College of Social Studies - Newsletter 2009

Issue No. 11 - Semptember 2009

Table of Contents:

 

Golden Anniversary Issue

I believe all of us can take pride that our College of Social Studies has not only survived 50 years but has thrived and continues to serve so many students well.  In this issue are comments from a number of my classmates of the class of 1959-1962.  We also were fortunate to get one of the original tutors to share his thoughts.  I hope that not only my fellow classmates but all of you who have gone after us find these comments and this issue of both interest and relevance to you.

I personally know how beneficial my years at CSS were and still are to me today.  Many of you may remember the line from the TV show the A-Team: “I love it when a plan comes together.”  That is exactly what

CSS did for me and I hope continues to do for all who participate in CSS.  The integration of question and thought across disciplines and points of view that I embraced since the early days of CSS has let me work effectively with lawyers, scientists, public relations personnel, government, academia, and even gang leaders and the impoverished.

When you read the CSS article from Time magazine as well as the other items in this issue, I suggest you consider whether you think they reflect your perspective.  If they do – or don’t – it would be most helpful to hear from you so that your input can be included in the next issue.  (Please email your comments to: ben.oppenheim@gmail.com).

Editor: Bob Gelardi CSS ‘62

 


 

Memories from a first tutor: Morton Tenzer Government
Department Wesleyan University 1956-62

I was not one of the original group of faculty who developed The College Plan as it was then called, but I became the first Government tutor in what became the College of Social Studies when Joe Palamountain asked me, in the spring of 1958, if I would replace him because his administrative responsibilities would not allow him to devote sufficient time to the experimental college. (Joe became Provost at Wesleyan and later the successful president of Skidmore College.) I was immediately intrigued by the prospect and agreed to work with the other faculty involved to recruit students and firm up plans for the curriculum and the facilities we would need. I had long been convinced that the specialization into disciplines made it difficult for scholars to grasp the complex interplay of social, cultural, economic and political factors when trying to explain social phenomena.

I was therefore enthusiastic about joining an interdisciplinary program that would approach current and historical problems from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. I had no experience with the tutorial method but I expected that it would be more pleasant and stimulating than the usual lecture and discussion routine that I had known until then, and it was. I also liked the idea that we would not be grading the students, but working with them to understand the issues we considered. An outside examiner would evaluate them (and indirectly us) at the end of the three year program of study. My participation in this venture was the best teaching-learning experience of my career in higher education.

I was by far the junior member of the faculty group, and by now Gerry Meier and I may be its only survivors. I had much to learn from the senior members. Gene Golob, professor of history was a conservative who greatly admired FDR and the New Deal as saviors of capitalism. He was assertive and at times dogmatic, but he cared deeply about the students. Gerry Meier, whose specialty was development economics and who had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and really knew how the tutorial system was supposed to work, was precise, thoughtful and a master of pithy comment. Louis Mink, a philosopher who quickly switched from the abstract to the concrete and back amazed me by the fluidity of his observations. Finally, as a sort of kibitzer, the brilliant professor of religion, Ken Underwood, whose sociological studies of religious groups were classic, brought political and managerial interests that enlivened the program. Ken was an advisor to John Kennedy about how to handle the religious issue in the crucial West Virginia primary in 1960. He kept urging us to consider decisions and decision making, dee-cee-sions, as he would say.

We interviewed and examined files of students applying to the program. Some were so impressive on paper that I thought maybe we should just hand them their degrees and be done with it. Once the tutorials began, however, I quickly learned that performance was not always up to appearance and that some of the more modest students did the most brilliant work. Almost all the students were sharp, inquisitive, and conscientious about their writing assignments. In fact I can remember only one student who I thought was intellectually arrogant. He would comment on whether an author, say David Reisman or Reinhold Niebuhr, agreed with him rather than whether he agreed with them. Partly because we spent three years together no group of students has ever had as lasting an impression on me as the class of 62 College of Social Studies graduates. Of course I was closer to some than others, and I hesitate to try to recapitulate the entire roster. Nevertheless, there were Chuck Work and Milt Schroeder who became Washington lawyers, Fran Voight and Bob Gelardi, Bill Everett and Bob Stalmaker, Eric Greenleaf and Bob Saliba, and on and on. Some of the students I continued to see after we all graduated in 1962.

