In the Media

Roth Reviews ‘In Defense of a Liberal Education’

Writing in The Daily BeastPresident Michael Roth reviewed In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria, a refreshing change from the scores of books published in recent years decrying the state of higher education. Roth writes:

Into this atmosphere of cynicism and spleen, Fareed Zakaria offers a compact, effective essay on the importance of a broad, contextual education. Cheerfully out of step with the strident critics of higher ed, In Defense of a Liberal Education is a reminder that American colleges and universities are a powerful resource that has allowed so many young people to learn about themselves and their ability to have a positive impact on the world. Although he is well aware of the pressures on advanced study in this time of economic anxiety, Zakaria has confidence that the resources for addressing contemporary challenges lie within the very traditions being criticized.

Zakaria writes of his own personal journey through higher education, and “presents a brief sketch of its history in Europe and the United States.” Roth writes, “Most powerful in his personal and general history is his commitment to the idea that flexibility and judgment are enhanced by an education that toggles between deep engagement with specific material and the exploration of possible interconnections across a wide variety of fields.”

Krishna Winston Memorializes Gunter Grass

Krishna Winston

Krishna Winston

When the Nobel Prize-winning German writer Günter Grass died at age 87 this week, The Wall Street Journal turned to Krishna Winston, his translator, for perspective on his life.

According to the Journal’s obituary, Grass was Germany’s best-known contemporary writer “who explored the country’s postwar guilt and in 2006 admitted to serving in one of the Nazis’ most notorious Nazi military units.”

Winston remembered Grass as “a gregarious man who loved cooking and invited his children to sit in on meetings with translators that often lasted several days…”

Grossman Speaks to MarketWatch on Reforms to the Fed

Richard Grossman

Richard Grossman

MarketWatch columnist Howard Gold turned to Professor of Economics Richard Grossman for his take on reforming the Fed. Gold took issue with calls from presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul and others to “audit the Fed,” but instead advocated for term limits for Fed chair-persons and changes in the pivotal Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

On the matter of term limits for the Fed chair, Grossman spoke of former chairman Alan Greenspan, who stuck around nearly 19 years.

Herman ’16 is One of Glamour’s Top 10 College Women

Lily Herman '15 at Wesleyan University. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Lily Herman ’15 at Wesleyan University. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Lily Herman ’16, co-founder of The Prospect website on college admissions and college life, has been named one of Glamour magazine’s Top 10 College Women of 2015.

Herman, of Jacksonville, Fla., told Glamour that while her mom helped her to choose the right school, many first-generation and international students don’t have the same resources.

Loui Talks Tone-Deafness on Radio Health Journal

Psyche Loui is assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Psyche Loui is assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior.

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, discussed the phenomenon of tone-deafness on Radio Health Journal.

Millions people go through life thinking they’re hopelessly tone-deaf when they are not–they can distinguish between correct and incorrect notes, yet they’re just unable to sing them properly. Ironically, those who are truly tone-deaf cannot hear such distinctions, and thus may be unaware of their condition.

“You’ll see some people who don’t really know that they’re tone-deaf,” said Loui.

Identifying tone-deafness can be done by having people listen to, rather than sing, music. Many people who are tone-deaf don’t enjoy music.

“Some people think it all sounds the same, some people think it sounds like clanging, some people think it’s just really unpleasant,” said Loui.

People who are truly tone-deaf make up on about 2-1/2 to 4 percent of the population. They’re more likely have family members who are also tone-deaf, suggesting genetics play a role.

“It’s really a wiring problem, really a difference in connectivity in major pathways of the brain for regions that are important for sound processing and regions that are important for sound production,” said Loui.

Hear the full interview here.

Jenkins Writes About “Eye-Opening” Performance of Indonesian Dancers

Ron Jenkins

Ron Jenkins

Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins wrote in The Jakarta Post about recent performances of Rateb Meuseukat, a form of Acehnese dance from Indonesia, at Wesleyan and a few other New England colleges, which gave American audiences “an eye-opening introduction to an aspect of the Muslim world that is rarely seen in the West.”

The group “Tari Aceh” performed at Wesleyan’s Crowell Concert Hall on Feb. 27. The day after the performance, some audience members returned for a workshop in which they learned how to do the movements they had seen onstage.

Jenkins writes:

Images of Muslim women in Western media often focus on the restrictive nature of head scarves and other customary clothing, but the dancers of Aceh shattered these naïve stereotypes through the liberating power of their performances.

The women’s colorful woven headscarves accentuated the sassy energy of their movements. Their modest costumes used traditional textiles to heighten the dynamic quality of their choreography.

