Letter to the editor


Letter to the Editor

Ohio Wesleyan University Transcript

Monday, April 25, 2016

To Whom It May Concern:

As former Editor-in- Chief and Managing Editor of the Ohio Wesleyan University Transcript, we were dismayed by the recent decision to prohibit student journalists’ access to faculty meetings.

This is not the first time the faculty and administration has attempted to restrict access. During our tenure on the Transcript, then University President David Warren refused to speak to student reporters and would only speak to the Editor-in- Chief. So Tricia (we still call her Minnow) and others camped outside of his office daily to request interviews. Eventually, he relented. On our graduation day back in 1992, he said to Minnow, “I wish you well, but I will not miss you.”

We encourage the Transcript staff to continue to attempt access to faculty meetings, and report on each instance that you are denied entry. Do not let this story wither over summer break.

We also encourage the journalism faculty to guide these student journalists through this situation to learn how to build solid professional relationships in the midst of covering a controversial story. Out in the real world of news, relationships matter.

To the faculty, a warning: the student journalists that you brush aside today will quickly become the alumni from whom you will seek financial support tomorrow. The decision to ban access appears timed to take advantage of the end of the semester and its distractions. The only thing transparent here is your motive. What are you trying to hide? We recognize that as a private institution the faculty may have occasional need for closed-session discussion of select items, and an outlet exists already for this purpose in the executive session of faculty meetings. However, the strong preference ought to be toward transparency, and secrecy must be the exception.

The journalism alumni are hearing whispers of threats to both faculty and students in retribution for fighting this ridiculous and unnecessary policy. Shame on the administration if this is true. You have put the journalism alumni in the heart-wrenching position of evaluating how we support our beloved alma mater. Do we cut off our contributions and the matching gifts of our employers in a show of solidarity? Or do we designate our gifts specifically to the Transcript in order to continue to empower student journalists who follow in our footsteps?

In the 20-plus years that have elapsed since our departure from OWU and entry into the real world of journalism, we have witnessed first-hand the erosion of the public’s representation via the media through corporate ownership, staff cuts, consolidation and a steady march to the bottom in terms of quality and resources. We fear that this incident is a continuation of the same trend, and that the proponents of secrecy within the faculty are keenly aware of this and using it to their advantage.

Bear in mind, faculty members: you – even those who advocate against the transparency we seek – are the ones who taught us to think critically, to question authority, to effect positive change in our surroundings. The student journalists with whom you are in conflict are simply living up to that mandate – the single most significant element of a liberal arts education.

To the Transcript staff, we say congratulations on continuing the tradition of excellence for the oldest independent college student run newspaper in the history of our nation. We take great pride in the faded papers in our personal archives, our OWU journalism degrees on our office walls, and the war stories that came with them. It is truly thrilling for us to follow campus news through social media. When we began our journey in the JO Department we lugged electric typewriters to Slocum Hall. We used a wax roller and scissors to paste the layout together by hand in the wee morning hours in order to hand deliver the spec sheets to the printer on time.

To the graduating seniors, we wish you continued success as you enter the world of professional journalism. We hope you take this experience with you as a valuable lesson: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When someone in a position of power stands in your way or asks you to kill a story, it is a sign that you must dig deeper. You will encounter this daily. When you do, we hope your training from the OWU JO Department will serve you as well as it has served us.

Good luck!

Jason Cohen

Former Transcript Editor-in- Chief

Tricia “Minnow” Taylor-Lyphout, MPH, MBA

Former Transcript Managing Editor

Ohio Wesleyan University

Journalism Department

Class of 1992

Jason and Tricia also served on the Journalism Student Board during their time at OWU.

Letter to the Editor

soapbox     To the members of the Ohio Wesleyan University community:

The April 18 action by the OWU faculty members should be reversed immediately. Although OWU, as a private institution, is well within its legal rights to be as secretive as it wishes, closing the doors of its faculty meetings is not only detrimental to the university community’s ability to function, it sends a message of elitism and paternalism to the students. The faculty’s action demonstrates that the university’s mission, as described on the website, is either hypocritical or out of touch with the mindset of those who purport to educate OWU students.

In part, the university website states:

Ohio Wesleyan provides them [the students] with a bounty of interconnected experiences—across disciplines, across cultures, even across continents. After our students graduate, we expect them to be insatiable problem solvers—and agents of change….

We are active and engaged with the world. We have thoughtful opinions, big ideas, and we share them in a rich campus conversation….

If the faculty members actually believe in providing a “bounty of interconnected experiences,” they cannot fail to note that their action demonstrates that they believe students do not understand the concept: The faculty members have shown that they believe students are incapable of synthesis, are incapable of understanding anything beyond the confines of the classroom, and therefore will not understand the implications of the faculty action. Faculty members apparently also believe that students are incapable of understanding what economics professor Bob Gitter means by a “chilling effect” on discussion. What Gitter means, of course, is that the students’ role models are too craven to express their opinions in an open forum – a lovely lesson in evading accountability.

“Rich campus conversation,” indeed.


Arthur L. Ranney, Ph.D.

OWU Visiting Professor (1989-1990)

Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Platteville

Contact: 608.330.1950 (mobile, preferred)




Access denied

By: Dr. Thomas Wolber

soapboxOhio Wesleyan University is justifiably proud of “the quality and accessibility of its faculty” (“Catalog” Introduction). Yet at the Nov. 16 faculty meeting, half a dozen duly elected members of the Wesleyan Council on Student Affairs and bona fide reporters from the student newspaper, The Transcript, were denied access to the deliberations of the faculty, which included several topics of direct relevance to students.

Why was this unprecedented step taken? The conflict seems to have been triggered by Transcript stories appearing in the local newspaper, the Delaware Gazette. This has been happening for a while now and is rooted in a mutually beneficial arrangement between the two papers.

Transcript reporters see a wider distribution of their articles whereas Gazette readers receive information about OWU from student insiders. However, the arrangement meant that the monthly faculty meetings had become a public ­media venue, which was not to the liking of some faculty members. Concerns over journalistic standards and misrepresentations were voiced and privacy issues were raised. Primarily, however, it seems that many faculty members were worried that the presence of the press may lead to a situation where free and open discussion about contentious and sensitive issues might be stifled.

And this is, in my mind, the crux of the matter. We live in uncertain times. Many colleges and universities in Ohio and elsewhere, both public and private, are experiencing tremendous difficulties.

Institutions have been shuttered or merged, departments and programs eliminated, and faculty positions frozen or cut. This is an era of retrenchment, austerity, and exigency, and there is widespread fear and anxiety about what the future will hold. Across the nation, the faculty’s social status and standard of living are eroding; their very survival is at stake. The status quo is no more, and there are worried conversations about what the new norm might be. What was radical and unthinkable only a few years ago, is now being openly discussed. Maybe the unnerved faculty, especially from more vulnerable disciplines and departments, are instinctively sensing that control is slipping through their fingers and that ugly battles and wars might be ahead of them.

Change is never easy, especially if you are not the one driving it. We know from history and politics what effects the experience of displacement, disempowerment, and dispossession can have. It can lead to heated arguments, imprudent statements, disregard for established norms and values, and raw hostility. In their bewilderment, people start looking for scapegoats for either they do not understand the real reasons for what is happening, or if they do they feel helpless against the inexorable forces of destiny.

I, for one, view the exclusion of WCSA and The Transcript from the last faculty meeting as just one such event. Neither the students nor the press are not the faculty’s adversary; they are their natural allies and partners. It would be a strategic error to alienate them. The current fissure between the faculty and the students is an unfortunate distraction and a false dichotomy. In addition, the measure has done considerable harm to the faculty’s and the institution’s reputation and may negatively impact student recruitment and donor giving in the future. Therefore, the faculty’s student ­exclusion act of 2015 must be rescinded. Elected WCSA students should be readmitted immediately. Then reasonable students, faculty, and administrators should sit together, start a constructive dialog, and negotiate a balanced accord that ensures The Transcript access to faculty meetings on the one hand while protecting and preserving legitimate faculty interests on the other. Perhaps the student newspaper is willing to voluntarily suspend the arrangement with the Delaware Gazette for faculty meetings only while leaving it intact in other areas? In any case, for people of good will there is always plenty of common ground to be found.


Soapbox articles are unique platforms in which any member of the OWU community can “get up on their soapbox” and discuss any issue in 400 to 1000 words. Soapbox articles can be submitted on owutranscript.com using the Submit Your Story link on the upper left.


Dr. Thomas Wolber is an associate professor of German at Ohio Wesleyan.  He teaches all levels of German language, literature and civilization. In addition to those subjects, he specializes in comparative literature and environmental studies.

Publish or perish at OWU

By: Dr. Thomas K. Wolber


Like many small liberal-arts colleges, Ohio Wesleyan University is first and foremost a teaching institution. The school’s Code of Regulations states, “It shall be the primary function of the faculty to instruct the students in the arts and sciences, and in all branches of liberal and professional instruction, as taught in the best universities.” And the Statement of Aims reaffirms that core mission when it says, “the University has as its preeminent purpose to be a quality institution for teaching and learning.” Wherever you turn, you will hear echoes of that sentiment. President Rock Jones says frequently, “Excellence in teaching is the hallmark of Ohio Wesleyan University today, as it has been for generations.” And OWU’s website declares, “OWU’s faculty and staff are dedicated to student success, and they demonstrate that dedication in countless ways every day in every way. Students spend time with employees not only in classrooms and offices, but also over lunch, at a Battling Bishop athletic event, or other community-building opportunity. OWU faculty members and staff become important mentors and close friends, ready to help students find their way to personal and professional success. It’s all part of the Ohio Wesleyan experience.”

Pull quote 1However, that “Ohio Wesleyan experience” is now under assault. Dedicated teachers are denied tenure or promotion and relegated to second-class citizens and obscurity. Their commitment to students and efforts to bring out the best in them are deemed insufficient and inadequate under a misguided personnel policy that increasingly de-prioritizes and devalues teaching in favor of scholarly research (or creative endeavors).

