Faculty

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The Washington Post: “How the NRA Highjacked History”

In this op-ed, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker writes about the history of the legal debate over the Second Amendment, and explains how the court’s understanding of that history may shape the nation’s response to the current gun violence epidemic. Her op-ed was reported on in The Trace.

2. The Hill: “A Tragic Misperception About Climate Change”

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus, is co-author of this op-ed that argues “The U.S. contributes to global warming not only through its own emissions of greenhouse gases but also by the effect of its behavior on the actions of other countries.” The U.S. must first “get its own house in order,” then take steps to encourage other countries to take similar action to reduce carbon emissions, he writes.

3. Process: a blog for American history: “The Politics of Statehood in Hawai’i and the Urgency of Non-Statist Decolonization”

In this essay, written on the 60th anniversary of the United States claiming the Hawaiian islands as the 50th state of the union, Professor of American Studies J. Kēhaulani Kauanui reflects on the dispute over Maunakea, a sacred mountain that is currently under threat by those who want to construct a major observatory at its summit. She writes that the dispute “can be seen as a microcosm of the history of Hawai‘i’s (U.S.) statehood and earlier American encroachment.”

Wesleyan Welcomes 48 New Faculty, Postdocs, Scholars

2019 faculty

New faculty gathered for a group photo during New Faculty Orientation on Aug. 26. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

This fall, Wesleyan welcomes 48 new faculty to campus.

Of those, there are 16 tenure-track, 10 professors of the practice, one artist-in-residence, one adjunct, and 20 new visiting faculty members.

The new faculty bring a diverse skill set to campus. Among them are experts in international political economy; Indian cinema and film; environmental archaeology and ancient DNA; German poetry and aesthetic theory of the 18th century; music and expressive culture in Kazakhstan; politics in the African diaspora; Russian and Anglo-American literature; physiological and psychological effects of alcohol; and digital video production.

In addition, three are Wesleyan alumni.

Bios of the new ongoing faculty are below:

Joseph Ackley

Joseph Ackley

Joseph Ackley, assistant professor of art history, is a specialist in precious metalwork of the European Middle Ages, circa 800–1400. He received his BA from Dartmouth College (2003) and both his MA (2008) and his PhD (2014) from New York University’s Institute for Fine Art. His dissertation focused on portable, liturgical objects such as chalices, reliquaries, figural statuettes, and jewelry. He has investigated the symbolic associations of gold and gilding, the preferred media for these works, and has theorized “the radiant aesthetic” that underlies and informs them. His work not only expands the corpus of medieval art, but also deepens our understanding of the “multi-media glory” that would have characterized medieval architectural spaces, draped with silks and enlivened by processional objects.

3 Wesleyan Faculty Honored with Prizes for Excellence in Research

Wesleyan President Michael Roth, left, and Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Rosenthal, right, congratulate the three recipients of the second annual Faculty Research Prize. They include Natasha Korda, professor of English; Joseph Rouse, the Hedding Professor of Moral Science; and Tsampikos Kottos, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society.

Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78, left, and Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Rosenthal, right, congratulate the three recipients of the second annual Faculty Research Prize: Natasha Korda, professor of English; Joseph Rouse, Hedding Professor of Moral Science; and Tsampikos Kottos, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society.

On Sept. 3, during the first faculty meeting of the fall semester, three Wesleyan professors were honored with the Wesleyan Prize for Excellence in Research.

The faculty-nominated prize is presented to members of the faculty who demonstrate the highest standards of excellence in their research, scholarship, and contributions to their field. Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for academic affairs Rob Rosenthal acknowledged the recipients during the faculty meeting. Each winner received a plaque and funding for his or her research.

This year’s recipients include:

Natasha Korda, professor of English, plays a highly visible role in keeping scholarship on Renaissance drama a thriving and intellectually dynamic field. Her work combines deep, interdisciplinary learning, wide-ranging archival research, and keen critical insight, illuminating the complex and profound relations among gender, theater history, and economic history. Her recent monograph and edited collection have brought attention to the many and varied forms of labor that enabled dramatic production in early modern England and that linked the stage to the international trade in goods and services of a developing capitalist economy. Korda is widely admired by her colleagues for her scrupulous, innovative, and dynamic scholarship, as well as for her willingness to contribute through work on multiple editorial boards and with the Shakespeare Association of America.

