In the Media

President Roth Calls on Universities to Promote Intellectual Diversity

President Michael S. Roth

President Michael Roth

On May 11, Wesleyan President Michael Roth writes in The Wall Street Journal about the need for colleges and universities to proactively cultivate intellectual diversity on campus. While student protests over controversial speakers have dominated headlines of late, he writes:

The issue, however, isn’t whether the occasional conservative, libertarian or religious speaker gets a chance to speak. That is tolerance, an appeal to civility and fairness, but it doesn’t take us far enough. To create deeper intellectual and political diversity, we need an affirmative-action program for the full range of conservative ideas and traditions, because on too many of our campuses they seldom get the sustained, scholarly attention that they deserve.

Roth discusses initiatives at Wesleyan, including the Posse Veteran Scholars program, which brings cohorts of military veterans to campus on full scholarships.

These students with military backgrounds are older than our other undergraduates and have very different life experiences; more of them also hold conservative political views.

Now, Wesleyan plans to deepen its engagement with the military by working with the U.S. Army to bring senior military officers to campus. Starting next year, the first of them will arrive to teach classes on the relationship between military institutions and civil society.

Roth goes on:

Another new initiative for intellectual diversity, launched with the support of one our trustees, has created an endowment of more than $3 million for exposing students at Wesleyan to ideas outside the liberal consensus. This fall, our own academic departments and centers will begin offering courses and programs to cover topics such as “the philosophical and economic foundations of private property, free enterprise and market economies” and “the relationship of tolerance to individual rights, freedom and voluntary association.”

We are not interested in bringing in ideologues or shallow provocateurs intent on outraging students and winning the spotlight. We want to welcome scholars with a deep understanding of traditions currently underrepresented on our campus (and on many others) and look forward to the vigorous conversations they will inspire.

Students are also recognizing the value of the free exchange of ideas. This spring, the Wesleyan Democrats and Wesleyan Republicans joined forces to host a Bipartisan Political Series to encourage open political dialogue on campus.

WSJ subscription is required to access the full article. The Wesleyan community can access the article through the Olin Library website.

Roth Writes About Teaching Iconic Film ‘Casablanca’ to Today’s College Students

President Michael Roth

On the 75th anniversary of Casablanca, President Michael Roth writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education about teaching the iconic film to modern college students. He writes, “…I have to encourage students to open themselves to the pace, the acting styles, and the conventions of classical Hollywood cinema. I push my smart, hip, and often progressive students to give up their condescending attitude toward the past.”

He writes:

This year, the immigrant story at the heart of Casablanca is more powerful than ever. Many of my students are sympathetic to refugees escaping brutal conditions, and in our current political atmosphere this is no small thing. But Casablanca’s themes go deeper than that, depicting a world in which people are willing to work together across differences for shared political goals. There can be no litmus test of political or moral purity when the threat is real and the task is to find common ground from which to take effective action.

On college campuses it is easy to stay locked in the bubble of one’s own friends and allies. A campus may, like Rick’s cafe, pride itself on diversity, but student groups (and faculty allies) often self-segregate, so they rarely put aside their differences to join forces, or increase mutual understanding through conversation and debate.

While administrators talk a lot about helping the world, colleges often seem content to prepare students to maximize personal gain after graduating, encouraging a retreat into a private life in which other people’s problems and political struggles don’t inspire concern — let alone commitment and action.

Despite the lofty rhetoric, colleges are reluctant to stick their necks out for anybody, except their own students, alumni, and faculty. Casablanca forces us consider what it takes for good people to act in a corrupt world, not just turn their noses up at the corruption. What does it take to say “no” to abuses of power? How does one come to risk one’s life by publicly affirming basic human values?”

These are questions that Casablanca raised when it was released 75 years ago. Today’s undergrads may resist its earnestness and romanticism, and they can easily point out deficiencies in its portrayal of race and gender. But Casablanca’s story of how diversity and solidarity can be combined to fight tyranny still resonates, even if that combination remains more aspiration than reality on campuses. I suppose that’s one reason I continue to teach the film: When neutrality is no longer an option, aspiration counts for a lot.

Jenkins Interviewed on BBC About New Play ‘Islands’

Ron Jenkins

Ron Jenkins

Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins was a guest on the BBC program “Sunday” to discuss his new play, “Islands: The Lost History of the Treaty That Changed the World.” The play, commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Treaty of Breda in which the Dutch ceded Manhattan in exchange for the tiny spice island of Rhun, premiered April 21 and 22 at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts.

