvard University. During her time at Harvard, she traveled frequently between the U.S. and Colombia in order to coordinate and curate the Cartas de la Persistencia (Letter of Persistence) project. Ospina describes the project as “an important public trans-disciplinary project and archive funded by one of the country’s major cultural institutions. This amazing archive of thousands of recent testimonies about civil resistance to violence led us, among several public initiatives, to publish an anthology, which I edited in 2008.” After earning her Ph.D., Ospina went on to hold a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard, where she taught several courses on contemporary Latin American culture.
Teaching at Wesleyan appealed to Ospina because, “I was looking for a liberal arts institution where teaching and research share equal importance—a place that values and fosters reflections about the intersections between arts and politics. Also, I was drawn by the collegial and collaborative spirit of the faculty here, and was particularly interested in the strength of Wesleyan’s arts, film and humanities programs.”
During her first year at Wesleyan, Ospina taught “Introduction to Hispanic Cultures,” the gateway class to the Romance Languages and Literatures major.
“It’s a wonderful course, which prepares students to delve deeper into the culture of Spanish speaking countries and to get really excited about further studying the area,” she says. She also taught a course called “Narratives of Crisis: Violence and Representation in Contemporary Latin American Culture,” which, she says, “explored the intersections between symbolic practice (film, testimony and literature) and histories of violence and crisis in contemporary Latin America and looked at the ways in which cultural texts operate vis-à-vis contemporary dynamics like drug trafficking and armed conflict.”
In the spring, Ospina taught a course called “Minor Tales: Narratives of Youth and Childhood in Latin America,” which focused on Latin American literature and film about childhood and youth in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Ospina says she has found her students to be “creative, interested, and excited about politics in the broadest sense of the word. I feel extremely lucky to teach a very diverse group of students.”
Next year, she looks forward to teaching the “Introduction to Hispanic Cultures” course again during both semesters, as well as a course called “Dangerous Plots: Fictions of the Latin American Jungle.” This class will explore the ways in which nature has been plotted in fiction, films and popular culture, focusing specifically on the tropical jungle as a space that has been central to the way Latin America has been imagined for centuries. In the spring, she will teach “Spanish American Literature and Civilization,” which studies some of the major writers and intellectuals in Latin America from the colonial period to the present.
Ospina also had a very productive year in research. She recently finished an article about representations of Amazonia in the context of the War on Drugs, which will be published in Chile in the fall as part of a volume on virtual geographies of Latin America. She also presented work on memory and armed conflict in recent Colombian film at a conference in Lisbon focusing on post-conflict cinema, and attended the Cartagena International Film Festival.
Here at Wesleyan, Ospina is involved in organizing a mini film festival of recent acclaimed Spanish and Latin American film, which will take place at the Wesleyan Film Center in September. “Everyone is invited!” she says.
Outside of work, Ospina enjoys writing fiction, biking, dancing, and spending time in New York City. In addition, she says, “Recently, I’ve also taken up vegetable gardening, because I want to grow some of the food I eat. I grew up in a family of farmers and gardeners in Colombia, but I’ve never had the chance to plant a garden in the Northern Hemisphere—that is, in a place with seasons. It’s been fun, but I’m in a strenuous fight with the local ant population.” Of late, Ospina also has taken an interest in studying birds, particularly migratory species.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of the neuroscience and behavior program, was interviewed on WNPR public radio on June 25 about his research on neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons, in the brains of zebra finches.
“The birds that had managed to preserve their songs the longest had the most new neurons, which was completely counter to our prediction. It suggests that maybe, at least in some cases and in some brain regions, new neurons are being added in order to preserve what’s already been learned,” Kirn said in the interview, describing the findings of his latest research published in the Journal of Neuroscience in May.
Kirn’s research was also highlighted in a feature story in The Hartford Courant. According to the article:
Birds can create new brain cells through most of their brains, while the creation of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, can occur in only a few regions of a mammal’s brain. Better understanding of how neurogenesis happens in birds’ brains, Kirn said, could lead to medical breakthroughs for humans.
“If we can understand how they manage to do this on the molecular level, it might give us some insights that we can use,” [Kirn] said, adding that stem therapy is one area that could benefit. “There’s something special about the bird brain that might be important in how we can create therapies for human brain damage,” he said.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
In an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant on June 24, Bill Craighead, assistant professor of economics, proposes a policy solution to avoid economic disaster as the U.S. confronts the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the beginning of 2013. As Craighead explains in the piece, the cliff refers to the simultaneous expiration of Bush-era income tax cuts and Social Security payroll tax cuts, as well as automatic cuts in government spending mandated following last year’s debt ceiling stand-off.
