College of Social Studies - Newsletter 2005Table of Contents:
- A Reader's Guide
- Goings-on-in the College
- CSS and Freeman Asian Scholars
- Two Generations
- Maintaining the CSS
- Alumni Association
A Reader’s Guide
This is our 9th Newsletter. Long delayed, but one hopes more to be desired than the alternative! It follows our traditional format, comprised of various items about current developments in the College and a special topic. Our special topic this year concerns the experience of two distinctive groups of students in the CSS. Freeman Asian scholars are a carefully-selected high-performing group drawn from eleven East Asian countries. Economics and the natural sciences are their most common majors, but a few—thank goodness—have overcome a pragmatic orientation and brought their considerable talents to the CSS. Li Yu, our very first Freeman Scholar (now an attorney with Wilmer, Cutler, and Pickering) has assembled a fascinating article based on interviews with those who followed in his footsteps. In contrast to those whose inclination made the CSS an improbable choice, our second group were "genetically" inclined to come into the program. They are the children of CSSers. And, one hope, given their fine record, there will be grandchildren soon!
PK and JDS
Goings-on in the College
by Peter Kilby
We must begin by noting the retirement since our last newsletter of three cherished CSS figures. David Titus in Government, David Morgan in History and our administrative assistant Fran Warren. The two Davids have been central personalities in the College for more than three decades. Both were intensely committed to their teaching and to their students. Titus provided the College with gaiety, with color and with a breadth of non-academic interests treating violins, birds and swamps. Morgan demanded pristine writing, insured that all his colleagues and students maintained the highest standards of academic integrity, and –as a frequent co-chair—brought a level of administrative skills that only Don Moon could match. The College is a different place without them. Duplicating Anne Crescimanno’s term of twenty years, Fran Warren retired this past December; her poise, her razor-sharp skills and utter reliability will not be easily replicated.
How goes the College? While both North College and the Departments we draw upon fully support our claims on teaching strength, recruiting the right mix of tutors [and two co-chairs] remains a very arduous business. And we don’t get a "perfect" mix. Yet, I am forced to confess, the program is as strong as ever. Student attrition is exceptionally low—graduating senior classes of 28, 26, and 27 in the past three years—and academic performance remains high. The curriculum continues to be subject to self-examination and innovation; the Junior and Senior colloquia have been at the center of our attention in this regard for the past several years. For the Sophomore Comps, we have successfully shifted to external examiners—rather difficult to manage but sending a significant signal to the outside world. And a goodly portion of these examiners have a deep knowledge of our program, by virtue of being themselves CSS graduates! Among these have been Roberta Adams ’92, Rey Koslwoski ’83 , Deigo Van Vacuro’90, David Fagelson’80, Steve Sheffrin’72. All of these individuals have volumes in the CSS "Hall of Fame" library, as have our past two Banquet Speakers: Matthew Rees ("Speech-writing in the Bush Whitehouse") and Charles Bosk ("Who Is At Fault for System Error: Lessons for Medicine").
Perhaps of the three legs of the stool which constitute the CSS -- the students, the curriculum, the faculty– our Newsletter has paid least attention to individual faculty. For a start, we must name them all. Golob, Mink, Barber and Butler were in the founding generation. If we look at the year 2002 and limit ourselves to "the regulars" –defined as individuals who take on the task of learning and teaching a syllabus not of their own design – we can distinguish three cohorts. Those serving for more than 25 years include David Titus, David Morgan, Brian Fay, Don Moon Nancy Schwartz, Rich Adelstein and myself A second cohort has been active for about 15 years would include Cecilia Miller and Guillio Gallarotti. And then a final vintage joined the ranks of regulars in the past eight years or so: Gil Skillman, Joe Rouse, Joyce Jacobsen, Peter Rutland, Erik Grimmer-Solem, and Tanya Rosenblat. In the thankless but critical managerial role, virtually all in the older groups have served repeatedly as Co-Chairs, and among the younger generation, Cecilia Miller and Peter Rutland.
The quality of management is of particular importance for a program such as the CSS, and the contribution of the students themselves can not be omitted. The major avenue though which students make their contribution to the smooth running of the CSS is the House Committee. Composed of three elected members from each class, this group works with the co-chairs on a wide range of ad hoc tasks: items to be acquired for the Common Room, pruning of the library collection, revision of the CSS Handbook, enhancing the CSS web page, surveying the student body on matters of curricular reform, planning of social events. And then there is incoming Sophomore recruitment. This is one of two tasks whose efficient execution is absolutely critical for the survival and prosperity of our program. The other is recruitment of tutors. In neither case can the unassisted invisible hand of the market place be relied upon to do the job. In the annual February-March campaign to recruit rising Sophomores the House Committee prepares posters and handouts, attends "snacks" in first-year dorms, helps organize two "Information Sessions" and teams up with tutors to interview every candidate for fifteen minutes. The quality of this effort matters: our normal applicant pool of 45-55 for 30 places has fallen as low as 24. An ill-functioning house committee was part of that outcome. Repetition of such numbers would greatly reduce the life-expectancy of the program. Fortunately a pool of less than 33 occurred only that once. Beyond survival, the House Committee performance has a direct bearing on the size of the pool and hence how selective we can be.
In May of 2003 the CSS was subject to its first external evaluation. The Committee was comprised of economist Richard Nelson (Columbia), political scientist Molly Shanley (Vassar) and historian Thomas Haskell (Rice). Having prepared before their arrival with a variety of historical materials and a critical self-study prepared for them by Co-Chairs Don Moon and Peter Rutland, they spent two day interviewing faculty, the House Committee, studying syllabi. Their verdict was positive. Here are some of their comments:
"The Committee is impressed with intensity, intellectual vitality and high morale that we witnessed among students and faculty alike. We are especially struck by two things: the richly collaborative faculty-student culture and the unusually high proportion of Wesleyan faculty who have enough interest in each other’s disciplines to work effectively together. The co-chairs prudently characterize the program as multidisciplinary rather than interdisciplinary. But bringing economists, political theorists, historian and philosophers together in a common enterprise requires inter-disciplinary sympathies and interests that appear to be more developed at Wesleyan than in the academy generally. ***
The secret of CSS’s success, we believe, has much to do with collegial customs, values and practices that have evolved over time and sometimes date all the way back to the program’s founding. On an American college campus, any program that endures for merely a half century accrues the prestige of antiquity. The inner workings of CSS may appear to be unremarkable administrative details when considered in isolation, but arguably they add up to something more than the sum of their parts. In combination, their effect is to enlist the loyalty of strong, conscientious faculty and sweep able students up into a vortex of intellectual excitement that many find transformative. ***
The staffing of CSS courses takes place with a smoothness that is deceptive. Over the past three years, CSS has had to coordinate the services of 24 different faculty members to staff its courses. There is, of course, no department –no fixed ready-made pool of like-minded talent– to rely on. Each CSS instructor has chosen to invest time and energy in CSS, often at the expense of departmental loyalties. Every course entails, at least tacitly, a three-way negotiation between CSS, an individual teacher, and that individual’s department. Anyone who has served as departmental chair and grappled with the frustrations of maintaining a coherent curriculum in the face of leaves and other demands knows how much harder that job must become when it involves not one but four disciplines.
To be sure, there exists an encouragingly large cadre of faculty members who really want to teach in the program, and consider the College as much their home as the official department. Without this core group, CSS would not have achieved its current reputation. Our point is simply that this is an achievement, one that requires constant monitoring and maintenance – not anything that can be taken for granted. The College is not asking for and up to now has not needed true joint appointments. Yet it depends vitally on there being several people in each of the constituent disciplines who have a central interest in the work of the college and whose special skills and interests fill the needs of the CSS curriculum. ***
We also want to strongly endorse the co-chair’s proposal that the CSS routinely be given "more consideration, or a voice" in hiring decisions in all the social sciences. How exactly to do that we do not presume to specify. The university has already acknowledged the "jewel in the crown" quality of the CSS program by committing itself to a $2 million endowment. We warmly applaud that decision. Those resources will make a world of difference, but they need to be coupled with timely interventions to insure that CSS continues to have exceptionally deep interdisciplinary support that has permitted it to perform so effectively for the past half century. The retirement of key figures in the core group over the next few years obviously creates the danger of a rocky transition. ***
Finally there are the tangled questions Eurocentrism and the status of dissenting perspectives. Does the program do justice to the world outside Europe? To globalization? Marxism? Feminism? Queer theory? Postmodernism? The list of good causes, impassioned issues and relevant perspectives is neither short nor unchanging.
There is no denying that the CSS faculty is predominantly made up of liberal white males. Other things remaining equal, it seems reasonable to expect that greater staff diversity could expand the debate and strengthen an already splendid program. Race and ethnicity is one lively arena of debate in which CSS could take greater interest, another is feminist theory, especially that which takes liberalism explicitly to task. Critical-minded though the CSS curriculum already is, a case can always be made for more courses that take the form of "liberalism and its critics".
Committee members do not claim to have found an Archimedean point from which to specify once and for all where adequate "balance" leaves off and "imbalance" begins. [Yet] the CSS curriculum, keyed as it is to the historical emergence of modernity; to the history of social, political and economic thought from Hobbes to Foucault; and to the methodological proposition that the social studies are best pursued together, rather than in isolation, is in the Committee’s view wonderfully well suited to the intellectual development of students of all nations, genders, ethnicities, and political persuasions. Even those fated by birth or convinced by persuasion to be lifelong critics of Europe’s liberal tradition need to learn that tradition, if for no other reason than to ‘know thine enemy’. In a world of clashing parochialisms, the CSS curriculum is one contestable but authentic and rigorous fulfillment of the cosmopolitan ideal. It is an achievement of which Wesleyan University should be proud."
The CSS Endowment Fund
This Fund was launched in 2001. The events that led to its formation were detailed in our 2001 issue #7, "Good News" Its purpose is to enhance the quantity and quality of CSS faculty strength. In the absence of being able to appoint our own faculty possessing the interests and training suited to our curriculum, the Fund seeks to achieve a similar objective by making teaching in the CSS a more attractive option for members of the constituent departments—enhancing our selectivity—and by making, from time to time, appointments of distinguished visitors and post-doctoral fellow.
Our expenditures to date—on the order of $30,000—have focused on two items. First, $3,000 summer grants for new tutors who must "tool up" for a syllabus they have not taught before. We have made six such grants so far. A time-consuming activity, we believe uncompensated course preparation outside of one’s departmental expectations had been a significant deterrent for younger faculty who might otherwise explore the CSS. The second use of Fund moneys was to provide in 2004 $1,000 research grants to all active tutors that year. As the Fund annuity builds up, we plan to make such grants every year.
These are two ways by which we hope to make the CSS a more attractive place, to enlarge the supply of potential tutors whom we might borrow. A third envisaged usage of Fund moneys is to support interdisciplinary collaboration and team teaching of wholly new offerings.
To date the annuity from the Fund falls well short of supporting the five activities—and bringing in visitors, not yet attempted, is by far the most costly. Which is, to say that Wesleyan’s Capital Campaign has been more than twice as successful as our own effort! As against a target of $2 million, which some of us thought was rather modest, cash donations—which generate our annuity—are approximately $500,000. Pledges amount to another $400,000. Of these funds, 74% comes from eleven extraordinarily generous individuals. About three-quarters of CSS alums have still to make any contribution! The letter by Ben Oppenheim (p. 11) discusses some of the conflicting pressures on the Development Office that may have contributed to the outcome. But by one means or another, we need to mobilize our silent majority. Apathy is not a characteristic of CSSers!
Let me close with a few practical matters. First we need to recruit a new editorial team. For information about what this entails, please contact my co-editor, Jeremy Sachs at firstname.lastname@example.org
The final article in this issue outlines a proposal by Benjamin Wyatt, Erica Walters and Ben Oppenheim to establish a CSS Alumni Association. They would like to hear from you, to have your ideas about its organization and its activities.
Remember, this and all previous issues of the Newsletter since 1993 can be picked up at our website: www.wesleyan.edu/css/newsletter/index.html
Unlike the :Goings-on in the College," the special topic articles do not become dated. They are follows:
CSS Alumni in the:
CSS and Freeman Asian Scholars
by Li Yu ‘99
This article presents the perspectives and experiences of several recent CSS graduates who were also beneficiaries of Freeman Scholarships. The Freeman Asian Scholars program sprang from the vision of Houghton "Buck" Freeman and Doreen Freeman. The Freeman family has had a history of involvement in Asia for almost as long as their connection to Wesleyan. In 1993, Mr. Freeman came up with the idea of creating a program that would bring Asian students to Wesleyan for four years of liberal arts education. A Wesleyan education and the experience of acclimating to a new culture would, the Freemans reasoned, impart valuable insights about America’s past and future. They also hoped that the scholarship recipients’ experience and education at Wesleyan would, some day, inform their actions at home in Asia and thereby improve understanding and cooperation between the United States and Asia.
Launched in 1995, the scholarship program sponsors two students from each of 11 Asian countries (initially China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand; and since 1999, Vietnam) to come to Wesleyan. In the first nine classes of Freeman scholars, five have graduated from CSS and 4 more are currently enrolled in the college. Five will offer our perspectives for this article.
I was one of the seventeen Freeman scholars in the class of 1999, the first group to arrive at Wesleyan. Thus, I had the luck of being the first CSS graduate among the Freeman scholars and the person Professor Kilby has turned to for editing this article. I asked each of the five respondents for their thoughts on three topics: 1) how did the fact of being an international students from their respective countries shape their initial views of the CSS, especially in light of its curricular focus on Europe; 2) how did their subsequent coursework and interactions in the CSS influence their perspectives; and 3) what suggestions they had for the evolution of the CSS curriculum, culture or structure?
To briefly summarize, the responses highlight some interesting, if not unsurprising, patterns. The European focus of the CSS and its academic rigor were the main reasons for most of the respondents’ choice to join. However, they were also aware of the fact that the specific focus of CSS and its interdisciplinary nature would diminish the recognition of a CSS degree, vis-à-vis a traditional discipline like Economics or Government, in their home countries. This factor has probably influenced many Freeman scholars and other international students to refrain from joining the CSS. Furthermore, befitting a group of graduates from diverse cultural and personal backgrounds (Asia is, after all, hardly a uniform place), each respondent had her or his own reasons for being interested in the CSS and a unique set of experiences and reflections. Finally, as befitting a group of CSS graduates, the respondents are also not shy about sharing their views and suggestions for the future for the CSS.
Applying for Admission to the CSS
A common criticism of the CSS concerns its exclusive emphasis on European history and Western social and political thought. This description has always struck me as only partly accurate because it ignores a very important aspect of what CSS offers. To me, CSS education represented, at its core, an attempt to understand critically the process of modernization and development at its birthplace. Thus, the program seemed to bear as much relevance for international students as for Americans.
While he knew that other international students have shied away from the CSS because of its interdisciplinary character and the focus on European history and social theory, Stephen Yuen ’04 found himself drawn to the CSS out of a keen interest in comparing Western thought and Chinese thinking. After having grown up in China, Stephen chose to come to the U.S. to study in part to understand Western society, including the process of economic and political development behind what he encounters today. This knowledge can be useful, Stephen felt, for China as well as it undergoes its own development. CSS was, to him, an efficient way to understand the theories and history of Western development.
For Ayako Ezaki ’05, her choice to apply for the CSS required a fellow Japanese Freeman scholar’s testimonials and an Eureka moment in an introductory Economics class. She kept on hearing about how the CSS from Isei Morita ’03, who had just finished the vaunted Sophomore year when Ayako began her journey at Wesleyan—about its strong reputation in graduate and law schools and the close intellectual bonds it fosters between the faculty and students. Still, Ayako thought more about choosing a traditional major like government until one day she found herself reading the same texts in an introductory Economics course that had graced the syllabus of the government course she had just taken. Recognizing that the same social issues confront different disciplines of social science, she realized that CSS’s interdisciplinary approach might prove interesting and fruitful. Moreover, Isei’s admonitions that she must be prepared for the rigor of the Sophomore year and admonitions led Ayako to wonder if she would be able to handle the challenge. That challenge steeled her resolve to apply.
Joining the CSS too was an unexpected and difficult decision for Eu Leen Chew ’00 although in retrospect, she wondered why she had been hesitant at all. She recalls rather comically, however, suffering from essay-writing nerves as a freshman that probably prompted her to doubt if she would survive the Sophomore year at all. So, in spite of the discouragement from well-meaning fellow international students and against her pragmatic inclinations, she decided to join the CSS to have a shot at improving her writing and communication skills, and "probably get rid of those nerves once and for all".
Having come to the United States during high school after growing up in China, I was drawn to the CSS for reasons similar to Stephen’s. However, being a few years older, I recalled living in a time when the ideas of globalization and convergence were still far from becoming the Zeitgeist of our world. I was born a few months after the Cultural Revolution ended. My parents had come of age in the early days of endless promise in that tumultuous era and then promptly saw their lives sidetracked. From them and others of their generation, I took the idea that China’s initial path of autarkic development was flawed and we must look outside for better answers. To me, a CSS education’s great appeal lay not only in its subject matter, although I knew it would offer an in-depth study of European history and western thought; but also the tenor of its inquiry, it promised taking critical and realistic approach of that task—neither in shrill praise of western achievements or in lament for lost virtues of pre-industrialized or pre-colonialist pasts.
Experience in the CSS
Being a Freeman scholar did not insulate Ayako from the difficult transition of Sophomore year. Many times, she felt like giving up and quitting. Yet, her CSS work took up so much time that she never had a chance to figure out about alternative options. Being the only non-native English speaker in her class also exacerbated Ayako’s difficulties as she often felt overwhelmed by her classmates who seemed smarter and more articulate in class. This was especially evident during the tutorial sessions, when she found herself lacking the confidence to speak up. Often, assumption of each student’s familiarity with American history or politics left her feeling excluded. That fear to comment even carried over to times when the topic concerned Asia or Japan and she disagreed with her classmates’ observations.
The watershed moment for Ayako came during a meeting of the women in the CSS. Although Ayako’s immediate concern was the "American dominance" in the CSS, hearing her classmates discuss their ways of coping with the traditional "male dominance" in the CSS enabled Ayako to better understand her own struggles. After that meeting, she began to confront her fear of speaking up and to work harder to digest the reading materials. For Ayako, Sophomore year had a happy ending as she found the Comps, admittedly mentally and physically taxing, an exciting time because it confirmed how much she had learned during that year. As is often encouraged by the tutors, Ayako took the first semester of her junior to study abroad in England and have found the experience highly interesting and informative.
For Stephen, the Sophomore year transition was not as difficult. The tutorial format, he found, has allowed him to practice public speaking as well as to learn about the social development. He also appreciates the close bonds formed with classmates and professors. The social theory colloquium, moreover, enabled him to polish his capacity for abstract and critical thinking, "thinking philosophically," and provided a good balance to his course work in Economics. The overall CSS experience was, for Stephen, a worthwhile one and validated his choice of a liberal arts education at Wesleyan.
Eu Leen found that the Sophomore year exceeded her expectations and she learned much more than she imagined. She was glad that the small tutorial sessions provided an intimate and comfortable setting to express her views. Like Stephen, she appreciated the opportunity of meeting and exchanging views with like minded individuals who share the same passion and intensity for the spirited debates that went on in the CSS. Most of all, she recalled being very intrigued and excited by the social theory colloquium, which she thought had allowed her to understand the underlying differences between Eastern and Western philosophy and values.
Looking back at his Sophomore year, Terence Poon ’05 feels a lot of ambivalence. While recognizing that he has gained confidence in his writing and conquered some of his fear to speak up in class, Terence wonders why he missed "those life-changing moments, where he suddenly learned to think critically and creatively and where an entire world view was overturned." He hopes that, with time, he’ll come to see the Sophomore year in a more positive light.
Reflections and Suggestions
Only Eu Leen and I have left Wesleyan long enough to allow the range of fleeting thoughts and responses to solidify into a few meaningful reflections on our experiences in the CSS. Eu Leen, who has chosen to return to Asia, gives a first hand account of the reception of the CSS education:
Back in Asia, Eu Leen finds that there is little appreciation for the CSS major or the liberal arts education. While she had been fortunate to have had prior work experience before returning to Asia and a second major in Economics, she thinks she might not have been quite so lucky in gaining employment had she been a first-time job seeker armed with only a CSS degree. As she thinks that the CSS education is too valuable an experience to forego, she recommends that international students should be encouraged to double major as they deem fit. She also thinks that the international CSS student should be mindful of the reality of their own situation and the kinds of opportunities in their respective countries, which would be very different from that of their American peers.
Eu Leen believes that while little merit would be given to a CSS degree itself in Asia, the CSS education is valuable and relevant in Asia as it develops personal skills that would be useful in Asia. Although she found the content of the curriculum interesting and enlightening, it was the contribution to personal growth that made the CSS experience most meaningful. It allowed her to practice and improve on her writing skills and it helped diminished her shyness of speaking in public. For her, the CSS embodied the liberal arts experience – an education that nurtures critical thought, that encourages questioning rather than merely absorbing ideas. She also credits her CSS experience to making her more resilient in facing challenges, particularly in an unfamiliar environment, a characteristic that she finds increasingly useful in the life beyond Wesleyan. In retrospect, Eu Leen saw the challenge of being in the predominantly white American male environment of the CSS, as that also experienced by Ayako, as a positive "character building" aspect of her CSS experience.
From my perspective, my experiences in the CSS have taught me two important lessons. First, because my CSS courses required me to scrutinize the process of social changes from various perspectives, I have been able to avoid embracing either a naïve idealism about the challenge of seeking to make a difference or a premature disillusionment that questions the possibility of change itself. My CSS experience has helped me to develop a strong sense of social responsibility and a commitment to social justice. I have tried to carry out that commitment in my immediate milieu through volunteering for pro bono legal projects for refugees and prisoners. One day soon, I also hope to get a political economy degree and to devote my energy to policy issues like international development and labor rights. To me, learning to adopt this view is a very important lesson.
The second lesson is probably best embodied in Professor Kilby’s famous dictum that "something worth doing is worth doing poorly." I think this was initially developed in relation to tutorial essays—that it is better to finish an essay, even if lacking in certain respects, than to be late in turning in one’s assignment. However, by choosing to apply this idea to other areas, I found that it freed me from the constraints of perfectionism and allowed me to try some endeavors that I probably would not have dared taken otherwise—like choosing to study abroad in South Africa during law school and doing a cross-examination at a pro bono civil rights trial.
The Freeman scholars who responded to my questions have a number of suggestions to offer, both regarding the CSS curriculum and regarding how to better recruit and accommodate international students. From her perspective, Ayako does not feel that CSS should expand its curriculum to add other subjects. She already perceives a "depth vs. breadth" dilemma in the current configuration and believes that expanding the curriculum may undermine the uniqueness of the CSS pedagogical enterprise. However, Ayako also sees a need for both faculty and students in the CSS to become more open to ideas, perceptions and perspectives of those from outside the "western" tradition.
Stephen, whose thesis presenting a theoretical model on the relationship between network effects and competition was chosen for University Honors this year, believes that CSS should incorporate more quantitative training in its curriculum, perhaps through requiring courses such as introductory econometrics or its equivalent from other disciplines. Stephen notes that because statistical analysis has become a cornerstone of contemporary social science research, lacking familiarity with the idioms and concepts of that discipline hinders students’ capacity for understanding and using up-to-date research. He also points out that, as a practical matter, quantitative methods are essential to many careers in today’s globalizing economy and would serve CSS graduates well in many post-Wesleyan endeavors.
Eu Leen, on the other hand, believes that the CSS should continue to maintain its focus on the political and socioeconomic development of modern Europe in the Sophomore curriculum and encourage the application of the ideas. She suggests a deeper discussion on the impact and the extent of the impact of the European experience on contemporary America and the Western world at large as an epilogue to the Sophomore year, thus reinforcing the relevance of the core of the CSS curriculum to contemporary issues. While she thinks that a more "internationalist’ approach will be beneficial to the American students, she thinks that this will not remedy the alienation international students feel in the CSS, which are fundamentally caused by cultural differences in mindset, rather than the lack of familiarity with the content.
I agree with Ayako and Stephen that CSS can benefit from adopting more internationalist and scientific perspectives without losing its essence. One way through which the college can foster engagements with other non-social science disciplines is to invite faculty from other departments, such as Latin American studies or Asian studies, to talk about their research during occasions like Monday lunches. Faculty can also encourage students to attend similar presentations by other departments by cross-posting their calendars. Instilling a greater appreciation for the scientific or experimentalist method is, I think, another urgent task. Because Wesleyan does not have a core curriculum, students can often graduate without engaging scientific ideas and methods in any depth. This is, to me, a minor tragedy. While important differences exist between the "human sciences" and natural sciences, one involved with policy-making, especially in the international context, must be familiar with the basic notions of experimentalism.
Finally, as noted earlier, CSS sometimes has difficulty
with recruiting and retaining international students. Ayako believes
remedying this problem requires a two-sided effort. First, students and
tutors must endeavor to be more open to different perspectives and more
sensitive to the predicaments of international students. On the other
hand, Ayako also undertakes to be more outspoken to make the non-Western
perspective heard. As for me, I believe CSS can do a better job at
emphasizing the accomplishments of its graduates in areas of international
relations and development policy. This would remove any doubts that
international students have about the value of a CSS degree. Furthermore,
we can do a better job at fostering mentor relationships between alumni
and students. Since I graduated from Wesleyan, I have contacted CSS alums
on numerous occasions to learn about their career paths and for help in
articulating my own vision. I found the alums were almost invariably glad
to offer their ideas. I think current students can also benefit from such
Editor’s note: As the CSS has been around for four decades and change, it is not surprising that we now enroll alumni children. Of about half a dozen such repeats, we report the reflections of two families.
Peter Skrief, 2003 Charles Skrief, 1971
When I began to think about which major to pursue at Wesleyan it seemed inevitable I would choose the College of Social Studies. The CSS had been my idea of a college education for a long time. Well before high school my father, Charles Skrief, CSS ’71, explained why so many books by a certain Paul Horgan stood on his shelves: Horgan had been his thesis advisor. When I began my college search, my father spoke highly of his experience in the CSS. He chuckled about the workload and unique schedule, described his close relationships with tutors such as Gene Golob, still his mentor in spirit, and attributed to CSS his standards of intellectual rigor. Without any parental pressure, I applied to the CSS and was accepted.
Last March, four years later, I was flattered when one of my favorite tutors, Professor of History Cecilia Miller, invited me as a CSS alumnus to speak at a Monday luncheon. My pre-approved topic was not as academically inspiring as Benjamin Wyatt (CSS ‘02) describing his first year at Yale Law School, as locally interesting as Middletown Mayor Dominique Thornton commenting on town-and-gown relations, or as intellectually intriguing as talks given by tutors and Wesleyan faculty.
My title, "The Misery," was not about sophomore year or the weeks before my thesis was due, but my season as a member in Idaho of the Sawtooth National Forest Hotshot firefighting crew. I provided no academic inspiration, local interest, or intellectual intrigue. Instead, I showed slides of big flames, backbreaking labor, and sooty, usually smiling, faces. I explained the tactics we use to contain forest fires. I described the difficult working conditions and long hours. An "all-nighter" on the fire line is a world apart from an "all-nighter" at Wes U.
During the question-and-answer session I was reminded of my CSS experience by the probing questions posed by both students and faculty. Notably, why do we fight forest fires in the wilderness if fires are a healthy part of most forest ecosystems? I could provide no strong defense for Forest Service policy. Nor could I respond to Professor Donald Moon's more personal question on why I could fight fire if I strongly disagreed with the policy, except to say that before turning inevitably to graduate or professional school I am 'living the dream.'
Despite my inadequate answers, I trust my apparently enthusiastic audience learned something new. I remembered just why I chose the CSS and why I value my education so highly, despite its seeming inapplicability to my current occupation: to be part of a self-selected group of students and faculty thinking critically about a wide range of subjects, which was exactly what my father described.
Philip Wallach, 2005
I always knew that if I went to Wesleyan, I would be a CSS major. There was never any question about it. After all, I had been raised on what my father always described as "The Kilby Corollary: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly and on time." I sat in on one of Professor Titus’s government tutorials early in my senior year of high school (Week 9-Przeworski v. Dryzek) and chatted with my father’s former, fabled old mentor afterwards. We agreed that we both felt economics was too coldly calculating, and that there was much more to life than it acknowledged. Two and a half years later I argued the same thing against Dryzek in my triumphant 27th paper of sophomore year tutorials, taking certain relish in that continuity.
I didn’t really intend to follow in my dad and stepmother’s footsteps, but once fate (or the college admissions process, which amount to the same thing these days) decided I would be going to Wesleyan, I was up for the challenge. Progressing through the elaborate rituals of the CSS became an immovable, unquestioned fact in my life, only a matter of time. I would have a chance to do what very few children could ever hope to do: take on their parents on their own fêted battleground. Or at least so I imagined. All through my freshman year I kept my impending entrance to the CSS in the back of my head, justifying my class selection based on the constrictions I knew were coming, getting a jump on the NSM (Natural Sciences and Math) requirements that are now becoming infamous within the college. I often felt disconnected in that freshman year of Wesleyan (a not uncommon experience for frosh, I think), but I had an almost unwavering belief that once I entered the CSS my problems would dissolve in the community of like-minded people.
The admissions process, I will admit, I treated with what could only be described as perfect arrogance. I had been happy to come to Wesleyan because I planned to enter into the CSS, and two out of three parental units were CSS alum, for crying out loud! In retrospect, I find the almost contemptuous attitude I took into my interview (trifle not, ye mortals!) quite humorous, but at the time it seemed a real affront to have to answer such questions as "What would you do if it was fifteen minutes before class and you hadn’t started your paper yet." (Which question I still maintain is patently ridiculous and ought to be banned from the interview process.) In any case, of course I was accepted (being eminently qualified among other things), and I eagerly looked up my new classmates in the freshman face book (as my father had spotted my step-mother in the face book just over thirty years before).
Upon returning to Wesleyan for my sophomore year, the sense of continuity with my parents’ past I began to feel was both comforting and eerie. Mostly eerie, I think. My father’s thesis was there in the library, and suddenly his collection of old Christopher Morley books had some sort of real meaning to me. It was here (well, not quite technically) that he studied passionately to write his thesis, in these very same years of his youth! I quite clearly remember when I told Don Moon that Karla Bell was my step-mother and his jaw nearly dropped, and he felt the need to repeat my question: "Karla Bell is your step-mother!?" as if it hadn’t properly occurred to him that Karla Bell could ever be anyone’s step-mother, philosophically speaking. And I remember the first time Professor Titus called me Mark, a practice that happily did not stick. It was a running joke to say that I was bred for the CSS, one that I especially enjoyed (although I am by no means my step-mother’s son!). Most importantly, I found every bit (and so much more) of the sense of community that I had hoped for in the CSS, and so it was with real pride and warmth that I felt that I was in the same program as my parents had been.
Finally (or at least, most lately) there was that grandest of all trials, the fabled comprehensive exams. These had been talked up in my house nearly as much as they were on campus (as we are still known fondly as the College of Suicidal Sophomores), and enlarged in my head all out of proportion. I can sincerely say that they were a great experience, every bit the rite of passage I imagined they would be. Of course, I am told, since comps were at the end of junior year back when my dad and Karla had taken them, they must have been twice as tough back in the old days, just like how my dad had to get to school by walking uphill both ways in the snow…
Karla Bell, 1972
Back when men were men (and there weren't any women) Hess Hagen asserted in one of the Wesleyan publications that CSS students were more psychologically "masculine" than their counterparts in other majors. I did a follow up interview for an Argus feature I never dared write. I asked this guru of psych services if a woman could succeed in CSS. He said, gently, "Only a very poorly socialized one." And now there are girl tutors. Who'd have thunk it.
Don Moon, having adjusted his jaw, should be able to keep it in place: My own son, while he may be Wes bound, prefers Ancient languages, comedy and play writing. There is certainly melodrama and farce in CSS but it would be a waste of his Greek. I'm pretty sure the tutors--and my son--are safe.
Mark Wallach, 1971
Phil's foreknowledge of his CSS-ship (-hood?) was, of course, carefully concealed from me. I regard it as a triumph of self-control, since I was careful never to suggest it to him, though he is certainly right that he was raised in a sea of CSS culture. His older sister's (Kerry '02) shocking betrayal of her heritage by joining COL proves, however, that there is no certainty in culture. What would Gene Golob think of that conclusion?
It is, as Phil recognizes, a real shame that my more than mildly competitive son will never have the opportunity to prove that he could best me in real, i.e. post-Junior year, comps. Too, too sad. In the old days (as we Senior CSS Citizens are entitled to say), the College of Suicidal Sophomores designation derived solely from the pressure of the
weekly tutorial papers. I suppose, like everything else, they have gotten easier and less oppressive. Do the Tutors stop by your rooms the night before tutorials to make sure you've "gotten it"? ■
As many readers of this newsletter are aware, Wesleyan began a fundraising drive three years ago to secure a permanent endowment for the CSS. Thus far, the campaign has achieved mixed results: some $850,000 in cash and commitments have been raised towards a final goal of $2,000,000, but much work remains before the College’s future is secure.
