Books by Roth, Bloom, Waldman ’86 Honored by Washington Post

Beyond the University

President Michael Roth’s Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters

The Washington Post selected President Michael Roth‘s book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, on its list of top 50 notable works of nonfiction in 2014. A brief summary of the review states:

The president of Wesleyan University describes two distinct traditions of a liberal education–one philosophical and “skeptical,” the other rhetorical and “reverential”–and argues that both are necessary for educating autonomous individuals who can also participate with others.

Beyond the University was originally reviewed in the Post on May 23 by Christopher Nelson, president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md. In that review, Nelson calls the book “a substantial and lively discussion” as well as “an economical and nearly jargon-free account of liberal education in America.”

Amy Bloom's Lucky Us

Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us

Two other members of the Wesleyan community were honored in the Post‘s “Top 50 Fiction Books for 2014.” The list included Lucky Us by Amy Bloom, distinguished university writer-in-residence and director of the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing, and Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman ’86.

Wilkins Published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Clara Wilkins, assistant professor of psychology, has studied perceptions of discrimination against whites and other groups who hold positions of relative advantage in society—such as heterosexuals and men—since she was a graduate student at the University of Washington. She became became interested in the topic of perceptions of bias against high status groups after hearing Glenn Beck call president Barack Obama racist. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Clara Wilkins

Assistant Professor of Psychology Clara Wilkins is the co-author of a paper titled “You Can Win But I Can’t Lose: Bias Against High-Status Groups Increases Their Zero-Sum Beliefs About Discrimination” published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2014. The article will be published again in the in the journal’s March 2015 print edition. Wilkins co-authored the article with several other researchers including Joseph Wellman, formerly a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Wesleyan, who is now at California State University, San Barnardino, and Katherine Schad BA ’13/MA ’14.

The study considered what causes people to espouse “zero-sum beliefs”—or beliefs that gains for one social group come at a cost to another group—and what the consequences are of those beliefs. The researchers found that “high-status groups” (specifically, whites and men) held zero-sum beliefs more often when they contemplated increasing bias against their own group than when they contemplated decreasing bias against their low-status counterparts (blacks and women). Furthermore, greater endorsement of zero-sum beliefs corresponded with efforts to decrease outgroups’ ability to compete in society and efforts to increase the ingroup’s ability to compete. The researchers also discuss how this pattern may perpetuate social inequality.

Tucker on Facial Recognition Technology

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker writes in The Boston Globe about the FBI’s new Next Generation Identification System, a “billion-dollar project to replace the bureau’s old fingerprinting system with the world’s biggest biometric database….Perhaps most controversially, it will use state-of-the-art facial recognition technology, allowing the government to identify suspects across a gigantic database of images collected from mug shots, surveillance cameras, employment background checks, and digital devices seized with a search warrant. The technology itself is still evolving rapidly; for example, the National Institute of Justice is developing 3-D binoculars and cameras that allow facial recognition and capture in real time,” she writes.

While some find this development unsettling, Tucker reminds readers that it is “actually just the latest outgrowth of an art and science that has been under development for more than 150 years.” The development of techniques for recognizing human faces dates all the way back to the introduction of prison photography in England in 1852, Tucker writes, taking readers through a brief tour of technology updates since then. And while these developments often have been met with hesitation from a skeptical public, they have nevertheless forged ahead.

Tucker is also associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, associate professor in the environmental studies program, associate professor of science in society, and faculty fellow in the College of the Environment.

Grossman Keynote Speaker at Chief Risk Officer Assembly

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman, professor of economics, delivered a keynote speech at the 10th Chief Risk Officer Assembly in Munich, Germany on Nov. 19. The speech was based on his book, WRONG: Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn from Them (Oxford University Press), and focused the consequences of government policy for economic risk.

The CRO Assembly is organized by Geneva Association, an insurance industry think-tank, and the CRO Forum, which is made up of chief risk officers from large (primarily European) multi-national insurance and re-insurance companies. The conference took place at the headquarters of Munich RE, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies. The program seeks to understand the nature of emerging and key strategic risks, and to understand how and where they relate to insurance.

Read more about Grossman in these past News @ Wesleyan articles.

Teter’s Book Receives Honorable Mention for Jewish Studies Award

sinnersontrialA book by Magda Teter, the Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, received honorable mention for the 2014 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award. The Schnitzer Book Award was established in 2007 to recognize and promote outstanding scholarship in the field of Jewish Studies and to honor scholars whose work embodies the best in the field: innovative research, excellent writing and sophisticated methodology.

Teter’s book, Sinners on Trial: Jews and Sacrilege after the Reformation, published by Harvard University Press in 2011, was honored in the Medieval and Early Modern Jewish History category.

In recognizing her book, the Prize Committee wrote:

“In this beautifully written and richly documented work, Magda Teter traces and convincingly demonstrates the interdependence of economic, religious and political motives that animated Polish anti-Semitism in the early modern period. This book also identifies and elucidates significant factors in the history of their formations in East Central Europe, and in the history of the host-desecration charge in early modern Europe.”