Craighead proposes that, “The tax increases could be made to occur at a more appropriate time by instituting triggering criteria that would delay them until the state of the economy has improved and then phase them in. For example, the tax changes could be set to begin once the unemployment rate has fallen to a more reasonable level, like 5.5 percent, and remained there for six months. At that point, the increases could occur in three or four steps, with each one occurring as long as the unemployment rate has remained below a specified level for six months.”
He concludes, “By sparing the economy a big blow next year, while putting government debt on a reasonable long-run path, [this plan] would buy some time to work out bigger issues after the next election.”
by Lauren Rubenstein •
In a recent interview on WNPR public radio and a feature story in The Hartford Courant, John Kirn, professor of biology, professor & chair of neuroscience & behavior, discussed his research into the neuroscience behind song learning and production in zebra finches. His latest study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, revealed surprising evidence that neurogenesis–or the formation of new neurons in the brain–may help zebra finches to retain existing knowledge as well as learn new information.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
In an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant, Assistant Professor of Economics Bill Craighead proposes a policy solution to avoid economic disaster as the U.S. confronts the so-called “fiscal cliff” at the beginning of 2013. He advises “delaying the tax increases scheduled at the beginning of next year until the unemployment rate falls to a more acceptable level,” and then gradually phasing them in.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
According to the Hartford Courant, Laura Grabel, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology, was among this year’s recipients of stem cell grants from the State of Connecticut announced by Governor Dannel P. Malloy this week. Grabel received $500,000 in funding for the stem cell outreach program she runs together with a University of Connecticut professor. Since 2006, the program has held workshops and retreats for stem cell researchers, and has educated the general public by sending speakers to schools and various organizations.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
In an op-ed published in the Albany Times-Union, Assistant Professor of Psychology Steve Stemler, together with Damian Bebell of Boston College, write that increased city, state and federal emphasis on English Language Arts and math test scores has resulted in a narrowing of not only curriculum, but also broad school purpose.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
For an article on economic development in Haiti, The Miami Herald turned to Alex Dupuy, John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, chair of the African American Studies Program. “Very few of the dollars that are invested in Haiti in these assembly industries are going to remain in Haiti,” Dupuy tells the Herald. “And since the assembly industry is the only game in town, and there is nothing else being planned around it to grow the economy, it’s not going to have any long-lasting effect on the growth of the economy.”
by Lauren Rubenstein •
In an article in The Washington Post examining the effectiveness of political advertising in presidential campaigns, Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government, director of the Wesleyan Media Project, says political advertising “matters at the margins” and “might help in a close election.” However, factors such as the state of the economy and partisan identification are much more influential, she says.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
The world is changing at a dizzying pace and uncertainty is rising, but luckily, “Wesleyan has prepared you to live and thrive in this unpredictable world,” U.S. Senator Michael Bennet ’87 told the Class of 2012 in his Commencement Address. “This is a school that rewards curiosity. It challenges you to test [your] assumptions. It encourages flexibility—of mind, of approach, even of body, if you took that class in acrobatic yoga. Wesleyan has taught you that having a plan counts for less—a lot less—than having your bearings when that plan falls apart.”
An honorary doctor of laws was conferred upon Bennet at the 180th Commencement Ceremony at Wesleyan University on Sunday, May 27. The ceremony took place on Andrus Field under sunny skies. This year, Wesleyan awarded 713 Bachelor of Arts degrees; 22 Master of Arts degrees; 44 Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degrees; three Master of Philosophy degrees; and 13 Doctor of Philosophy degrees.
Bennet—son of Wesleyan President Emeritus Douglas Bennet ’59, P’87, P’94—was elected to his first full term in the U.S. Senate in November 2010. Formerly as the Denver Schools Superintendent, and now as a member of the Senate Education Committee, he has been a tireless advocate for bold, locally driven changes to public education that would ensure every child is prepared to compete in a rapidly changing economy. Senator Bennet also previously served as chief of staff to then-Denver Mayor, now Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper ’74, where he helped balance a historic budget deficit and make city government more responsive to Denver residents. After graduating from Wesleyan, Bennet earned a law degree from Yale Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.
In his Commencement Address, Bennet described his experiences with two critical institutions—the U.S. education system and political system—that are overdue for “disruptive, transformative change, and reinvention.”
“You generation has so many more opportunities to lead, to make change, than the Class of 1987 ever did. So many more means to uproot entrenched interests… to discard worn-out assumptions… to overcome obstacles to progress,” he told the graduates. He urged them to channel their “Wesleyan impatience […] with the silliness and downright cruelties of the status quo” to address such pressing issues as energy, education, poverty and inequality in America.
“…some period of public service—teaching might be a good idea—is the debt you owe our country for the privilege of attending this remarkable university,” Bennet said.
