In the Media

Three Wesleyan Authors Have “Notable” Books

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 this year. 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 B. 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.”

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

Roth Discusses the Value of a College Education

President Michael Roth appeared on CNN’s “Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield” to discuss the cost and value of higher education. The interview comes ahead of CNN’s premier Thursday, Nov. 20 at 9 p.m. EST of The Ivory Tower, a new documentary that asks, “Is college worth the cost?” Roth appears prominently in the film defending the importance of higher education. His appearance on Legal View began with a clip from the film in which he argues:

“Many intellectuals are saying it would be better if some people don’t go to college at all. I think that’s an assault on democracy and it’s an attempt to keep people in their place, and reinforce social inequality. Education should foster social mobility and the possibility of equality. You’ve got to be crazy to intentionally not get a college degree if you have a choice today. And if the college education is really a college education, and not just training in one particular little field, you learn how to learn, and that can actually open up new things in your life long after college.”

Asked by Banfield about the spiraling cost of higher education, Roth explained, “Costs have risen because people want the education, and there aren’t enough spots for those students. And it’s got to change.”

“The high sticker price is not what most people pay at the schools that have the highest tuition. At a place like Wesleyan, almost half of our students are on financial aid, and the average grant is over $30,000. But I think the problem that you point to, the increasing burden of student debt, is a national disgrace because it inhibits the ability of students to choose the careers after they leave college.”

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.”

‘In the Heights’ Returns to Wesleyan highlighted the recent production of “In the Heights” at Wesleyan, produced by the Theater Department and Music Department. The show was developed by Tony Award-winning songwriter, singer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 during his sophomore year at Wesleyan. The book was written by Quiara Alegria Hudes, now Wesleyan’s Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater. The recent production was directed by Associate Professor of Theater Claudia Nascimento, who first connected with Miranda when he was a senior at Wesleyan and she was a new member of the faculty.

“It was such a crazy, full-circle feeling,” Miranda told “First of all, you have to know that I met Cláudia my senior year at Wesleyan, when she was coming in as a professor as I was going out as a student. Her first year at Wesleyan was my last year; we became friends then. She didn’t advise on my senior project, but she was around. We worked together on a couple of shows, and I really like her…”

Nascimento told that “In the Heights” had attracted a lot of interest among students, and she was eager to discuss the musical’s challenges with its creator.

“I said, ‘This cannot be a musical cast only with Latino students. We need to cast the musical in a manner that is representative of the diversity that we have on campus,’ and he was, from day one, very excited, very supportive,” said Nascimento. “The only thing he asked me was to keep the respect for Spanish language, which I think is more than fair. The cast is very diverse as well because that’s the makeup of the student body at the university, and it has been a particularly touching experience for me to witness the kind of exchange of experiences— it’s not just ethnically diverse, but they have very different backgrounds of family histories…

“Some of them are international students, and since ‘In the Heights’ is a musical about community, that value or that theme has been transferred to the rehearsal process, and so the Spanish-speaking students coach the non Spanish-speaking students on how to speak the language. They exchange ideas about the accent when they speak English. Some students are from Washington Heights — they bring that kind of information — so it’s been generally a very, very positive experience.”

Newly Discovered Asteroid Named After Lu MA ’65

Phillip Lu, who earned a master’s degree in astronomy from Wesleyan in 1965, was recently honored in a very special way: A former student who discovered an asteroid named the object after him.

According to The Hartford Courantthe asteroid was discovered in 2006 by astronomer H.C. Lin, the director of the National Lulin Observatory in Taiwan, and it has been seen 106 times since then, enough to have its orbit charted. As the discoverer, Lin was entitled to recommend a name for the asteroid to the International Astronomical Union. He chose to name it 175450 Phillipklu after his beloved teacher.

In his self-deprecating way, Lu told the Courant: “It’s kind of a surprise. I didn’t really expect this…It means somebody didn’t forget me, that’s all!”

When a friend congratulated him on the asteroid, Lu–who has been writing poetry since his retirement–responded in verse:

“One tiny speck moves around our sun,
Carrying my name among planets,
The name, perhaps, is a bit immortal,
But never stops the erosion of my mortal body.”

Lu is a native of China, who attended college in Taiwan. There were no astronomy majors or classes available in Taiwan at the time, so Lu came to Wesleyan to earn his master’s degree in astronomy. He went on to Columbia University for a Ph.D., and to Yale for post-doctoral work. He taught for nearly three decades at Western Connecticut State University before retiring in 1999.

Smolkin-Rothrock on Russia’s National Unity Day

Writing in Open Democracy, Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies, offers a historical explanation of Russia’s National Unity Day. Observed November 4, this holiday–based in what many consider “ancient history”–remains a point of confusion for the Russian public, writes Smolkin-Rothrock. Yet, “even if the holiday holds little significance for many Russians, it matters a great deal to Vladamir Putin and it should matter to those concerned with understanding his ideology.”


