Wesleyan in the News: January 2024

Mike MavredakisJanuary 17, 202414min
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On the Freakonomics Radio Hour, Jan. 24, Stephen J. Dubner spoke with President Michael S. Roth ’78 about  the difficulty of being a college president in a moment of political pressure on higher education. “I realize that you can’t please everyone, but I don’t think that that’s an excuse for trying to say nothing,” Roth said. “And the fact that you can’t speak about everything doesn’t mean you should stay silent all the time.” 

Roth was quoted in a Boston Globe story on the challenges university president’s face in the modern political climate that has some colleges facing frequent public attacks, declining enrollment, and government interference. “It’s a great job if you love education,” Roth said. “But what worries me is that we’re facing a public sphere that will become so intemperate in the coming election year that if college presidents … don’t participate in the public sphere then the public sphere will be further degraded by the loudest and dumbest voices.”

Roth also spoke to USA Today on the topic of college presidents, following the resignation of Harvard University’s president, Claudine Gay. He said it’s a crucial time for educational leaders to encourage civic engagement and inquiry. “I do worry that many of my colleagues will retreat further from the public sphere. … I’m afraid this kind of thing will make people gun-shy,” Roth said.

Roth’s two most recent books The Student: A Short History and Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses were mentioned in Psychology Today on how a liberal arts education can cultivate the “American character.”

The Shapiro Center launched a podcast “The Critic and Her Publics” in partnership with The New York Review of Books and Literary Hub. Host Merve Emre, Shapiro-Silverberg University Professor of Creative Writing and Criticism, speaks with critics from major publications like The New Yorker about the art of criticism. The first episode debuted on Jan. 30 with guest Andrea Long Chu, Pulitzer Prize winner and book critic at New York Magazine. 

Emre also announced a three-book deal with W.W. Norton & Company. The deal is for “Love and Other Useless Pursuits,” a “counter-history of love and literature” touching upon thoughts on love from ancient Greece to modern times. 

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School’s announced that Professor of History Jennifer Tucker was named new Historians Council on the Constitution. The council will work with Brennan Center attorneys to “counter the U.S. Supreme Court’s misuses and mischaracterizations of history to decide major constitutional issues.” 

Tucker wrote a piece for CNN on the legacy of former National Rifle Association Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, who resigned for health reasons five days before a trial alleging self-dealing and financial corruption at the organization. LaPierre spent over 30 years leading the gun-rights advocacy group and operated as “Wayne’s World” for decades, Tucker wrote. 

Peter Rutland, professor of government, wrote a piece on college campus discourse surrounding the Israel-Hamas War for CNN. “The United States needs a serious and reasoned discussion about how to resolve the conflict in Gaza… Institutions of higher learning, where students, faculty and staff alike are invested in the mission of academic freedom, should be fertile ground for fostering such robust discourse.”

Florence Dore ’87, professor of English at University of North Carolina, wrote about spending her sabbatical on tour performing on rock n’ roll stages around the country for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Dore and her band released an album “Highways & Rocketships” in 2022. 

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded a 2024 NEA Literature Translation Fellowship to Mark Schafer ’85 to translate the short fiction by Cuban author Virgilio Piñera into English. Schafer first translated Piñera’s work in 1984 while working for the Wesleyan University Press’ poetry division, he said. 

Tracy Mehr-Muska, assistant director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and Christian chaplain, completed the Iron Sharpening Iron program at Princeton Theological Seminary. The highly selective leadership program draws on “best practices and subject matter expertise” from field leaders to develop women in the theological space.  

CNBC highlighted recent data from the Wesleyan Media Project on the upcoming presidential primaries, ahead of the 2024 election. Before winning the Iowa Caucus on Jan. 15, former President Donald Trump and Super PACs supporting him spent over $10 million on ad-buys in the state. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and supporting Super PACs spent over $15.5 million and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and supporting Super PAC spent over $18.1 million.

Assistant Professor of History and Religion Joseph Slaughter wrote a piece for The Hill on pending legislation requiring businesses on the New York Thruway to stay open seven days a week. This has led to some backlash from politicians since some businesses close on the Christian sabbath for religious reasons, like Chik-fil-A. Slaughter draws comparisons to a similar controversy from over 200 years ago when some Protestants pushed back against the seven-day work week following a business boom after the construction of the Erie Canal in the 1820s.

A New York Times piece highlighted Alex Kaplan ’25 and The Wesleyan Spirits, an on-campus a cappella group, in a piece on the relatively unknown song “Insomniac” by Billy Pilgrim. The song has gained a foothold in the a cappella scene. The Spirits have performed the song for over two decades, including once for one of its creators—Kristian Bush, who is one of two members of Sugarland.

Jake Tapper interviewed film historian and author Jeremy Arnold ’91 on CNN’s “The Lead” about classic Christmas films. During their interview, Arnold and Tapper talk over the genre and some its stand outs, like “Home Alone” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and debate on whether “Die Hard” is actually a Christmas movie. Arnold explores the very topic in his book “Christmas in the Movies,” which expands on 35 of the genres greatest and most beloved films.

Kim-Frank Creative Writing Fellow Oliver Egger wrote a story on the now-closed Walter E. Fernald State School in Waltham, Mass., one of the oldest public institutions for those with intellectual disabilities. The school, named after Egger’s great-great-grandfather, was closed in 2014 but still contains cabinets of confidential patient records, Egger reported for The Boston Globe. Many of the records have been dispersed throughout the school’s 196-acre property by trespassers and vandals, Egger writes.

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, assistant professor of social studies, spoke with author Wendy Brown of Nihilistic Times: Thinking with Max Weber as a part of a regular interview series with The Nation. Steinmetz-Jenkins and Brown discussed what it means to be living in nihilistic times, how it relates to Weber’s thinking, the idea of value, and neoliberalism, among other topics.

This past year was a “year for the climate-impact record books,” according to Gary Yohe, climate economist and Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, in a climate column for The Messenger. Yohe looked at the consequences of the burgeoning climate crisis in 2023.

Yohe and co-authors wrote a piece for The Hill on what climate policy under former President Donald Trump would look like, should he win a second term. “Repeating this political experiment by electing former President Trump to a second term is highly unlikely to yield a different outcome,” they wrote. “We already know how this experiment plays out. Trump has given us advance notice.”