OWU’s faculty is evaluated on the basis of the quality of their teaching (60 percent), research (30 percent), and service (10 percent). In theory, this sounds reasonable although, parenthetically speaking, the Code of Regulations does not mention an obligation to conduct research at all. It is also interesting to note that the U.S. Professors of the Year Awards Program, for which OWU recently nominated three individuals, requires “a scholarly approach to teaching and learning,” but no significant research record. The problem of OWU’s faculty personnel policy lies in its implementation. It has become so formulaic, draconian, and punitive that it has lost all sense of proportion and decency. In the past, if you were a passionate teacher you were assured success if you showed “evidence of scholarship” and provided dedicated service to the University. Not so now. Under the new standard of “significant scholarship” more and more faculty are denied tenure, and countless others are bypassed for merit and promotion.

I have seen this happen at other institutions. At top universities around the world, it’s “publish or perish.” The pressure to focus on publications is so great and all-consuming that there is little or no time for teaching and service. If you happen to be a dedicated and accessible teacher who cherishes spending time with students and in the classroom, it can mean the end of your academic career. Consider that every tutorial or independent study taught in addition to the regular course load means a diminished scholarly output. Every conversation with a prospective, current, or former student means another unread article. Every concert, exhibition, play, or sports event you go to because you want to support the students can be a distraction and disruption of your schedule as a researcher. Every letter of recommendation requires a level of care and time that may compete and conflict with scholarly endeavors. Helping students become better writers is a challenge when the quality and quantity of your own writing is very much at stake.

Pull quote 2

This is what I meant earlier when I wrote that OWU’s teaching mission is under threat. The pressure to publish or perish has finally reached this institution, too, and as a result teaching no longer has the unquestioned primacy. There is diminishing incentive to do so. The faculty-personnel committee has created a hostile work environment for people whose primary devotion is to teaching and a climate of fear for those who don’t conform to its norms. Teaching ranks low. Research is where the grants and resources, merit and promotion, fame and fortune are.

We are already seeing the deleterious effects of this misguided policy. Faculty in significant numbers refuse to serve on committees; many do not attend admissions events; some even show no interest in helping with student retention. After all, there is no money in sitting down with an advisee and point her in the right direction. I cannot blame these colleagues for acting rationally and in their own best interest. It is not their fault. They are reacting logically to a system that no longer puts students front and center. In a research-centered environment students are, to put it bluntly, little more than a nuisance and a bother.

As this unfortunate trend continues, disengaged faculty will spend less and less time with students. They will teach their classes and hold the requisite number of office hours, but that may well be it. Admission and retention efforts will suffer, the quality of advising will diminish, and students in need and distress may not get the full attention they deserve. This is not an apocalyptic doomsday scenario. The downhill trend is already in evidence, exacting a heavy toll. Ohio Wesleyan is currently experiencing difficulties meeting admission and retention targets. It may be an inconvenient truth, but I submit that this is, in part, a direct result of a flawed faculty-personnel policy that de facto elevates research over teaching, forcing teachers to make the difficult choice of putting students on the back burner. This wrongheaded approach undercuts OWU’s historic mission and has already done incalculable damage. The focus on faculty research has gone too far and is no longer an asset. Instead, it has become a risk and a liability that imperils the future of the college. OWU has strayed from its ethos and legacy. We need to recalibrate our values and priorities and find a better balance. Students and faculty, administrators and trustees must step up and demand that Ohio Wesleyan return to what it has been for almost 175 years – a premier teaching institution.


Dr. Thomas K. Wolber is an associate professor of German at Ohio Wesleyan.  He teaches all levels of German language, literature and civilization. In addition to those subjects, he specializes in comparative literature and environmental studies.

On Agent Orange and war veterans

Dr. Thomas Wolber

From 1961 to 1971, vast areas of Vietnam were sprayed with Agent Orange herbicides. The purpose of the defoliants was to destroy the food sources of the Vietcong and to deprive them of canopy cover. Up to 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to the toxin. The effects are still virulent today, resulting on tens of thousands of annual premature deaths and severe birth defects, even in second and third generations.

The Vietnamese are not the only ones suffering from the consequences of this toxic legacy. Some 2.6 million Americans served in the war, and many of them also became disabled after being exposed to Agent Orange. The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes some fifty chronic diseases linked to Agent Orange, including Hodgkin’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, leukemia, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and several cancers.

It took an epic battle with the VA, but today most Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange (except sailors) qualify for help and treatment, at least in theory. But the waiting lists can be long, and many have died without ever being seen, examined, and treated. However, there is still no help for their descendants although Agent Orange is expected to cause continued health problems for veterans and their children for at least five to seven generations.

The list of possible birth defects is long and includes things like congenital heart disease, clubfoot, cleft lip or palate, his dysplasia, and numerous diseases that most of us have never even heard of. The VA provides compensation for many severe birth defects among children of female veterans who served in Vietnam, but there are no equivalent benefits for the descendants of male veterans, who constitute the vast majority.

