Wesleyan University

Campus Call for Free Expression Participating President:

Wesleyan University

Michael S. Roth, President

Michael Roth

“As we defend the processes of democracy and the most vulnerable members of our community, we must also protect the rights of all students on campus. This includes ensuring that those who identify as conservatives are not further marginalized by our efforts to protect the democratic process. We must not confuse the rejection of authoritarianism with a partisan suite of policy judgments about domestic and foreign affairs. The defense of democracy always includes the defense of one’s right to express views other than the majority’s. We must not encourage campus authoritarianism just because there seems to be a local consensus about what it means to be progressive.” — Michael S. Roth


Campus Call for Free Expression Planned Activities

Wesleyan University will launch the program Democracy in Action, which integrates discussions of free expression into new student orientation.

Wesleyan will continue to sponsor its annual Hugo Black Lecture on Free Expression. Speakers over the years have included: David Rabban, Keith Wittington, Jelani Cobb, Nadine Strossen, Kathleen Sullivan, A. Leon Higgonbotham, and Antonin Scalia. In addition to a public lecture, speakers usually attend some classes and meet with students and faculty throughout the day.

About the President

Michael S. Roth ’78 became the 16th president of Wesleyan University on July 1, 2007. Formerly president of California College of the Arts (CCA), Roth is known as a historian, curator, author and public advocate for liberal education.

A professor in history and the humanities since 1983, Roth was the founding director of the Scripps College Humanities Institute in Claremont, Calif., a center for intellectual exchange across disciplines. He developed a reputation as a leader in the arts community through his accomplishments as associate director of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and his success as president of the California College of the Arts in enhancing that institution’s academic quality, national reputation and financial strength.

Roth describes his scholarly interests as centered on “how people make sense of the past.” He has authored seven books: Psycho-Analysis as History: Negation and Freedom in Freud (Cornell University Press, 1987, 1995); Knowing and History: Appropriations of Hegel in Twentieth Century France (Cornell, 1988); The Ironist’s Cage: Trauma, Memory and the Construction of History (Columbia University Press, 1995); Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed, with Clare Lyons and Charles Merewether (Getty Research Institute, 1997); Memory, Trauma and History: Essays on Living with the Past (Columbia University Press, 2012); Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (Yale University Press, 2014); and Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness (Yale University Press, 2019). Irresistible Decay stemmed from the exhibition of the same name that he co-curated for the opening of the Getty Museum. He also curated the major exhibition Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture, which opened at the Library of Congress in 1998, and garnered praise for its balanced and wide-ranging view of Freud’s intellectual and cultural heritage. The exhibition traveled internationally in subsequent years. Roth has edited and co-edited numerous journal issues and books, including Looking for Los Angeles: Architecture, Film, Photography and Urban Landscape and Disturbing Remains: Memory, History, and Crisis in the Twentieth Century (both co-edited with Charles G. Salas, Getty Research Institute, 2001), and he regularly publishes essays, book reviews, and commentaries in national newspapers and scholarly journals. He continues to regularly teach undergraduate courses, and through Coursera has offered MOOCs, the most recent being “How to Change the World.”

Roth’s call for a “pragmatic liberal education” is the cornerstone of both his scholarship and his administrative work at Wesleyan. His 2014 book, Beyond the University (Yale University Press), has been a powerful tool for students, their families, faculty and policymakers who are wrestling with the future of higher education in America. The book has been assigned to pre-frosh and to boards of trustees, and Roth has continued to amplify its message in public speaking engagements across the country and through essays in major media outlets. In January 2016, Beyond the University won the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ Frederic W. Ness award for a book that best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education. Roth’s newest book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness (Yale University Press, 2019), addresses some of the most contentious issues in American higher education, including affirmative action, safe spaces, and questions of free speech.

The Campus Call for Free Expression is a commitment by a diverse group of college presidents to urgently spotlight, uplift, and re-emphasize the principles of critical inquiry and civic discourse on their campuses. The Campus Call is centered on a coordinated set of presidential and campus activities focused on free expression that collectively amplify higher education’s role in preparing young people to be the empowered citizens our democracy needs.