President Michael Roth ’78 attended the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) meeting via Zoom on Sunday, Nov. 21 to provide an update on the general Board of Trustees meeting that occurred on Saturday, Nov. 20, and to field questions from students. This open forum occurs annually following the general November Board of Trustees meeting.
Roth summarized the Board of Trustees meeting, which included a discussion of offering more online classes in the future to reach more students. Roth stated that he had not gone to the Board of Trustees Campus Affairs Committee, but had spent most of his time meeting with the Finance Committee on minimizing tuition increases and directing more revenue toward financial aid.
The floor then opened up to questions from students. WSA Senator Adam Hickey ’22 asked for further information about the Finance Committee’s discussion regarding financial aid.
“The financial aid numbers that we put into a long-range plan has Wesleyan devoting every year for the next 10 years a greater percentage of the budget to furnish financial aid,” Roth said.
WSA Senator Felice Li ’25 asked if international students will benefit from the increases to financial aid.
Roth explained that there is a plan to expand financial aid for international students, but that the percentage of international students on financial aid will decrease in coming years.
“Until we are able to not pay attention to financial considerations for domestic students when we make admissions decisions, we won’t see a dramatic change in the percentage of international students who are on financial aid,” Roth said. “We’ve proposed…a Freeman [Asian Scholars]-like program for Africa, and if we are successful in raising the money for that, that would make a significant difference.”
WSA Senator Jack Vigue ’25 asked how Roth will incorporate more student voices into his next presidential term and make himself more accessible to the student body.
“We’ll have a series of meetings with students who want to come, and I’d be eager to hear your ideas about how to promote accessibility to the student body,” Roth said. “It’s complicated with COVID, but if you have ideas about ways in which to have, you know, a number of people who can have a conversation more regularly, I’d love to hear them.”
WSA Senator Sam Hilton ’25 asked whether the University has any short-term projects in place over the next few years. Roth mentioned improving the faculty-student ratio, increasing financial aid, and examining hiring measures to benefit students in coming years.
“I’d like to think that the investments we made 8, 9, 10, 12 years ago in the campus are benefiting students who are here now,” Roth said.
WSA Senator Hannah McKiernan ’24 asked about target numbers for the incoming first-year class, given the large size of the class of 2025, and also asked how the University plans to accommodate these students if the increase will be long-term.
“The large class this year is something that the University has to, should I say, digest over the next few years,” Roth said. “Facilities and ResLife are working hard to identify those places where students can comfortably live. We will not have a large class next year. How much smaller it will be than normal is still being discussed with Admissions. We have more applicants than we’ve had in the past, and our target number will be dramatically lower than what we have this year. We don’t want to be in a situation when the big class graduates that we’re very under-enrolled. So we’re trying to balance that.”
Emily McEvoy ’22 mentioned Yale University’s new $52 million contribution to the city of New Haven following endowment increases, and asked why financial aid would be the sole recipient of recent gains to Wesleyan’s endowment, and if the University had any plans to do more for the Middletown community.
“What we do here in Middletown is to try to be a good citizen and to employ local people on these large construction projects, which we’ve been able to do, and to make our contribution by being a good citizen of the region,” Roth said in response. “Yale has been need-blind for a long time and doesn’t have to use financial considerations in any of its admissions decisions. Until Wesleyan is in a similar position, I don’t think we’re going to—and as long as I’m president, I mean, other people kind of different views of this—before we fully fund financial aid, we’re not going to be making donations to non-Wesleyan students or to community groups in Middletown or elsewhere.”
WSA Senator Andrea Coronel ’24 asked about the First Things First (FTF) program, which provides a separate orientation experience for first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students.
“I would just like to know if the University intends to continue the efforts of extending this program to all FGLI students in future reiterations of this program,” Coronel asked.
Roth said he would like to be able to do so and was impressed by the data, which he had been waiting for before investing more into the program, and wished to expand the number of students the program could benefit.
Student Budget Committee (SBC) Vice-Chair Briana Rodriguez Castillo ’23 brought up the issues that FGLI students face regarding dining over break periods, as all dining was closed during Thanksgiving break. Students who stayed on campus were given $20 as a meal stipend.
“Many, if not all of us, see this as not meeting our basic needs,” Castillo said. “How does the university plan to fill those gaps in student need, and how should we advocate for the institutionalization of these improvements?
Roth replied that he does not make that decision regarding the food stipend, and that data showing it is insufficient could possibly lead to an increase.
WSA Senator Nigel Hayes ’23 brought up the issues that have been raised about Workforce Time and asked about how the University will promote worker wellbeing going forward.