Magda Teter

Magda Teter

In post-Reformation Poland—the largest state in Europe and home to the largest Jewish population in the world—the Catholic Church suffered profound anxiety about its power after the Protestant threat.

In the book, Teter reveals how criminal law became a key tool in the manipulation of the meaning of the sacred and in the effort to legitimize Church authority. The mishandling of sacred symbols was transformed from a sin that could be absolved into a crime that resulted in harsh sentences of mutilation, hanging, decapitation, and, principally, burning at the stake. Recounting dramatic stories of torture, trial, and punishment, this is the first book to consider the sacrilege accusations of the early modern period within the broader context of politics and common crime.

To celebrate the honorable mention, Teter is invited to attend the Jordan Schnitzer Book Award Reception Dec. 14 in Maryland.

Teter also is chair and professor of history, professor of medieval studies. She speaks more about the book and her research in this past News @ Wesleyan article.

Stemler Published in Journal of Study Abroad, Educational Psychology

Steve Stemler, associate professor of psychology, is the co-author of “Development and Validation of the Wesleyan Intercultural Competence Scale (WICS): A Tool for Measuring the Impact of Study Abroad Experiences,” published in Frontiers: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, XXIV, 25-47, 2014.

He’s also the co-author of “Testing the theory of successful intelligence through educational interventions in Grade 4 language arts, mathematics and science,” published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(3), 881-899, 2014.

BIology Students Learn about Summer Research Programs

On Nov. 17 and 19, Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, spoke to sophomores and juniors about applying to summer research programs. During the two-session workshop, Johnson discussed ways to write successful applications for summer programs at U.S. research institutions.

On Nov. 17 and 19, Ruth Johnson, assistant professor of biology, spoke to sophomores and juniors about applying to summer research programs. During the two-session workshop, Johnson discussed ways to write successful applications for summer programs at U.S. research institutions.

Students were required to attend both sessions and complete a mock application. The workshop also provided guidance on locating appropriate summer research programs and requesting supporting letters of recommendation.

Students were required to attend both sessions and complete a mock application. The workshop also provided guidance on locating appropriate summer research programs and requesting supporting letters of recommendation. (Photos by Dat Vu ’15)

As University Protestant Chaplain, Mehr-Muska Mentors, Offers Confidential Support

As the university’s Protestant chaplain, Tracy Mehr-Muska wears many hats, including mentor, cheerleader, religious tutor, celebrant of sacraments, caregiver, counselor, listener, worship leader and event planner, among others.

As the university’s Protestant chaplain, Tracy Mehr-Muska wears many hats, including mentor, cheerleader, religious tutor, celebrant of sacraments, caregiver, counselor, listener, worship leader and event planner, among others. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

In this Q&A, meet Tracy Mehr-Muska, Wesleyan’s Protestant chaplain. 

Q: Rev. Mehr-Muska, how long have you been Wesleyan’s Protestant chaplain, and what did you do before this?

A: This is my third year as a university chaplain at Wesleyan. Like many, my professional journey was not a direct route. After graduating from the Coast Guard Academy, I served as a Deck Watch Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. My love of the sea and my degree in Marine/Environmental Science led me to subsequently work as a marine scientist, conducting oceanographic surveys and engineering subsea cable routes for a company that installed transoceanic fiberoptic telecommunications cable. although I loved my job, I felt most deeply fulfilled when attending church, visiting sick or homebound parishioners, or volunteering with the church’s youth. I then transitioned to Princeton Theological Seminary, and after graduating, became an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I served as a chaplain for a hospice program in Boston, where I ministered to people approaching death and to their families. Although I loved hospice chaplaincy, it has been thrilling and fun to now work with people at the other end of their lives—students newly emerging into adulthood who are working to discern their vocational identity and establish their priorities, distinctiveness and values.

Q: Coming from such a different background, what made you want to become a university chaplain?

A: My years at the Coast Guard Academy were immensely challenging personally, physically, and spiritually. The two caring and patient military chaplains who served as my chaplains were not only instrumental in my surviving, thriving, and graduating, but they were also influential in helping me find joy and deepen my faith.

Fusso Translates Gandlevsky’s Trepanation of the Skull

fussotranslationSusanne Fusso, professor of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies, is the translator of Sergey Gandlevsky’s autobiographical novel, Trepanation of the Skull, published in November from Northern Illinois University Press.

Sergey Gandlevsky is widely recognized as one of the leading living Russian poets and prose writers. His autobiographical novella Trepanation of the Skull is a portrait of the artist as a young late-Soviet man. At the center of the narrative are Gandlevsky’s brain tumor, surgery and recovery in the early 1990s. The story radiates out, relaying the poet’s personal history through 1994, including his unique perspective on the 1991 coup by Communist hardliners resisted by Boris Yeltsin. Gandlevsky tells wonderfully strange but true episodes from the bohemian life he and his literary companions led. He also frankly describes his epic alcoholism and his ambivalent adjustment to marriage and fatherhood.

