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“Looking back isn’t something Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts is much interested in doing,” begins a WNPR report on the 40th anniversary of Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts.

“During this 40th Anniversary Season, instead of reflecting on the past and patting itself on the back for four decades of innovative and non-traditional arts programming, CFA chose to celebrate with business as usual.

That means engaging audiences in less that’s familiar, repetitive, or comfortable, and more in timely visits from new visionary artists and performers — global rock stars of the experimental art and performance world.”

Read the whole report, along with pictures and video of recent CFA performances, here.

Beyond the UniversityIn connection with the release of his new book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education MattersWesleyan President Michael S. Roth has new op-eds and interviews published about the value of a pragmatic liberal education.

Writing in The New York TimesRoth warns against education that overemphasizes critical deconstruction of literature, art or other material. He writes:

Of course critical reflection is fundamental to teaching and scholarship, but fetishizing disbelief as a sign of intelligence has contributed to depleting our cultural resources. Creative work, in whatever field, depends upon commitment, the energy of participation and the ability to become absorbed in works of literature, art and science. That type of absorption is becoming an endangered species of cultural life, as our nonstop, increasingly fractured technological existence wears down our receptive capacities.

Roth calls upon students to allow themselves to be absorbed in compelling work, and consider how they might find inspiration, meaning or direction through it.

Roth also had an op-ed published in The Boston Globe on “The Case for a Liberal Education.” In an age when pundits continually question whether the cost of a college education is “worth it,” and undergraduates behave like consumers, Roth argues against notions that non-monetized learning is wasted or worthless. He writes, “The bartender with a chemistry degree is the contemporary version of the Jeffersonian ideal of a farmer who reads the classics with pleasure and insight, or John Dewey’s image of the industrial worker who can quote Shakespeare. For generations of Americans, these have been signs of a healthy republic.”

And Roth concludes:

The willingness today by some to limit higher education to only certain students or to constrict the college curriculum to a neat, instrumental itinerary is a critical mistake, one that neglects a deep American tradition of humanistic learning. This tradition has been integral to our nation’s success and has enriched the lives of generations of students by enhancing their capacities for shaping themselves and reinventing the world they will inhabit. Since the founding of this country, education has been closely tied to individual freedom, and to the ability to think for oneself and to contribute to society by unleashing one’s creative potential.

The pace of change in American higher education has never been faster, and the ability to shape change and seek opportunity has never been more valuable. Our rapid search engines can only do so much: If we want to push back against inequality and enhance the vitality of our culture and economy, we need pragmatic liberal education.

Roth also was interviewed recently in The Atlantic  about his book in an article titled “There’s Nothing Liberal about Specializing in Philosophy.” He muses on what Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin would think about the state of higher education today; economic inequality and access to a college education; liberal versus vocational learning; and the power of a liberal arts education to expand horizons and transform world views.

Gary YoheOn May 6, the Obama Administration released its most comprehensive analysis to date about the impact of the human activity on the climate in the National Climate Assessment, of which Huffington Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Gary Yohe is vice chair of the Development and Advisory Committee. The report concludes with more certainty than ever that climate change is affecting the daily lives of Americans right now through increases in extreme weather, sea level rise, heat, heavy downpours, drought and other adverse conditions.

PBS Newshour covered the release of the report. Speaking at a press conference at the White House, Yohe said, “What keeps me up at night is a persistence across the population not to recognize that the old normal climate is broken, and we don’t know what the new normal climate is going to be. That lack of recognition and the inability of this community and decision-makers to communicate those risks to individuals unnecessarily puts economic assets at risk, unnecessarily puts human lives at risk, unnecessarily puts ecosystems at risk.”

Yohe also spoke to The Associated Press about the assessment, explaining that this final report is a re-written and shortened version of the draft that was released in January 2013, with more scientific references, reviews by experts and the public, and a thorough review by the National Academy of Sciences. There is even stronger evidence now of climate change than there was in 2013, he said.

And Yohe told NBC News that at a personal level, “…everybody can look out their window and see something about their climate that has changed over the last 5, 10 or 15 years.”

In addition, Mother Jones quotes Yohe as saying: “One major take-home message is that just about every place in the country has observed that the climate has changed…It is here and happening, and we are not cherry-picking or fear-mongering.”

Yohe was also interviewed by Voice of Russia UK radio.

Watch the full White House press conference on C-SPAN.



WFSB featured Middletown’s Macdonough School in its regular “Cool Schools” segment, highlighting the school’s partnership with Wesleyan. According to the report, sixty to seventy college students visit Macdonough every week to work with students.

