Tag Archive for Michael Roth

President Roth Makes Remarks to the Class of 2016 (with video)

Wesleyan President Michael Roth. (Photo by Tom Dzimian)

Wesleyan President Michael Roth. (Photo by Tom Dzimian)

Wesleyan President Michael Roth made the following remarks during the 184th Commencement ceremony May 22:

President Roth delivers his remarks. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

President Roth delivers his remarks. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

Members of the Board of Trustees, members of the faculty and staff, distinguished guests, new recipients of graduate degrees, and the very mighty Class of 2016, I am honored to present some brief remarks on the occasion of this Commencement.

When you began your time at Wesleyan in the fall of 2012, the presidential elections were moving into high gear. Barack Obama, who spoke from this podium eight years ago as a presidential candidate, was arguing for a renewed mandate for change, for finding ways to make even small amounts of progress on environmental issues, social justice concerns, and economic growth. There were many who opposed this vision, and they offered an alternative framework for imagining individual freedom, prosperity through work, and respect for tradition. Today you are graduating into another election cycle, and now differences in the visions for the future of this country seem greater than ever. Our politics have grown ever nastier, cruder, more vulgar, more juvenile. Many Americans, turned off by the triumph of vulgarity and corruption, seem ready to dis-engage from the political process. I trust this will not be the case for you. Resignation should not be an option. We so need your participation, your vision, your commitment to put justice, generosity, and care at the center of your lives and our communities.

Wesleyan Responds to Syrian Refugee Crisis

As part of the Wesleyan community’s response to the refugee crisis, the student-run Wesleyan Refugee Project is hosting an exhibit titled "Art in Crisis" through May 22 at the Center for the Humanities. “Art in Crisis” features work by artists within Za'atari Refugee camp, the largest refugee camp in Amman, Jordan, home to over 100,000 refugees. The artwork will be sold at a silent auction with funds going back to the artists.

As part of the Wesleyan community’s response to the refugee crisis, the student-run Wesleyan Refugee Project is hosting an exhibit titled “Art in Crisis” through May 22 at the Center for the Humanities. “Art in Crisis” features work by artists within Za’atari Refugee camp, the largest refugee camp in Amman, Jordan, home to over 100,000 refugees. The artwork will be sold at a silent auction with funds going back to the artists.

(By Charles Salas)

Last fall President Michael Roth took what some thought was a risk. Appalled by the Syrian refugee crisis, he issued a challenge to the Wesleyan community, asking what can we do?

On Feb. 17, the Allbritton Center hosted a panel discussion on “The Refugee Experience,” the second in a three-part series titled, “The Refugee Crisis: The Development of the Crisis and the Response in Europe.” Moderated by Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, assistant professor of history, assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies, it featured discussion between Steve Poellot, legal director at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP); Mohammed Kadalah of the University of Connecticut Department of Literature, Cultures and Languages, who was recently granted asylum after fleeing Syria in 2011; and Baselieus Zeno, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and a Syrian refugee. Read more about the full series here. (Photos by Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19)

On Feb. 17, the Allbritton Center hosted a panel discussion on “The Refugee Experience,” the second in a three-part series titled, “The Refugee Crisis: The Development of the Crisis and the Response in Europe.” Moderated by Assistant Professor Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, it featured discussion between Steve Poellot, legal director at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP); Mohammed Kadalah of the University of Connecticut Department of Literature, Cultures and Languages, who was recently granted asylum after fleeing Syria in 2011; and Baselieus Zeno, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and a Syrian refugee.

How would people respond? Would they say that’s not Wesleyan’s business? Ask why this crisis and not another? Demand more of Wesleyan than it could possibly do? In fact, the Wesleyan community made some good suggestions which the university has been able to act upon, doing the kinds of things it does well:

  • Hold panel discussions to increase understanding and awareness
  • Sponsor student internships with organizations assisting refugees
  • Host a refugee scholar on campus, and enroll a refugee student
  • Work with local officials to welcome refugee families to Middletown.

Read about the Wesleyan community’s remarkable response to the refugee crisis here in Wesleyan magazine online.

Equity Task Force Issues Final Report

The Equity Task Force established in January to explore the establishment of a resource center, and other means of improving equity and inclusion on campus, has issued its final report.

