2018 Dean’s Report – Resilience

By | Dean | No Comments

Dear College of Arts & Letters Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Friends,

For generations, the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University have demonstrated the capacity to be resilient in the face of adversity.

This resilience is the theme of our 2018 Dean’s Report.  

I invite you to explore the Dean’s Report, a digital experience that showcases six extraordinary stories of determination, courage, and elasticity of mind that are creating a more just and meaningful world. 

Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters

2018 Dean's Report Featured Stories

AGLS Keynote – Practicing the Arts of Liberty

By | Presentation: Academic, The Liberal Arts, Vita | One Comment

At the heart of my keynote address to the 2018 Association of General and Liberal Studies in Pittsburgh, PA is this idea:

The intellectual and ethical habits we need to transform higher education are the same as those we need to cultivate in our students if they are to thrive in the dynamic, interconnected world into which they will graduate.

To cultivate these intellectual and ethical habits in our students, however, we need to learn and embody them ourselves. Here again, I emphasize the central importance of a commitment to performative consistency that has shaped my scholarship and administrative life for years. 

Performative consistency involves enacting the values for which we advocate.  

In The Price of the Ticket,1 James Baldwin puts it succinctly:

I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.

To live up to this insistence on performative consistency requires intentional practice, humility, and vulnerability — characteristics not usually associated with the culture of higher education. 

But this culture must change.

Our attempts to elevate and champion the central importance general education and the liberal arts must themselves be animated by intellectual and ethical habits that enable us to put our freedom into practice in ways that enrich the world. 

Core Habits of the Arts of Liberty

To speak of the “arts of liberty” is to recognize that freedom is an activity that can be practiced well or badly.2 When practiced well, freedom expands, enriching the life of the community in which its members are empowered to live intentional, fulfilling lives. When practice poorly, freedom contracts, impoverishing our relationships with one another, and tearing the fabric of community.

In the presentation, I identify three core habits of the arts of liberty that enable us to practice freedom well.

  • Attentive listening: the capacity to be present to another in ways that are attuned and responsive to their experience; 
  • Ethical imagination: the cultivated habit of imagining one’s way into the life of another in order to open new possibilities of a more just future;  
  • Critical discernment: the capacity to recognize the limits of our relationships with one another and to hold ourselves accountable to the values we hold most dear.

In her forthcoming book, Generous Thinking,3 Kathleen Fitzpatrick speaks about the need to cultivate a “listening presence” and “critical humility” in ways that resonate with and deepen the account of the core habits of the arts of liberty that might enable us to educate and become more ethically imaginative citizens. 

Ethically Imaginative Citizenship

In her 2018 keynote address to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Nancy Cantor enjoins us to re-imagine the future “with an eye toward cultivating empathetic citizenship.”4 She convincingly argues that we in higher education must create spaces for students and scholars to engage in democratic dialogue with a broader public so that we might shape the public good.

Empathy, however, is a necessary but insufficient condition for ethical imagination. Empathy involves the ability to share the feelings of another, but ethical imagination is a cultivated habit of character capable of imagining new possibilities for more just relationships based upon empathy, a “listening presence,” and “critical humility.”

These are the habits a new general education curriculum must embody, and they are the habits we ourselves must learn to put into intentional practice everyday in every encounter we have. 

Live-Tweets of the #AGLS18 Keynote Practicing the Arts of Liberty

Bonomi, Rothman, and a Human Rights Approach to Sexual Misconduct in Higher Education

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | No Comments

In her recent article in the Journal of Family ViolenceAmy Bonomi, Chair of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University, insists that sexual assault and relationship violence cannot be effectively redressed until we undertake serious and systematic anti-bias education and training.1

Drawing on Emily Rothman’s Preventing Sexual Violence on Campus in the U.S.: Four Thought Experiments,2 which challenges us to recognize and dismantle the institutional structures of oppression that enable sexual violence, Bonomi argues that a broader human rights approach to cultural change on campus is required. She writes:

To become dedicated fighters for civil and human rights requires us, in an initial step, to get serious about anti-bias curricula aimed at reducing sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism and classism.

As many of us here at Michigan State University have emphasized, sexual assault and relationship violence is a symptom of a broader cultural problem concerning how power is deployed across the system of higher education and more broadly in society at large.

The power of the approach for which Bonomi advocates lies in the way it focuses insistent attention on redressing institutional structures of inequity. Further, in emphasizing the importance of anti-bias training, she recognizes that our habits of decision making and the shape of our interpersonal interactions will need to change if we are to put the values of accountability, equity, and integrity we most urgently need into practice.

By tying our efforts to establish practices of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a matter of institutional habit to the urgent imperative to redress sexual misconduct and relationship violence, we will be better able to effect the deeper cultural change we need if we are to live up to our expectations to create an educational community that is transparent, open, trusting, and safe.

To the Class of 2022: MSU is an Open Door

By | Dean, Education | No Comments

Welcome to the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University!

As you embark on your educational journey here at MSU, I invite you to consider the doors that are opening for you all across campus. Each door offers an opportunity, as daunting as it is exciting, to establish meaningful connections, discover new ideas, and develop relationships that will shape the course of your life. 

Every door has a threshold, a transitional space through which you pass as you move from one place into another. As you leave home and arrive on campus, you move through a liminal space — a transition between who you have been and who you will become. 

Such transitions are often fraught with uncertainty and the anxiety that comes with it, but thresholds are also spaces of possibility; they open you to unanticipated experiences that will transform the way you think and shape the life you choose. In moments of uncertainty, it is natural to grasp for what is stable and familiar; but embracing the full range of possibilities that are open to you at MSU will require a certain courage, a willingness to reach out to what is unfamiliar so you might discover new ideas, encounter new cultures, and imagine more just ways of living together.

We here at MSU are living through an important period of transition, so your arrival on campus could not come at a more opportune moment. We need your energy, creativity, and commitment as we work together to set new standards of accountability and trust with one another, creating a more caring and inclusive community for all.

Over the threshold of the east entrance of Linton Hall on the sacred circle of Michigan State University — the oldest academic building on campus and the home of the College of Arts & Letters — is a beautiful wooden seal of the Michigan Agriculture College. It points to the deep history of this land-grant university, our commitment to the liberal and practical arts, and the transition that is at the very heart of the education you will receive here.

