In the Media

Wesleyan is an “Oasis of Electricity” With Microgrid

Government Technology featured Wesleyan’s efforts to protect itself from losing power during storms and other disasters by installing a microgrid, a concept gaining popularity across the country. As the article explains:

Wesleyan can insulate itself from widespread power outages by generating its own power and making sure it can distribute that electricity to the 312 buildings on campus without depending on the outside grid. As an oasis of electricity, the college can now better serve its students and act as a staging area to coordinate disaster response for Middletown.

[...] “When we talk about microgrids, it’s a wicked hot topic. It’s going to be in the dictionary next year as a new word, like ‘Twitter,’” said Alan Rubacha, director of Wesleyan University’s physical plant. “But it’s existed for a long time.”

Chakravarti on Why Obama Can’t Show His Rage

Sonali Chakravarti, assistant professor of government, tutor in the College of Social Studies, writes in Salon about President Barack Obama’s cautious response to the shooting of an unarmed young black man in Ferguson, Mo., and other incidents. She writes that “Obama’s refusal to engage with anger makes sense as a strategic calculation, one that buffers against race-baiting criticism while consistent with his overarching philosophy of pragmatism and bipartisanship.” Chakravarti looks to how black leaders of the past, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, have shaped Obama’s own vision.

She concludes: “Obama’s calculation is to distance himself from anger in public while trusting that allies of a certain type will be able to see the conversation he is having with the legacy of black leaders. His strategy is to acknowledge in private, as in his memoir, that anger was at the core of his call to social justice and public service and that an appreciation of the complexity of anger is central to being able to understand the worldview of another person. Anger, based on his lived experiences, cannot easily be metabolized into compromise and professorial detachment.”

Read the whole essay here.

Why ‘Nano-Degrees’ Can’t Replace Liberal Arts Education

If you can’t “disrupt” education through innovation, the thinking goes, just downsize it so much that it becomes training for just one task that a particular company wants at one particular moment.

But in an article for the Atlantic, President Michael Roth argues that refashioning vocational education under the banner of Silicon Valley sophistication doesn’t make sense.

“We do need experiments integrating technology and pedagogy,” Roth writes. “That’s why I’ve been teaching online courses with my Wesleyan colleagues over the last two years. We’ve reached almost a million students in that time and continue to learn from working together. But we teach students online in the same way we do on campus: with the goal of broadening their thinking while sharpening their skills.

“I know well the many challenges facing higher education today: rising tuition and onerous student debt; drastic cuts to state support of public institutions; poor measures of real student learning; the debilitating effects of inequality; groupthink; sexual violence; poorly paid adjunct professors; and the disconnect, at many institutions, between the impetus for new research and the core mission of teaching undergraduates. But none of these problems should frighten us into abandoning the model of pragmatic liberal learning that has made America’s best colleges and universities the envy of the world.”

Plous on Social Psych and the Michael Brown Shooting

Scott Plous, professor of psychology.

Scott Plous, professor of psychology

Professor of Psychology Scott Plous spoke to the Associated Press about the tendency of observers to see the Michael Brown shooting as black and white. Those who support Officer Darren Wilson, and those who are convinced he unjustifiably shot and killed an unarmed man, look at the same facts and see no gray area largely due to “confirmation bias,” said Plous.

“It’s the tendency to seek out and give greater weight to information that confirms what we think rather than contradicts it,” he explained.

In this particular case, with little unambiguous evidence, “people are actually acting very reasonably,” said Plous.

“There is a void, and into that void, people will bring whatever they regard as the most reasonable evidence,” he said. “People are trying to make sense of this tragedy using the most compelling evidence they have available.”

This includes their own perspectives and experiences.

“We’re forced to reconstruct, to remember, to imagine what could have taken place,” Plous said, “and those are precisely the conditions when we’re likely to see bias.”

President Roth on Why Liberal Education Matters

President Michael Roth appeared on “Open Mind,” a PBS program on New York’s Channel 13, to discuss his new book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters

Roth tells host Alexander Heffner that while in Europe, liberal education has historically been the path for those who did not need to work, that has not been the case in America.

“Liberal learning has been seen as a vehicle for democratric citizenship and for an active life, either in commerce or science, in industry or the arts,” says Roth. The founding fathers saw a “broad contextual education as the key to creating free citizens who were active–people who could do things in the world.”

Today, just as throughout American history, some people view a broad contextual education as luxurious or wasteful–”not efficient enough.”

“But these guys, as they were in the early 1800s, they’re missing the forest for the trees,” says Roth. “They’re trying to train us for a job that’s in existence this morning, but not for a lifetime of creative work over many, many years.”

Burge Discusses Women in Tech

Janet Burge, associate professor of computer science, spoke to the news site Silicon Angle about the tech industry’s dismal record of employing women. According to the article, the problem starts early on, with too few women choosing to pursue STEM fields in college. Burge says this is due, in part, to a lack of confidence.