The nine-person task force is made up of faculty, students and staff, and tri-chaired by Gina Ulysse, professor of anthropology, professor of feminist gender and sexuality studies; Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion and Title IX officer; and Shardonay Pagett ’18. Over the course of the spring semester, it dedicated a considerable amount of time to studying Wesleyan’s historical attempts to address equity and inclusion, and meeting with various groups of faculty, staff and students to receive input. In February, it released an interim report.

The final report, issued May 3, makes three recommendations:

  • The university should establish a new Center “that has a clear, intellectually grounded mission in social justice and a focus on intercultural development and literacy, which integrates students, faculty and staff in its core operations at the developmental stage to work sustainably toward a deeper commitment to inclusion campus-wide;”
  • The university should embark on a “long-term, comprehensive, campus-wide initiative with concrete action plans” addressing student concerns, patterns of inequity, and retention problems among faculty and staff on campus;
  • Finally, the university should transform the task force into a standing institutional committee comprised of students, faculty and staff, to work together with the larger Wesleyan community toward ongoing institutional change efforts.

In a response sent out to the campus community, President Michael Roth thanked the task force for its hard work and urged everyone to read the report. He wrote, “…it is vital that we seize this moment to improve the educational experience for all Wesleyan students, most especially those who have felt marginalized by practices of this institution, past or present.”

Roth says the administration will proceed with all three recommendations in the report.

“We will plan a Center within the time frame suggested that will enable students to deepen their education and enhance their ability to thrive on campus – especially those groups of students who have struggled against legacies of discrimination. This will build on the accomplishments of student activists, and also of professors and staff members who have worked hard to make this university a more equitable and inclusive place.”

He also promised to “add to the considerable resources we have already dedicated to recruiting and supporting students, faculty and staff from under-represented groups. […] Our goal is to ensure that all students have every opportunity to excel in all sectors of the curriculum and co-curricular activities.” The university will also establish a committee to coordinate efforts and measure their outcomes.

President Roth Joins Campus Tour

In a moment of serendipity, Wesleyan President Michael Roth found his walk to work coinciding with the path of an Admission tour group. With his red umbrella aloft, he walked into the crowd of prospective parents and students near the steps of North College. He listened for a while before blowing his cover by asking “Does anyone have any questions for the president this morning?”   Members of the group captured the moment on their smartphones.

In a moment of serendipity, Wesleyan President Michael Roth (pictured at far left) found his walk to work coinciding with the path of an Admission tour group on April 12. With his red umbrella aloft, he walked into the crowd of prospective parents and students near the steps of North College. He listened for a while before blowing his cover by asking “Does anyone have any questions for the president this morning?”
Members of the group captured the moment on their smartphones.

 

President Roth Comments in The Atlantic on College Admissions Process

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

The Atlantic education writer Alia Wong turned to President Michael S. Roth for his perspective in a three-part series on “Where the College Admissions Process Went Wrong.” One critical problem is that the intense focus on the college application process means that rather than preparing themselves for college or for life, students are preparing simply for the “moment of admission.”

“What we want is to have students who want to come and work hard because they can leverage their experience at the university and do something after they leave,” said Roth. “One of my predecessors used to say to students, ‘If these turn out to be the best four years of your life, we’ve failed you.’”

In recent years, different groups have attempted to reform the process to change this focus, and the values it promotes in students.

“I think that that’s the missing part now—this consumer mentality [of], ‘Oh, I got in and now I get to enjoy the exclusive club,’ rather than ‘I got in, and now I get to use these resources to do something after the university,’” said Roth.

One new campaign, called Turning the Tide, tries to emphasize the character-building potential of the application process by calling on selective colleges to encourage applicants to engage in “meaningful, sustained community service,” contribute to their families, and focus on the quality (versus the quantity) of extracurricular activities. Yet Roth remains skeptical of this approach.

“I do worry about trying to create a new system that will measure qualities that will supposedly make people better people. Because insofar as it becomes a new system, it will be gamed by people who already pad their resumes with all kinds of activities that supposedly show empathy, but what they really show is a desire to get into schools where empathy is a criterion for admission,” he said.

He sees the fundamental problem as being the American obsession with exclusivity.

“Part of what’s attractive [about] going to a great Ivy League institution is not so much the anticipation of a wonderful undergraduate education,” he said. “But the fact that it’s just really hard to get in—that’s just a trait of our culture.” Once “you set up another grid, people will create another profile to match the grid as long as the competition for seats remains intense.”