Jenkins’ interview begins about four-and-a-half minutes in. Or, on the BBC page, scroll down and select the “Islands” chapter.

“We’re performing the actual text of the 1667 Treaty of Breda. In this treaty, if you look closely at the words, you’ll see that the English and the Dutch were ending their war,” said Jenkins told the BBC.

“As part of the agreement, they were also trying to erase from history all the awful things that they had done during the war. And among those awful things were the massacre of the indigenous Muslim population of the island of Rhun. And we have the Dutch character singing the words of the treaty, and then the indigenous characters question that. […] Those murders did occur and we can’t forget that. There’s a back and forth dialogue between the colonial masters and the indigenous victims of colonialism.”

Jenkins describes visiting Rhun. In the 17th century, Rhun was as valuable as Manhattan because it was the world’s primary source of nutmeg which, at the time, was worth its weight in gold. They met nutmeg farmers and were shown the nutmeg trees, which are still there.

The radio feature includes Wesleyan students singing songs written for the play by John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce and Artist-in-Residence in Music I. Harjito.

Roth Writes on Hungary’s Attempts to Shut Down a Leading University

President Michael S. Roth

Michael Roth

President Michael Roth writes in The Washington Post about the Hungarian government’s efforts to close down the Central European University (CEU), a leading private university founded by liberal Hungarian-born financier George Soros.

CEU is accredited in the United States and registered in New York State, but has no U.S. campus. The Hungarian government has targeted the school by passing a law requiring universities to have campuses in the place where they are registered. The response has been mass demonstrations and even threats to suspend Hungary’s European Union membership.

Pointing to  recent debates over free speech at American universities, Roth writes:

While we in the United States fret about whether right-wing provocateurs can speak in the evening or the afternoon, a far more dire situation has developed in Budapest.

The Hungarian government is trying to shut down Central European University, a major beacon of research and teaching. The university was supported by the liberal philanthropist and financier Georges Soros and is currently led by Michael Ignatieff, a champion of freedom of inquiry. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has put enormous pressure on CEU but supporters around the world have rallied to its defense. We should, too!

He concludes:

When freedom of inquiry and expression is threatened on campus, it will be threatened elsewhere in society. In the long run, it’s the most vulnerable who have the most to lose.

 

Gallarotti Discusses Rising Tensions Over Russia, North Korea on Radio Program

Giulio Gallarotti

Giulio Gallarotti

Professor of Government Giulio Gallarotti was a guest recently on “Best of the Valley/ Shore” on WLIS/WMRD to discuss “Current Challenges of American Foreign Policy.”

“Our economy is doing well, the stock market is strong. The Fed’s been talking about raising interest rates, that’s how well we’re doing. And that hasn’t happened in a long, long time,” said Gallarotti by way of introduction. “There’s a lot going on all over the world and Americans are involved all over the world because we’re a global power.”

On recent tensions with Russia, he said: “I think it’s always been a kabuki dance, even at the height of the Cold War. It’s kind of like two very big people sharing the room. There will be a lot of friction, no matter who they are. Even in good times, they’ll always have issues. And in bad times, the friction will sometimes get to a crisis level. People will be very worried. I think that Russia is trying to solve a lot of different problems. Its main problems are domestic, not foreign, and a lot of the foreign policy is oriented toward maintaining some kind of stability in this political regime. Putin is using a lot of ‘rally around the flag’ tactics.”

Gallarotti elaborated on the problems in Russia, which include political instability, declining oil revenues, and a bad economy. And he said that the Russian people are “culturally comfortable” with being ruled by an iron fist throughout their history.

Listen to the whole interview here (scroll to “Valley Shore–41417–Wesleyan Government Professor”).

Gallarotti is also co-chair of the College of Social Studies, professor of environmental studies.

Slotkin Featured in PBS Special, ‘The Great War’

Richard Slotkin appeared on PBS's American Experience April 10-11.

Richard Slotkin appeared on PBS’s American Experience April 10-11.

Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of English, emeritus, was featured in a PBS American Experience special, “The Great War,” on April 10.

“It’s a watershed in American history. The United States goes from being the country on the other side of the ocean to being the preeminent world power,” says Slotkin in Chapter 1 of the series.

