Unless you shut yourself off from the world this past week, you probably read, or at least heard mention of, The Atlantic’s feature story on fraternities and their dangers, which highlighted Wesleyan University and Beta Theta Pi. The article explores the role of fraternities on campuses, especially in the crafting of party culture and the rise of sexual assault. The article is long, but well worth the read, and has reopened space for dialogue on these issues.
Senior Cocktails, faculty engagement, Espwesso, and the state of Wesleyan society.
The media has been having a field day with last Friday’s Senior Cocktails. History, at least as it is popularly understood, often influences the character of the future, so this article seeks to illuminate three brief bits of historical meaning. The first involves the intent of the Allbritton cafe now called Espwesso. The second, an old norm of behavior between faculty and students. And finally, the origins of Senior Cocktails, the third. All told, these elements collectively form the tale of a beautiful and normative aspect of Wesleyan society that aged, became tarnished, and eventually disappeared.
I titled this “The Bridge on the Drina,” after the Ivo Andric historical novel of the same name, for reasons that will hopefully be clear by the end of the article.
Allbritton, Wesleyan’s Kapia
As you might expect, the centerpiece of Andric’s novel is a bridge across the Drina river, lying athwart the town of Višegrad near the border between Bosnia and Serbia. This bridge serves in analogy for many aspects of Ottoman rule in the Balkans (and some of these I will reference later on), but for now its importance lies in the kapia, the widened center of the bridge. Upon the kapia sit the people of the town, resting on benches of carved stone, chatting, sipping coffee and plum brandy bought from the vendor’s stand, and conducting business of both great and little import. The kapia is as central to the society of the town as it is to the bridge itself.
So it was to be with cafe space allotted on the bottom floor of Allbritton.
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, should teachers be armed?
One week after the Newtown shooting, the NRA has ended its social media blackout and the national gun policy debate is as bitter as it’s ever been. Thousands of Americans are demanding gun control now, and if you’re reading Wesleying, chances are you agree. But on the gun-owning side of the lobby—the sort of people who follow NRA’s Twitter account in the first place—conservatives demand the opposite: more guns, more concealed carry, more self-defense. (Don’t believe these people are real? Read a few NRA Facebook comments. Go ahead; I’ll wait.) In one heated exchange, Larry Pratt of the Gun Owners of America appeared on Piers Morgan and suggested that gun control advocates are responsible for the massacre. “Since we have concealed carry laws in all of our country now, people can get a concealed firearm,” Pratt argued. “And yet, we have laws that say not in schools.”
Should teachers be armed in the classroom? Could guns in school have saved the lives of 20 children and six teachers? Should America combat guns with—err, more guns?
Over at Tenured Radical, in a post titled “Teachers Are Not Soldiers,” Professor Claire Potter has a response for the pro-gun lobby. In a phrase: “Uh, no.”
Professor Potter describes learning about the Sandy Hook massacre after having just read Jeffrey Goldberg’s December Atlantic piece in favor of more guns. The bulk of her argument revolves around an experience at Wesleyan following the shooting of May, 2009, when a gunman remained on the loose after murdering Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10 in Red & Black Cafe. Wesleyan’s campus went into lockdown, and Potter waited for hours in the Center for the Americas:
The Tenured Radical reflects on Bennet’s moratorium, student activism, and the meaning of chalking today.
Wesleying’s multi-part retrospective on the 2002 chalking moratorium continues with a faculty perspective: a conversation with Claire Potter, Professor of History and American Studies at Wesleyan from 1991–2011.
In the wake of President Bennet’s moratorium announcement in October, 2002, Wesleyan faculty from across the disciplines spoke up to register their views. Some authored a Wespeak supporting the ban, arguing that the “free exchange of ideas . . . is not facilitated by the hostile, racist, or sexually explicit slogans” reportedly contained in chalkings. Others expressed dissent, culminating in a 44-8 faculty vote asking Bennet to overturn the moratorium. Perhaps no faculty member, though, argued for free speech as forcefully and passionately as Professor Potter.
According to the Argus, just before the vote, she spoke up at a faculty meeting on chalking:
Chair of the American Studies Program Claire Potter also spoke at length to the faculty. She cited the Constitution and Bill of Rights as upholding free speech and said the 1st Amendment of the Constitution also holds true for obscenity.
“No one has the right not to be offended,” Potter said. [ . . . ] Addressing some of the comments from faculty members who viewed the chalkings as an inept way of expressing themselves and talk of helping students better express their views, Potter asserted that it is not the faculty’s place to interfere with student expression.
We’re very focused on students here at Wesleying (“Real students, real student life at Wesleyan University”) but we can’t forget about our professors. If my mother’s correct when she says, “Remember, you’re in school to get an education,” then professors should be the most important people here to us.
If you’ve ever read Tenured Radical, you can’t help but to feel for them, however. Today, she asserted, “after almost two decades in which we have repeatedly been promised that Zenith (ed. note. Zenith is actually Wesleyan. Tenured Radical avoids actually saying Wesleyan most of the time.) will do something about a compensation rate that lags far behind our peer institutions, one can’t help but feel that they have thrown in the towel without admitting that they have done so.”
From my own research (table after the bump), Wesleyan doesn’t do too poorly among NESCAC schools (I didn’t actually look at all liberal arts colleges). Only our two Little Three buddies pay [full] professors more. For associate professors, five out of the ten other schools pay more and one matches us. For assistant professors, we are beat again by five out of the ten other schools (are we intentionally aiming at the middle here?). Out of curiosity, I compared the salaries to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Undergraduate Teaching rankings for our category, but didn’t get much of a correlation out of it.
Either way, the Tenured Radical does paint a pretty dire picture of what it’s like to work for Wesleyan:
Professor Claire Potter at the Tenured Radical has some sound advice regarding the value of graduate school, especially in an economy that seems increasingly unfriendly to students who climb higher into academia, only to find that the job prospects at the top are less than encouraging:
The thought that I was sending more unlucky holders of the B.A. down the chute to the slaughterhouse of graduate school raised this question for frustrated job-seeker and blogging comrade Sisyphus. “Do you ever feel like you shouldn’t be sending students on to grad school and contributing to the whole PhD ponzi scheme?” asks this industrious young scholar, who applied for over 60 jobs this year, fifty of which have fallen to budget-cutting. “Esp. when there are all these dire predictions about even undergrad degrees becoming priced out of affordability for the middle class? I‘m trying to get an academic job right now and bad as this year is compared to other years, people keep telling me it will just get worse [from] here on out.”
I guess my first response is no, I don’t feel bad about it, because all education is useful even when you can’t extract profit from a degree in the way you originally planned to do so. And my advice is to stay away from these doom-and-gloom types who tell you your life is over without suggesting any viable alternative, particularly if they are members of your dissertation committee. They are only bringing you down at a time you need optimism more than ever…
Read the rest at the Tenured Radical. Also, some suggestions on how to make the grad school recommendation process easier on your professors.