The third article in Wong’s series looks at the effect of the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings on colleges and universities.

They’re “highly pernicious,” said Roth. “I think they’ve had a really deleterious effect on higher education as [colleges and universities] try to meet requirements that may not be in the best educational interest of their students.”

He added that college rankings contribute to the admissions frenzy, giving the impression that the most desirable schools—irrespective of the applicant and his or her specific interests and needs—are the ones at the top of the list, the ones that are harder to get into.”

“They accentuate the race toward the wealthiest schools,” said Roth.

Read more in parts two and three of the series.

 

President Roth: Jefferson Would Not Have Liked This College Trend

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

Writing in The Washington PostPresident Michael S. Roth decries the push for students to turn away from “college as exploration” and toward “college as training.”

“Everywhere one looks, from government statistics on earnings after graduation to a bevy of rankings that purport to show how to monetize your choice of major, the message to students is to think of their undergraduate years as an economic investment that had better produce a substantial and quick return,” he writes.

This movement is understandable, given the “scourge of student indebtedness” in our country, yet parents, pundits and politicians are misguided in their insistence that students must study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM fields), or else “miss the economic boat,” Roth writes.

As president of a university dedicated to broad, liberal education, I both deplore the new conformity and welcome an increased emphasis on STEM fields. I’ve been delighted to see mathematics and neuroscience among our fastest growing majors, have supported students from under-represented groups who are trying to thrive in STEM fields, and have started an initiative to integrate design and engineering into our liberal arts curriculum.

Choosing to study a STEM field should be a choice for creativity not conformity. There is nothing narrow about an authentic education in the sciences. Indeed, scientific research is a model for the American tradition of liberal education because of the creative nature of its inquiries, not just the truth-value of its results. As in other disciplines (like music and foreign languages), much basic learning is required, but science is not mere instrumental training; memorizing formulae isn’t thinking like a scientist. On our campus, some of the most innovative, exploratory work is being done by students studying human-machine interactions, using computer science to manipulate moving images to tell better stories, and exploring intersections of environmental science with economics and performance art.

At Wesleyan, Roth sees many students connecting seemingly disparate fields—math and art, biology and theater—in a type of exploration that “develop[s] habits of mind that allow them to develop connections that others haven’t seen”; these students “will be creating the opportunities of the future.”

He concludes:

When Thomas Jefferson was thinking through a new, American model of higher education, it was crucial for him that students not think they already knew at the beginning of their studies where they would end up when it was time for graduation. For him, and for all those who have followed in the path of liberal education in this country, education was exploration – and you would only make important discoveries if you were open to unexpected possibilities. About a century later W.E.B. Du Bois argued that a broad education was a form of empowerment not just apprenticeship. Both men understood that the sciences, along with the humanities, arts and social sciences had vast, integrative possibilities.

This integrative tradition of pragmatic American liberal education must be protected. We must not over-react to fears of being left behind. Yes, ours is a merciless economy characterized by deep economic inequality, but that inequality must not be accepted as a given; the skills of citizenship acquired through liberal learning can be used to push back against it. We must cultivate this tradition of learning not only because it is has served us well for so long, but because it can vitalize our economy, lead to an engaged citizenry and create a culture characterized by connectivity and creativity.

President Roth to Discuss Freud at 92Y March 22

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

On March 22, President Michael Roth will participate in a discussion at the 92nd Street Y in New York City with Mark Edmundson of the University of Virginia. The discussion, titled, “Unorthodox: On Philosophy,” will cover Sigmund Freud’s most valuable contributions, why his work matters, why it has faded from view, and whether his thoughts will make a comeback. The talk starts at 7 p.m.

The event is part of a series of programs that take place both at the Jewish Museum and at the 92nd Street Y in conjunction with the exhibition Unorthodox. According to the website, “The accompanying public programs investigate the notion of defying cultural and artistic uniformity.”

For more information on the talk or to purchase tickets, visit the 92Y’s website.

Roth previously spoke at the 92Y in September 2014 as part of the Social Good Summit. Read more here.

PBS Newshour Features Wesleyan’s Posse Veteran Scholars

PBS Newshour's Jackie Judd interviews Michael Smith '18 about his experience at Wesleyan as a Posse Veteran Scholar.

