In the midst of reading period, President Roth printed a message to students around the country, and especially those that take his classes, in the Sunday edition of the New York Times.
The article focused on the fact that in many classes, students are often quick to criticize authors and point out seeming contradictions while missing the point of the piece as a whole. As Roth explains:
In campus cultures where being smart means being a critical unmasker, students may become too good at showing how things can’t possibly make sense. They may close themselves off from their potential to find or create meaning and direction from the books, music and experiments they encounter in the classroom.
To criticize this piece would be an ironic twist of fate. However, shunning insightful criticism is not Roth’s point either. It is fair to criticize the author, Roth explains, so long as it is taken in the context of the piece as a whole.
Roth challenges us to put ourselves in the proverbial shoes of the author. And in the case of this piece, Roth challenges us to not only think critically about his writing, but the liberal arts education as a whole.
President Roth is in an interesting situation: he holds the dual role of campus administrator as well as professor. Therefore, it is surprising to hear a criticism of the very culture that he helps to foster. It would be interesting to see his plan in action, whereby he attempted to change the learning style of many students. Either he has tried and failed to fix the problem in his classes or he feels the only way to fix the problem is through a national awakening via the NYT.
I was not surprised to see the ways in which Wesleyan students reacted to the piece, taking to Facebook to call it “snobbish” or “douchy.” These words can not be pushed off as criticism that is inherent to an individual that has taken controversial actions to re-shape the school. Instead students see a hypocrisy inherent in the piece. If Roth really believes that this is the state of liberal arts education, why aren’t Wesleyan students being taught to think differently?