Honorary degrees also were conferred upon Glenn Ligon ’82—an artist known for his series of text-based paintings, which draw on the writings and speech of individuals such as Jean Genet, Zora Neale Hurston, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin and Richard Pryor—and Cecile Richards P’13, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
At the ceremony, two individuals were presented with the Raymond E. Baldwin Medal: Bruce C. Corwin ’62, chairman and CEO of Metropolitan Theatres Corporation, and William “Bill” Wasch ’52, P ’84, formerly Wesleyan’s director of development and director of alumni programs, and founder of a consulting firm that specializes in customized housing options and personalized services for older adults. The Baldwin Medal, named for the late Judge Raymond E. Baldwin ’16, is the highest honor Wesleyan’s alumni body presents for extraordinary service to the school, or for careers and other activities which have contributed significantly to the public good.
In addition, the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics Richard Adelstein, Professor of History Nathanael Greene, and Professor of Art Tula Telfair. Also recognized at the ceremony were retiring faculty members John Biddiscombe, director of athletics; Joseph Bruno, professor of chemistry; Howard Needler, professor of letters; and Wallace “Pete” Pringle, professor of chemistry.
In his remarks, Wesleyan President Michael Roth pointed to a number of remarkable accomplishments by Wesleyan students—both in the classroom and out in the world. “We want you to remember the pleasure of the camaraderie and openness that have characterized the Wesleyan community to which you will always belong. We want you to remember these pleasures, the feelings of freedom and accomplishment, because we believe that these will stimulate you to continue to be bold, to be rigorous, and to nurture your practical idealism,” he said. “This may not be as easy as you imagine. From all around you will come calls for a practicality that is not so idealistic—calls to be more serious, more attentive to ‘the real world.’ Make no mistake: these are really calls for conformity, demands for conventional thinking that, if heeded, will impoverish your, and our, economic, cultural and personal lives.”
Yet Roth said he has faith that the graduates will “gratefully acknowledge those who have sacrificed to nurture you, to guide you, and to protect your freedoms. I trust you will act to reduce violence in the world around us, especially those forms of violence that target the most vulnerable. I trust that you will practice forms of thinking that create opportunity rather than defend inequality and privilege. I trust you will resist the temptations of conformity even as you reject puerile and narcissistic displays of separateness. I have this trust because I have seen what you can do.”
In his Senior Class Welcome, Kennedy Odede ’12 described his journey from growing up very poor in Africa’s largest slum, Kibera, to Wesleyan. He recalled his puzzlement early on over things other students take for granted: how to work a printer or use a shower, how money could be stored on a little piece of plastic known as a “Wes Card.” He used to sprint from class to the dining hall to ensure he would get something to eat before the food ran out. One day, a classmate explained to him that his concern was unfounded; food would be available until the lunch period was over.
“What struck me most about the class of 2012 was the kindness exhibited in explanations like this. Never before in my life had I felt valued. I always felt that growing up poor was something to be ashamed of, and at first I was scared to talk about my past. But then the class of 2012 showed me this kindness on many occasions,” Odede reflected. “I had arrived at an incredible place.”
Since his start at Wesleyan, Odede founded the nonprofit Shining Hope for Communities with Jessica Posner ’09, and built the tuition-free Kibera School for Girls.
“I believe we will only live in a better world if we are willing to take risks to make it a reality, only if we are willing to say, ‘Yes.’ My fellow graduates, I hope that we continue to say ‘Yes’ today, tomorrow and throughout our lives.”
The text of President Michael S. Roth’s address to the Class of 2012 graduates can be found here.
The text of the senior class welcome by Kennedy Odede ’12 can be found here.
The text of Senator Michael Bennet’s address can be found here.
Information on the Binswanger recipients can be found here.
Information on the Honorary Degree Recipients can be found here.
Information on the Baldwin recipients can be found here.
The weekend also saw more than a thousand alumni converge on campus for Reunion. They were kept busy with more than 150 events, including such highlights as an Eclectic party featuring The Rooks; an all-college picnic and festival on Foss Hill; a 50th Reunion and President’s Reception for the Class of 1962; the traditional All-College Sing; and an Andrus Field Tent party featuring Kinky Spigot and the Welders. A number of WESeminars also provided alumni with opportunities to revisit Wesleyan’s excellent academic experience with presentations by scholars, pundits and other experts. Topics included mindfulness-based stress reduction; a sampling of Wesleyan alumnae performance artists; music and literature of the ‘60s; the Beman Triangle Archaeology Project; money, marketing and the media; the environment; highlights of the Israeli Film Festival, and much more.
Seth Davis ’72 of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., who is secretary of his class, attended his 40th reunion this year.
“One of my best friends from my college days was attending his first reunion,” Davis said. “ ‘Are they always this good?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘they are.’”
The entire Reunion 2012 photo gallery is online here.