In Chapter 2, Slotkin appears beginning around 15 minutes.

“When Wilson declares war, the total armed trained force of the United States is less than a quarter of a million men,” he says. “The British Army loses more than that in one battle.”

“In order to just enter the war at all, the United States has to raise from nothing an army of millions. But they can’t rely on volunteering because it just would take too long. So they realized that they needed to have some kind of draft.”

 

Royer Finds Climate Could Soon Hit a State Unseen in 50 Million Years

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

New climate research by Dana Royer, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, finds that current carbon dioxide levels are unprecedented in human history and, if they continue on this trajectory “the atmosphere could reach a state unseen in 50 million years” by mid-century, according to an article in Salon.

The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are ones that likely haven’t been reached in 3 million years. But if human activities keep committing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at current rates, scientists will have to look a lot deeper into the past for a similar period. The closest analog to the mid-century atmosphere we’re creating would be a period roughly 50 million years ago known as the Eocene, a period when the world was completely different than the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.

“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today,” Dana Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University who co-authored the new research, said. “There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”

Royer’s paper was published April 4 in Nature Communications and widely covered in the mainstream press. The implications, writes Salon, “are some of the starkest reminders yet that humanity faces a major choice to curtail carbon pollution or risk pushing the climate outside the bounds that have allowed civilization to thrive.”

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report:

 CO2 levels in the atmosphere have varied over millions of years. But fossil fuel use in the last 150 years has boosted levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) before industrialization to nearly 405 ppm in 2016, according to the researchers.

If people don’t halt rising CO2 levels and burn all available fossil fuels, CO2 levels could reach 2,000 ppm by the year 2250, the researchers said. CO2 and other gases act like a blanket, preventing heat from escaping into space. That’s known as the greenhouse effect, the researchers explained.

But the researchers note that CO2 levels are not the only factor in climate change; changes in the amount of incoming light also have an affect, and nuclear reactions in stars like the sun have made them brighter over time. Royer says this interplay is important:

“Up to now it’s been a puzzle as to why, despite the sun’s output having increased slowly over time, scant evidence exists for any similar long-term warming of the climate. Our finding of little change in the net climate forcing offers an explanation for why Earth’s climate has remained relatively stable, and within the bounds suitable for life all this time.”

Royer also is professor of environmental studies, professor of integrative sciences. See more coverage in Science Daily and International Business Times.

Former EPA Chief Headlines Campus Sustainability Conference

alliance-logo-300x233On March 31, Wesleyan hosted #BeTheChange, Connecticut’s annual Campus Sustainability Conference, featuring former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy as the keynote speaker. Organized by the Connecticut Alliance for Campus Sustainability, the theme of the day-long conference was “Engagement and Empowerment around Climate Change: Fostering Inspiration and Action at the Local Level.”

About 150 students, staff and faculty from the state’s public and private colleges attended the conference, which also included workshop sessions on climate and sustainability action; empowerment on campus; engaging in state policy and legislation; engaging in community and municipal action; and engaging at the grassroots level. Several community members, business representatives and government representatives also attended.

McCarthy was appointed EPA chief in 2013 by former President Barack Obama. One landmark of her four-year tenure occurred in 2015 when she signed the Clean Power Plan, setting the first national standards for reducing carbon emissions produced by power plants. Under McCarthy’s direction, the EPA also made strides in curbing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening chemical safety regulations, and protecting water resources.

Gottschalk Featured in CBS Special ‘Faith in America’

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion, professor of science in society, was featured in a CBS special on March 28, “Faith in America: A History.” The program covered a history of Catholic, Jewish and Muslim intolerance in the U.S.

“The very understanding of who is acceptable in American society goes to the very heart of who Americans are, and who Americans can be,”said Gottschalk in his opening appearance. “So issues like excluding immigrants based on a religion test, which is against various laws in our country, not only threaten those who would like to come to the United States, but it threatens those who are within the United States”

“We find that folks like Thomas Jefferson and others were quite clear that there was going to be no discrimination whatsoever, and he very clearly stated that we need to be welcoming of Jews, gentiles, Gentoos, which is actually a word for Hindus, and Muslims. So just absolutely no interest whatsoever in any kind of delimiting notion of who can be American based on religion.”