Anyone who believes that the Agent Orange issue is not something that affects the Delaware or Columbus community is mistaken. We have hundreds of veterans of foreign wars in our midst. One of them is Joe DiGenova, a Vietnam War veteran and the longest-serving City Council member in Delaware’s history. He is very concerned about the transgenerational effects of Agent Orange and has urged Ohio politicians such as Andrew Brenner and Pat Tiberi to support legislation that would extent help for victims of Agent Orange to children and grandchildren of male war veterans.

An article in the Columbus Dispatch last year (5/12/14) profiled John E. Pistick, 71, who lost his left arm due to soft-tissue sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that has been found in Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Two of his three children developed brain tumors during childhood. They are adults now, but because of their inability to live independently they still reside with their parents.

The brave men and women of the armed forces deserve our admiration and gratitude. Society owes them the best care available. They and their children should not have to worry about whether or not to receive medical help. The Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2013 merits bipartisan support. It is a broad piece of legislation – perhaps too broad because it also includes assistance to Vietnamese nationals and environmental remediation. If it does not pass, then perhaps a more narrowly defined law that specifically addresses the needs of the American descendants of Vietnam War veterans needs to be introduced.


Dr. Thomas Wolber is an associate professor of German at Ohio Wesleyan.  He teaches all levels of German language, literature and civilization. In addition to those subjects, he specializes in comparative literature and environmental studies.

Finding a Friend

By: Campbell Scribner

I recently reread an essay by a friend of mine, a teacher and pastor, with whom I have kept in touch since college. Actually, not a teacher or a pastor: he quit both jobs a long time ago. They felt fake, he said, rote and repetitive and hollow. So he became a freelance writer.

He wrote the essay, and I first read it, in a climate of fear and uncertainty. The United States was engaged in irresponsible, possibly illegal military actions, and we had mutual friends getting involved (a little over their heads) with the peace movement. Corporate scandals led to a series of financial shocks, one of which cost my father his job. The liberal circles in which we moved were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the conditions under which their food and clothing were produced, leading to heated arguments about what counted as “organic” or “fair trade.” My friend stopped eating sugar for a while.

He touched on all this in his essay, but the real focus was the precarious fate of young people as they entered the workforce. Finding employment required shameless self-promotion, he complained, if not outright dishonesty. And for what? So that one could earn a living exploiting others and performing pointless tasks, laboring (as he so floridly put it) under a “harness of routine and obsequiousness.”

It was no wonder that so many college graduates had grown cynical, shielding themselves with irony and rolling their eyes at any sort of idealism. The world was built on lying, cheating, and shopping, all of which the rising generation cruelly mocked but engaged in anyway, because they didn’t feel like they could change anything. The most noble of them might pursue academic careers (as I later did) but they would have to subsist on debt and charity, and even then would feel guilty for enjoying a level of success denied to others who were equally qualified. There was no way out. It seemed that we were all doomed to the moral corruption of adulthood.

Despite all of its hand-wringing, however, the essay ended with a hopeful image: young men and women not yet beholden to the capitalist system, free from the chains of consumption that constrained Western society. The term “Arab Spring” did not yet exist—and my friend abhorred both religious orthodoxy and political violence—but he spoke approvingly of the fervor and faith with which young Muslims had reshaped the Arab world. A similar group of American youths, willing to sacrifice financial gain for more moral, meaningful work, might radically transform our own country, he wrote, renewing protections for women, children, workers, and the elderly while establishing a robust sense of the common good.

That message inspired me. It didn’t matter that Ralph Waldo Emerson and I were of different backgrounds, or that his essay, “Man the Reformer,” first appeared in 1841. We were wrestling with the same questions about the individual’s place in the modern world, and I considered him a friend.

I do not mention all of this so that you will go and read Emerson’s essay (though you should), but instead to offer some advice for study at OWU. One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is the ability to recognize that others have confronted the same quandaries and challenges that you do, albeit in times and places that may seem remote. Whether you pursue history, literature, or some other discipline, remember that learning is most effective when it captures the immediacy and applicability—the moral stakes—of other people’s experiences. Making that connection can lead to the best kind of companionship.


Campbell Scribner is an education professor whose teaching-related interests include the history and philosophy of education and the history of childhood.

Too much hot air

By: TC Brown

By many measures, this winter has been a pain in areas where the sun rarely reaches.

Dreadful weather is bad enough on its own, but it can also be a real boon for the radical element that deny the existence of climate change.

The cold, snow and ice morph into a convenient prop for these folks and their head-in-the-sand outlook that says changes in climate are not fueled by the world’s booming population and the ever increasing numbers of people driving fuel-burning vehicles.

Forget that in 2013 a United Nations panel, which includes thousands of scientists from around the world, said it is a 95 percent certainty that humans are the “dominant cause” behind the monumental changes to our climate.

They’re not alone. NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Defense, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Meteorological Society agree, as noted recently in The Columbus Dispatch.

Scientists seem unequivocal in their reasoning, so who’s to argue?

Send in the clowns.

