This month marks the beginning of my third year as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters.

When I began as Dean in 2015, I spoke about advancing the arts and humanities at the center of the MSU land-grant mission. As the 2017 Dean’s Report demonstrates, this was not a new vision, but one that can be traced back to the earliest beginnings of the University.

Drawing inspiration and determination from that history, we have sought over the last two years to embody the best habits of the liberal arts endeavor as we continue to weave the values of an engaged liberal arts education into the fabric of the University. The metaphor to which I gestured then and to which we regularly return as a touchstone, is the Red Cedar River itself: its meandering flow and the bridges we build across it connect our 21st century aspirations to our deepest commitments to the liberal arts.

The practices of the liberal arts — attentive listening, critical discernment, ethical imagination — have shaped our efforts to live out this vision of the liberal arts at the center of the MSU mission.

As I visited departments and programs during my first year as Dean, I spoke of my allergy to cynicism and focused on listening as the faculty, students, and staff articulated the opportunities and the challenges we face in the College. Those conversations informed the adoption of three core imperatives and five strategic priorities designed to elevate the quality of our scholarship and pedagogy.

This past year has been marked by an intentional commitment to persistent performance improvement as we cultivate the habits of disciplined strategic decision-making that will advance the national and international reputation of the College. I promised at the beginning of 2017 to return regularly to those priorities to ensure that our strategic focus remains sharp and settles into the institutional habits of the College. With the help of two amazing College of Arts & Letters student co-hosts, Hannah Bullion and Samantha Ward, we did just that this spring on our podcast, the Liberal Arts Endeavor.

As my third year as Dean begins, the vision of an engaged liberal arts education at the heart of the MSU public education mission is beginning to emerge.

Signature hires are shaping our efforts to advance a leadership position in the Digital Humanities through the Critical Diversity in a Digital Age initiative. Engaged scholarship is taking root in the College through our Citizen Scholars program and the new integrated approach to experiential learning, career development, and alumni networking we are calling The Excel Network. From a research perspective, our engaged scholarship approach is beginning to branch out across the disciplines with the emergence of the Center for Interdisciplinarity. Our new School of Language Sciences & Literary and Cultural Studies will position the full spectrum of scholarship in the languages at the center of MSU’s “World Grant” mission. Our new Critical Race Studies Artist and Designer Residencies will provide focus this year to our efforts to position our programs in the creative and performing arts as catalysts of creativity and collaboration at the University and beyond.

All of these strategic initiatives are rooted in the deep and abiding commitment to practice inclusion as a matter of institutional habit. This requires us to cultivate a culture of support in a context of high performance expectation in which our faculty, students, and staff are empowered to chart a path to intellectual and creative leadership in their areas of expertise. How we plan to operationalize this commitment is something we are discussing in earnest as we plan strategically for the year to come, so watch for developments as we continue to advance our vision of an engaged liberal arts education at the heart of the University’s mission to advance knowledge and transform lives.

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