Roth Provides Opportunity to Move Community Forward

I, for one, would be happy to see this kind of thing more often.

A few days ago, President Michael Roth sent out an open letter to the campus community, commenting on the values that bring us together, noting the value of discussion in times of crisis, and speaking out against attempts to incite divisions within our campus community, echoing Barack Obama’s recent sentiment about strength in diverse opinions and passions united through a common community. I, for one, would be happy to see this kind of thing more often. There is a strong desire among students for visible, high-level, normative leadership in the ever ongoing process of community building at Wesleyan, particularly in times of community disruption, and this generally fits the bill. A little later than some might prefer, perhaps, but better late than never.

In his letter, Roth touched on the debates around financial aid, of which you may have heard, among other issues, and openly acknowledged the diversity of opinions on those debates and issues and the need to continue the conversation as we move forward. In the vein, Roth notes that he has regular office hours (I recommend scheduling an appointment ahead of time with Lisa LaPlant in South College) and is happy to meet with any group of students, formally or informally, on more or less any subject. If you’ve got something to say, go talk to him.

Roth also commented on issues of racism in recent events and mentioned an important panel/forum in which he will be participating on Monday night. The student organized event will carry forward the campus conversation on race and respect, involving Vice President for Diversity and Institutional Partnerships Sonia Manjon, officers from Public Safety, and students. 7:30PM in Beckham Hall, Monday November 12th.

Our community is not out of the woods. We still suffer from indifference and intolerance. Our community needs support, support from the individuals that make up the whole.

We must all do our part.

The full letter after the jump.

Dear friends,

As I sat nervously watching election returns Tuesday night, I wondered how the country would digest the outcome, whatever it turned out to be. This election cycle has been so bitter and brutish, would representatives be able to work together to get things done? Would we find ways to tackle the important problems that we all know are undermining our economy and our culture?

In his victory speech, President Obama evoked the spirit of service that he also spoke about in his Wesleyan Address at Commencement in 2008. He talked about the sacrifices that people make for one another in tough times, and about the shared hope for a better future that he believed would overcome our differences. “The task,” he said, “of perfecting our union moves forward.”

At Wesleyan this year we have seen our fair share of differences on issues ranging from teaching loads for visiting professors to the possibilities of building a small cogeneration plant for backup power in the event of emergencies. The most important issue that has sowed divisions has been our decision to allocate a defined amount of the budget for financial aid, which we expect will mean we are “need-blind” for about 90% of the entering class. I think this will allow us to meet the full needs of the students who are here, preserve diversity, and keep our debt levels low while restraining future tuition increases. Others think we are abandoning not just a technique for achieving diversity but a key principle. We have our differences.

We have been discussing these issues with students, faculty, alumni and staff, even as we try to raise more funds for financial aid. For the first time in its history, Wesleyan is entering a fundraising campaign whose highest priority is endowment for financial aid. I have been traveling around the country seeking support for this campaign, and alumni and parents have been responding with great generosity. Last year we secured more than 60 million dollars in gifts and pledges, and we are keeping up that pace this year. I believe that supporting financial aid is more important now than ever, and on this, I think, we agree.

Debates about financial aid have exposed divisions within our campus community. To ensure a sustainable economic model, some think we should raise tuition more aggressively, others think we should lay off staff or faculty, while others want to cut programs they deem less important to the student experience. I’ve been listening to and participating in these debates, and I’ll continue to do so. We have significant financial resources, and we have enormous talent on this campus. We will continue to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience while working within a sustainable economic model. We have our differences, but what unites us is far more important.

In a far uglier vein, recently some have tried to exploit or create divisions in our campus community by appealing to racism and hatred. In anonymous posts on websites known for their vulgarity, homophobia and misogyny, there have been racist comments posted about Wes students and Middletown residents. They are hurtful to students of color and to all who value diversity and inclusion.  I have not spoken out on this until now because I think such comments are beneath contempt.

Students have also raised concerns about recent campus security alerts that used racial identifications in describing alleged perpetrators. Were these more hurtful than useful? I have also heard complaints from students of color who feel marginalized or intimidated by certain aspects of our campus culture. We must make diversity meaningful on campus by creating a culture of inclusion. There is work to do.

On Monday night in Beckham Hall at 7:30 pm students have organized a forum to discuss issues of race and inclusion on campus. Sonia Manjon will moderate a panel on which I will participate with student and Public Safety representatives. I hope there will be a good turnout so that we can have a frank conversation about how we can create a campus climate in which all are treated with respect. More than that, we want a campus that builds on acceptance, creating bonds of affectionate solidarity.

The project of building this community is ongoing, and I am eager to help lead it. I want students to know that I am available to meet with any group, formal or informal. I have regular office hours on Monday afternoons, and scheduled sessions with the WSA, and Argus editors during the semester. I frequently meet with student groups at various times throughout the week. The open forums I’ve held with students have been candid exchanges, and I’ve learned much from them. I’m happy to hold additional meetings of that kind. I am eager to hear your views and find ways to join forces to enable our school live up to our aspirations for it.

I am continually inspired by the talent, energy and purpose of Wesleyan students – on stage, in athletic competitions, in classrooms, studios and research labs. We are not, to paraphrase President Obama, as divided as our politics sometime suggest. We are brought together in shared hope to ensure that Wesleyan will be a champion of progressive liberal arts education for generations to come. Together, we will move our campus community forward.

Sincerely yours,

Michael S. Roth
President

I’m excited. The future gleams with growing hope. This is just one more ray of bright. Get excited too.

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  • circul

    A lot of this post uses an empty rhetoric of progress that doesn’t actually change anything except for maybe easing the consciences of students with enough racial and economic privilege who can imagine that the “indifference and intolerance” that “we” all suffer from is slowly but surely getting better and better without ever having been exposed to its consequences in the first place. I think it’s great that there are meetings happening, but the overall tone of this post, and its argument that Roth is the spearhead of campus-wide reform (in fact the exact opposite could be said to be true) just because he sent out a pacifying e-speech, are not helpful.

    • pyrotechnics

      Roth is not spearheading this. He has a responsibility, and I’m glad he’s recognizing that and hoping for some real tangible follow-up. That’s all. If you’ve interpreted my post otherwise, my apologies.

      As you say, progress is not an inexorable march. Words need to be backed by action. This is a recognition of the first step, and a call for the second.

      It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

  • Jaded ’13

    “I’m excited. The future gleams with growing hope. This is just one more ray of bright. ”
    this is sarcasm right?

  • Anon

    I think a more appropriate title for this post would have been “Roth Provides Opportunity to Move Community Forward” since he hasn’t actually imposed any measures to do so yet. I applaud him for sending out this email but his concern should also be backed up with some action.

    • pyrotechnics

      Good suggestion. I’ve changed it.
      (Original title: Roth Moves Community Forward.)

  • Anon

    President Roth mouthed some nice things that were utterly meaningless, while at the same time does not care one bit what the students think, what the faculty think, or what the alumni think about any significant issue on this campus. He blog post was utterly without content, and yet you say he is moving the campus forward? He is Wesleyan’s president, for better or for worse, but creating a cult of personality around him serves no one’s interests but his own, and Michael Roth’s interests are hardly the same as those of the larger Wesleyan community.

    Doing what you feel like and then pretending to care about what others think is a very different thing indeed from taking into account the concerns of others before doing something. There is no evidence on any front that President Roth cares what we think about anything. How this silly blog posting moves the Wesleyan community forward is beyond me.

    • pyrotechnics

      Very true, but the community should take this opportunity to hold President Roth accountable to his words and make certain that he actually does lead in moving the community forward. This is far from celebrating a cult of personality; rather, this is acknowledging public attentiveness to campus issues and urging for more timely, detailed, and actionable attention in the future.

    • alum

      So because he doesn’t agree with your views, that mean he doesn’t care?

      • Anon

        No, the fact that President Roth does not care if any of us agree or disagree means he doesn’t care.