At the end of February, Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and well-known denier, packed snow into a large ball and lugged it into the Senate chambers. “Do you know what this is? It’s a snowball,” Inhofe said.

Not getting anything past this Congress.

Inhofe explained he had made the snowball outside and that it was very cold,  “very unseasonable.”  Really? Snow in February, who knew.

There’s more. Earlier this month employees of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection revealed that they are forbidden to use phrases like “global warming” and “climate change” in official communications.

Soon after that news broke a former staffer from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said they had been “explicitly ordered” to remove all references to climate change from the organization’s website.

And the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources also deleted links and documents related to climate change from its website. Not to be outdone, 39 Republican U.S. senators opposed an amendment that blamed human activity for climate shifts.

Playing politics with this somber and factual meteorological phenomena is a very dangerous game. Last year, that same U.N. panel of global scientists issued a report that said greenhouse gas emissions are the highest in history. The gasses come from a variety of sources, especially from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation, and can trap and hold heat in the atmosphere. Globally, the ten hottest years on record have occurred since 1998.

In 2008, I spent six months helping climate change scientists develop multimedia content for their website. Frankly, I was startled by what I learned and that was seven years ago.

Glaciers and ice packs in mountain regions are in full retreat. Melting ice is expected to contribute to a continuing rise in sea levels, threatening many costal cities and potentially displacing millions. Global sea levels rose a little more than 6 ½ inches in the last century and the rate in the last decade is nearly double that, according to NASA. Small Pacific islands are sinking.

The changing climate is likely to fuel more violent and costly storms, create regional droughts and threaten the natural habitat of animal and plant life. The Nature Conservancy predicts that if the changes continue to occur rapidly, one-fourth of Earth’s species could be headed toward extinction by 2050.

Superstorm Sandy, which plowed into New Jersey in 2012, cost at least $65 billion in damages, making it the second most costly storm since Katrina wiped out the New Orleans region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sobering stuff, but that’s simply a big-picture scan of the potential danger and damage. Deeper evidence abounds should one look, and I strongly urge the students on this campus to get engaged.

The deniers like to claim that this is all a liberal media hoax and that little if any proof exists. Guess what drives that view? Money.

It will cost many industries real cash to clean up and reduce carbon emissions and many of those organizations and their political allies have said, “No thanks, not enough proof.”

Helen Keller, the deaf and blind author, political activist and lecturer once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but not vision.”

The scientific jury is still out on whether it is too late for us to do anything to reverse these processes. It’s clear we all need to at least try. But this country, in fact the entire planet, needs vision regarding climate change and how we as a human race might diminish these looming dangers. Politically motivated denial simply digs a deeper hole for everyone.

I’ve heard the denier’s arguments that the changes now underway have occurred on the Earth before. Certainly true, but the planet was not home to 7 billion people at the time. That’s where the dangers lie.

It’s going to take personal and even global energy to try to turn the direction in which we are headed. It’s a vital calling, if for nothing else, one simple fact – the wellbeing of future generations. It’s time to stop the political gamesmanship and act.

If we don’t, the kids will pay the real price.


TC Brown is an adjunct instructor of journalism at Ohio Wesleyan, an author, and a journalist of 25 years. His work has been featured in many publications, including The New York Times and Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer.

Why America should become an absolute monarchy

By: senior Luke Peters

Every red-blooded American loves freedom, right? It’s on the ideal of preserving personal freedoms that America was founded on, after all. And in the grand scheme of things, America is a pretty solid country. But with any country, there are plenty of problems. However, do not fret, as the solution is relatively simple, at least in theory: A return to absolute monarchy and an abandonment of the glorification of personal freedoms.

Speaking ethically, there are a couple different ways that one can try and quantify what is considered “good.” From a utilitarian perspective, the most morally correct course of action is whatever provides the highest amount of good to the highest number of people, whether you choose to quantify that good as happiness, pleasure, satisfaction or some other similar positive emotion. Of course, many critics of utilitarianism might argue that it doesn’t account for any sort of moral justice; the best action, for instance, might bring a high amount of happiness to immoral criminals at the expense of innocent people. This is a decent criticism, so it seems appropriate to include a sense of moral fairness alongside maximization of good when we are sketching out a rough model of basic ethics.

Notably absent from this model is the idea of autonomy, or the freedom to do as one pleases (so long as it doesn’t harm others, most would add). Many people, philosophers or otherwise, tend to include autonomy as a positive moral value. But why? There is no guarantee that allowing people to make their own decisions will bring the highest degree of good, or guarantee moral fairness. So what makes us naturally think of autonomy as a moral good, as something we ought to strive for? If someone else knows what decision you ought to make in order to maximize good and maintain moral fairness, why let you screw up that choice yourself and waste all of that potential good?

We already acknowledge parents ought to make decisions for their children when they are very young; after all, an adult knows better than a child what the right choice is. Why stop this behavior once one is no longer a child? Surely there are adults out there much better equipped to make decisions than other adults.