PBS Newshour’s Jackie Judd interviews Michael Smith ’18 about his experience at Wesleyan as a Posse Veteran Scholar.

On March 15, Wesleyan’s Posse Veteran Scholars program was spotlighted on PBS Newshour, in an episode featuring interviews with President Michael S. Roth and several students. Wesleyan is first mentioned around 3 minutes with Michael Smith ’18 speaking.

According to the show, more than 1 million vets are using GI benefits, but most attend public or for-profit schools. The number of veterans attending top-tier colleges “is so small, it’s not even known.” A few years ago, the Posse Foundation—which has a long history of sending groups, or posses, of talented students “who don’t fit the mold” to top colleges—started a program focused on military veterans. Wesleyan welcomed its first posse of veterans to campus two years ago and, this spring, will admit its third. Vassar and Dartmouth colleges also participate in the Posse Veteran Scholars program.

“I think it’s going to allow for the trajectory of my life to be more vertical by virtue of being here,” Smith told interviewer Jackie Judd. “By virtue of the educational experience I’m getting, by virtue of the skills I’m developing, and by virtue of the resources that I just wouldn’t have had access to.”

Judd also interviewed Bryan Stascavage ’18, an Iraq war veteran and a conservative, about finding himself in the middle of a “culture clash” on campus this fall after he penned an article critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I knew that the articles I was writing were not the prevailing opinion on campus, and I knew that it was only a matter of time when, I like to say, that I connect with the beehive,” said Stascavage.

“Unlike a fighting unit, where you really need cohesion and you all have to point in the same direction, at a university you can afford dissent and controversy as long as you learn to listen while that’s going on,” said Roth. Though difficult in the moment, Roth said, the episode was a positive “teachable moment” for the community. “That’s what you want. Because if you’re learning to listen, you’re learning to learn,” he said.

“I don’t want to be in an environment where everybody thinks the same as me, because you just don’t learn that way,” added Stascavage.

President Roth Discusses Liberal Education on Essential Pittsburgh

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

Are the liberal arts still relevant? President Michael Roth answered this question and more as a guest on “Essential Pittsburgh,” a show on Pittsburgh’s NPR station.

As he argues in his book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, Roth explains, “There’s an American tradition of liberal education that goes back as far as the origins of the country and emphasizes the pragmatic dimensions of broad, contextual study. It’s not so much that you take Latin and Greek or that you study religion rather than, let’s say, biology, it’s that whatever you study, you study it in connection to other things, understanding how what you’re focused on fits into a broader picture. The kind of liberal education that we practice here at Wesleyan, and that I think is part of this great American tradition of liberal education, is a kind of education that connects the specific subject you’re interested in to a range of other possibilities so that you can continue to learn after you graduate from college. The point for me in a liberal education is not what you took when you’re in college but what you’re empowered to do when you leave college.”

Roth was asked about the governor of Kentucky, who has made statements trying to steer students away from studying humanities and toward STEM fields.

“There’s no competition between getting a broad based education and also understanding something in engineering or science. Some of the great scientists have been thinkers who are also steeped in the study of history, in the study of literature or religion. I think it’s a mistake to think that you have to narrow your focus in order to be successful. The more narrow we become, the more likely we are to be irrelevant in the next economic change that happens in the country. So at Wesleyan, I’m starting a design and engineering program, and half of our students are in the sciences, but they’re in the sciences and also studying issues of politics and economics and ethics and entrepreneurship. So that when they get into the business world or the professional world, they have a sense of how people operate and how culture changes, and not just a sense of how machines work. We don’t want to have people graduating from college who can just run somebody else’s machine, we want somebody graduating from college who can run machines but also think of how to invent it or how to use them more fairly or in a more efficient way.”

Asked about the state of higher education today, Roth said: “The defunding of public education in this country is a great, great threat to our future well-being. I think that some of our great public universities no longer get the support from taxation that they used to get, and I think that in the long run will undermine their ability to contribute to commerce and to science and to innovation. I think that some of our very wealthy private institutions should take more of a public responsibility to have graduates who contribute not only to their own well-being but to the solution of some of the most dramatic problems facing us today, be those of poverty, climate change or growing inequality… We have a role in this country to not just train people to do well in their private lives, but to be more open-minded yet critical thinking citizens, more tolerant of their neighbors, more dedicated to their regions, and we have a role to play as academics in reminding students that it’s not just the private life that counts but it’s your public responsibility and your connection to the republic that also counts.”

