Beginning this semester, Wesleying will hold semi-regular meetings with President Michael Roth to ask all the questions about Wesleyan University that we have wanted, but never previously had the chance, to ask him. We have quite a bit of catching up to do. As Thursday, Nov. 20 was the first of these meetings, editors Samira, kitab, and Gabe, with input from Wesleying staff, used our time to ask a variety of questions about relevant issues from the past few years. As per their request, we informed the President’s Office beforehand on the general topics we wished to cover.
Our half-hour conversation, which we are posting here in its entirety, covers sexual assault procedure, coeducation of residential fraternities, fundraising, the endowment, need-blind admissions, and academic programs. This interview was edited for clarity.
(Image: Catherine Avalone, The Middletown Press)
You’ve now arrived on campus, and we hope that you find your time here enriching and transformative. In that hope, we feel that it would be ill-advised to allow you to not have at least a foundational understanding of the things that have forced us as a community into dialogue, disagreement, and action.
This is not to scare you or to give you a negative impression of the University. However, we are certain that most if not all of you were told about the “passion” that Wesleyan students have and the issues that we care about on campus are at the forefront of those passions. While there is certainly no requirement to take an activist stance on any of these issues and it is in fact easy to sink beneath the radar on these issues and all the others not covered here, we would plead with you to be engaged in the community that you are now a part of.
Read this, ask questions, and reach out to students and faculty that have been here before you. We hope that as you begin your time here, you fully invest yourself as a community member committed to making Wesleyan as good as it can be for you and for those after you. Caring about Wesleyan does not foreclose critique on Wesleyan and as you read this, and other things like it, we hope you understand that too.
Chalking was so 2013. Bold saboteurs took to the rear wall of South College over the past weekend to tag the words “Need Blind Now!” to the brownstones. The writing, which appeared Sunday morning, represents an escalation in casual chalking graffiti to spray paint, which is virtually non-existent on this campus; it also represents a break in the relative silence on campus around need-blind.
One passer-by reported the smiling face of Michael Roth, who called down from the president’s office window to the group of students discussing the graffiti underneath. He told them the University would “restore need blind as soon at it can.” Don’t hold your breath.
The administration did not have an official response to the graffiti, though it was promptly removed.
President Roth joined another university-led initiative on Thursday, when he attended a summit at the White House to promote greater accessibility to higher education. Along with 100 other universities and 40 non-profit groups, Roth discussed Wesleyan’s commitment to increase access to the university among historically underrepresented minorities.
“At the summit, I learned that ninety percent of low-income people who get their B.A. will move out of poverty,” said Roth. “Access to education truly has an effect on inequality.”
Wesleyan’s commitments are focused on low-income and first generation students, STEM minority students, and veterans. Most of these plans, some vaguer than others, are focused on enrolling students from these groups, but there is not much commitment to providing support for them once they are at Wesleyan (more about that here). Here is each proposal, broken down, with a lengthier discussion afterward:
1. Enroll more QuestBridge scholars in the coming years
QuestBridge is a scholarship program that matches high-achieving, low-income students with partner universities. Wesleyan pledges to bring in more QuestBridge scholars in the coming years, “more than doubling its earlier numbers.” There are approximately 30 Quest Scholars enrolled at Wesleyan every year, so an increase in Quest Scholars would mean more than 120 total.
A little under a week ago, I posted a video in which Josh Krugman ’14 took the microphone at a senior class reception and, immediately following speeches by University administrators exhorting members of the senior class to donate to Wesleyan, asked his fellow seniors to not donate in protest of the University’s abandoning of need-blind admissions and alleged fiscal irresponsibility. The post generated a debate over whether alumni should give to the University – informed in part by a recent letter from alumni who withheld donations on “Giving Tuesday” due to the University’s financial aid policies.
This post was followed immediately by a post by pyrotechnics about the 68% figure referenced in Josh’s speech. This post shed light on a serious problem with the way the University deals with financial aid donations:
There is currently no way for donors to increase the amount of money the University plans to spend on financial aid. Given the budget cap, there is no such mechanism for that right now, confirmed to me by President Michael Roth himself. (Again, note that there is a way to decrease the amount of money spent: not donating.) This is something I (wearing a different hat) am currently working on fixing with University Relations, with tentative support from both President Roth and Barbara-Jan Wilson.
In response to this and the fact that the number of students on grant-based matriculation aid fell this past year, Benny Docter ‘14, Danny Blinderman ’14, and Josh Krugman ’14 presented a letter to the administration calling for a revision to the financial aid donation policy. This letter, cosigned by WSA leadership, campus group leaders, student fundraisers, Greek-life presidents, and others, makes two simple demands on the administration:
1) Donors should be able to specify that 100% of their gift goes to increase financial aid for the following school year; 2) Donors should be able to specify that 100% of their gift goes into the endowment for financial aid, to be drawn at a rate equal to the annual draw rate of the endowment as a whole, and could be spent only on permanently increasing the number and quality of financial aid packages that the University offers.
The idea is that any donation made in this new manner would result in an increase in financial aid spending proportional to the size of the gift – as opposed to the current system, where all donations received are already planned for in the financial aid budget. The letter does not call for a boycott on donations to financial aid, nor does it ask for a return to need-blind admissions. Rather, it demands that the University allow those who donate to financial aid to increase financial aid spending as a total portion of the University budget in the same way that alumni donations to athletic programs or academic departments do not result in a corresponding decrease in the funding those programs receive from the University.
Newsweek used this photo in their article to contrast the liberal values
that the school likes to think it has with the conservative mindset it actually practices.
Maybe Wesleyan University learned a lesson today: Not all press is good press.