“But wait!” One might say. “Surely only you yourself know what is best for you? No one is more a person than the person themselves, right?” But this is of course untrue. Who is better equipped to decide which car John ought to buy, the unremarkable everyman John, or his friend who is an expert on cars? It seems commonsensical that John ought to yield to his friend’s choice, even if he think he might know better. Chances are, he doesn’t actually know better; he just lacks the knowledge to know why he is wrong.

This is the principle of paternalism, the idea of restricting someone’s freedom for their own good, and our fetishization of autonomy has given this poor ethical concept a bad rap. It is this principle that is at the backbone of why an absolute monarchy is the superior governmental system. Under a democratic republic, like the (admittedly flawed) one the United States has, the decision making power lies in the hands of the people (in theory). By voting people into power whose beliefs reflect their own, they get to shape the rules to their own liking. Now, obviously this is a little problematic because it doesn’t mean that everyone gets what they want, only that the majority gets what they want.

But this is not the problem at hand; the problem we are focusing on is the decision making power is put in the hands of the people who are in the majority, as opposed to the people that actually know what the right decision on the matter is. The problem with a democratic government is that it equates the correct decision with the decision that is most popular; doing so maximizes autonomy, as most people will be able to do what they want, but doesn’t necessarily maximize moral good.

What would maximize good, however, is not a decision made on the basis of popularity, but a decision made on the basis of correctness. In order to achieve this, the ideal laws and regulations should be those passed not by popular vote, but by a singular order by a monarch. Naturally, this monarch would have to be the person most qualified for the job, and as such must be an incredibly intelligent expert in the field of ethics, preferably the leading expert in the field. (How we would go about finding such a person is a whole different issue.) Additionally, they would be backed by a team of the very best scientists in the fields of psychology, sociology, and all the natural sciences so he might make the most informed decision possible on any such occasion.

Now, many of the laws passed under such a monarch would be unpopular, make no mistake. But in the end, such laws are decisions that have been meticulously calculated to be most likely to cause the highest amount of good, and to do so fairly and evenly. As such, any criticism of them would either be uninformed, or coming from a place of greed or entitlement. Under such a system, one can imagine many of the world’s leading problems (unfair distribution of wealth, overpopulation, environmental pollution) a thing of the past, now that the government has enough power to enforce such decisions without having to deal with pesky autonomy.

Such a utopia will likely never be achieved, at least not anytime soon. However, I encourage all those reading this to reconsider whether or not restriction of freedom really is such a negative thing; the notion of autonomy as a moral good is outdated, and we must abandon it if we hope to evolve as a society.

The Importance of Grit



By: Dr. Thomas Wolber 

As a teacher, I have long felt that intelligence is overrated. It alone does not lead to successful outcomes. Over the years I have seen many smart students fail, and I have seen students with average intelligence and sophistication do well. You do not need to be super smart to succeed. Whether you achieve your goals or not is determined less by your cognitive abilities than by noncognitive factors such as personality and grit. Character is at least as important as intellect.

You have heard the word “grit” before. These days it is widely used – in education, athletics, the military and the job market. But what exactly is it? What are the necessary components? Why is it important and why do employers seem to value it above everything else?

Let’s start with the dictionary and the original etymological meaning of the word. Like many other four-letter words of the English language, it has a Germanic origin, suggesting deep roots indeed. Grit is far removed from the French Enlightenment and modern intellectualism. You are more likely to find it in your guts than in your brain. In Old Icelandic, the word “grit” meant “stone, pebble, rock, boulder.” No wonder then the dictionary defines grit as “firmness of character, indomitable spirit, pluck” and lists “resolution, fortitude” as synonyms. Other words to describe “grit” may include ambition, dedication, determination, drive, endurance, hardiness, passion, perseverance, persistence, resilience, stamina, steadfastness, tenacity, toughness, zeal, zest and the like.

Thus, we can now define grit as “the will to act and succeed,” “the refusal to fail,” “the strength to overcome adversity,” “the tenacity to achieve long-term goals,” “the ability to face challenges,” “the capacity to set and accomplish goals,” “the capability to deal with failure,” “the determination to pull yourself through a crisis,” “fire in the belly,” and so on.

If it is your long-term goal to graduate from Ohio Wesleyan within four years and with a good GPA, then, yes, grit is definitely something you should have. Teachers agree that for educational attainment it is more important than anything else, certainly more important than mere brainpower. An average, hard-working student with a fair amount of grit will always outperform an intellectual dreamer who lacks purpose and willpower and fails to act. In my experience, grit trumps intelligence.

Grit is an individual’s most important asset. An increasing number of schools and employers agree that intelligence is an unreliable indicator of future success, which is why they value grit more and more. Yes, raw and natural talent does matter, but to become an accomplished farmer, car mechanic, athlete, translator, doctor, or musician first and foremost requires years and years of theoretical schooling and practical experience. Learning is demanding, and there are no short cuts. Studies have shown that gritty individuals work longer and harder than others, which is why they succeed where others fail.

