Tag Archive for Michael Roth

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.”

Roth Disputes Narrative of ‘Coddled’ College Students in Op-Ed

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

Writing in the The Washington PostPresident Michael Roth questions the predominant media narrative painting college students as “pampered with coddled minds.”

Roth argues that such denigration of young people by older generations is an age old tradition, dating back to the founding fathers shaking “their heads about dueling and drinking on campus.”

He writes:

When I look around my campus and visit others, I don’t find pampered students with coddled minds. I find math majors in the gym every day preparing for a soccer match or a swim meet. I find writers pulling all-nighters to finish a project working side by side with computer science students developing new software. There are more double majors than ever, and on every campus I visit there are impressive percentages of students doing volunteer work or creating organizations that will have a positive impact locally, even globally – be it making their campuses more sustainable or improving the education of girls in Africa. These hard-working, dedicated students fill the ranks of those now protesting for more equitable and inclusive educational institutions.

And just like older alumni, not all student activists see things the same way, Roth writes. “We are an educational institution: It is a good thing when we can articulate why and how we disagree.”

The image of students concerned only with the micro frustrations of everyday life as opposed to “real” issues bears no relation to the real students I encounter at colleges and universities. These students are well aware, for example, that climate change may significantly alter their lives, and that it will surely disrupt the lives of people around the world. They are learning about this accelerating catastrophe in STEM classes and political science seminars, and they are striving to find ways of mitigating its effects through sophisticated science and through policy analysis.

Our students are also well aware that they will graduate into an economy and society with greater inequalities and less social mobility than in any time since early industrialization. American college students recognize that powerful forces are dynamically increasing the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few.  They are studying how one can create robust economic growth without just reinforcing this inequitable trend, while grappling with a political arena ever more responsive to money. […]

Today, campuses are more diverse because some Americans fought for educational opportunities to be more equitably distributed. Thanks to their achievements, todays students have higher awareness and higher expectations, so we can expect continued tensions on our campuses. Racism and inequality are still powerful beyond the borders of the university, and campuses themselves are not immune.

These are not “minor” or “micro” issues, and our students know it. They are faced with a world beyond the university that is threatened ecologically, economically and culturally, and they are doing their best to prepare themselves for these challenges. They are studying physics and religion, design and economics, and sometimes they stand up and make themselves heard.  Sometimes they are filled with rage, sometimes with fear. They will make mistakes, but they don’t need columnists to tell them that the main problem isn’t Halloween. If only it were.


Friends of Davison Art Center Holds Autumn Soirée Fundraiser

Soiree attendees voted to include Graciela Iturbide's silver gelatin print in the Davison Art Center's permanent collection.

Soiree attendees voted to include Graciela Iturbide’s silver gelatin print in the Davison Art Center’s permanent collection.

The Friends of the Davison Art Center organized an Autumn Soirée fundraiser on Oct. 22 at the President’s House. Attendees enjoyed a special evening of music and art hosted at the home of President Michael Roth and University Professor of Letters Kari Weil.

“Kari and I are lifetime members of the Friends of the Davison, and we were happy to express our support in this way,” President Roth said. “The Center benefits the Wesleyan community, of course, but also so many in the area who care for the arts.”

Professor of Music Neely Bruce performed an intimate piano concert. As part of the fundraiser, all ticket-holders had the opportunity to vote on one of three works to be added to the DAC’s distinguished collection. The winner was Graciela Iturbide’s photograph, Mujer Angel (Angel Woman, Sonora Desert), 1980.

Since its founding in 1962, the primary mission of the Friends of the Davison Art Center has been to fund acquisitions for the DAC collection. The FDAC consists of Wesleyan University faculty, staff, alumni, and students, Connecticut residents, and other friends of the arts devoted to the growth and public enjoyment of the DAC collection.

Photos of the soirée are below:


Michael Roth Writes About Argus Controversy in Hartford Courant

Michael Roth

Michael Roth

President Michael Roth is the author of an op-ed in The Hartford Courant about the debate raging at Wesleyan over questions of race, oppression and free speech. The controversy was sparked by an op-ed written by a sophomore and published in The Wesleyan Argus in September, which raised questions critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many students were upset by the op-ed and called for boycotting the Argus. Roth writes:

They made the important point that opinion pieces like these facilitate the ongoing marginalization of a sector of our student population; and they angrily accused the Argus of contributing to that marginalization.

I’m very glad these important issues were made public — sometimes quite forcefully. Those who think they favor free speech but call for civility in all discussions should remember that battles for freedom of expression are seldom conducted in a privileged atmosphere of upper-class decorum.

Unfortunately, in addition to sparking conversation, the op-ed also generated calls to punish the newspaper. Protests against newspapers, of course, are also part of free speech. But punishment, if successful, can have a chilling effect on future expression.

Many students (I think the great majority) quickly realized this and, contrary to what has been reported in the press, the student newspaper has not been defunded. Students are trying to figure out how to bring more perspectives to the public with digital platforms, and I am confident they can do this without undermining the Argus.

Debates like this illustrate how the “imperatives of freedom and safety [on campus] are sometimes in conflict,” Roth writes.

A campus free from violence is an absolute necessity for a true education, but a campus free from challenge and confrontation would be anathema to it. We must not protect ourselves from disagreement; we must be open to being offended for the sake of learning, and we must be ready to give offense so as to create new opportunities for thinking.

Education worthy of the name is risky — not safe. Education worthy of the name does not hide behind a veneer of civility or political correctness, but instead calls into question our beliefs.

We learn most when we are ready to recognize how many of our ideas are just conventional, no matter how “radical” we think those ideas might be. We learn most when we are ready to consider challenges to our values from outside our comfort zones of political affiliation and personal ties.

The op-ed was cross-posted on The Huffington PostRoth also discussed these issues on WBUR’s Radio Boston.

President Roth Remembers Carl Schorske

The Washington Post published a remembrance by President Michael Roth of Carl Schorske, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who died this month at age 100. Schorske taught at Wesleyan for many years, and was a mentor to Roth.

Roth writes:

Carl was the great historian of anti-historical thinking. What does that mean? He charted how at times a wave of culture makers attempted to break free of any connection to the past. But Carl, with care and precision, wove their rejection of history into a narrative that made meaning out of context and change over time. In his masterwork,  “Fin de Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture,” he explored “the historical genesis of modern cultural consciousness, with its deliberate rejection of history.”

[…] Carl was an extraordinary teacher —  erudite, humane and sensitive to the different ways that students learned. He was an activist, a scholar and a pedagogue. These aspects of his personality all worked together in his intellectual practice as a scholar-teacher. When he was teaching a subject he was deeply engaged with as a scholar, he said he “was really cooking with gas.” He took culture seriously, and he took enormous pleasure in it, too. That seriousness and capacity for pleasure was something that his students were so fortunate to share in.

Roth was also quoted in a New York Times obituary of Schorske.

“Many of us academics write like klutzes,” Roth said. “What Schorske did in each essay was write in a way that lived up to the intellectual and aesthetic standards of the culture makers he had studied.”