(I left Wesleyan that year, too.) I saw Larry Feldman who had disappointed me by dropping out of Columbia Law School after a semester when he had become a professional political campaign manager. Dave Irwin lived in Brooklyn Heights after law school when I lived there in the mid-sixties and we met occasionally. I also saw Stan Scholl in N.Y. after he had served an early stint in Vietnam, and have been in touch with John Dingı Driscoll a few times. Certainly my longest and closest relationship has been with Bob Hunter whom I have seen and corresponded with through the years in N.Y. and D.C. and elsewhere.

I have kept up with the careers of many of that first class through the pages of the Wesleyan alumni magazine, and I have noted recently that some are now joining me in retirement!  The years have dimmed my memory of much of the subject matter we addressed in the group tutorials. Even wealthy Wesleyan could not afford the each-one-teach-one approach of the Oxford-Cambridge model. One year we spent our time on the Utilitarians, especially John Stuart Mill, and another year we focused on the group around George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and H.G. Wells, the Fabians, who were the intellectual precursors of the Labour Party. The entire group would met together to discuss these socio-political movements and I learned a great deal from the students and faculty as we examined the texts closely.

Monthly we would have a guest speaker, usually a scholar of distinction from our own campus or elsewhere, but the range included such disparate figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. who came through Ken Underwood’s connections and Paul Krasner, a future founder of the Yippies, who was an acquaintance of mine. We held these events in our own lounge on the third floor of the Public Affairs Center, and one of my happy responsibilities was to spend a small budget on books and records to encourage some relaxation time there. The books were mostly social science, Reisman, Whyte, Mills, etc., and the music ranged from Beethoven to Miles Davis.

I thought the college plan was a great success if only for one thing: it taught the students to write. By the time they finished the program each student had written 30 or more essays which had been scrutinized by his tutor and his tutorial group. Students in the regular college might have written only four or five term papers before graduation, College Plan graduates could enter almost any field and excel because they could write!

The interdisciplinary aspect was somewhat disappointing because each tutor of necessity taught from his own disciplinary perspective and the difficult burden of integrating and synthesizing these perspectives was borne by the students. In subsequent years Gene Golob occasionally invited me to serve as an outside examiner and I was pleased to visit the new Butterfield quarters and to see that the standards we set for student accomplishment continued to be met. Launching this experimental program was a vivid emotional and intellectual experience for me and it remained an ideal that structured my outlook on the possibilities of reform in higher education. The next year after leaving Wesleyan I was at Brandeis University in a conventional Political Science department and I can recall what subjects I taught and the students not at all.



Reflections by Bill Everett CSS ‘62

I came to Wesleyan thinking I would major in mathematics. It soon became apparent that my interests were aesthetic rather than quantitative, and I soon was reveling in Western Civilization with Loren Baritz. That summer I received a call from Gene Golob, to whom Baritz had passed on my name. Maybe this fellow Everett might want to join this start-up experiment called the College of Social Studies. The genial and charming Golob rush soon had me saying yes – a decision that would change my life.

The diet of interdisciplinary reflection, constant writing and reading, and the encouragement to explore new perspectives was a jolt to my speculative and associational mind. It not only allowed me to thrash about in the briar patch of religion and ethics, but brought my feet to the fire of economics and sociological analysis. In particular, it enabled me to work closely with a man who would become my mentor on the first leg of my career – Kenneth Underwood. Underwood’s language (we both spoke Appalachianese) and framework were opaque to some but a clear glass for me. At the end, some of my CSS friends looked on me as his interpreter – an Aaron to his Moses.

Indeed, most of us learned each other’s lines and questions in the hothouse of our conversations. The tightness of our bonds soon surpassed those of my chosen fraternity. The CSS was my real home for those three years and remains the touchstone for my Wesleyan connections.