The faculty, staff, and students in the College of Arts & Letters are here to provide you with the skills you will need to thrive in the information-rich, dynamic, and deeply interconnected world into which you will graduate. We invite you to visit the Excel Network on the second floor of Linton Hall, just up the stairs from that east entrance, where you will find career communities designed to prepare you to succeed academically while gaining experience with high-impact learning opportunities such as study abroad, undergraduate research, and internships. 

There too you will find the Citizen Scholars program, where you will be challenged to put your values into practice in ways that enrich a world in need of your creativity and imagination. Aspiring to be a Citizen Scholar will give you access to a dedicated group of professional advisors and peer mentors who will enrich your education, help you identify goals, and guide you on your way toward a meaningful career within the context of a fulfilling life.

And as you cross the threshold into classrooms across campus, you will encounter a faculty committed to the transformative power of education to open new possibilities for you and to deepen your understanding of our complex and beautiful world.

So as you cross the thresholds of all the doors that will open to you across campus, take courage and know that a dedicated community of Spartans is here to help you along your way.


Christopher P. Long, Dean, College of Arts & Letters
www.cplong.org | @cplong

A Few Reflections on the TOME Initiative

By | Digital Scholarship | One Comment

WASHINGTON, DC – Today a group of colleagues from the Association of American Universities, Association of Research Libraries, and Association of University Presses met to advance the Towards an Open Monograph Ecosystem (TOME) initiative. It was heartening to see the progress the initiative has made since our first gathering in the summer of 2016. At the time, I was enthusiastic about the effort to leverage University funding to support the open access publication of monographs by scholars in the humanities and social sciences. What I wrote then about the importance of this initiative, I feel more urgently today:

Publishing is one important way the humanities are put into practice. Ideas only enter the public realm when they are made public — that is, when they are published. But publishing is not simply a matter of making ideas public; it is also an opportunity to create publics, to establish relationships around shared values and ideas, and by extension, to transform existing realities in light of new possibilities opened by novel ways of thinking.

This commitment to make ideas public so as to enrich public life remains at the heart of the TOME endeavor. Today, a committed group of publishers, librarians, scholars, and administrators gathered to discuss how to strategically advance the initiative in months and years to come.

The most exciting development over the past year has been the publication of Open Access monographs, which we are curating through our referetory 1 using Figshare. The TOME Referetory will grow considerably over the next year as more monographs are added, while Figshare will enable us to track usage of the texts across the web.

Over the course of the day I tried to capture some of the wide ranging conversation on my microblog (cplong.net) using the TOME tag, but the texture of the conversation was too rich to convey adequately. Here, however, before the day is out, I’d like to capture two ideas that might shape the way forward.

Undertake the Messy Work

Much of our attention as we’ve developed this initiative as been focused on questions concerning infrastructure, standards, and the logistics associated with cultivating an ecosystem of open access long-form digital scholarship. And rightly so, for focusing on these issues of long-term sustainability, growth, and broad adoption will enable us to create the conditions under which such substantive contributions to the scholarly record can thrive and last.

However, the initiative has benefited greatly from a tendency to try things, by a willingness to do something based on the support of fourteen committed universities and a substantive and growing number of Association of University Presses. Without having it all quite figured out, we pressed forward to publish the work.

This tendency to act has served us well; for by publishing books, we are learning what works and what does not. That this can be a successful strategy was reinforced today by a story Frank Smith, Director, Books at JSTOR, told about JSTOR’s experiment with publishing OA monographs. Frank said, as Greg Britton tweeted:

@JSTOR has nearly 3,000 #OpenAccess books that have gotten over 6.5 million views. 18x the usage of other books on their site.

This is striking evidence for the value of open access monographs. Simply put, open access monographs are more widely read. If scholars want to be read as opposed to simply being published, we need to advocate for Open Access; we need to find ways to make our work broadly available online and to support initiative that make that accessibility sustainable. Real traction for initiatives like TOME will remain elusive until scholars across the globe insist that their work be openly accessible.

Even if, as Dean Smith, Director of Cornell University Press, put it: “Everything about ebooks is messy,” we can’t afford to wait until it is less messy to act.

Scholarly Practice

If, however, our attempts to create an ecosystem for OA monographs is to have a deeper impact on the practices of scholarship, scholars will need to more proactively consider the affordances digital modes of publishing offer us to make our ideas public in innovative ways. This is a question, I have argued, of performative consistency; and it returns us to the deeply reciprocal relationship between form and content. My own failed attempt to create a living, interactive digital book notwithstanding, scholars in the humanities and social sciences ought to focus intellectual attention and effort on considering how the manner in which our ideas make their way into the public domain might amplify, reinforce, and deepen a reader’s engagement with the arguments we make.

If it is successful, the TOME initiative will create an ecosystem in which richly developed ideas can be made openly accessible. How those ideas are engaged by other scholars, how they are taken up, responded to, criticized and built upon in order to transform the world in which we live will depend upon the creative imagination and generosity of our colleagues. We inhabit now a new, more dynamic, world of public ideas–whether they enrich or impoverish our lives together will depend largely upon our ability to cultivate new habits of public scholarship rooted a commitment to the humanistic sensibilities capable of creating a more just and beautiful world.

Toxicity, Metrics, and Academic Life

By | Presentation: Interactive, Presentations, Vita | One Comment

The second Radical Open Access conference was held on June 26-7, 2018 at Coventry University on the “Ethics of Care.” I participated from a distance via Skype, delivering a tweet storm style presentation based on a 3000 word essay entitled “Toxicity, Metrics, and Academic Life” that was published by Meson Press as a pamphlet posted to the CORE repository on Humanities Commons.