Poulos Studies Endangered Grass on Texas-Mexico Border

Pictured third from right, Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, gathers with the “Fescue Rescue” team at Maderas del Carmen Protected Area in Mexico. There, the scientists are studying Guadalupe fescue, an endangered grass species.

field sites in the Sierra del Carmens, Coahila Mexico

Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, works at a field site in the Sierra del Carmens, Coahuila Mexico. In September 2017, the U.S. government determined that Festuca ligulata needed protected species status and designated it a critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The rare Guadalupe fescue once thrived in abundance atop mountains spanning the Texas-Mexico border, however, the desert-growing perennial grass is now so endangered, it only flourishes in two locations on Earth.

The rapid population decline is leaving scientists puzzled.

“Developing an effective recovery plan is essential for protecting Guadalupe fescue, however, the lack of basic information about this species’ ecology is a serious barrier to that goal,” explained Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies. “Urgent action is needed to stabilize the two extant populations.”

This summer, under Poulos’s leadership, Wesleyan received a National Park Service Grant to study Festuca ligulata through the Southwest Borderlands Resource Protection Program. She joined a bi-national team of scientists known as “Fescue Rescue” to research the two isolated fescue populations in Texas’s Big Bend National Park and the Maderas del Carmen Protected Area in Coahuila, Mexico.

Said Poulos, a plant ecologist who has worked at desert borderland sites for more than a decade, “The Guadalupe fescue has become so endangered that this has become a significant national and international conservation concern.”

Backed by the NPS grant, the Fescue Rescue team will conduct onsite visits from October to mid-November 2019 during Guadalupe fescue seed maturation. Seeds will be collected during this time and transported to labs at Sul Ross State University in Texas and Universidad Autónoma Antonio Narro in Mexico. At these locations, scientists will germinate the seeds and grow their own fescue refugial populations for multiple research purposes.

“Together, they’ll provide a springboard for future plant population genetics, enrichment planting, and adaptive management research on both sides of the border,” Poulos said. “Such information is vital for elaborating site-specific management plans for the species on both U.S. and Mexican soils.”

They’ll study environmental variables, inventory seed production, identify key factors that promote reproductive viability, and ultimately establish refugial populations on both sides of the border.

Although virtually nothing is known about the environmental influences on the growth and reproduction of Guadalupe fescue, Poulos believes the fescue’s population decline is a result of multiple factors.

“Environmental factors that have likely negatively influenced the fescue populations include a recent shift to a hotter and drier climate, the genetic and demographic consequences of small population sizes and isolation, trampling by humans and pack animals, trail runoff, competition from invasive species, and fungal infection of seeds,” she said.

In addition, naturally occurring wildfires, which play an important role in rejuvenating ecosystems, are rare due to livestock grazing in the early 1900s and subsequent direct fire suppression continuing to the present. The remaining plants in the two disjunct populations are likely highly inbred and lack genetic diversity. This can threaten the capacity of populations to resist pathogens and parasites, adapt to changing environmental conditions, and colonize new habitats.

Poulos hopes to deliver her final reports to the National Park Service by summer 2020.

Brunet’s Dissertation Summarized in the Journal of Economic History

A summary of Assistant Professor of Economics Gillian Brunet’s dissertation, “Understanding the Effects of Fiscal Policy: Measurement, Mechanisms, and Lessons from History,” was published in the June issue of the Journal of Economic History. She wrote the paper while pursuing her PhD in economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

The global recession of 2008 and the resulting fiscal stimulus packages in many countries have reignited academic interest in government spending multipliers. Despite a growing theoretical and empirical literature, there is little consensus on the impact of government spending on macroeconomic aggregates. Gillian Brunet’s dissertation makes significant contributions to this contested literature by focusing on the largest fiscal shock in modern American history—WWII. Besides providing novel estimates of the fiscal multiplier during the war period, her work also seeks to understand how the economic and institutional contexts affect this important statistic.

The dissertation also won the Economic History Association’s 2018 Allan Nevins Prize Competition.

Brunet’s research interests lie at the intersection of economic history, macroeconomics, and public economics. Her work uses microeconomic data to study macroeconomic questions, often in historical contexts. She is particularly interested in understanding the United States economy during and after World War II.

This fall, she is teaching Economics of Alexander Hamilton’s America and Macroeconomic Analysis.

Kuenzel’s Paper Examines the International Monetary Fund’s Forecast Accuracy

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel

David Kuenzel, assistant professor of economics, is the co-author of a new paper published in the July–August issue of International Journal of Forecasting titled “Forecasts in Times of Crises.”

In the paper, Kuenzel and his co-authors examine the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) forecast accuracy of 29 key macroeconomic variables for countries in times of economic crises. In general, forecasts of the IMF add substantial informational value as they outperform naive forecast approaches. However, the paper also documents that there is room for improvement: Two-thirds of the examined macroeconomic variables are forecast inefficiently, and six variables (growth of nominal GDP, public investment, private investment, the current account, net transfers, and government expenditures) exhibit significant forecast biases.