The CSS helped me explore connections in a specialized, compartmentalized academic world. It provided a foundation for any adequate ethical analysis or policy proposal. It also meant connections of a human kind, for through Underwood I met Jim Gustafson, first as an examiner in our Junior year and then as my teacher at Yale Divinity School. Many years later he continued as a friend at Emory and remains a valued conversation partner in these later years.

Ken Underwood was cut down by cancer a few years later, before I had even finished graduate work, but his multi-faceted approach to ethics, combining social-historical analysis with theological and ethical reflection, stayed with me throughout my career in Christian social ethics. It was only in later years that the aesthetic side that was also nurtured in my Wesleyan years by Dick Winslow and others came to the fore with poems, liturgies, and now a full-blown novel. Here, too, as one of my characters says in the novel, “It’s all about connections, Marie.” Indeed, it is, and the CSS is one I deeply celebrate.

 


 

CSS in Time Magazine

New Look at Wesleyan

    "The greatest single failure of American colleges is that so many students have not found education meaningful in their own lives." With this mouthful, the president of Connecticut's small (800 men) Wesleyan University in Middletown recently tackled a national question; If college students are brighter than ever, why are they "silent" and "apathetic"?

    Leathery, blue-eyed Victor L. Butterfield, 56, is no man to blame The Bomb or the Affluent Society. The main cause of student lethargy, says he, is the "paternalistic" U.S. system of spoon-fed lectures and assembly-line grading. "We treat students more as prep-school boys than as adults under guidance."

    Big & Small. Victor Butterfield has an exciting alternative: Wesleyan's new "College Plan," this year's shrewdest innovation in independent study. After World War II, Wesleyan elected to stay small and get better. It stiffened courses, doubled the faculty, lured lively outside lecturers. But "a kind of diminishing return" seemed apparent. Instead of "catching the intellectual contagion," says Butterfield, students merely became "more dutiful." Another problem: What moral right did Wesleyan have to turn away a growing flood of able applicants?

    This year Wesleyan decided to get bigger (doubling enrollment by 1970)-and yet "stay small." The goal set by Butterfield, once a canny star quarterback at Cornell: a large federation of small colleges, each with its own faculty and students devoted to a common  field of study.

    Under the plan, a student has no regular classes or grades. Starting in his sophomore year, he is on his own. Though focusing hard on his "major," he is encouraged to get a "general education" by reconnoitering anything else that interests him. Such flights (and his progress) are rigorously checked by four or five teachers, sitting as a collective tutorial committee (unlike the British one-to-one tutorial system). To put students and professors on the same side, exams are given only by outside testers at the end of the junior and senior years. "We are searching for ways," says Butterfield, "in which students can perform responsibly."

    Staked by a $275,000 Carnegie grant, this "gamble on maturity" has so far produced two experimental colleges with 40 odd students. The College of Letters demonstrates how widely students can range. It includes not only "average" students (a priority), but also pre-meds. One boy concentrates on Aristotle's Poetics, studies history and French on the side; another focuses on the theory of tragedy, also works on color symbolism.

    No Decorations. Best organized is the College of Public Affairs, which shifts all students to one of three common areas (economics, history, government) on a "trimester" basis. Each week they must write one paper, be prepared to defend it without warning before other students. Once a week they must also be prepared (from faculty-supplied reading lists. not textbooks) to discuss some general concept, such as the Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile, they pursue their own dreams, from Russian literature to Oriental religion.  As one boy puts it cheerfully: "We're trapped. We were just given a three-week vacation, which most of us spent studying, because unfortunately we got interested in something."

    Last week, delighted by progress so far, Wesleyan's board of trustees approved a third school, the College of Quantitative Studies (math). Equally enthusiastic, facultymen are working on plans for a College of Behavioral Sciences and a College of Contrasting Cultures (American, Slavic, Oriental). The ultimate goal is a complete reorganization of Wesleyan.