“There’s thousands of students across the street who want to serve our kids and want to serve our community,” said Macdonough principal Jon Romeo. “They come and they work with our kids in reading and math, they play with them on the playground, come play chess with them, do after school programs, before school programs. They’re very much a part of the fabric of our school.”

“We believe that our students benefit from having additional college support here in the school. We think our teachers benefit from that dialogue with students who are learning the practice,” added Romeo.

Sydney Lewis ’14 wrote her thesis on school turnaround, highlighting how this school has come a long way over the past 7 years. “What I found was that Mr. Romeo’s reform agenda, coming into Macdonough, was so well received because the community wanted it, and because he wanted to work with the community.”

Visit Macdonough’s website here.

The Ethics of Captivity, a new volume edited by Lori Gruen, is reviewed in Psychology Today by Mark Bekoff at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Bekoff writes:

Dr. Gruen has been thinking about the ethics of captivity for a long time and has gathered an extremely knowledgeable group of writers to reflect on the specific conditions of captivity and the social and ethical implications of keeping animals in cages. As she notes here, “In the United States roughly 2 million people are incarcerated; billions of animals are held captive (and then killed) in the food industry every year; hundreds of thousands of animals are kept in laboratories; thousands are in zoos and aquaria; millions of ‘pets’ are captive in our homes. Though conditions of captivity vary widely for humans and for other animals, there are common ethical themes that imprisonment raises, including the value of liberty, the nature of autonomy, the meaning of dignity, and the impact of routine confinement on physical and psychological well-being.”

Bekoff concludes: “My suggestion is to read this book, share it widely, and revisit it from time to time. It’s a perfect volume for advanced undergraduate and graduate classes.”

Gruen is professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. She is also the author of Ethics and Animals: An Introduction.

The involvement of outside groups in campaign advertising is continuing its upward trend in the 2014 midterm election cycle, the Wesleyan Media Project reported in its first analysis of the season. Between January 1, 2013 and April 24, 2014, interest groups sponsored 59 percent of TV ads in Senate races. What’s more, 59 percent of interest group airings were sponsored by so-called “dark money” groups that are not required to disclose their donors. The project is directed by Assistant Professor of Government Erika Franklin Fowler, along with partners at Bowdoin College and Washington State University.

The Washington Post reported on these findings, and highlighted some extreme cases:

Not surprisingly, these groups are driving the action in the states with competitive Senate races. In North Carolina, interest groups have run 90 percent of television ads, the Wesleyan study found.

Michigan was not far behind, with outside groups sponsoring almost 87 percent of ads. In Louisiana, independent political organizations have run 85 percent of ads, while in Kentucky, they paid for 75 percent of the spots.

That means a lot of the political debate is being defined by independent players, many of whom give voters little information about their interests or the interests of their donors.  More than half of the House and Senate ads run by outside groups were sponsored by organizations that do not reveal their donors (“dark money”), according to an analysis by Wesleyan and the Center for Responsive Politics.

And few of the interest groups have a significant public profile, according to a survey by YouGov commissioned by Wesleyan.

“We’ve seen a huge rise in outside groups that are taking advantage of the relaxed campaign finance atmosphere, and the public knows nothing about them,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. In fact, she added, the public “sees candidates as self-interested, but they give these groups with generic patriotic names the benefit of doubt.”

Vox also reported on the new analysis, focusing on the remarkable number of anti-Obamacare ads–and the virtual non-existence of pro-Obamacare ads to counter them.

About 40 percent of those ads come from just one group — Americans for Prosperity, a dark money organization backed by the billionaire Koch brothers. Every single one of its political ads this cycle has criticized Obamacare, according to the study. AFP’s ads have frequently been challenged by fact-checkers.

There’s no similar map of pro-Obamacare ads, because they basically don’t exist. “Only a few ads touch the subject, preferring to, for example, reference requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions rather than reference the ACA directly,” the study’s authors write.

Erika Franklin-Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, told me that there were a few pro-Obamacare ads in Cory Booker’s New Jersey Senate primary, and in North Carolina and Louisiana. But their raw numbers are tiny, and most “are so oblique that if you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t know they were referring to health care reform at all,” she said.

Check out more coverage of the study on USA TodayTime Warner Cable News and The Week.

The Wesleyan Media Project’s research was also cited in a Senate Rules Committee hearing on April 30. Read about coverage of the hearing on NPR.

Read the project’s latest analysis here.

