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.