    President Butterfield is still understandably cautious. "Can average American college students handle this freedom?" he muses. The evidence is not all in yet. But Wesleyan has certainly launched an embryo revolution. Says 20-year-old Larry Jones of Ames, Iowa: "This program has made me realize for the first time what education actually is. So many of the decorations are stripped away. We no longer complete an assignment and feel we've completed a day. This kind of education involves you-all the time."

 


 

Comments from the Middle Years: Remembrances from Michael Rubenstein CSS ‘88

Word processing programs for PCs were relatively new when I arrived at Wesleyan in 1984.  So primitive were they that an entire program fit on a single 512 kilobyte floppy disk, yet they were in widespread use.  Not really a Luddite, I nonetheless eschewed word processors in favor of drafting all my CSS papers on a legal pad, which I preferred because I could scratch things out and rewrite them.  Then I would type the finished product on my Sears typewriter.  Under extreme peer pressure, I agreed to write my senior thesis on a word processor.  After noting the amount of writing and rewriting I was doing, it seemed like a good idea until I lost my entire first chapter at 2 am the morning it was due to my advisor, Professor Bill Barber.  Irate and despondent, I accepted my roommate’s offer to retype it using my handwritten notes and a rough hard copy I had printed earlier, while I downed some vodka and got some sleep.

My senior thesis had driven me to spend countless hours digging through the collections at the National Archives, Harvard, and even Trinity College in search of obscure primary sources related to my topic:  the influence of the Wisconsin School of Economics on New Deal land use policies.  One of my finds was an unpublished manuscript by Richard Ely, the protagonist of my treatise, making the case for public management of water rights in western states.  When I stopped by Professor Barber’s office after giving him a chance to read it, he greeted me with his distinctive grin as he picked it up off his desk and waved it in the air. “This is a real find,” he pronounced.  Upon reflection, the pride I felt at that moment played a significant role in propelling me to pursue a career in research.  I lacked the discipline (no pun intended) for academia, but policy research seemed the perfect fit with my inner political junkie.  Injecting unbiased research into political discourse seemed a noble calling.  Thus, when I graduated from CSS in the summer of 1988 I headed to Washington, DC to apply my research and writing skills for the common good.

My first job was in the Washington Bureau of NBC News, doing issue research for correspondents covering the fall presidential campaign.  On the day that George H. W. Bush started his new job in January 1989, after paying homage to “a thousand points of light,” I lost mine.  I longed to find a job that would give my research access to decision makers, and eventually I landed what seemed to be my dream job:  research assistant for a small firm doing K-12 education policy research for the U.S. Department of Education.  Most of the work involved multi-year evaluations of federal education programs.  The firm’s small size gave me multiple opportunities to contribute in ways that exceeded my modest title.  But after two years (and my first promotion), a unique opportunity presented itself that gave me unique access to decision makers and called forth the special skills I had begun to hone in CSS.

It began with requests to write profiles of daily presidential Points of Light that had often loose connections to public education.  The profiles were used in press releases explaining why a particular school or nonprofit organization merited Point of Light status.  These were often requested, and hence produced, on short notice.  Never had I expected my ability to hammer out a 1-2 page “paper” in a few hours to come in so handy.  To this day, any reference to Trucker Buddies elicits hysterical laughter among me and former colleagues.  These were truckers who “adopted” elementary school classrooms and sent them postcards from their stops across the country.  Operated out of a trucker’s home in Arizona, apparently this merited presidential recognition.  Within weeks of earning Point of Light status, the program achieved an even higher distinction:  a segment on the Today Show.  I shunned any credit, not that any was given.

The Department of Education was so pleased with the quality of the work we repeatedly produced on short notice that they began to expand their requests.  Eventually, the team I supervised produced a series of 4-6 page summaries (sound familiar?) of major education policy and reform initiatives for each of the 50 states and about 20 major urban school districts.  These were used regularly by executive branch VIPs traveling to those destinations.  Again, because requests for these briefs tracked VIP travel plans, they were typically produced in a matter of hours or days, before the emergence of the web as a research tool.  With the contacts we established in every state, I have little doubt that for those two or three years, our operation was the single greatest repository of information on major education reform trends across the country.  My work earned me yet another promotion (and more substantive research responsibilities), but also a backhanded compliment from a colleague who observed that I had “a phenomenal ability to condense complex issues into the simplest of terms.”  To the extent that I learned that skill at CSS, I could not have conceived more fitting praise, or indictment, of the program.