Here is the Twitter Moment I curated from the presentation:

ADFL Plenary Panel: International Digital Public Humanities

By | Presentation: Interactive, Presentations | No Comments

The 2018 Association of Departments of Foreign Languages Summer Session North was hosted by the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University May 30-June 2, 2018. I was invited to participate on a plenary panel and to hold a workshop on the HuMetricsHSS initiative. Plenary III: International Digital and Public Humanities Presider: Sangeetha Gopalakrishnan, Wayne State University Speakers:

  • Anke K. Finger, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Michigan State University
  • Christopher P. Long, Michigan State University

In my ongoing attempts to perform the values for which I argue, my contribution to the plenary panel was offered in the form of a tweet storm. The idea is that a presentation on international public digital humanities should itself be international, public, and digital. Because Twitter is a broadly public platform, it allows for a wide dissemination of ideas beyond those present at the conference. Moreover, providing the content in the form of tweets invites colleagues to engage directly with the ideas developed in the presentation itself. In this case, I sought to demonstrate the value of collegiality by amplifying and celebrating the excellent scholarship of my colleagues in the College of Arts & Letters and of my co-PIs on the HuMetricsHSS grant.

In experimenting with the platform, it turns out that the tweets appear most elegantly here on a WordPress site and are more easily preserved for posterity by curating them as a Twitter Moment.

So here is the tweet storm captured as a Twitter Moment; I invite you to engage with the ideas presented here either with comments below or on Twitter.

Open Letter to College of Arts & Letters Alumni and Friends

By | Dean, The Long Road | No Comments

Dear College of Arts & Letters alumni and friends,

By now many of you have heard that the university has agreed in principle to a $500 million global settlement with the survivors of the sexual abuse committed by former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar.

This important moment of accountability comes at the end of a difficult semester in which we have embarked upon a process of critical self-reflection that will enable us to live up to our commitments to one another as members of the MSU community.

Students, faculty, and staff here in the College of Arts & Letters are reviewing and revising the policies and procedures that shape the lives of our departments and programs to ensure that they cultivate a culture of trust, accountability, and care. These efforts have included academic leaders from across colleges coming together to have regular and candid discussions about how to effect positive change in MSU’s culture. We have held town hall meetings, student-centered roundtables, and department reflection days on mentoring, advising, and pedagogies. On April 19, we hosted Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, through the Transformative Justice Series led by Xhercis Mendez. More than 1,400 heard her speak about sexual abuse and empowerment through empathy.

In our April 2018 College of Arts & Letters Alumni Board meeting, we shared our sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration, and our deep commitment to undertake the difficult work ahead of us with integrity and urgency.

When we commit ourselves in our daily interactions with one another to being more vulnerable and more genuine, we nourish the roots of a culture of trust. If we as a College and University are not significantly different in the wake of what we are learning about ourselves and our institution, we will have failed to do justice to the truth the survivors have spoken.

This will be a long journey; it will take courage and patience and time. As we embark upon it together, I would ask each of you to consider how you might contribute to advancing cultural change at MSU. To that end, I invite you to offer your ideas about how we as a College and institution can better live up to the values for which we advocate, as your voices, actions, and support are critical to building a culture of accountability. Please send your thoughts to Christine Radtke, Senior Director of Development, at radtkech@msu.edu or 517.353.4725. Christine and I look forward to your input and further conversations as we continue to create the university we expect ourselves to be.


Christopher P. Long
Dean of the College of Arts & Letters

Practicing Public Philosophy

By | Articles, Publication: Journal, Vita | No Comments

“Practicing Public Scholarship.” Public Philosophy Journal 1, no. 1 (2018). https://doi.org/10.25335/m5/ppj.1.1-1.

Situating the Public Philosophy Journal at the intersection of philosophy and questions of public concern, this essay articulates how the journal hopes to practice public scholarship through a formative review process designed to create communities capable of enriching public life.

This is the inaugural essay in the inaugural issue of the Public Philosophy Journal. 

Creating and Sustaining Digital Scholarly Communities

By | Presentation: Interactive, Presentations | No Comments

The Academy for Teaching and Learning at Baylor University invited me to give two talks on the value of creating and nurturing online digital scholarly communities on April 19, 2018. The two presentations afforded me an opportunity to consider the role online scholarly communities might play in helping us address broader cultural challenges we are facing in higher education.

The Meaning and Value of Digital Scholarly Communities

April 19 | 10:30-11:30am | Jones Library 200

My visit to Baylor occurred during a very difficult period of trauma at Michigan State University in the wake of institutional and cultural failures associated with sexual abuse on campus. Being at Baylor and having lived through the abuse scandal at Penn State, the broader cultural issues to which we in higher education need to come to terms was very much on my mind. As a result, you will hear in this presentation the struggle associated with aligning values with practices. As I discuss ways to embody and cultivate digital communities of scholarship, I emphasize the importance of candor, vulnerability, and accountability as core principles of academic culture that need to be advocated for and embodied.


Creating and Sustaining Digital Scholarly Communities

April 19 | 3:30-4:30pm | Marrs McLean Science 101

This presentation was given in the form of a Tweet storm in order to perform the open scholarship for which the presentation argues. In it I address some the broader questions of how we might cultivate more supportive cultures of scholarship in higher education. This was my first experiment with a Tweet storm presentation. The format is designed to invite a broader conversation on the questions raised in the presentation. By posting the material here, I hope to open another space for discussion about the issues raised in the presentation.


Cultivating a Culture of Trust

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts | No Comments

It has been difficult to write for the public in the months since posting the Open Letter to the College of Arts & Letters in the wake of the survivor impact statements that are transforming Michigan State University.1 Part of the difficulty is what my thoughtful #SpartanDean colleague, Prabu David, emphasized when he wrote that it is challenging to find the right words for our current situation. But also, it has been difficult to convey to a broader public the intense interpersonal work we are doing in the College to create the culture change we need.

At our Fall 2017 faculty meeting, we focused on attentive listening, critical discernment, and ethical imagination as the core habits of the liberal arts education we seek to weave into the fabric of the University. Over the last few months, we have sought to put these habits into more intentional practice as we begin to imagine a way forward in response to what has happened here at Michigan State.

The commitments my Dean colleagues made to one another in our January 2018 letter to the Board of Trustees articulates the values that must shape this response. We said we would …

“foster and protect a culture that is transparent, open, trusting, and safe;”

“continuously cultivate leadership through caring and accountability;”

“empower everyone to be fully engaged in a community that is inclusive and equitable.”

