The Argus sat down with President Roth to get his thoughts on the past school year—successes and areas where there is room for improvement.
The Argus: What do you think went well this year?
Michael Roth: Well, I think getting the budget in line for the long-term health of the institution has been really an important development this year. That means being really careful with the money we raise but also positioning ourselves to invest in things that will make a difference in the University in the future. I think the opening of 41 Wyllys was a great thing for the University, and moving COL and Art History and the CRC in there and having it launch while being embraced by the students seems to have gone very well.
We have raised quite a bit of money this year, and much of it from the financial aid endowment and for endowing professors. On the curricular side, planning the First Year Seminars under Andy Curran’s leadership is a great thing. The energy around internships and the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life has been enormous. Trustees have participated in creating dozens of new internships—many of them paid internships—and creating research assistant positions for students that are paid is also something really great going forward in the future. The whole effort to connect the campus to off-campus work through not only internships but also through the Allbritton Center and public outreach has been great.
The College of the Environment has been going great, and I think it has inspired some real thinking about whether we should have other colleges that are trans-disciplinary and that build cohorts on the campus. I think that’s something exciting that might develop in the next couple of years.
Lastly, we have been exploring how Wesleyan might make a difference in helping students from underrepresented groups who want to do advanced work in the sciences and mathematics—we call these pipeline programs. We’ve been talking a lot with faculty and students about how to do that, and how to encourage students from underrepresented groups to really see the STEM fields as viable career paths. We have a lot of goodwill and energy, and we even have some money for this, too, to really help diversify the workers—the teachers and the students who are doing research in science and mathematics. We made some small steps this year, and we gained some momentum.
It’s been exciting for me to have my book come out in the fall and Kari’s book come out just a couple weeks ago.
A: Is there anything you wish you could have done better?
MR: On the financial aid side, I think it’s always good to consult more. On the Art Library, for example, I think if we consulted more it would have been less about the Art Library closing and more about creating a new space for art making in the CFA. That’s what it’s really all about. It’s not about killing the books; its about creating spaces for art making on campus, because we’re so desperate for space. I think I should have spoken more with students about that than I did. I should have consulted more. I also think I should have prevented the blizzard in the fall—that would have been helpful. [laughs]
As I’m finishing my fifth year, I want to make sure that people understand that, although I will make my own decisions in the end, I am eager for input from people in various positions at the University and various student groups, faculty groups, staff, and alumni groups. That seemed to be much clearer to people during my first year or two. For example, not everybody knows I have office hours or how to get help from the president’s office. [I want to] make myself more accessible to students who have very different interests, so that I understand what Wesleyan is today from a student’s perspective. I am trying to develop that understanding, and I think I could have done a better job. Next year, I really want to find ways to make students believe that their opinions matter to the administration. It doesn’t mean everyone’s going to get what they want all the time, but that they know we will hear what they have to say. That’s generally what we want, and I think I have to do a better job conveying that to the students.