This observation has serious implications for education and the labor market. If grit matters more than mere intelligence, why do schools continue to focus on cognitive intelligence and academic performance? Should we not equally emphasize noncognitive abilities such as emotional and social intelligence, interpersonal skills, maturity, fairness, curiosity, generosity, kindness, self-control, leadership, integrity, honesty, creativity, fearlessness, and so on?

For example, some of the smartest students go into medicine, but sometimes they sorely lack qualities such as compassion and empathy. A high IQ and phenomenal SAT and ACT scores alone mean little. Shouldn’t there be a healthy balance of cognitive and noncognitive skills? Aren’t schools setting students up for long-term failure if they don’t inculcate character development with the same zest as they do academic preparation?

We are faced with a fundamental paradox here. Academic instruction is entirely knowledge-based. A student’s transcript reflects academic performance but reveals little or nothing about that student’s personality. But the recommendation letters we teachers write for study abroad, assistantships, fellowships, employment, government jobs and graduate schools often stress entirely different qualities than those we impart in the classroom. A checklist I filled out recently listed “academic ability” as only one of 12 characteristics!

A while back, I conducted an inventory of the many noncognitive factors that employers explicitly inquire about, and I came up with a list of over 30 even though I counted things like “reliability, dependability, responsibility” as only one item. A surprising number of employers require things like “physical vitality, agility, vigor, stamina,” including “manual dexterity.” “Behavior under stress, pressure, strain” is important, and “integrity, honesty, trustworthiness” matters a lot. The list goes on and on. Ironically, however, you will not find many of these traits on academic syllabi or discussed in class. Is this something K-12 schools and colleges should have a conversation about? I have heard of schools where students graduate not only with a GPA, but also with a CPA – a character-point average. It may be hard to implement such as program, but there seems to be a certain need and demand for it.

One last point – it has been said the focus on grit alone may lead to egotism and careerism. Being too gritty can have the potential of making you insensitive to the feelings and needs of others and can lead to neglecting community, social responsibility, and the public good.

The way I see it, however, character-based education does not have to be disconnected from morality and ethics – on the contrary! Performance character and moral character are linked and complement each other. For example, there is a social stigma against performance-enhancing tricks such as corruption, cheating, and doping. Besides, the quest for fame and fortune is typically not high on the priority list of gritty individuals.

OWU’s Statement of Aims provides a good example for such a balance. It states knowledge, character (grit) and values form the basis for a liberal arts education. All three are needed to be prepared for life and to become a happy, successful human being. The foundation would be shaky indeed if any one of the three elements were missing. None can stand alone, but together they form the bedrock that will sustain you throughout life.


Dr. Thomas Wolber is an associate professor of German at Ohio Wesleyan.  He teaches all levels of German language, literature and civilization. In addition to those subjects, he specializes in comparative literature and environmental studies.

In defense of the concept of privilege


By Ashley Biser

Last week, professor Erin Flynn shared in The Transcript “Notes on the concept of (white, male) privilege.” In his piece, he argued the concept of privilege is problematic, not because it does not exist, but because it is “a potentially poor basis of political response to those painful and all too familiar patterns of injustice.”

I applaud Flynn for airing these concerns and discussing the concept of privilege in The Transcript. But he is wrong — both about what privilege is and the political work it accomplishes. First, the basic definition: privilege is not primarily about what an individual deserves; it is the idea that by virtue of one’s membership in a particular social group (men, white people, straight people, able-bodied people), we accrue as a group systematic advantages that are unavailable to those who are different. In this sense, privilege is not a theoretical concept, but a fact. For example, by virtue of the fact that I am able-bodied, I can navigate the world more easily than those who are not. I can watch Netflix without wondering which movies will be captioned or whether there will be people like me represented in them; I can get to my classrooms without worrying whether there is an elevator in the building; I can visit a new city and expect to be able to use public transportation easily. Because I was born able-bodied, I do not have to think about these advantages, but they are still operating in my favor. While each instance might seem insignificant, over time, these advantages add up—making my life easier insofar as I am not constrained by physical disabilities. This does not mean that I will never encounter obstacles, some of which will be based on other aspects of my social identity, such as my gender. Nor does the concept of privilege imply that my life will be free from pain and sorrow. But the pains and sorrows I experience will be based on my own particular life circumstances, not on the basis of being disabled. The concept of privilege just asks me to acknowledge that I live in a system that is designed for able-bodied people and makes life harder for those who are not part of that group. Hopefully, once I acknowledge that fact, I will be better equipped to fight for a system in which all people can flourish — regardless of physical ability.

According to Flynn, the problem with describing these advantages in terms of privilege is that implies that all experiences of white (or male, or heterosexual, or able-bodied) privilege are the same. But surely, we can see that not all able-bodied people have similar experiences of the world. An able-bodied woman will experience privilege differently than an able-bodied man. Just as a black woman born to a wealthy family will experience the world differently than a poor white man — just as will any two white, straight, able-bodied, cisgender men. As Hannah Arendt reminds us, “we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives or will live.”

