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