After more than a decade with the same firm, my work increasingly moved to the pure research end of the spectrum, and I found myself alienated from my inner wonk.  Resisting inertia, I decided it was time to return to my public policy roots.  I took a job as a senior fiscal analyst with the Maryland Department of Legislative Services (DLS), noting with confidence in my cover letter that I wrote well under pressure.  In the absence of partisan staff for members of the Maryland General Assembly, the Department’s non-partisan personnel draft all legislation, staff all committees, and conduct all fiscal analyses.  State law requires that, before a committee may vote on any bill, DLS must furnish a written analysis summarizing the bill’s fiscal effect on state agencies, local governments, and small businesses.  Over the years, these Fiscal and Policy Notes have grown to include bill summaries, current law, and other relevant background information.  This has stretched their average length from one page to, lo and behold, between three and five pages.  During the annual 90-day legislative session, fiscal analysts produce an average of about 150 of these Fiscal and Policy Notes in their assigned subject areas.  In a perfect world, I would mutter a word of thanks to CSS on those rare nights during the legislative session that I make it home in time to kiss my daughters good night for giving me the ability to crank out those analyses.  Oh yeah, and to the customized word processing program on which I write them, too.

 


 

Alumni Career and Networking Group

Two alumni have created a Google Group-- CSS Connect-- and are inviting all alumni to join. The aim of the group is to create a dynamic space for alumni to connect, collaborate, and mentor each other. More tactically, members can use the forum to discuss and solicit help with projects, share interesting job opportunities, discuss career paths, inform people about events and organizations of interest, and announce CSS gatherings. For more information, please visit: groups.google.com/group/cssconnect.

 


 

Professor Peter Kilby Retires; Changing of the Guard at CSS

Peter Kilby was a major spirit and guiding force for CSS for decades.  I had the pleasure of knowing him and working a little with him the past few years.  He is imbued with a love for the College which he manifested in many ways, including a number of articles and his past editing of this newsletter.  As many of you know, he retired this year and will be sorely missed.  You may contact him at pkilby@wesleyan.edu.

Madeleine Howenstine, who worked in the CSS for a number of years, recently left to continue her education at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.  You may contact her at mhowenstine@sbcglobal.net.   If those of you who knew Peter or Madeleine would care to share your reflections about either of them with the rest of us, please write to Ben Oppenheim (ben.oppenheim@gmail.com) so that they might be included in the next newsletter.

Peter advised me that Professor Cecilia Miller, who has served as Co-Chair of CSS, is taking his place at CSS. Mickie Dame has taken on Madeleine’s responsibilities and is the CSS administrative assistant: mdame@wesleyan.edu or 860 685 2240.

I would like to thank all of the foregoing and all of the contributing writers for helping to get this newsletter published for all of you.

 


 

Celebrating CSS’ Fiftieth

The College of Social Studies will be celebrating its Golden Anniversary during Homecoming Weekend, November 6-8, 2009. Please plan to attend.  For further information visit the website http://www.wesleyan.edu/css  or contact Mickie Dame as noted above.



Next Issue

We would especially like to thank Ben Oppenheim for agreeing to be the Editor of the next issue of this newsletter.  He would appreciate your sharing your comments on any of the CSS curricular experiments, particularly the short-lived African/Asian studies track. Also please let him know how the CSS has changed over the years. He looks forward to incorporating your input into the next newsletter.

Also, anyone interested in editing a future edition of the newsletter, after the one Ben does, should let him know. (We’re trying to limit the editing commitment to one issue so it won’t be too burdensome.)
 
Please email him at ben.oppenheim@gmail.com.