Fusso’s translation marks the first volume in English of Sergey Gandlevsky’s prose. The book may appeal to scholars, students, and general readers of Russian literature and culture of the late Soviet and post-Soviet periods.

Fusso also is the translator and editor of Vladimir Sergeevich Trubetskoi’s A Russian Prince in the Soviet State: Hunting Stories, Letters from Exile, and Military Memoirs.

Stemler’s New Study Finds Educational Interventions Cannot be “Scaled Up”

Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology, collaborated with researchers at a number of other universities on a major new study, which found that context matters when implementing educational interventions.

Steven Stemler, associate professor of psychology, collaborated with researchers at a number of other universities on a major new study, which found that context matters when implementing educational interventions.

It turns out that teaching language arts, math and science to fourth graders is not the same as manufacturing cars on an assembly line.

That is, the microeconomics principle of economies of scale—or the cost advantages that businesses get by increasing the scale of production—do not always apply to educational interventions. Put another way, an intervention that works great in one specific educational setting cannot necessarily be “scaled up” to work in many other settings. This is the finding of a major new study funded by the National Science Foundation, on which Associate Professor of Psychology Steven Stemler collaborated with colleagues at a number of other universities including Yale, Cornell and the University of Sydney.

The study, carried out in 223 classrooms across the country in the early- to mid-2000s, was published in the American Psychology Association’s Journal of Educational Psychology in August. The paper is titled “Testing the Theory of Successful Intelligence in Teaching Grade 4 Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science.”

Rose on Keeping Babar’s Story Alive

Phyllis Rose, professor of English, emerita, and wife of Babar author Laurent de Brunhoff, spoke to The Globe and Mail about the iconic elephant of children’s book fame. Since the first Babar story was written by Jean de Brunhoff in 1931, it has become the longest-running children’s series in history. de Brunhoff’s son, Laurent, took over writing after his father died of tuberculosis at age 37. Now 89, Laurent de Brunhoff is working on his 50th Babar book.

According to the article, Rose “has long been helping her husband dream up ideas and pen the stories.” She assisted in other ways as well: When de Brunhoff attempted to draw Babar’s pregnant wife, Celeste, Rose “grabbed a pillow and modeled for him.”

In the article, Rose reflects on the original Babar story, which remains the most controversial:

Only a few pages into that first book, Babar’s mother is shot and killed by a “wicked hunter.” Today, many parents skip over that first book entirely to shield their children from any awful truths. “The Story of Babar would not get published today. There is no doubt in our minds,” says Rose, “I had a cousin who would never give her child a balloon because she was afraid the balloon would pop. I think that one of the purposes of children’s literature is to expose them to frightening and horrible things, in a safe way.”

FGSS Chair Pitts-Taylor Explores How Bodies are Symbolically, Politically, Socially Meaningful


Victoria Pitts-Taylor, chair and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is interested in studying bodies from a cross-disciplinary perspective.

Victoria Pitts-Taylor, chair and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, joined the faculty this fall. 

Welcome to Wesleyan, Professor Pitts-Taylor! What attracted you to Wesleyan?

A: Wesleyan has a great tradition of progressive liberal arts education, including a long tradition of feminist/gender/sexuality studies. Like most programs, it began as women’s studies, more than three decades ago, evolving into its current form as times and perspectives changed. Wesleyan has a reputation for having really smart, socially engaged students, for fostering interest in and commitment to social justice, and for investing in interdisciplinary modes of scholarship and teaching. It’s also full of incredibly accomplished professors, people whom I’d like to read, talk to and learn from.

Q: You came to Wesleyan from the City University of New York. What did your position at CUNY entail?

A: I was at the City University of New York for 15 years – almost my whole academic career since getting my Ph.D. at Brandeis University. I started as an assistant professor in the sociology program at Queens College (part of CUNY) in 1999, and after I received tenure I also began teaching in the doctoral program at the Graduate Center. In 2009, I was promoted to full professor – that was a big deal for me at the age of 36, and I thought back then that I’d probably stay at CUNY forever. But that year, I also became director of the Center for the Study of Women and Society and Coordinator of the Women’s Studies Doctoral Certificate Program at the Graduate Center. I served two terms as head of those programs. I am a sociologist by training and orientation, but over the years I became more deeply involved in gender and sexuality studies. In addition to heading the women’s studies program, I also served as co-editor of the journal Women’s Studies Quarterly (WSQ) for three years. That experience, along with getting involved in the Feminist Press (which publishes WSQ), team-teaching a feminist theory course with a Victorianist, and getting interested in feminist science studies, convinced me that I wanted to be part of a gender studies program.


This year, Pitts-Taylor is teaching courses on Biofeminisms, and Sex and Gender in Critical Perspective.

Q: What has been your impression of the university, and the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies program in particular, so far? How is it different from CUNY?

A: When I walked into my Biofeminisms course, I expected to see a group of juniors and seniors majoring in FGSS. Instead, I got a class filled with biologists, economists and neuroscientists, most of whom had never taken an FGSS class before. Two things strike me about this. First, at most places, the science majors (not to mention the econ majors) wouldn’t often find their way to a gender studies course.