These are the values I have always sought to put into practice as an academic leader. Yet, in reflecting upon what has happened here and during my time as a faculty member and administrator at Penn State, I am more aware than ever of the chasm that exists between the commitments for which we stand and the reality we experience. Where the culture of higher education should be caring, accountable, and equitable, it is too often self-centered, domineering, and unjust. And worse, the mechanisms by which we measure and reward individuals and institutions too often reinforce a toxic culture that erodes trust and impoverishes our work together.

This must change, and enacting that change is the long and difficult work ahead.

That work begins with critical self-reflection and ethical candor. It takes time and requires us to resist the temptation to put the difficult truths we are facing behind us. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize in the trauma of the moment the unsettling of unjust and inequitable structures that must be interrogated and redressed.

This requires each of us who has some power to effect change — whether you are a student or a member of the staff, a professor, an alum, or an administrator — to put your effort, your influence, and your weight on the side of creating a more trusting and just academic community.

My #SpartanDean colleague, Ron Hendrick, put it this way at his 2018 Agriculture and Natural Resources Luncheon address:

“…it won’t matter how good we are here at MSU, if you are not willing and able to use your position, privilege, and power to make a difference for others as well.

These connections represent our better selves — when we acknowledge them, we are more vulnerable, uncertain, unsure.

More importantly, though, we are more authentic, genuine, and real.”

When we commit ourselves in our daily interactions with one another to being more vulnerable and more genuine, we nourish the roots of a culture of trust.

Over the past few months, I have seen a commitment to candor break calcified habits of distrust in a program meeting; I have heard our staff speak honestly about the corrosive effects of micro-aggression and implicit bias; I have witnessed a group of angry and disappointed alumni support one another and refocus their attention on the core academic mission of the University; I have admired the courage of our undergraduate and graduate students as they advocate for the just community they expect and deserve; and I have felt my own willingness to acknowledge failure open new possibilities for more trusting relationships with my colleagues.

This is the work we must now undertake if we are to cultivate a culture of trust at the heart of our academic community. Let practices of care, accountability, and equity empower us to use our position and privilege to support our colleagues — students, staff, faculty, and alumni — in their efforts to make meaningful contributions to this fragile and broken world.

The Liberal Arts Endeavor: A New General Education

By | Journal of General Education, The Liberal Arts, Vita | No Comments

In the introduction to volume 65, issues 3-4 of the Journal for General Education, I draw on insights from Cathy Davidson’s book, The New Education, to argue for a New General Education, one that is more holistic and responsive to the complex, interconnected world into which our students are graduating.

The article is openly accessible, and I have uploaded it to the CORE repository on Humanities Commons: The Liberal Arts Endeavor: A New General Education.

Open Letter to the College of Arts & Letters

By | Dean, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 2 Comments

Dear College of Arts & Letters Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Friends,

In the wake of the survivor impact statements, the Nassar sentencing, and the resignation of President Simon, we have entered an important period of transition and change at Michigan State University. I am grateful for the collaborative efforts our community is making to listen to the survivors. Their stories are heartbreaking. In following their lead and drawing strength from their courage, we are learning how to create a more just and responsive culture at MSU.

Within the College of Arts & Letters, and collaboratively with deans and colleges across the university, we are committed to looking critically at ourselves, recognizing our failures, and rebuilding the trust that is required of us. Each of us is a leader; as leaders, we need to listen to one another and support each other as we undertake the difficult work ahead with integrity, empathy, and urgency.

Over the weeks and months to come, we will work together to have conversations that will shape this important time of change. Your voices, actions, and support are critical to building a culture of responsibility.

Let the courage and power of the women who have spoken so publicly and eloquently stand as a model for us. Let us continue to learn. Let us remain open and honest so we can create the university we expect ourselves to be.

Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters

Life’s Blueprints: Designing the Structure of Our Professional Lives

By | Dean, The Long Road | No Comments

Last year at this time, we spoke of beginnings and routine, of resolve and the quotidian habits required to weave them into a meaningful life. We set our intention to focus on five priorities through which we in the College of Arts & Letters will chart a path to national and international leadership in Arts and Humanities education and scholarship: Critical Diversity in a Digital Age; the Language School; Center for Interdisciplinarity; the Citizen Scholars Program; the Excel Network.

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Humanities Commons and the Cultivation of Sustainable Communities

By | Digital Scholarship, The Long Road | No Comments

As we navigate the intense period of transformation in human communication through which we are living, identifying ways to nurture sustainable communities through which scholarship can be shared, discovered, and enhanced gains urgency. So many of the platforms through which we might cultivate scholarly lives together — Facebook, Twitter, Google, Academia.edu — are compromised by business models designed to maximize profit rather than advance scholarship.

When the Humanities Commons opened to the public a year ago, I was an early adopter and strong advocate. My work has long been focused on attempts to create vibrant communities of scholarly practice that nurture transformative scholarship. Whether through pedagogical practices that empower students to bring their voices to the public or through a podcast that practices the excellences of dialogue in a digital age, my own teaching and research have been enriched by exposure to and engagement with a broader community of people interested in and committed to the work.

Creating and sustaining communities that advance the ideas of a wide diversity of scholars, both within the academy and more broadly among the public, require us to support nonprofit sites of community gathering that embody the core values of equity, inclusion, openness, and preservation. The Humanities Commons has emerged as just such a gathering site. Its mission is to nurture scholarly communities by serving the needs of scholars as we engage in research and pedagogy that enriches a broader public.

When I first joined Humanities Commons a year ago, I quickly set up a profile, uploaded my work to the CORE repository, and joined groups in research areas to which I am committed, including those associated with two initiatives that are themselves designed to enhance the quality and scope of scholarship, the Public Philosophy Journal and HuMetricsHSS. Even so, however, I myself have not yet fully integrated the Humanities Commons into the workflow of my scholarly life. Yet, if this community is to become a genuine and sustainable space for conversation that enriches and advances scholarship, it will need to be nurtured by our best work, our ethical imagination, and our sustained attention.

This scholarly commons will only be as rich and textured as we, collectively, put it into practice.

