Roth Inauguration a Celebration of Ideas, Possibilities

Jim Dresser ’63 shakes hands with Michael Roth during the 16th Wesleyan President Inauguration event Nov. 2.  Roth was installed as president in front of more than 1,500 people.

Posted 11/05/07
“Today, Michael Roth, you are formally charged with the duties, obligations and opportunities of the office of president of Wesleyan University. Today, especially, we express our gratitude that you have so fully and enthusiastically assumed these duties in the service of our beloved University.”

With these words by Jim Dresser ’63, Michael S. Roth ’78 was formally installed as the 16th President of Wesleyan Nov. 2 in front of more than 1,500 faculty, students, staff and members of the university community at Silloway Gym in the Freeman Athletic Center. Hundreds more watched the event live on the web. An archived webcast of the full ceremony can be found here:

The ceremony brought together the Wesleyan community with words, music, awards and, perhaps most important, ideas and goals for the future of the university. These ambitions were reflected in Roth’s theme for his inauguration: “Liberal Education and Public Life.”

“Our campus community is a learning community,” Roth said in his written introduction featured in the inauguration program. “It helps us consider how we can all be more engaged in connecting the lessons in freedom through liberal learning to our social and political lives – to our public life.”

The ceremony opened with a procession of Wesleyan faculty as well as delegates from other universities and academic organizations from across the nation, a tradition that reaches back centuries. Participants included representatives from Yale University, Williams College, Amherst College, Trinity College, Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, Spelman College, and 52 other institutions.

The ceremony included greetings and congratulations from Gary Yohe, Woodhouse/Sysco Professor of Economics and chair of the Wesleyan faculty, Matt Ball ’08, chair of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA), and Nancy Stack ’74, chair of the Wesleyan Alumni Association. A letter of congratulations from Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell was read.

Extended remarks were provided by Beverly Daniel Tatum ’75, P’04, president of Spelman College, and by Carl Schorske P ’81, a historian who taught at Wesleyan from 1946 to 1960, and later as a visiting professor in 1976-77. Roth was a student of Schorske’s at Wesleyan that year, and Schorske supervised Roth’s Ph.D. dissertation in history a few years later at Princeton. They have remained friends ever since.

“Having observed him for 30 years in a variety of functions and contexts, I have some sense of the dimensions of his approach in the past,” Schorske said of Roth. “Scholar, teacher, institutional leader, if Michael’s past experience and performance are any guide, he will remain vigorously active in all of these dimensions of academic and intellectual life. … I invoke this record of Michael’s performance to introduce you to a person fully committed to the holy trinity of scholarship, teaching and administration.”

Roth’s inaugural speech complemented Schorske’s, focusing on teaching, scholarship, and sustainable institutional excellence in all areas (the full text can be found at: ).

In his address Roth emphasized that the commitment to the highest quality academic work characterized his own Wesleyan professors, as well as today’s faculty:

“Our faculty expect that students bring ‘their best selves’ to class, but they are also wise enough to know that this won’t always happen. That’s where great teaching comes in. Our professors understand that there will be times when students don’t know how to access their capacity to be rigorous, passionate learners. And our professors know how to help students find that capacity and to use it.”

Roth described having been mentored both as a student and after, citing Professor of English Henry Abelove, who helped Roth when he was writing his first book, and Professor of Philosophy Victor Gourevitch, who assisted with the translation of a previously unknown correspondence between Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve that Roth had unearthed while studying in France.

“These were heady experiences, but they were not singular,” Roth said. “I know of many, many Wesleyan students who can tell similar stories of close relationships with their teachers that led to an active life of the mind, of research, of creativity and of productivity.”

Roth also noted the link between the high quality of teaching at Wesleyan and the high standards of scholarship among the university’s students, and he challenged the institution to add a new measure of learning at Wesleyan.

“We should require that every student have the experience of producing original research,” Roth said. “Whether one majors in biology or music, film or philosophy, as a Wesleyan student you should become a participant in, and not just a spectator of, the professional practices in your area of study. We have a glorious tradition of active learning at this university, and we must ensure that every student who receives a diploma has a first-hand experience of it.”

Roth also announced a new financial aid initiative that will replace student loans with grants for Wesleyan’s neediest students beginning with the Class of 2008. As part of the initiative, students who do receive loans will see their four-year total loan indebtedness drop by an average of 35 percent—with the difference made up in grant aid.

During the ceremony, trustee emeritus Kofi Appenteng ’81, P ’07 was presented with the Raymond E. Baldwin Medal for his service to Wesleyan over the past three decades, including his role leading the recent presidential search that resulted in Roth’s selection as president. The Baldwin Medal is the highest award of the Wesleyan University Alumni Association. It was presented by Chair of the Board of Trustees, Emeritus, Alan M. Dachs ’70, P ’98, who himself had received an honorary doctorate at Commencement in May.

Roth added his recollections and thoughts regarding the inaugural event, which can be read online at:

The theme “Liberal Education and Public Life” was reflected in several special Inaugural Events during Homecoming/Family Weekend. Read more about them at:

By David Pesci, director of Media Relations. Photos by Bill Burkhart and Nick Lacy.