Courtesy Wesleyan University Communications
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – Michael S. Roth, a historian and president of California College of the Arts, will become the 16th president of Wesleyan University at the beginning of the 2007-08 academic year.
Roth, a member of Wesleyan's Class of 1978, has been a professor in history and the humanities since 1983 and is recognized both as a curator and author. He is noted for founding the Scripps College Humanities Institute in Claremont, Calif., a center for intellectual exchange across disciplines, for his scholarly leadership in the arts community as associate director of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, and for enhancing the academic excellence, national reputation and financial strength of California College of the Arts (CCA).
"Michael Roth embodies the qualities of leadership that Wesleyan strives to instill in its students," said Board Chair James van B. Dresser '63. "His broad intellectual curiosity and his great personal energy have enabled him to drive innovation across a range of disciplines and in a variety of institutional settings. I can think of no one better suited to lead Wesleyan as we continue to build and promote its academic strengths and to enhance students' experiences."
At CCA-a San Francisco Bay Area institution devoted to fine arts, architecture, design and writing-Roth led an effort to revise the curriculum to emphasize interdisciplinary work and liberal learning. He also developed and raised funds to support a Center for Art and Public Life and led fundraising efforts for new facilities, programs, and endowment that tripled the institution's fundraising record from a similar period in the 1990s. The number of alumni donors grew threefold during his tenure. In the seven years under his leadership, CCA has become "one of the most progressive arts education institutions in the country," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Roth traces his scholarly and administrative successes back to his undergraduate experience.
"I discovered my intellectual passions at Wesleyan," he noted. "The bridging of disciplines, the efforts to foster intellectual community, the pursuit of problem-oriented research, and the combination of art and public culture have been expressions of the intellectual principles I first encountered at Wesleyan. I look forward to connecting to my roots while helping to build the future of the institution."
Roth describes his scholarly interests as centered on "how people make sense of the past." He is the author of four books and numerous articles, has edited several scholarly publications, and curated an exhibition entitled Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture for the Library of Congress, which attracted critical praise when it opened in 1998; the exhibit traveled internationally in subsequent years.
"Michael Roth certainly has the cast of mind of a public intellectual," observed Professor of Russian Language and Literature Susanne Fusso, who served on the presidential search committee. "He is always trying to make connections to the personal, the political, the world that surrounds us every day. Yet his work is on a high level of intellectual sophistication. He is a masterly writer, very clear without being simplistic. To me his writing is a model of what academics should strive for."
A native of Brooklyn, NY, and in the first generation of his family to attend college, Roth entered Wesleyan in the fall of 1975 from the Alfred G. Berner High School in Massapequa, NY. He designed a university major in "history of psychological theory" and wrote a thesis entitled Freud and Revolution, which began the exploration that would become his first book and the basis of the Library of Congress exhibition. He completed his undergraduate studies in three years, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and went on to earn his doctorate in history at Princeton University in 1984.
Roth began his teaching career in 1983 at Scripps College and Claremont Graduate University, where he earned tenure in 1986 and became Hartley Burr Alexander Professor of the Humanities at Scripps in 1989. He garnered grants and achievement awards for both his scholarship and his teaching.
In 1987, Roth became founding director of the Scripps College Humanities Institute, which he says was modeled on Wesleyan's Center for the Humanities: an institutional structure to foster "a culture of inquiry, exchange and productivity that would connect to the classroom as well as the professional communities." The institute sponsored conferences and talks designed to appeal to faculty from across the disciplines.
In 1994, Roth was invited to participate as a visiting scholar in the Getty Research Institute's (GRI) year on memory. Two years later, he was asked to lead the scholars and seminars program at the Getty. He focused research around such topics as the history, architecture and arts of Los Angeles and built partnerships with cultural organizations in the East and South Central sections of the city, as well as with international centers of research. In 1997, Roth became associate director of the GRI and focused his energies on making the it a producer and disseminator of scholarship and to fostering the sort of intellectual community he had experienced at Wesleyan and helped to build at Scripps College.
While at the Getty, Roth curated the Library of Congress exhibition on Freud, as well as another on ruins, Irresistible Decay, as part of the opening of the Getty Museum. Roth's most recent co-edited volumes are Looking for Los Angeles: Architecture, Film, Photography and the Urban Landscape and Disturbing Remains: Memory, History, and Crisis in the Twentieth Century. While president of CCA Roth has been publishing essays and book reviews in publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, BookForum, Rethinking History and Wesleyan's own History and Theory. Roth's wife, Kari Weil, is chair of the critical studies program and associate professor of writing and literature at CCA. Weil's interests include 19th and 20th century French and comparative literature, cultural studies, literary theory and criticism, feminist theory, women's studies, and, more recently, animal studies. Weil earned her PhD in comparative literature from Princeton University in 1985. She joined the faculty at Wake Forest University that year and earned tenure in 1992. After 1997, she taught at UCLA and the University of California at Berkeley before joining the faculty at CCA in 2001.
Roth and Weil have a nine-year-old daughter, Sophie Weil-Roth, who will accompany them to Middletown. Roth also has two sons from a previous marriage: Jeremy Neil Roth, 22, a senior at CCA who hopes to pursue graduate studies in film, and Max Benjamin Roth, 19, a freshman at CCA. Roth and his family will visit campus on Friday, April 27, to be formally introduced to the campus community. The 4:15 p.m. introduction will be broadcast on the Wesleyan website: www.wesleyan.edu.