“Last year, the Workforce Time system was implemented despite issues and critiques with the geo-fencing and data privacy issues of the software,” Hayes said. “I know you mentioned previously Wesleyan is looking to expand to online classes. So…as Wesleyan continues to develop its online resources, what are you planning to do to engage these groups on campus to promote their wellbeing?”
Roth stated that the University has been engaging in discussions about who owns the data and has created more opportunities for student employment, especially with connections to what students are studying.
WSA Senator Molly Connolly-Ungar ’25 asked if there was a plan for long-term funding or resource organization that would allow students to get long-term or no-wait therapy through CAPS.
“I don’t think no-wait therapy exists in the United States,” Roth said. “So what we’ve tried to do is reduce wait times, and to make sure that people in crisis don’t have to wait. The more resources we’ve added…the more the demand grows even more quickly. So we are looking for ways to provide appropriate psychological care, that’s therapy and other things, for students who need it on a regular basis.”
Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC) Chair Elena Brennan ’24 noted that many staff, particularly women of color, have left the University in recent years.
“From my understanding, prior to the pandemic, there was a more clear effort to address this,” Brennan said. “But staff members of color have commented to me recently that they feel as though these efforts in conversations were largely forgotten as a result of the pandemic. I wanted to know what the University is currently planning on doing to address this problem moving forward.”
Roth said that the University’s retention numbers are actually better now than they were prior to the onset of the pandemic. He noted the importance of paying attention to the available information, and said the administration is staying on top of data about staff retention, specifically staff of color. He pointed out that the hiring freeze is over, and the University is focused on hiring staff of color, noting the burdens faced by staff of color.
Li expressed they felt more could be done to support transgender students, specifically pointing out there could be more gender-neutral bathrooms and that students’ preferred name usage was inconsistent.
Roth apologized for the incorrect naming, and said he would try to look into finding places on campus that have an inadequate amount of gender-neutral bathrooms and addressing that issue.
Rodriguez Castillo pointed out that FGLI students are often asked by the administration to provide data about their unmet needs, which can be a large burden, and asked how the University plans to take up the said burden.
“That burden shouldn’t fall on students,” Roth said. “It should fall on Institutional Research and on the appropriate administrators.”
Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) Chair Ben Garfield ’22 asked about the use of the College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile for applying for financial aid.
“In the faculty meeting a couple of weeks ago, there was a question from a faculty member regarding the use of the CSS profile in financial aid,” Garfield said. “Lafayette College got rid of their use of it because it’s such a burdensome profile for students to use in applying for financial aid…. So I’m curious if you feel that the university, once that new version comes out, should consider looking at that more in-depth and, and considering moving away from it in order to make applying for financial aid slightly easier on students.”
Roth said that he was not sure, and that he relied on Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez ’96 and Director of Financial Aid Bob Coughlin for those sorts of decisions. He said if there was an easier and more equitable way to do things, they would do that.
In response to a question about general education requirements, Roth pointed out that communication is a big issue, and said he does not think departments should be able to require students to fulfill General Education requirements.
“I do not have the power I need to change that,” Roth said. “I try to use moral suasion, but especially the very popular departments where there’s a lot of students per faculty, they come up with—in my mind—non-disciplinary requirements for their major. That’s a faculty issue, but I think it’s a mistake. I think the general expectations are expectations, and you shouldn’t have to do them.”
Hilton asked about the University’s COVID Dashboard and what would constitute leaving the “green” zone. Hilton also asked if there was a possibility that students would be sent home or classes would go online after Thanksgiving break, depending on the level of COVID positivity on campus.
Roth said that the University would move into yellow if it saw a positivity rate of tests significantly over 1%. He also explained that there has been no evidence of classroom transmission, and that it would be unlikely for classes to move online.
Community Committee (CoCo) Vice-Chair Hazel Allison-Way ’24 asked if there was a timeline for when the University would be able to fully fund financial aid and if, when that time comes, the University will be open to making direct contributions to the Middletown community.
“We make real contributions to the Middletown community all the time and they’re fairly direct,” Roth said. “We’re always in the top five donors to the most important regional charity. And there are lots of other ways, we do it in small ways.”
WSA Senator Valerie Gottridge ’25 asked about quarantining students who test positive, and specifically where they will be placed after the contract with the Inn ends at the end of this semester.
Roth explained that the University will have one floor at the Inn next semester for isolation spaces. He concluded the Q&A by stating that he wanted to converse with students about what University resources are making the biggest difference now and in the long run, since his job is to deploy them where he can do the most good.
Sophie Griffin can be reached at email@example.com.