Stay tuned. The Wesleyan Media Project will release five more analyses of campaign ad spending before the November elections.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a cult classic with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask ’89, opened on Broadway to rave reviews this month, 16 years after its original run off-Broadway in 1998. Trask, who also did orchestration for the show, tells The Wall Street Journal how much times have changed since then:

When Mitchell and composer Stephen Trask tried to court the mainstream theaters with the show in 1998, not a single theater wanted to house “Hedwig.”

“Only a few months before our 1998 off-Broadway debut at the Jane Street Theater, there was no theater,” Trask wrote in an email to Speakeasy. “Instead there was an abandoned, derelict ballroom at a flop-house SRO hotel. Peter Askin, our director and producer, built the stage, bought some old movie theater seats, and made that theater for us because no one would have us. The Public? No. New York Theater Workshop? No. The theater on 8th Ave that had been empty for two years: they turned US down. And forget about Broadway. Theaters recoiled at the rock music that actually sounded like rock. They weren’t so fond of the drag element, much less the trans element. The combination was deadly. And frankly, we were just too queer.”

But the Jane Street Theatre did finally stage “Hedwig,” and the show began to catch on.

“It was a very, very slow build,” Trask said. “We slowly built a coalition of the sliver of theatergoers who didn’t mind the drag and the punk rock, the rockers who didn’t mind the drag and the theater, the gay audiences who didn’t mind the rock music.”

Eventually, “Hedwig” would manage a solid run of 857 performances to ever-growing acclaim. So much acclaim that Mitchell was able to produce and star in the feature film. No small feat, at a time when gay characters, let alone transgender characters, were rarely portrayed on screen.

The show also was recently reviewed in The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Guardian and The Chicago Tribune, among others.



Though the recent shootings outside Jewish community centers in Kansas, which killed three people, may seem “at first glance like a disparaged past flaring briefly into the present,” they are in fact part of an American legacy of religious intolerance as old as the nation itself, writes Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk in The Los Angeles TimesIn fact, he writes, the KKK–and religiously motivated violence, in general–remains alive and well in this country, and Jews are the group most likely to report being the victim of hate crimes. Gottschalk walks readers through a brief history of religious intolerance in America, including the various forms the KKK has taken.

The New York Review of Books featured the decades-long career of Anthony Braxton, emeritus faculty in music, who, as a MacArthur Award-winning saxophonist, composer and teacher, has made “substantial” contributions to jazz while remaining on the “fringes” of the genre. Braxton was honored in January with inclusion in the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Jazz Masters” list.

His latest project, which has been underway since the early 1980s, is Trillium, an “opera complex” in progress. The latest work, Trillium J (The Non-Unconfessionables), is premiering at Roulette in Brooklyn from April 17-19. According to the article:

The letterings—Trillium MTrillium J, et al—are not sequential, and can be reordered into new configurations by performers (or listeners). The opera-cycle’s acts are best thought of as sketches or Socratic-style dialogues. Characters recur, but their backstories and desires are recreated anew in each act (even within the same overarching multi-act “opera”). Sometimes, the Trillium universe deposits listeners in a boardroom, where marketing magnates are busy insulting the public; at other points, you’re traveling through space with a conquering race of arrogant intergalactic elites; in other moments, you’re looking at a child going off to college (while being privy to his parents’ fears about the widening chasm of inequality in America). As microtonal clouds amass and then disperse in the orchestra, Braxton’s singers enact their roles in his science fiction narratives, and deliver on his slapstick setups and ribald punchlines.

“The dramatic developments in Ukraine left Western media scrambling to explain a distant and complex country to an audience that could barely locate the places on a map or pronounce the names,” writes Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, in Transitions Online. He points to four bits of conventional wisdom about the country’s politics that Western media outlets have gotten wrong in their efforts to explain a complex situation simply.

“Binary thinking is lazy thinking,” writes Rutland, in the piece co-authored with Petra Stykow, professor of politics at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich. That is, Ukraine cannot be neatly split into east and west to illustrate divisions in public opinion. Moreover, they write, “Language does not equal ethnicity.” That is, “You cannot take language use as an indicator of ethnic identity or political loyalty. In the census, some Ukrainians claimed Ukrainian as their ‘mother language’ even though they may not actually speak it at home, as a way of expressing their identity. On the other hand, some Ukrainians who speak Russian at home express a desire for their children to learn Ukrainian. Moreover, the language options do not fall into simply two categories – Ukrainian-speaking versus Russian-speaking. There is a third category, people who speak surzhuk.”

Read more here.

Rutland is also professor of government, professor of Russian and Eastern European studies, and a tutor in the College of Social Studies.

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