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Michael Roth
A historian and frequent commentator on higher education, Michael Roth is president of Wesleyan University. His most recent book is Memory, Trauma and History: Essays on Living with the Past, published in the fall of 2011 by Columbia University Press. Among his past publications are Psycho-Analysis as History: Negation and Freedom in Freud (Cornell University Press, 1987, 1995) and The Ironist’s Cage: Memory, Trauma, and the Construction of History (Columbia University Press, 1995). In 1998 he curated the international traveling exhibition, Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture for the Library of Congress. He also blogs at

Entries by Michael Roth

In College, Choose to Thrive

(3) Comments | Posted April 14, 2014 | 9:46 AM

I originally wrote this op-ed for the McClatchy-Tribune, and it has appeared in various newspapers over the last few days. I then read Arianna Huffington's new book, Thrive, which argues for a different "metric of success" -- something harder to quantify than traditional measures, but potentially much more...

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Conflict and Culture at New York's Jewish Museum

(1) Comments | Posted February 24, 2014 | 3:17 PM

In December I enjoyed announcing to the guards at The Jewish Museum that my name was Sigmund Freud, and that I was coming for the Wish You Were Here event. I died in 1939 (and it was enough already), but Michael Roth had been invited to speak for me, as...

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Tolerance of Ambiguity -- An Opportunity to Learn

(0) Comments | Posted February 5, 2014 | 8:35 AM

"A high tolerance for ambiguity" is a phrase I heard often from chair of the Wesleyan Board of Trustees, Joshua Boger, during my first years as president. I understood the phrase to mean that much creative and constructive work gets done before clarity arrives, and people who seek clarity too...

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The Obamas' Jeffersonian Moment

(5) Comments | Posted January 23, 2014 | 9:37 PM

Last week I sat with about 100 other college and university presidents invited by the White House to discuss boosting access to and success in higher education. We spoke about the myriad ways that big public universities, like UC Berkeley, and small liberal arts schools, like Wesleyan University (my institution)...

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Boycott of Israeli Universities: A Repugnant Attack on Academic Freedom

(135) Comments | Posted December 21, 2013 | 8:30 AM

I published this op-ed in the Los Angeles Times rejecting the resolution of the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli universities. The universities, claim the leaders of the group, "are a party to Israel state policies," and these scholars of American culture claim to be responding to "the call of...

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Hopes for an Undergraduate Education That Challenges the Staus Quo

(0) Comments | Posted December 11, 2013 | 1:34 PM

Earlier this semester I participated in a symposium in honor of the inauguration of Nicholas Dirks as Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. My task was to speak briefly on undergraduate education. Drawing on my forthcoming book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, I described the aspirations for...

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Learning to Think for Ourselves

(81) Comments | Posted November 12, 2013 | 5:01 PM

Over the last year there has been a steady stream of articles about the "crisis in the humanities," fostering a sense that students are stampeding from liberal education toward more vocationally oriented studies. In fact, the decline in humanities enrollments, as some have pointed out, is...

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Liberal Learning: A Pragmatic Education for Social Good

(2) Comments | Posted September 24, 2013 | 9:51 AM

I spent Sunday at the 92nd St Y in New York at the Social Good Summit. The Summit is "a three-day conference that unites a dynamic community of global leaders to discuss a big idea: the power of innovative thinking and technology to solve our greatest challenges." The summit is...

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Review of Suzanne Corkin's Permanent Present Tense

(0) Comments | Posted September 15, 2013 | 3:18 PM

Henry Molaison (1926-2008) lived a long life, but as it turned out, he experienced most of it in a very short time segments. His seizures started early, and by the time he was in high school they had become frequent. Medications to control epilepsy had a variety of side effects,...

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Review of Derek Bok's Higher Education in America

(34) Comments | Posted September 2, 2013 | 11:01 AM

American higher education is the envy of the world. Students flock to this country from all over, and the most highly ranked schools tend to be here. We should be proud!

American higher education is a mess. With high costs, low graduation rates, unhappy faculty members and coddled students, our...

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Commencement: Nonviolence, Diversity, Equality

(2) Comments | Posted May 28, 2013 | 8:36 PM

Excerpts of Remarks at Wesleyan University Commencement, May 26, 2013

During your four years here, our campus has been largely isolated from many of the troubles of this world. While you have been students, the United States has been engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on this Memorial...

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Review of David Nirenberg's Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition

(214) Comments | Posted April 28, 2013 | 9:14 PM

"Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition." By David Nirenberg. 610 pp. $35

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,

And the Catholics hate the Protestants,

And the Hindus hate the Muslims,

And everybody hates the Jews.

So sang Tom Lehrer in his satirical song "National Brotherhood Week." It's no...

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Choosing Your University

(19) Comments | Posted April 22, 2013 | 9:30 PM

In April each year I post something about college choice, and I've revised my annual blog just a bit for 2013. Campuses like mine this time of year welcome hundreds of visitors who move around campuses with assurance but also with plenty of questions. These are the newly admitted members...

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Conformity Is the Enemy: From Groupthink to Diversity

(111) Comments | Posted March 31, 2013 | 10:01 AM

As we marked the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war, over the last month many stories emphasized the false pretenses under which we entered the conflict, the surprising rapidity with which American armed forces deposed Saddam Hussein's regime, and our extraordinary lack of preparation for the ensuing conflicts among Iraqi...

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Why Liberal Education Matters -- A Lecture in Beijing

(87) Comments | Posted February 26, 2013 | 9:06 PM

This is cross-posted from Inside Higher Education.

Just before the semester began, I traveled to Beijing to deliver a lecture entitled "Why Liberal Education Matters" at the Institute for Humanistic Studies at Peking University. I didn't quite know what to expect. It was intersession there, and I was...

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Review of Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?

(15) Comments | Posted February 11, 2013 | 6:40 AM

WHY DOES THE WORLD EXIST? An Existential Detective Story. By Jim Holt. Liveright. 309 pp. $27.95

Jim Holt likes to pursue questions -- big questions. And he does so with a sincerity and light-heartedness that draw his readers along for the ride. He's written for the New...

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Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King

(11) Comments | Posted January 21, 2013 | 9:00 PM

In the middle of the 1490s, Leonardo da Vinci was given the task of painting a religious scene on a wall in a church refectory where Dominican friars took their meals. His boss was Lodovico Sforza, the duke of Milan. The artist certainly didn't view this as a plum assignment...

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Seeing What Isn't There: Oliver Sacks's Hallucinations

(21) Comments | Posted December 31, 2012 | 9:36 AM

As a young professor, I traveled to Vienna to visit a friend. Knowing that I'd written my first book on psychoanalysis and history, he sent me off to Freud's old apartment and office, which had been converted to a museum. One rang a doorbell to be admitted, and I was...

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The Status Quo Is Unacceptable: Choose to Act

(399) Comments | Posted December 17, 2012 | 3:14 PM

The images and firsthand accounts from Newtown during the last few days have been wrenching. The specter of vicious violence turned against the very young makes us gasp for breath, makes us question the very fabric of our society. If this kind of thing can erupt in communities like ours,...

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Review of Chris Anderson's Makers: The New Industrial Revolution

(2) Comments | Posted November 25, 2012 | 7:38 PM

These days, when our slow recovery from recession seems like a full-employment program for pessimistic pundits, it's great to have a new book from Chris Anderson, an indefatigable cheerleader for the unlimited potential of the digital economy. Anderson, the departing editor in chief of Wired magazine, has already...

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