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Wesleyan President-Elect Michael Roth '78 speaks to the Wesleyan community during his introduction April 27 in Memorial Chapel.
Reposted 05.02.07

Roth Meets, Greets Campus Community

Though it was gray and soggy outside, the inside of Memorial Chapel glowed with laughter and applause as the campus community was formally introduced to Wesleyan’s 16th president, Michael S. Roth ‘78.

Roth, who will come to Wesleyan from the presidency of California College of the Arts, spoke to a capacity audience of students, faculty, staff and Middletown residents. The event was webcast and is archived at (Quicktime needed): http://condor.wesleyan.edu/openmedia/webcast/archive/roth.mov

As Roth entered the chapel, he was met with an immediate standing ovation. He was joined by Wesleyan President Doug Bennet, Board of Trustee Chair Jim Dresser ’63, trustee emeritus Kofi Appenteng ’81, who chaired the presidential search committee, and the committee members.

Seated in the front row with Midge Bennet was Roth’s wife, Kari Weil, who will begin teaching in Wesleyan’s College of Letters in the spring of 2008, and their nine-year-old daughter, Sophie Weil-Roth.

Before formally introducing Roth to the Wesleyan community, Dresser thanked the search committee.

“Kofi led a remarkable group of students, faculty, staff and trustees who served on the presidential search committee,” Dresser said. “Never was there a group who cared more about Wesleyan nor gave more of themselves to Wesleyan than this group, who collectively brought us Michael Roth. We owe you all a debt of gratitude.”

Roth then stood and began to speak, but then paused for a moment, removed his glasses and scanned the full chapel.

“This is a miraculous thing for me, frankly,” he said, and then smiled. “I don’t want to scare anyone by seeming to be overly emotional. But it is a very beautiful thing for me to walk across this campus and feel so welcomed.”

He went on to speak of his fondness for Wesleyan, how it had been the source of great friendships and his scholarly roots. He praised the power of liberal arts education and how it served as a foundation for all the intellectual and civic work he had done since leaving the university in 1978.

“Wesleyan has always meant to me the opportunity to combine serious intellectual and esthetic work with doing good in the world and making a difference in the world,” Roth said.

Borrowing from French history, of which he was a student, Roth cited three ideals he hoped would resonate for the campus as a community during his presidency: freedom, equality and solidarity.

For Roth, who created his own major as a student at Wesleyan, the freedom of a liberal arts education was liberating. A young man from a working-class family, he had experienced “work” as what had to be done, usually without much joy. But at Wesleyan, surrounded by faculty and fellow students who were engaged and curious and encouraging, Roth found that work became exhilarating.

“It was a promise that you could as a student learn to work in such a way that after graduation you had a shot at working in our society in a way that was meaningful to you and that could serve the common good,” he said. “That was satisfying and enormously fun.”

For Roth, equality means diversity at every level. He spoke of a desire to make a Wesleyan education fully available to anyone who can meet the University’s academic requirements. He also said that the commitment to equality and diversity is a lesson Wesleyan has been trying to teach for several decades.

But, Roth said, freedom and equality require the ability to passionately disagree within a civil and respectful framework.

“There had been enormous progress in this area, especially under the Bennet administration,” he said. “And Wesleyan will continue to promote this community and solidarity.”

Roth paused on
ce more and looked at the full chapel, then smiled again.

“I am so happy to be back home to at Wesleyan University, where I can be part of community that shares those values, that is engaged in this practice and that is committed to being the very best university in the United States.”

The audience roared its approval and stood, having saved its longest and heartiest applause for that moment.
 

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations. Photos by Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor.