When Michael S. Roth ’78 takes over as University president next fall, it will not be his first time serving as a president on this campus. From the spring to the fall of 1977, Roth served as president of Alpha Delta Phi.
“An Alpha Delt president in those days needed to be creative, strong, patient, diplomatic and well organized,” said Robert McKelvey ’59, who served as President of Alpha Delt’s alumni association, the Adelphic Literary Society (ALS), from 1971 to 1981. “Michael had most of those qualities. In fact, that description does not sound too different from the qualities a Wesleyan president might need.”
Roth’s presidential term took place during a particularly tumultuous period for Alpha Delt. The fraternity was undergoing a cultural conflict with its alumni due to the ever-increasing generation gap, particularly on the topic of coeducation. The University went coed in 1970, but in 1977 Alpha Delt still only allowed women to be associate members.
“The major confrontation was with our International organization of 30 Canadian and U.S. chapters,” McKelvey said. “Michael’s generation led the effort to change the constitution to permit each chapter to establish its own membership policy.”
Roth’s generation of Alpha Delt members made other significant improvements to the reputation and activities of the society, including bringing prominent speakers to campus, creating a film series, and publishing a campus literary magazine. They also managed to increase the number of average new members per year from just 10 during the period from 1972 to 1976 to 23 from 1977 to 1979.
“While the numbers are impressive, the people were even more so: diverse, active on campus, focused on one another and the house,” McKelvey said. “There were even a few athletes, for which Alpha Delt is not known.”
Roth was aware of the diversity issues during his time as president.
“Our strength lies in part in our diversity,” he wrote in a spring 1977 newsletter to alumni, describing the nature of Alpha Delt. “It is still a place where one can live and work in his own way. A place where, on any given night, one can find a party, an all night battle over free will, or a fire to read in front of.”
Alpha Delt alumni have commended Roth for his people skills.
“Good diplomatic and negotiating skills were needed to deal with his own peers,” McKelvey said.
According to some, Roth worked as a unifier.
“We were a pretty fractious group, and I would say Michael was elected House president because every faction had confidence in him. He treated everyone with respect and listened to everyone’s viewpoints,” said Donald Spencer ’77, who lived across the hall from Roth in the Alpha Delt house.
In addition to his illustrious Alpha Delt reputation, professors commented that Roth’s work was consistently outstanding.
“Michael’s work on papers and exams was stunning in its excellence,” said Professor of History Nathanael Greene. “I certainly recall speaking with him a number of times in office hours about the class work, and he was always animated and thoughtful about history.”
Professor of English Henry Abelove was Roth’s advisor for his senior thesis, which focused on Freud. Abelove testified to Roth’s academic enthusiasm that, no doubt, contributed to his ability to finish college in only three years.
“I remember that he often came early to our tutorial meetings,” Abelove said. “He was that eager! He would pace outside my office until I could meet with him.”
Fellow students also knew Roth to be a dedicated and gifted student.
“He was a serious intellectual in the best sense of the word,” Spencer said.
If his track record as a president at the University is any indication, Roth should be a very successful University president.
“Historical analogies are often tricky, but it is my hope that Mike and Kari can build successfully on the outstanding work of Doug and Midge and move Wesleyan to the next level much as Alpha Delt did during his tenure as chapter president,” McKelvey said.