So in celebrating this first year of the Humanities Commons, let us reaffirm our commitment to enliven this common place with the generosity of spirit and deliberate diligence that has long sustained and deepened the scholarship to which so many of us have dedicated our lives.


Practices of Weaving: Arts & Letters at MSU

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | 4 Comments

Late last month, the faculty on the College Advisory Council (CAC) gave me a writing assignment. In preparation for our Fall 2017 faculty meeting on November 17, they asked me to take a step back from the updates on priorities, imperatives, and initiatives that have occupied our more recent faculty meetings, to articulate a broader vision of the College of Arts & Letters in the 21st century mission of Michigan State University.

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Pragmatism and the Cultivation of Digital Democracies

By | Articles, Book Chapter, Vita | No Comments

“Pragmatism and the Cultivation of Digital Democracies.” In Richard J. Bernstein and the Expansion of American Philosophy: Thinking the Plural, edited by Marcia Morgan and Megan Craig, 37–59. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2016.

As technology enables us to communicate with one another in unpredictable ways that allow for an unprecedented public exchange of diverse ideas, cultivating the philosophical habits of an engaged fallibilistic pluralism gains in urgency. Read More

To the Class of 2021: Be Resilient, Like a Tree

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts, The Undergraduate Experience | One Comment

Dear College of Arts & Letters Class of 2021,

Welcome to Michigan State University!

As you embark on the adventure of discovery and growth that is a liberal arts education in the College of Arts & Letters here at Michigan State University, I invite you to consider for a moment what we might learn from a peculiar tree you will encounter on campus.

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Creating Humane Metrics for the Humanities and Social Sciences

By | Grants, Fellowships, Awards, Vita | No Comments

To support the Humane Metrics for the Humanities and Social Sciences (HuMetricsHSS) initiative, Michigan State University has received a $309,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The collaborative HuMetricsHSS pilot aims to create a values-based framework that will enable humanities and social science scholars to tell more textured stories about the impact of their research and teaching. Read More

The Liberal Arts at the Heart of the MSU Land Grant Mission

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts | One Comment

When Ryan Kilcoyne and I met late last year to plan the 2017 MSU College of Arts & Letters Dean’s Report, we wanted to show what we have long talked about: situating the liberal arts endeavor at the center of the 21st-century land grant mission is a powerful catalyst for transformative change in the world.

In fact, a commitment to the liberal arts shaped the university itself at a decisive moment in its history. Read More

Beware the Jabberwocks

By | Dean, Living, The Long Road | One Comment

Lessons from the Dragon Boat

None of us knew quite what to expect on Saturday as we gathered at Hawk Island for our one-hour training session for the Capital City Dragon Boat Race to support the Women’s Resource Center of Greater Lansing. Earlier this year, my wife, Val, suggested that the MSU College of Arts & Letters might pull a team together for the race, and she and Melissa Staub, Executive Assistant to the Dean, had been organizing our team, the Jabberwocks, for a few months. But no one on our team of faculty, staff, students, family and friends had any real experience racing dragon boats, so we arrived at Hawk Island for training with plenty of enthusiasm, but little understanding of the intricacies of the sport. Read More

To Teach and Delight

By | Dean, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | One Comment

The last two weeks of March this year brought sadness twice over to the College of Arts & Letters. On March 18, 2017, we lost Anna Norris, a beloved professor of French Literature who taught at Michigan State University for 18 years. On March 30, 2017, we lost Jim Seaton, an eloquent advocate for the humanities who taught English Literature and Criticism here for more than 45 years. Read More

The Liberal Arts Endeavor: The Arts of Liberty in a Time of Uncertainty

By | Journal of General Education, Publication: Journal, The Liberal Arts, Vita | No Comments

“The Liberal Arts Endeavor: The Arts of Liberty in a Time of Uncertainty.” Journal of General Education, 65, 2 (2017), v-vi.

Even if, as Hannah Arendt suggests, “we are always educating for a world that is or is becoming out of joint,” 1 our commitment to general education as “a distinctive cornerstone of the arts of liberty” gains urgency in times of uncertainty.

Although we often think of liberty as a basic right bestowed upon us, it is more fundamentally an activity rooted in the human ability to begin anew. As an activity, liberty can be practiced well or poorly. Practiced well, the arts of liberty enrich our communities, enliven our connection with the natural world, and advance the cause of social justice. Practiced poorly, the arts of liberty diminish us, impoverish our relationships, and destroy the environment on which life depends. Read More

“…No Arts; No Letters; No Society…”

By | Education, Politics, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | No Comments

In early November last year, I returned to the Leviathan.

In it, Thomas Hobbes grapples with the question of sovereignty and considers the human condition in a state of nature in which there is:

…no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (Leviathan, XIII)

In returning to Hobbes, we gain purchase on a future that only now begins to dawn as we in these United States consider abandoning completely our public support of the arts and letters upon which our very commonwealth depends.

There will be, I am confident, plenty of posts about the many initiatives funded by the NEH and NEA that have transformed the lives of communities across the country, and further, important advice about how one might effectively advocate for continuing and augmenting our shared financial commitments to both.

But the passage from Hobbes provokes a different set of considerations. It requires us to think about what a total renunciation of the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities says about who we are and what we aspire to be.

Washington Post, March 16, 2017

The passage from Hobbes suggests not simply that the arts and letters enhance social and political life, but that they are the very markers of the existence of a society. When we as a community say: we will no longer support the arts and humanities as a common good for which we are all responsible, we are saying: we are no longer a community, and there is no good toward which we might orient our lives.

The issue here is not whether the arts and humanities can or will be supported by other means, which they surely will, nor whether they have practical or economic value, which they surely do.

Rather, at issue is what happens when a community repudiates its deepest self?

We ought to pause a moment to consider this question before we make the decision to withdraw public funding from those core activities that make us who we are.

What is important here is not simply that the arts and humanities are funded, but that they are publicly funded because we as a community have made a collective decision to invest in ourselves and in a more just and meaningful future we might yet imagine.