Yohe: Scientists Press for Climate Change Action

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, co-authored an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant calling on the government to take action on climate change. The op-ed follows the recent release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (of which Yohe is a senior member) Synthesis Report, which ties together “in a  clear and actionable way” findings on the risks and threats climate change poses to human society.

Business leaders have shown they’re ready to take action in response to these findings, “but they’re looking to politicians to implement policies that provide the regulatory certainty they need. The sooner businesses know what policies governments will enact to reduce carbon emissions, they better they can tailor their plans and continue to spur unhindered economic growth,” write Yohe and Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes businesses to embrace a sustainable future.

Read the whole piece here. Yohe, who is also chair and professor of economics, professor of environmental studies, also spoke to The Washington Post recently about the new synthesis report:

“It’s not too late, but the longer you wait, the more expensive it gets,” Gary Yohe, a Wesleyan University professor who also participated in the drafting of the report, said in an interview. Damage to the Earth’s ecosystems is “irreversible to the extent to which we have committed ourselves, but we will commit ourselves to higher and higher and higher damages and impacts” if the world’s leaders fail to act, Yohe said.

Yohe also participated in a panel discussion about the new report on KQED Radio’s “Forum with Michael Krasny.”

Neuroscience Training Influences Lee’s (’12) Art

Gizmodo features the artwork of Timothy “Timmy” Lee ’12. A neuroscience and behavior, biology and studio arts triple major, Lee always loved drawing but decided to pursue art professionally during his last year at Wesleyan, abandoning plans to attend medical school. According to the article, his time as a neuroscience student is apparent in his work: “These beautiful sculptures and paintings are his way of digging inside his own complex and sometimes disturbing personality.”


President Roth Defends Liberal Education

On a recent visit to Memphis, where he spoke at Rhodes College, President Michael S. Roth was interviewed on WKNO by Jonathan Judaken about his book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. They began by discussing the difference between liberal and vocational education.

“A liberal education… is an education that is broad, contextual and integrative. What I mean by that is you not only learn the skill but you are coming to understand how that skill fits into context–into an economy, into a society, into politics. You are learning to situate yourself in the world, and not just to perform somebody else’s task,” Roth explained.

He defended the relevance of a liberal education for all:

“A liberal education is important in the development for the capacity for citizenship. It’s important for the development of creativity and critical thinking. These are not only elements that are relevant to people who go to elite private schools. They are relevant for anyone who is going to push back against oppression, who is going to critically evaluate their government, who is going to participate in their neighborhood.”


Yohe on How Candidates Talk about Climate Change

WNPR interviewed Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, for a story on how candidates should talk about climate change.

Yohe said that climate change has not been a big issue this election cycle.

“I think a lot of the campaigning in Connecticut has been defined by jobs and economics and misstatements on one side or the other about what is happening,” he said. “The impacts of climate change and the economics of climate change have not been elevated to the same level.”

Yohe said he thinks the issue will play a much bigger role in the 2016 election, as the Obama administration continues its push to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.

Yohe is professor and chair of economics, professor of environmental studies. He is vice-chair of the National Climate Assessment advisory committee.

‘At Home in Exile’ Examines Jewish Diaspora

A new book by Alan Wolfe makes the argument that the Jewish Diaspora, a form of “exile” is actually a shared blessing. In a New York Times review, Michael Roth examines Wolfe’s thesis that the diaspora and Israel should thrive in productive tension with one another.

“The longing for the Promised Land may be an important theme in the Torah, but fundamental religious practice and cultural identity have mostly been formed far from Jerusalem,” Roth writes. “For millenniums Jews have lived in exile; “next year in Jerusalem” is an acknowledgment of loss and hope — not a travel plan.”

“While Israel’s existence is now part of the experience of Jews wherever they live, it shows no signs of bringing the Diaspora to an end.”


“Citizenfour” Draws Praise

The new documentary about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, “Citizenfour,” can be seen as both advocacy journalism and an elegant movie, says New York Times reviewer (and Distinguished Professor of Film Criticism) A.O. Scott.

In a review published Oct. 23, Scott praises the film by Laura Poitras as a “tense and frightening thriller,” while it also seeks to offer Snowden’s side of the controversy over his allegations of widespread government surveillance.

“… it is also a primal political fable for the digital age, a real-time tableau of the confrontation between the individual and the state,” Scott writes.  “It’s hard to tell the difference, and thinking about the issues Ms. Poitras raises can induce a kind of epistemological vertigo. What do we know about what is known about us? Who knows it? Can we trust them? These questions are terrifying, and so is “Citizenfour.””