These forecast biases and inefficiencies are mostly driven by low-income countries, perhaps reflecting larger shocks and lower data quality. Most importantly, errors in private consumption growth forecasts are the main drivers of GDP growth forecast errors. The results can help to shed light on which macroeconomic variables require further attention by the IMF in designing future forecast models.

The paper is co-authored by Theo Eicher (University of Washington), Chris Papageorgiou (International Monetary Fund), and Charis Christofides (International Monetary Fund).

Kuenzel is also the author of a paper published in the August issue of the Review of International Economics titled “Do trade flows respond to nudges? Evidence from the WTO’s Trade Policy Review Mechanism.” In the paper, Kuenzel examines whether interactions between WTO members through the Trade Policy Review Mechanism, the WTO’s prime transparency institution, lead to subsequent changes in trade flows. This question is of particular interest, as relatively little is known about the economic effects of WTO members’ communications outside of official negotiations and dispute proceedings. Kuenzel’s analysis shows that trade policy concern submissions by WTO members are more likely to lead to positive trade responses when (i) the receiving country is less concerned about terms‐of‐trade losses, (ii) the submitter is more willing to engage in WTO disputes with the reviewed member to challenge controversial trade policies, and (iii) the submitting country challenges trade policies in the nonchemical manufacturing sector. However, nudges through the TPR process are not successful in raising agricultural trade.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

1. Where We Live: “The Life and Legacy of American Composer Charles Ives”

Neely Bruce, the John Spencer Camp Professor of Music, is a guest on this show about the legacy of composer Charles Ives. Bruce is the only pianist who has ever played all of the Ives music for solo voice, in a project called the Ives Vocal Marathon, which took place at Wesleyan in 2009. He is also the co-editor of a new collection of Ives songs, a former member of the board of the Charles Ives Society, and the chair of the Artistic Advisory Committee of the society.

2. The New York Times: “Don’t Dismiss ‘Safe Spaces'”

In this op-ed, President Michael Roth argues that while “safe spaces” can be taken too far on college campuses, the much-maligned concept actually “underlies the university’s primary obligations” to its students. He advocates for creating “safe enough spaces,” which “promote a basic sense of inclusion and respect that enables students to learn and grow—to be open to ideas and perspectives so that the differences they encounter are educative.” Roth further explores this topic and many others in his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College CampusesHe was interviewed recently about the book on several radio shows, including The Jim Bohannon Show, The Brian Lehrer Show, WGBH On Campus Radio, and Wisconsin Public Radio, among others, and published op-eds in the Boston Globe and The Atlantic.

A Right to Bear Arms? Coedited by Tucker Explores History of Gun Debate

Jennifer Tucker

Jennifer Tucker

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is coeditor of a new book, A Right to Bear Arms?: The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment, published Aug. 20 by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.

This collection of essays offers a glimpse into how and why historical arguments have been marshaled on both sides of today’s debate over the Second Amendment. It includes writings by leading historians on firearms and the common law (including Saul Cornell, Kevin Sweeney, Joyce Malcolm, Priya Satia, Patrick Charles, Lois Schwoerer, Randolph Roth, and others) and—for the first time in one place—by the lawyers who have served as leading historical consultants in litigation for both sides (Mark Anthony Frassetto, counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety, and Stephen Halbrook, legal counsel for the National Rifle Association).

Taken together, these essays offer both general readers and specialists a valuable study of how history itself has become a contested site within the wider national legal debate about firearms. It fills a major gap in public historical writing about firearms and the law, a field characterized by strong polarities and in which scholarly exchanges among people with different perspectives on the history of firearms are relatively rare.

Board of Trustees Promotes 7 Faculty

On July 1, the Wesleyan Board of Trustees awarded tenure and promotions to seven faculty members.

The board conferred tenure with promotion to Ilesanmi Adeboye, associate professor of mathematics; Logan Dancey, associate professor of government; Meredith Hughes, associate professor of astronomy; and Stéphanie Ponsavady, associate professor of French. They join seven other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

In addition, three faculty members are being promoted: Hilary Barth, professor of psychology; Robert Conn, professor of Spanish; and Sanford Shieh, professor of philosophy. They join one other faculty member who was promoted earlier this spring.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below:

Ilesanmi Adeboye
Adeboye’s research lies at the intersection of topology and geometry, and is motivated by the foundational question: To what extent does the shape of a mathematical object specify the ways to measure it? He focuses on concepts of area and volume in non-Euclidean geometries, in particular hyperbolic geometry and projective geometry. In addition to his published articles, he has given 20 invited talks in the United States and internationally. His most recent publication is “The Area of Convex Projective Surfaces and Fock-Goncharov Coordinates” in Journal of Topology and Analysis (2018). He teaches a wide variety of courses, including Multivariable Calculus, Fundamentals of Analysis, Complex Analysis, Differential Equations, Differential Forms, and Topology.

Theater’s Oliveras Performs in World Premiere of Kiss My Aztec!

Desiree Rodriguez and Maria-Christina Oliveras in Kiss My Aztec! (Photo by Kevin Berne)

Desiree Rodriguez and Maria-Christina Oliveras in Kiss My Aztec! (Photo by Kevin Berne)

This summer, award-winning actor, singer, producer, and new assistant professor of theater Maria-Christina Oliveras acted in the world premiere of Kiss My Aztec, a new musical on Latino history.

Written by John Leguizamo and Tony Taccone, winners of the 2018 Special Tony Award for Latin History of Morons, the musical debuted May through July at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Performances will continue at La Jolla Playhouse starting Sept. 8.

Oliveras became involved in the musical’s developmental process in 2014, when it started out as a play and evolved over time.

“I am a new works junkie. There is nothing like ‘brain-childing’ a piece from its inception,” Oliveras said in a recent interview with Broadway World. She described the show as a “non-traditional epic musical comedy with teeth. It is brash, bold, hilarious and vulgar. An Aztec take or retake of history in the vein of Spamalot or Book of Mormon. We are not aiming for historical accuracy. And we are ‘equal opportunity offenders.'”

“Understanding Russia: A Dramatic Return to the World Stage” Topic of 2019 Shasha Seminar

RussiaThis year’s Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, “Understanding Russia: A Dramatic Return to the World Stage,” will be held Oct. 11–12. It begins on Friday with a keynote address by Andrew Meier ’85, a former Moscow correspondent with Time. On Saturday, a full day of panel discussions led by Wesleyan professors and alumni who are leaders in their field will be available to registrants.

The Shasha Seminar, an educational forum for Wesleyan alumni, parents, and friends, explores issues of global concern in a small seminar environment. Endowed by James Shasha ’50, P’82, the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns supports lifelong learning and encourages participants to expand their knowledge and perspectives on significant issues. Last year, for example, the seminar explored suicide and resilience.

Peter Rutland

Professor Peter Rutland is directing the 2019 Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns.

In this Q&A, we speak to Shasha Seminar director Peter Rutland, Wesleyan’s Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought. Rutland frames the seminar in terms of providing discussion and insight into the recent aggressive behavior we’ve seen from Russia—military interventions in Ukraine and Syria, and interference in elections from Macedonia to Michigan, for instance.

Q: How did this year’s topic for the Shasha Seminar come about?

A:  I think this idea came from Marc Eisner, Henry Merritt Wriston Chair in Public Policy, who was dean of the social sciences last year, and who suggested a Shasha Seminar focused on Russia since it was in the news.

Wesleyan’s Girls in Science Summer Camp Gets Young Scientists Excited about STEM 

GIS

Marty Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, leads an experiment about meteors during the Girls in Science Summer Camp Aug. 8. (Photo by Kerisha Harris)

(Story by Kerisha Harris)

For the sixth year in a row, the weeklong Wesleyan Girls in Science Summer Camp welcomed dozens of middle school-aged girls for a week of learning, exploration, and STEM-centered fun.

From Aug. 5-9 inside Exley Science Center, the 32 campers in grades 4-6 spent the week learning about everything from how to extract DNA from a strawberry, to the parts of the brain, and even how to make (but don’t touch) an ice-cold comet. By Friday, the young scientists were excited to share all they had learned with their friends and families, and did so through a poster presentation and art display.

Girls in Science participants observe a "comet" they created during the camp.

Girls in Science participants observe a “comet” they created during the camp.

This partnership between Wesleyan and Middletown Public Schools gives girls the chance to explore and cultivate their interest in science by conducting fun experiments in real-life labs, discovering scientific concepts, vocabulary and equipment, and learning from female Wesleyan professors and students in the sciences.

This year marked the first time in the program’s history that the camp took place fully under the umbrella of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships.  Additionally, the Jewett Center partnered with In-Reach, a program coordinated by Melisa Olgun ’20, to bring local high school girls in as program assistants. These young scientists-in-training provided guidance and support for the campers, while also getting to spend time in research labs at Wesleyan.