For in the end, without the arts, without the humanities, there is no shared future; there is no society at all, but rather, a collection of increasingly isolated individuals for whom life has become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Charting a Path to Intellectual Leadership, then Following It

By | Dean, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 2 Comments

As a junior faculty member, I attended every possible workshop on tenure and promotion I could find. Inevitably, however, as the shared wisdom of those who had successfully been tenured and promoted washed over me, my anxiety would slowly rise until, by the time the session was over, I had a pit of anxiety in my stomach and a feeling of inadequacy that it would take days to overcome.

During that time, I discovered that the most effective way to turn my paralyzing anxiety into motivating anxiety was to step back to consider my deepest academic commitments. This enabled me to return with renewed intention to the work.

Now, as a Dean, I am often asked to speak on just the sort of panel that caused my younger self such anxiety.

When I do, I try to emphasize one point:

Chart your path to intellectual leadership, then follow it.

This is easy to say, but very hard to accomplish. To make it easier, let’s divide the suggestion into two parts: 1) charting your path to leadership, 2) following it.

Charting Intellectual Leadership

Charting a path to intellectual leadership requires articulating what intellectual leadership looks like in your area of scholarship.

This means you need to articulate it…put it into words, write it down.

In the very process of articulating it, you begin to give it shape and texture; you begin to imagine what it looks like, and more importantly, how you will know if you have achieved it. Identify specific indicators of success: art exhibitions, articles in specific journals, books published, new approaches established, new areas of study discovered, new pedagogies adopted, innovative curriculum developed…

Consider as indicators of success not only products, but processes, the manner in which you proceed can be as much a sign of leadership as accomplishments accumulated.

Note that your path cannot be charted in isolation. Consider your field, consider your colleagues, consider your chair and, yes, your Dean; consider the ways the institution that supports your work measures success for itself.

This Twitter exchange @cplong captures it well:

Then Follow It

Once you have articulated your path to intellectual leadership, following it requires cultivating intentional practices of habitual focus.

Here let me first provide a few general principles, but then, since colleagues have asked about my workflow as a scholar and administrator, I thought I would share a Prezi that outlines how I attempt to cultivate habits of intentional focus in my role as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University.

First, and more generally, as I have written before, know thyself. Identify the time of day when you are most intellectually alive and reserve that time for your scholarship.

Second, time yourself. Seriously. Right now I am 5 minutes into the second of three Pomodoros I committed to writing this post. The Pomodoro Technique is one useful way to ensure that your best time does not get away from you.

Third, attend to your attention. Ask yourself before saying yes to a project if this will empower you to advance along your path to intellectual leadership. If it will not, say no.

Fourth, be relentless. Cultivating intentional practices of habitual focus takes time, but it also gets easier over time as you develop the disposition of discipline.

Finally, here is a Prezi that outlines my workflow and demonstrates how I try to position my scholarship at the center of my academic and administrative life:


Ultimately, tenure and promotion are not ends in themselves, they are indicators of success along a longer path to intellectual leadership and a meaningful life.

Reiner Schürmann: Care of Death

By | Articles, Publication: Journal, Vita | No Comments

“Care of Death: On the Teaching of Reiner Schürmann.” Philosophy Today, January 31, 2017. doi:10.5840/philtoday201713141.

A homage in the guise of an essay, this is the story of the last course Reiner Schürmann taught. As a text, it attempts to describe, situate, and come to terms with the power of Schürmann’s teaching in the context of his last lectures on Heidegger’s Being and Time. But if it is to be true to the deepest lessons of Schürmann’s thinking, it will also need to be heard as an invitation to interpret together the significance of his reading so that it may be permitted to shape the course of the lives of those who encounter it. Read More

Open Letter on the Executive Order on Immigration

By | The Administrative Life, The Liberal Arts | No Comments

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff in the College of Arts & Letters:

Many of you have written to express your concern about the executive order signed by the President of the United States on January 27, 2017, that bars Syrian refugees and blocks citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

We have students and faculty scholars here now from countries identified in this executive order. Each one of you enriches our community and advances our academic mission. We will do everything in our power to ensure that you are safe, supported, and empowered to be successful.

The College of Arts & Letters is committed to putting the arts of liberty into practice in our relationships with one another and in the ways we pursue our scholarship, teaching, and learning. At Michigan State University, the liberal arts are rooted in the three core values of our world-grant mission: quality, inclusiveness, and connectivity. As President Simon has emphasized, the January 27th executive order is a threat to each.

What impedes the free flow of people and ideas, impoverishes the quality of the education we offer and receive.

What destroys our respect for differences, diminishes our capacities to connect across cultures to address the deepest challenges we face.

What prevents us from traveling abroad and welcoming newcomers to campus, perverts our ability to include the most talented people, whatever their background, religion, or country of origin, in a vibrant and open community capable of creating a more just and beautiful world.

As I considered how best to respond in this situation, I turned to my colleague Mohammad Khalil, who pointed me to a passage from the 13th century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. In a single sentence,1 Rūmī captures something of the spirit of a world-grant university committed to putting the arts of liberty into practice.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

May these words be for you what they have been for me: a reminder in a time of uncertainty that our deepest values only have impact when we find the courage to put them into action.


Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters

Mature Leadership: On Bending the Arc

By | LwCH, Politics, The Long Road | No Comments

Shortly after Barack Obama won the 2008 Iowa caucuses, I wrote a blog post entitled Toward a Mature Politics that began with the Kantian idea that enlightenment requires us to relinquish our self-incurred immaturity. Then, as now, I associated petty hyper-partisan politics with adolescence; and I saw in Obama’s candidacy the possibility of a more mature politics.

As President Obama returns again to his role as citizen, I want to pause a moment here to reflect on an aspect of his legacy that has meant a lot to me as someone who has sought over the last eight years to chart path to leadership: his maturity.

Although Kant connects the maturity of enlightenment with the capacity to think for oneself, maturity of leadership involves much more than independent thinking.

Mature leaders are able to listen attentively through the noise of the moment so as to discern how best to put values into practice; they are able to distance themselves from their own cathartic reactions in order to consider what the situation requires. There is a stillness in maturity, a groundedness that anchors the courage to enact a more just and beautiful world.

A model of mature leadership is what I yearned for in Obama then, and what I am grateful for now.

The change we believed in at the time remains most palpable to me today when I look back to see how much our kids have grown.