Flynn worries that the concept of privilege covers over these individual differences and obscures the fact that sometimes “class transcends race” (and vice versa). But the point of recognizing privilege isn’t to set different experiences of discrimination up against another and vie for who is most oppressed; the point is to recognize the intersections between various forms of oppression and never fool ourselves into thinking that we are immune from prejudice. Just because I do not believe I am prejudiced against those who are disabled does not mean that I do not benefit from the systematic ways in which able-bodiedness is privileged in our society. We have to resist the age-old tendency to set oppressed people against each other and instead recognize that many forms of injustice share similar roots. The question isn’t who has it worse, but how can we make it better.

Moreover, in his desire to recognize the “richness, variety and complexity of social life,” Flynn misses the fact that it is precisely this experience of being recognized as a unique individual that is denied to those who are not white, male, heterosexual, upper-class, able-bodied, etc. In fact, it is a privilege to be treated as an individual, with a specific life story, deserving of recognition. It is precisely this experience, of being judged on one’s own merits — and not assumed to fit into a mold fashioned by prejudice — that those of us interested in justice, like Flynn and myself, desire for everyone.

In his post, Flynn also wonders what happens when we see basic human rights — such as the right to be free from physical coercion or harm — as privileges instead of as rights. I understand his concern; the language of rights is powerful. To speak of violated rights implies that everyone deserves physical security, not because some magnanimous entity has decreed so, but simply by virtue of our existence. However, for those to whom they are denied, rights do not exist. So long as African-American men are more likely to be shot by the police, women’s bodies can be subjected to medical procedures without their consent and transgender persons are disproportionately victims of violence, the so-called “right” to be free from physical coercion or harm is a dangerous myth. In a different context, marriage is not a “right” so long as only heterosexual couples can participate in its benefits. The concept of privilege draws our attention to the disjuncture between right and privilege — emphasizing that what might appear to be a right is not universally experienced as such. So long as “rights” can be categorically denied to entire sectors of our society, we cannot call them rights; they are simply privileges accorded to the few in the service of protecting those in power.

The concept of privilege also forces us to recognize that rights aren’t the culmination of struggles for justice. Don’t get me wrong. Legal rights are a crucial component of a just society. But the concept of privilege draws our attention to other myriad, sometimes seemingly trivial, ways that racism, classism, ableism, chauvinism, homophobia, etc. seep into our lives — even once legal rights have been secured. Take, for example, my experience of able-bodied privilege: is it a “right” to watch Netflix? Is it anyone’s “right” to see people like themselves represented on screen? No. But these privileges are nonetheless significant. My ability to easily access information affects how I can participate in the world, and the presence of people who look like me on television sets the parameters for what is considered “normal” and socially acceptable.

According to Flynn, the concept of privilege focuses on attacking what some (privileged) people have, rather than fighting for the rights others lack. In this sense, he worries that the concept of privilege might become tinged with what Nietzsche terms ressentiment—a “potentially toxic mix of resentment and envy” that embodies the desire to somehow strike back at those more powerful than ourselves. Flynn worries that calling people out on their privilege “becomes just a way of lashing out and ridiculing, of feeling a sense of superiority which one does not experience as socially real, by demeaning or lowering the status of another.” To some extent, I can see his worry. If the concept of privilege were simply a means of belittling the successes of powerful individuals, it would, indeed, be a vengeful concept. But, again, privilege is not about individual accomplishments and deserts. It is a concept designed to help draw attention to the systematic ways in which life is easier and more just for some and not others. All of us lead very different lives within the context of societal structures, filled with our own personal challenges and accomplishments. Nietzsche develops the concept of ressentiment to think about how those who are weak and undeserving react toward those who are stronger and bolder. What the concept of privilege teaches us, however, is that no matter how strong and bold and deserving someone is, some people have more obstacles to overcome than others.

Considering that Nietzsche excelled at questioning our most deeply-held assumptions — about God, morality, freedom, etc. — it seems to me fitting to think about the concept of privilege as doing similar political work: provoking us to rethink our basic assumptions about what is fair and just in our society. The purpose of recognizing my own privilege as an able-bodied, white, cisgender woman, is not to take away from my (or anyone else’s) accomplishments, but to help me better empathize with those whose experiences are fundamentally different than my own. At best, “checking” my privilege means that I make sure to listen more carefully to those who have historically been silenced and work more diligently to dismantle societal structures that contribute to white, male, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, and class privilege. At the very least, I need to be aware of my own participation in perpetuating injustice. The language of privilege serves as a reminder to do so. I don’t deny that the concept can sometimes ruffle people’s feathers and engender unproductive conversations about guilt. But that is why it is powerful; unless we are uncomfortable, we will not act. For my part, the time to give up on the concept of privilege will be when privilege ceases to exist. The discomfort that all of us feel in recognizing our own privilege (be it racial, class, gender, etc.) is precisely the point.

Ashley Biser is an assistant professor of politics and government at Ohio Wesleyan. Her expertise is in contemporary political theory, and she teaches such courses as Democracy and Its Critics, Classical Issues in Political Theory, American Political Thought, and Political Theory, Science and Technology, as well as the introductory politics and government course.