The hooting, stomping, finger snapping and body slapping that punctuated their dances gave the performance an unstoppable sense of momentum that erased all notions of female passivity.

The women dancers of the “Tari Aceh” tour were clearly the masters of the remarkable universe they created onstage.

Gruen Discusses Chimpanzees Used in Research on Canadian Nature Show

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen speaks about the ethics of using chimps in research in a Canadian show The Nature of Things.

On March 12, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired an episode of The Nature of Things called “Safe Haven for Chimps” in which host David Suzuki and his crew follow the efforts of the staff at Chimp Haven in Louisiana. The compound is a place where chimps, who have been used in biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are retired and allowed to live our their lives in a sanctuary.

Lori Gruen, chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist gender and sexuality studies, first appears about 10 minutes into the episode. She speaks about her website,, which tracks the remaining chimps being used in American biomedical and behavioral research.

“The idea of the ‘LAST 1000′ was a way of taking abstract notion of ‘there are chimpanzees being used in laboratories’ and maybe we should end chimpanzee research and retire them,” asserts Gruen.

On her website, Gruen tracks the chimps by name. The names of chimps that are retired to a sanctuary like Chimp Haven are turned green on the site. Gruen explains, “The hope is to turn as many of the names on the ‘LAST 1000′ site green, which means they have been retired from the laboratory.”

“I think it’s important to identify the chimpanzees by name, both to honor and represent them as individuals, and oftentimes to be able to identify and empathize with another is a central part of what moves people to action.”

Near the end of the episode, Gruen summarizes her thoughts.

“When I first started working on topics related to captive chimpanzees something like 20 years ago, I had really no idea that by this point in time we would be discussing the retirement of chimpanzees…”

The video can be seen here.

Ulysse Writes Tribute to Anthropologist Karen McCarthy Brown

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology.

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology.

Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, wrote a tribute on the Tikkun Daily Blog to Karen McCarthy Brown, professor emerita of anthropology and sociology of religion at Drew University, who passed away earlier this month.

“Reading Karen’s Mama Lola kept me in grad school. Vodou got a human face from her,” Ulysses posted on Facebook after hearing news of Brown’s death.

She goes on to explain, “Mama Lola was published by the University of California Press in 1991. Based on extensive fieldwork conducted over a decade, Brown became an initiate of her subject, as a condition to deeper research and writing her life history. The resulting ethnography with its radical crossings blurred methodological and scriptive lines. Brown took creative liberties fictionalizing various strands of Lola’s familial and spiritual genealogies.”

Though highly celebrated, the book was not without its critics. Haitian anthropologist Michel-Ralph Trouillot questioned tensions between Brown’s ethnographic authority and totalizing narrative.

Ulysses writes, “Indeed, in many ways, Mama Lola was something of an insider ethnography. In retrospect, I formed an attachment to it precisely because I had some knowledge to discern fact from fiction, to fill in the silences and to decipher practices layered in an opacity that was part of a historically damaging trope. Simultaneously, it expanded my lexicon as I learned so much about religious practices in my birth country that to this day remain trapped in obscurity, familial and otherwise. In that sense, the book had done for me exactly what anthropology is supposed to do, make the familiar strange and the strange familiar. It also sensitized me to the restrictions of genres, fieldwork dynamics and negotiations among so many other things. I knew there would never be an ethnography of my family’s story. Performance, maybe? Memoir, definitely. Some stories are not mine to tell.”

Rudensky Discusses Her Latest Project with Jewish Daily Forward, Rubin ’13

Sasha Rudensky

Sasha Rudensky

The Jewish Daily Forward has published an in-depth interview with Assistant Professor of Art Sasha Rudensky ’01. The conversation ranges from her immigration to the U.S. from Moscow at age 9 to her start as an artist to her latest photography project, Eastern Eve.

Hannah Rubin ’13, a former student of Rudensky, wrote the story as part of a larger series she’s working on that spotlights Jewish female artists.

Rubin describes Rudensky’s work: “She uses her photography as a means of personally investigating the contradictions and continuities of contemporary Russian culture. Though her work defies being labeled as ‘feminine,’ it culls from a sensibility that is distinctly gentle and yet perverse, that seeks to make photographs that are repellent and attractive. They trade in generalities, but their details establish her voice — a statue of Stalin in a hallway, a wall of faded shampoo advertisements, the surprisingly limber legs of an eleven-year old rhythmic gymnast. Each picture becomes a question, a statement, a kind of rhythmic curiosity of light, color, and form that points to a history and a future that both feel unknown.”

Asked about her latest project, Eastern Eve, Rudensky said:

I’ve been working on it this series of portraits for the past five years or so, kind of as a side project. The youngest model in the group is twelve and her name is Sasha and I think maybe it was when I photographed her that the idea gelled and came together. There is a kind of fetishistic fascination of Eastern European women: a very specific kind of prototype is conjured up. And in many ways, it isn’t completely mistaken. But in the reality, of course, it is so much more diverse. So I wanted to play with both of these ideas, and make pictures of women that are very confrontational, and contradictory to the stereotype, but not always. The title Eastern Eve plays on the generic woman notion: something that denotes a kind of every day, or a kind of Jane version of the Russian woman. But then that generality gets broken down by the specificity in each image. The specific skin, specific body type, specific haircut.

On a more personal level, this series is, in many ways, a projection of myself onto these women — looking at these women, at these lives that perhaps I was meant to lead. There is always this idea for me of what would have happened if I had stayed in Russia and grown up there. So, ultimately, it feels like a self-portraiture project.

Photographs from Eastern Eve can be seen here.



Weil on Respect and Our Relationships with Thinking Animals

Kari Weil is director of the College of Letters and the University Professor of Letters.

Kari Weil is director of the College of Letters and the University Professor of Letters.

Kari Weil, the University Professor of Letters, was a guest on WNPR’s “The Faith Middleton Show” to discuss how our evolving understanding of animals should affect how we treat them personally and professionally.

They began by discussing the announcement that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey would stop using elephants in their circus performances within three years.

“I think there is a fine line between use and abuse,” said Weil.”I don’t think all use is abuse. I think animals depend on us, we depend on them. We can use certain animals for certain things, but when we’re down to exploitive techniques like bull hooks and fear tactics, I think we’ve gone the wrong way.”

Middleton asked about the root of Weil’s interest in animal studies.

Oddly, she said, it started with an interest in the relationship between women and horses in 19th century France. Women had to get special dispensation to cross-dress so they could straddle horses, Weil explained.

“That interest slowly took me to other questions of training techniques, of how horses were used, of how they were regarded. Of why, when horses were the most popular animal, they were also legalized for human consumption,” she said.

Hear the complete interview here. Weil also is director of the College of Letters.

President Roth Reviews The End of College

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

President Michael Roth reviewed The End of College by Kevin Carey for The Atlantic. Though it might be tempting to dismiss the book as just another doomsday declaration about higher education, writes Roth, Carey’s “call for more accessible student-centered universities is a powerful response to some of the real problems that beset these institutions today.”

Carey visits a handful of colleges and universities, including some–Harvard, Stanford, MIT–that admit fewer than 10 percent of applicants. “This dynamic of exclusivity is, Carey contends, about to change. Big time,” writes Roth.

Carey signs up for an online biology class from MIT, and proudly reports his test scores. “The online class that the Cambridge institution makes available and free to anyone in the world through its ‘MITx’ program is good enough for teaching something as advanced as complex genomics. You don’t have to get admitted to MIT to learn this stuff.”

Roth writes, “Carey contrasts the pedagogical sophistication of the best MOOCs, like his MIT biology class, with what he imagines to be the careless, untrained in-person teaching of research-oriented professors. He is quite sure that students get little out of sitting in lectures…But he presents no data or arguments on why some teachers are better than others, or about why in-person education might have some benefits. He wants to convince the reader that universities are merely defending the velvet ropes of exclusivity. He writes that the current system of getting into college ‘is a lot like being invited onto a yacht … where you get to sip cocktails served by attractive young women.’ Really? For whom is this true?”

Read the full review here.

Gruen Writes “Let Elephants Be Elephants” in Al Jazeera

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen

Lori Gruen, professor and chair of philosophy, writes in Al Jazeera about the announcement this month by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey that it would phase out the use of elephants in circus shows by 2018 in response to a “mood shift among our consumers.”

Gruen explores how this public change in attitudes came to be. She credits, in part, “the tireless animal activists who appear regularly, rain or shine, to protest when the circus comes to town.” These activists highlight the cruel and unhealthy living conditions imposed upon the elephants, such as having their legs chained, lacking adequate exercise, and withstanding painful training techniques including electric shock, whipping and physical force.

Gruen writes:

Part of the mood shift, then, is a result of consumers’ unwillingness to support the cruelty involved in using elephants for entertainment purposes. Ending its elephant acts now rather than waiting three years would respect the mood of its consumers and respect the elephants.

There is also a growing aversion to the indignity of displaying these magnificent, endangered creatures in circus spectacles.

Gruen also recently spoke to The Christian Science Monitor about elephants in the circus. She is also professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and professor of environmental studies.