Less obvious, however, is the distance each of us have travelled over the past eight years. For me, it has involved the decision to put my educational commitments to the liberal arts endeavor into practice through administrative work first at Penn State, and now as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State, our first two land-grant universities.

This decision was informed in no small part by the hope of which Theodore Parker first spoke before Martin Luther King, Jr. refined it and Barack Obama wove it into Presidential politics. Parker, a 19th century Unitarian minister and abolitionist, put it this way:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but a little ways; I cannot calculate and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice. Things refuse to be mis-managed long.1

Taking up this idea, King distilled it to its essence when, in his 1956 Statement on Ending the Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, he said:

The arc of the moral universe, although long, is bending toward justice.2

Expanding the idea yet further in an April of 2008 speech entitled “Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Obama emphasized that the arc of the moral universe does not bend on its own:

You know, Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends toward justice. But what he also knew was that it doesn’t bend on its own. It bends because each of us puts our hands on that arc and bends it in the direction of justice.

These three articulations themselves arc over a 150-year history that ties the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement to the election of the first African-American President of the United States.

But even as we celebrate the justice toward which this arc undeniably tends, maturity requires us to remain vigilant, for the facts of the world teach us that the bending is not as smooth as the eloquence of the formulation leads us to believe. And yet, without the eloquence and the hope that a more just world is possible, maturity, for all its sobriety, will remain unable to chart a course toward a more perfect union.

So, if “things refuse to be mis-managed long,” mature leadership will be needed to bend the arc yet further. A commitment to that endeavor is the most enduring of Obama’s legacies, and the most urgent of our responsibilities.

Between Beginning and Routine

By | The Administrative Life, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | One Comment

With the new year comes the deluge of resolutions. This ritual of new beginnings affords us an opportunity to begin anew, for, as the ancient proverb reminds us, “well begun is half done.”1

Of course, now that we are 15 days into 2017 and the new semester is upon us, old habits reassert themselves as the hopefulness of the beginning settles into the rhythm of routine.

Let us linger for a moment here where old habits have not yet become dominant and the possibilities of a different future remain open. This is the place where we might deepen our commitment to cultivate the aptitude to focus intentionally on strategic priorities.

A poignant question haunts this place.

Perhaps you too can hear it if you pause a moment to listen:

Are you focusing your energy, time, and effort on what will enrich your life and the life we share with others?

As a husband, father, scholar, and dean — always in that order of priority, I try to attend to this question at the beginning of each day, before everyone wakes up, and the day’s work is upon me.

The question itself is a little tricky, because so much depends on how we understand and define what “enriching” means. It is, of course, different for different people, and in different contexts, it will adjust itself accordingly. Yet, what abides is an orientation toward creating a meaningful and fulfilling life.

The question that haunts this place and the orientation it engenders are at the very heart of the liberal arts endeavor.

As a Dean, I want this question and orientation to permeate all levels of the College of Arts & Letters so that each decision we make to focus our attention on a given initiative is strategically integrated into a holistic vision of how to enrich the world we share.

Cultivating mindful habits of strategic decision making requires discipline and imagination, both of which are at home here where the beginning remains fresh and routine insistent. Discipline huddles over there where routine enables us to hold ourselves accountable to our values. Imagination, for its part, settles next to the beginning itself so it remains alive to new possibilities that might empower us to nudge the world toward a more just tomorrow.

So, as we settle into this space of incipient regularity where the possibilities of beginning waken to the rhythms that sustain us, let’s pause to consider the priorities on which we will focus our attention this year and how they are integrated into a holistic vision oriented toward advancing the mission of the College and the University to enrich the world we’ve inherited.

* * *

Critical Diversity in a Digital Age

Situated where digital theory and practice intersect with urgent questions of social justice and human difference, the Critical Diversity in a Digital Age initiative animates a hiring strategy designed to attract and retain creative, collaborative leaders who think synthetically about scholarship, teaching, and the creative endeavor. Our aim is to advance the recognized strengths of Michigan State University in the digital arts and humanities through a focus on questions of race, inclusion, cultural preservation, global interconnectedness, and engaged scholarship.

School of Languages

In an effort to advance the world-grant mission of Michigan State University, faculty in the College of Arts & Letters are creating a school of languages that will enhance collaboration across the languages to compete for more prestigious external funding, develop innovative approaches to language teaching and scholarship, and deepen our knowledge of other cultures and literatures to address the most complex challenges of our interconnected world.

Center for Interdisciplinarity

Many universities celebrate the importance of interdisciplinary work, few ground their interdisciplinary practices in a deep understanding of the nature of interdisciplinarity itself. The Center for Interdisciplinarity will do just this by recruiting and supporting world-class faculty with expertise in the theory and practices of interdisciplinarity, by training graduate students from across the university to do interdisciplinary research well, and by enhancing the broader impact statements of major university grants.

The Citizen Scholars Program

Designed to prepare the next generation of diverse, high-achieving, and engaged citizen leaders, the Citizens Scholars program encourages students to aspire to greater academic achievement while gaining experience in high-impact learning environments. Successful aspirants are admitted into the Citizen Scholars program and provided with $5,000 in financial assistance for study abroad, internships, undergraduate research, or other transformative educational experiences that position them to meet extra requirements and to perform at a higher level.

Excel Network

The Excel Network is an emerging initiative that takes a holistic and integrated approach to experiential education, career and professional development, and alumni relations in order to empower our students to chart a successful path from college to the world of meaningful work.

 * * *

Intentional focus on these five strategic priorities requires us to return to them regularly to ensure that the new possibilities they embody are integrated into the daily routines that will sustain them. Here, where the rhythms of routine remain alive to the novelty of the new year, let us recommit ourselves to putting the arts of liberty into practice in ways that enrich our relationships with one another and create a more just and beautiful world.

Putting the Liberal Arts into Action

By | The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | 2 Comments

Sometimes in our efforts to advocate for the importance of a liberal arts education, we fail to demonstrate what it means to put the arts of liberty into practice.

It’s easier to speak about the values of critical thinking, ethical imagination, excellent communication, and global interconnection than it is to show their transformative power in action. And yet, the ultimate value of a liberal arts education lies in its capacity to enable us to practice freedom well.