Of course, one may fairly ask why the CSS needs a separate endowment. The problem stems from the College’s staffing arrangement. Although the CSS was permitted to hire academic staff when it was founded in 1959, it did not initially do so, and as a result, Academic Affairs’ support for the hiring of a permanent professorial staff diminished. Since then, the CSS has survived because professors from other departments have been drawn to its rigorous format, and correspondingly intense sense of community.
In 2001 the CSS tutors and academic affairs joined with a group of alumni in an agreement to create a permanent endowment. The completed fund—to be established solely through alumni donations— would generate $100,000 in annual income. This income would be used to strengthen the CSS by importing faculty interested in interdisciplinary teaching and, by way of enticement, providing extra research support for those professors who do serve in the CSS. While perhaps not a permanent solution to the staffing problem, this arrangement would at least provide some greater assurance that the College would survive.
The endowment campaign was formally launched with a letter signed by a dozen CSSers, initially as a preface to a fundraising telethon. Although the telethon unfortunately never came to fruition, a series of regional dinners organized by the development office provided the endowment with a solid start. Since then, the campaign has kept a somewhat low profile, and a number of CSSers attempting to donate to the endowment have encountered difficulties in doing so. I would like to first touch on the latter issue, and then sketch a few brief ideas for maintaining the CSS.
First, absent the telethon, a number of CSSers have attempted to place donations through the annual fund phone banks. In doing so, some have encountered staff who were unaware of the endowment, and were on occasion unwilling to allow direct donations to the College. After I experienced this problem personally, I spoke with a friend in the development office. She graciously offered to look into the matter, but in her follow-up note urged that I split my donation evenly between the CSS and the annual fund. Other CSS alums have reported similar urgings, in some cases worded rather more sharply. Such problems have caused CSSers to table or withdraw donations.
While the phone bank difficulties most likely result from a lack of familiarity with the CSS endowment, development office policy on the issue of gift allocation is clear: the donor decides. Anyone who encounters obstacles in donating to the endowment fund, or experiences any unwelcome pressure in allocating a gift, should contact the Development Office directly to remedy the problem.
There are two other issues to be dealt with: successfully concluding the endowment drive, and bolstering our long-term capacity to lobby effectively for administration support of the College.
With regard to the remaining $1,000,000+ to be raised for the endowment, we should perhaps return to square one: a new round of outreach (by letter or phone), and regional get-togethers, either formal or informal. In any case, we should endeavor to keep the campaign— and the goals it seeks to achieve— firmly in view. Otherwise, we run the risk of letting the endowment quietly fade. Given the North College’s historically anemic support for the CSS, along with the fact that a failure to meet the $2,000,000 goal may be interpreted as a lack of alumni backing, we should try to keep the drive on course.
Another critical task is that of alumni organization. However the endowment drive may proceed, the College’s lack of internal hiring capacity places it— to some degree— at the mercy of the administration. Elsewhere in this newsletter you will find a few words regarding the (embryonic) CSS alumni association. While I should stress that the purpose of the association is to provide a continuing social and intellectual community for CSSers, a greater degree of organization would allow us to— if need be— cohere and amplify our voices in support of the College.
Ben Oppenheim’02 ■
Over the past year a number of CSS alumni have been working to establish a functional alumni association for the college. This project is inspired by the belief that the distinctive CSS experience does not end upon graduation from Wesleyan, and that all generations of CSSers could benefit from the creation of a multi-generational CSS community. Accordingly, the alumni association aims to sponsor a variety of projects and activities—from CSS reunions to mentorship of current CSS students by alums—in pursuit of these goals.
We also have a pressing immediate need. Professor Kilby and Jeremy Sacks are stepping down as editors with the current issue of the Newsletter. If this fine institution is to continue, we need to hear from potential volunteers
Our immediate timeline for organizing the association is as follows. We aim to find all interested alums by October 2005. We will then begin an idea generation period with this interested group via e-mail. The organizing phase will culminate with a meeting at Wesleyan over Homecoming Weekend (with phone conference capabilities) to delegate an executive committee and decide on specific projects for the next year.
If you have already expressed interest in the association, thank you & we will be in touch shortly. If you have not yet contacted us and wish to become involved, please e-mail Ben Oppenheim at email@example.com . All levels of commitment are welcome. Thanks again for your continued enthusiasm and support.
David Boeri ’71
Jan deWilde ’68
David Fagelson ’80
Ed Lee ’85
Matthew Lorentzen ’85
Benjamin Magarik ’06
Terrence Poon ’05
Erica Walter ’94
Benjamin Wyatt ’92
Li Yu ’99