Today’s in-depth and certainly unflattering Newsweek article by Katie Baker (who wrote that Jezebel piece in May ridiculing the administration for its medieval Tour de Franzia threats) asserts that “Wesleyan seems to be slinking away from its weird and activist roots to attract rich students and even richer donors.” What could the school have done to deserve this sort of criticism?
As we are quite aware, the answer is: a lot. Baker’s article (following on the heels of two Autostraddle and Youngist articles) begins with the issues over degendering bathrooms, with several trans* students speaking up about their not-so-welcome experiences on campus, both from other students in the bathroom (“Wrong bathroom, fag!” one gender nonconforming student heard) and from the administration as a whole. After the group Pissed Off Trans* People organized students to remove gendered bathroom signs and replace them with “All Gender Restroom” signs, the Student Judicial Board singled out three trans* students (claiming they were the only identifiable ones) and charged them with property destruction, at the cost of $157 per sign— $5,245 total.
After a four-and-a-half hour hearing, the board lowered the fine to $451 and gave each student three disciplinary points (10 earns a suspension or dismissal). “The SJB action was taken because vandalism occurred,” Vice President of Student Affairs Mike Whaley said in a statement. “The board does not strive to determine the legitimacy of a protest/action, only whether such protest/action is done in a manner that violates our community’s standards.”
The three students tell Newsweek they feel they were unfairly singled out for actions committed by many but were most concerned with the symbolism of it all: This was the first time anyone knows of that the administration had punished individuals for LGBT activism.
“We’re talking about economic sanctions on activism at a school that profits off a reputation of being a progressive, activist-friendly space,” says Ben, a Wesleyan junior. “Being trans and fighting for trans justice is not profitable or shiny or appealing.”
I have been pleasantly surprised to see a few comments on recent articles asking for a source on the 68% figure that has been flying thick and heavy around need-blind conversations lately. For context, here is an excerpt from a recent controversial speech about donating to Wesleyan:
“Did you know that 68% of any donation earmarked for financial aid gets swept into the general operating budget, and that only 32% of such donations goes to improving the financial aid budget?”
That 68% figure was first circulated in a document produced by Need Blind Wes and distributed during Homecoming Weekend. It is profoundly shocking that the majority of a specified donation would somehow be weaseled into unrestricted funds, isn’t it? Isn’t that illegal?
Well, yes, that would be illegal — except the 68% figure is just flat-out false as described. Incorrect. Inaccurate. Wrong. Or, at the very least, incredibly misleading.
On Tuesday, December 3, there was a senior class reception held by SWAG (Seniors of Wesleyan Annual Gift) in Beckham Hall. At the reception, a number of administrators gave speeches about why students should give to Wesleyan.
And then, Josh Krugman ’14 got up and gave a speech about need-blind, how the University handles donations, and why you maybe shouldn’t give to Wes.
The video is above and a rough transcript is past the jump, courtesy of Josh. When you watch the video, notice the how the administrators and those planning the event try and pressure Josh off the stage and how the student band begins playing to try and drown out his speech. Also, unseen in this video is Michael Roth bolting out of the room when Josh got up there.
BZOD EDIT 12/9/13, 1:50 PM: For some much-needed clarification on that 68% figure, check out this article.
“Your comment is awaiting moderation…”: an alumni response to Michael Roth
Calls for a boycott of the administration’s capital campaign have re-emerged this week as President Michael Roth continues to solicit donations in the name of financial aid. Alums are refusing to contribute on the grounds that doing so would be a vote of confidence in increasingly reactionary, discriminatory policies. As of now, there remains no plan for Wesleyan to return to need blind admissions.
The following statement was submitted in response to Roth’s latest blog post – where it is still “awaiting moderation” (don’t hold your breath). We are posting it here in the meantime so you can see it. A similar statement has emerged on a Facebook group for recent alumni.
Support Wesleyan — Refuse to Donate!
President Roth mentions twice in his “Giving Tuesday” appeal that we can support financial aid at Wesleyan by donating to the University today.
What Michael Roth doesn’t mention is that 68% of every gift earmarked for financial aid gets drafted into the general operating budget, and only 32% of such gifts actually goes to improving the University’s financial aid budget. This is a dismaying betrayal of trust.
It is brazen for Michael Roth and the Wesleyan PR folks to encourage us to support financial aid at Wesleyan the year after Roth and the Board took unprecedented steps to erode access and decrease spending on financial aid, by ending Wesleyan’s policy of admitting students on a “Need-Blind” basis (wherein students were admitted based solely on their promise as applicants, without knowledge of their ability to pay).
This year’s freshman class, the first admitted under the new “Need-Aware” admissions policy, which actively discriminates against poor students, contains 6% fewer students receiving grant aid, 4% fewer first generation college students, and 3% fewer black students, as well as smaller percentages of students from everywhere outside of New England than the previous year’s class. (Citation)
Wesleyan’s annual Financial Report was published last week, and the endowment is up 12%, if you exclude the $28 million siphoned off to pay for current operations, but add the pledges from the “This Is Why” campaign. Additionally, the university took in $11 million more in income than it spent in the fiscal year that ended last June. This should be good news for all those who are disgruntled by the need-blind situation. We’re on our way to having enough money to spend on basic operations, and maybe return to need-blind. This won’t happen soon, but it’s at least a positive step forward.
In Fiscal Year 2012/13:
- Alumni, parents, friends, lovers gave $42 million in cash to Wesleyan, an $11 million increase from the prior year
- 46% of alumni donated funds
- $55 million in new gifts (cash, pledges and bequests)
- Financial aid totaling $55 million increased approximately 7%, resulting in an undergraduate tuition discount rate of 36%, an increase from 35% in FY 2011/12
- A total of $308 million toward the campaign’s overall goal of $400 million