“One of my best students stopped by my office early last year to chat,” she said. “I suggested she apply to Google but she never did; she just didn’t feel confident enough in her skills for the interview and took a job elsewhere, never applying to Google at all even though she felt it was her ‘dream company.’” Burge added that the student, “wasn’t just my best female student in the class she took from me — she was the best student of all of them, by far!”

Burge also expressed concern that publicity around big tech companies’ lack of gender diversity might further discourage young women from pursuing tech careers.

Rosenthal, Brown on Student Activism

On the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, Rob Rosenthal, the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, and Lois Brown, the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor, write in The Huffington Post about student activism today compared to the 1960s.

Though Millennials have gotten a reputation as being disengaged with the world, Rosenthal and Brown write, “Numerous events suggest that students today are not abandoning activism but using new forms of activism: replacing confrontation with dialogue, lobbying, and direct service provision and ‘organizing’ locally and globally without ever joining hands. This virtual quality of modern activism may require less commitment and seem less real, less immediate, and more situational. Some even suggest that this contemporary activism diminishes significant personal risk and thus becomes less heroic. One does not have to leave ‘home’ and put it all on the line like the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer activists did in volatile and unpredictable places.”

In September, Wesleyan will mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer with a series of programs.

Rosenthal is also director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. Brown is also professor and chair of African American Studies, director of the Center for African American Studies, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

Roth Participates in Panel on the Value of College

President Michael S. Roth joined other educators on KCRW’s “To The Point” to discuss the spiraling cost of higher education, and answer the question: Is college worth it?

He discussed steps Wesleyan has taken to make a degree more affordable. “Wesleyan is one of those schools with a very high sticker price…but in our case, almost half of our students are on financial aid, and the average grant is almost $40,000 for students. I think that schools like Wesleyan and other highly selective institutions around the country have to find ways to contain costs” by cutting back on amenities that are not key to an education, Roth said. Wesleyan is also using innovation, including technologies like MOOCs, to save money.

Roth also discussed the message of his book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters“Whenever there are economic anxieties in the United States, these are expressed in anxieties about higher education, from the beginning of the 1800s until our own day. At each juncture, the United States has found ways to develop a liberal education that is pragmatic and isn’t just about learning things that you can recite at cocktail parties or enjoy in the privacy in your own home. We have shown in America that liberal education serves innovation, serves creativity, provides our graduates with the capacity for meaningful work and for effective citizenship.”

Discussion on college begins around 8 min. Roth comes in around 20 min.

Roth Comments on STEM vs. Humanities

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

Inside Higher Ed turned to President Michael S. Roth, author of Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Mattersto comment on a new study finding that “College students, on the whole, earn more credits in the humanities than in STEM, even though science majors outnumber humanities majors.” The researchers found that at many colleges and universities, general education requirements draw many non-majors to humanities courses. But at Wesleyan, which has no such requirements, officials have found that “people in STEM fulfill the expectation to take courses across the curriculum more regularly than the humanities people do,” Roth said.

He defended Wesleyan’s open curriculum: “You shouldn’t have to require people to expand their intellectual horizons,” he said. “You should be able to entice them to do so. Show them why it’s worth their while. When you have to require it, it demeans the enterprise.”

Read more here.

Basinger on Lassie’s Comeback



Dreamworks Animation is hard at work to give Lassie, America’s most beloved collie for more than three-quarters of a century, a comeback. They’re not planning any new Lassie movies or TV shows, but are getting ready to debut a new line of Lassie merchandise: dog food, dog accessories, dog grooming, dog beds and dog training.

“I would love to believe that modern children would sit down and watch lovely Lassie frolic with Timmy in the meadow,” Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies Jeanine Basinger told The New York Times“But I fear they would get awfully bored unless she turned into a superdog that blows things up, and that would be sacrilege.”

“Lassie was always a bit of an acting lightweight anyway,” she added.

Johnston on Ebola’s Impact

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than one thousand people this summer, and captured the world’s attention. But Bill Johnston, professor of history, professor of East Asian Studies, professor of science in society, tells Voice of America that its impact pales in comparison to other diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis.

“Approximately 207 million cases with 627,000 deaths from malaria itself in 2012, tuberculosis, they counted 8.6 million new cases,” he said.

Watch the video report here.

Basinger Remembers Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

Jeanine Basinger, Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies, curator of the Cinema Archives, reflected on the life of actress Lauren Bacall, who died this week at age 89. When Bacall’s acting career began as a young woman in the 1940s, Basinger said, “She was a legend from the very first minute…And she was so unique–her looks, her style, her voice.”

Although Bacall was dismissed by some critics early on, Basinger said, the longevity and quality of her career proved that she “wasn’t just an appendage to Humphrey Bogart.”

Read the full story in The Chicago Tribune here.