Today, Muslims face the biggest threat from discrimination. Said Gottschalk, “This current president has capitalized on a nativist sentiment… As we saw in the 1920s, there’s concern about immigrants coming in, taking our jobs, and displacing our values and often not looking like us. So the nativism often has a racial premise as well as a religious premise.”

Gottschalk also is director of the Office of Faculty Career Development.

Yohe Joins Conn. Governor to Oppose Environmental Program Cuts

yohewide

Gary Yohe

Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, joined Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy at a press conference March 22 at the Connecticut Science Center to speak out against major cuts to environmental programs proposed by President Donald Trump.

“As a scholar with more than three decades of experience studying climate change, I fear our new president is on a course to reverse this progress with extremely dangerous consequences,” Yohe said at the event, according to The Hartford Courant.

Yohe was a senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which received a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize—from the early 1990s through 2014. He is past-vice chair of the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee for the Obama Administration; the Assessment was released by the White House in 2014.

Yohe contrasted progress made against climate change by former President Barack Obama to the approach taken by Trump.

“By way of stark contrast, President Trump does not even have a science advisor,” Yohe said. “His administration has attacked climate science, and it has announced its intention to abandon any initiative designed to ameliorate climate risk in any way.”

Yohe also was interviewed by Fox CT, and his comments were featured in stories on WTNH and CT News Junkie.

McAlister Writes Op-Ed on ‘Demystifying Vodou’

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister

Elizabeth McAlister, chair and professor of religion, is the co-author of an op-ed on CNN titled, “Haiti and the distortion of its Vodou religion.”

Together with her co-author, Millery Polyné, a Haitian-American professor of African-American and Caribbean history at the Gallatin School–NYU, she provides an introduction to the Vodou religion—the creation of African slaves who were brought to Haiti and converted by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. While Vodou shares much with Christianity, and its initiates must be Roman Catholic, it departs in its views of the cosmos. Vodou teaches that there is no heaven or hell, and humans are “simply spirits who inhabit the visible world in a physical body.”

They explain:

Historically, Vodou has been an emancipatory faith that enslaved people turned to when they were brutalized.

For that reason, French slave owners considered Vodou a threat and that is why it has been grossly misrepresented by white colonists and Haitian political and spiritual leaders alike.

Indeed, Vodou spirits inspired the revolution against Haiti’s French colonizers more than 200 years ago that established Haiti as the second independent nation in the Americas after the United States — and the first to abolish slavery.

It was during a religious and political gathering that enslaved Africans and Creoles mounted an insurrection against plantation owners in August 1791. This famous nighttime meeting — known as the ceremony at Bois Caïman — was a tremendous feat of strategic organizing, since it unified Africans assembled from different plantations and diverse ethnic groups.

At this clandestine ceremony, a leader named Dutty Boukman led an oath to fight for freedom. A priestess named Cecile Fatiman consecrated the vow when she asked the African ancestral spirits for protection during the upcoming battle.

Under a tree, she slaughtered a black pig as an offering.

Two weeks later, the rebels set plantations ablaze and poisoned drinking wells, kicking off the revolution.

Panicked slave owners throughout the Americas reacted by clamping down with extra force on all African-based religious practices.

They circulated stories that linked the religion with blood and violence, images that endure to this day.

McAlister is also professor of American Studies, professor of African American studies, professor of Latin American studies, and professor of Feminist, Gender & Sexuality studies.

 

Yohe Talks Climate Change and Politics on ‘Where We Live’

Gary-YoheGary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, was a guest on WNPR’s “Where We Live” recently to discuss climate change and politics. President Donald Trump’s newly released budget proposal substantially cuts the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce and other agencies that conduct research and do work on climate change. (Yohe begins speaking around 2 minutes into the program).

Since the election, Yohe explains, he and others in the scientific community “have been concerned that part of the attack on science will be the eradication of scientific data scattered around all of the federal agencies. A lot of us have been spending an enormous amount of time trying to protect that data” by posting it to public websites outside the country.

Yohe says that for the next four years, most of the action against the effects of climate change is going to be at the local and state levels.

“That’s where people have the ability to tell their leaders that they want to be protected from the risks of climate change and want them to do something to reduce the sources of growth in the temperatures that they’re seeing,” he said.

Yohe also spoke about a recent visit by former Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin ’79 to his class at Wesleyan. Shumlin’s message: “You can’t just sit here and study this stuff and be convinced that it’s happening. You have to go out and do something which means, in this environment, run for office,”