 

Roth’s Beyond the University Wins AAC&U’s Ness Book Award

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

At its annual meeting on Jan. 21, the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) presented President Michael Roth with the Frederic W. Ness Book Award for his book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matterspublished in 2014 by Yale University Press. The Ness Award is given annually to a book that best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education.

In Beyond the University, Michael S. Roth recounts the historic debates over the benefits—or drawbacks—of a liberal education. In this provocative contribution to the disputes, Roth focuses on important moments and seminal thinkers in America’s long-running argument over vocational vs. liberal education.

“As I argue in the book, a liberal education is more important than ever,” said Michael S. Roth, author of Beyond the University. “In 2016, we can work toward the wider recognition that liberal learning in the American tradition isn’t only training; it’s an invitation to think for oneself—and to act in concert with others to face serious challenges and create far-reaching opportunities. I’m honored to have the book recognized by AAC&U.”

Beyond the University was selected for the award by a committee of higher education leaders including Johnnella Butler (chair), professor of comparative women’s studies at Spelman College; Sandy Ungar, distinguished scholar in residence at Georgetown University; Elaine Maimon, president of Governors State University; and Reza Fakhari, associate provost for academic affairs at City University of New York Kingsborough Community College.

“Michael Roth provides the historical and contemporary rationale for the pragmatic, aspirational, and innovative liberal education needed for the ongoing transformations we need to meet the changing twenty-first-century realities both within and beyond the university,” said Butler.

The Ness Book Award was established by AAC&U in 1979 to honor AAC&U’s president emeritus, Frederic W. Ness. Recent award winners include Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning by José Antonio Bowen; Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession by Anne Colby, Thomas Ehrlich, William Sullivan, and Jonathan R. Dolle; Why Choose the Liberal Arts? by Mark W. Roche; Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education by Peter Sacks; Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More by Derek Bok; Saving Higher Education in the Age of Money by James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield; Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi; Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past by Sam Wineburg; and Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education by Martha Nussbaum.

Read press coverage of Beyond the University here.

Equity Task Force Established

A new task force announced by President Michael Roth will explore the establishment of a multicultural/gender/first-generation resource center as part of Wesleyan’s broader effort to improve equity and inclusion on campus.

The task force will be tri-chaired by Gina Ulysse, professor of anthropology, professor of feminist gender and sexuality studies; Antonio Farias, vice president for equity and inclusion and Title IX officer; and Shardonay Pagett ’18. Their initial recommendations are expected to be published in February with final recommendations by May 1.

“It need hardly be said that making our campus more equitable and inclusive is a communal goal and must be a communal effort,” President Roth wrote in a campus-wide email. “In the course of this work we will be challenged to truly listen to differing viewpoints and to learn from them. In 2016 let’s each and every one of us do what we can—be it personal, political or intellectual—to contribute to equity and inclusion at Wesleyan.”

Wesleyan students, staff and faculty can find updates on the task force’s work and related events, including a community dialogue to be held early spring semester, at equity.wesleyan.edu, and direct input to the task force should be addressed to: equitytaskforce@wesleyan.edu.

Farias said the task force will operate in a transparent manner to provide a clear statement of issues the university faces as a community and how a center would address them, as well as explore policy and operational changes needed to sustain the effort. The group also will consider the broader issue of “cultivating belonging.”

“To ‘cultivate belonging’ is about tending to something we care about,” Ulysse said. “It is about being an engaged presence in the process of change making. Everyone can play a part but there must be will and very clear intentions. The current moment demands that institutions face history without taking short cuts. To that end, if we want to be effective, we need to dedicate ourselves more than ever to engaging in a process of cultivating belonging. Cultivation is really hard work that is action oriented. It requires community, intention and is ongoing. There is no end to it.”

President Roth: Has political correctness really ‘run amok’ on college campuses?

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

In an essay published on The Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” blog, President Michael Roth responds to those in the media who see political correctness “run amok” on college campuses. “I work with students everyday, and I have had protesters at my office, and I don’t see their realities reflected in public discourse,” he writes.

Roth sees political correctness as a “charismatic bogeyman with strange powers to titillate liberal and conservative writers alike.”