Although most of us think of liberty as a basic right bestowed upon us, it is more fundamentally an activity that can be practiced well or poorly. Practiced well, the arts of liberty enrich our communities and enliven our connection with the natural world we share. Practiced poorly, the arts of liberty diminish us, impoverish our relationships, and destroy the environment on which life depends.

This too, of course, is too abstract.

Yet, this shift of focus from abstract values to practiced activities is important, because it enables us to hold ourselves accountable to deeper questions about what precisely is enriching and for whom. It requires us to consider in concrete terms precisely how we put the values of a liberal arts education into action.

Do the initiatives we seek to advance in the College of Arts & Letters enable us to practice liberty well? Do our academic, research, and outreach programs deepen our engagement with the world and enrich the lives of those we encounter here?

Though there remains always more work to be done — the arts of liberty take a lifetime to cultivate — there are heartening signs.

Anthony Hatinger puts his innovative understanding of horticulture, creativity, and ethical imagination into practice through his work at the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation by providing a sustainable source of food and jobs for the North Central Woodward community in Detroit.

Theatre major Ryan Duda performs the arts of liberty by enriching the lives of special needs actors through the 4th Wall Theatre Company, where they learn to play and improvise and find pathways to unforeseen connections.

Through research that explores the intersections of race, class, language, writing, and equity, Shenika Hankerson empowers African American adolescents and young adults to develop confidence in their writing and in their ability to shape meaningful lives.

Anthony, Ryan and Shenika embody what it means to practice the arts of liberty well.

They are models of the liberal arts in action, and they inspire us to ask more of ourselves and of the educational initiatives we are advancing in the College of Arts & Letters.

Here too, there are heartening signs of inchoate programs designed to empower more students and faculty to practice the arts of liberty well.

Our innovative new Citizen Scholars program challenges Arts & Letters students to perform their way into a prestigious program designed to cultivate capacities for Global Leadership, Professional Networking, Research and Creative Activity, and Civic Engagement.

Our emerging Excel Network will provide support to students as they chart a path from college to the world of meaningful work through the College’s new experiential learning requirement and the professional career communities we are cultivating.

And as we continue to consider new ways to engage the broader community in the practices of liberty, we need to remain attentive to all the strategic initiatives in the College of Arts & Letters to ensure they are doing what we ask of them: cultivating in each of us the capacities we need to practice the arts of liberty well.

Open Letter to the College of Arts & Letters

By | The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | No Comments

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

We in the College of Arts & Letters seek to advance the core values of Michigan State University — quality, inclusiveness, and connectivity — by practicing inclusion as a matter of institutional habit.

As a result, our students, faculty, and staff, are well positioned in moments of uncertainty to respond with ethical imagination, an abiding commitment to social justice, and capacities for critique capable of enriching the public life we share.

First, to our students, know that we support you, that there are resources here to help you make sense of the recent election, that your voices are important, and that putting your commitments into practice is what it means to be an engaged citizen. Know too that in choosing an education in the arts and humanities, you have already demonstrated a commitment to pursue a meaningful life in community with others. With that commitment, you remind us all of the enduring capacity of a liberal arts education to create a more just and inclusive world over time.

Indeed, the ideals of the liberal arts are not abstract. They depend on cultivating capacities to communicate with eloquence, to embrace diversity with grace, to perceive globally with ethical imagination, and to respond to complexity critically and with nuance. These capacities can only be developed when we put them into practice everyday in the ways we respond to one another. This is how they become woven into the fabric of our community.

As faculty and staff, we bring to the current moment a depth of experience with and scholarship on structural inequities, human suffering, alienation, anxiety, and the power of language and art to create meaningful connection and more just communities. Our skills of engagement, broad historical perspectives, and perhaps most importantly, our capacities to attend carefully and caringly to the concerns of our students will empower them to bring their best selves and deepest convictions to the current situation.

The capacity of an education in the liberal arts to enrich our relationships with one another and to deepen our understanding of the human condition is unparalleled.

Let us draw deeply upon it here at Michigan State University as we work together to create a more just, inclusive, and caring civic life.

Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters

Critical Diversity in a Digital Age

By | Digital Humanities, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 3 Comments

Last year we developed a strategic plan in the College of Arts & Letters that called for a cluster hire in culturally engaged digital humanities that focuses on humanities questions of race, inclusion, cultural preservation, global interconnectedness, and engaged scholarship.

This fall, we sent out a call for proposals to the chairs and program directors inviting them to envision a strategic hiring initiative that would be transformative by cultivating strong, collaborative leadership in digital humanities scholarship and teaching by attracting innovative scholars from traditionally underrepresented groups.

We received a number of compelling proposals, two of which we asked the partnering programs to develop into a more unified and visionary initiative. After considerable conversation among faculty and leadership in partnering units, the initiative, which we are calling “Critical Diversity in a Digital Age,” has been refined to a point at which it would benefit from broader, more public engagement.

Since one dimension of the initiative is to cultivate participatory networks of scholarship and because we seek to practice the scholarship for which we advocate, I thought I would open a more public conversation as we attempt to further flesh out the theory that animates our approach. In posting this publicly, we invite colleagues both inside and beyond the College of Arts & Letters to use hypothes.is to comment on and help us refine the initiative. Please tag comments associated with your engagement with this initiative: #MSUCDDA.

Critical Diversity in a Digital Age

At its heart, the Critical Diversity in a Digital Age initiative is, as the faculty proposal put it, “committed to addressing the intersection of digital theory and practice with issues of social justice and human difference.” Difference here includes, but is not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, religion, abledness, ….

The proposal goes on to articulate the notion of critical diversity with which we are operating:

Our use of critical diversity signals a nuanced, intersectional approach to representing human difference as well as a skepticism over the ‘human’ as it is framed through much work in the digital humanities. In short, we believe that assertive, unique, and transformative scholarship, creativity, and pedagogy dealing with race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and other forms of difference are central to digitally engaged student learning in the 21st century.

The manner in which the proposal combines theory and practice on one hand and research and pedagogy on the other will enable us to create an enriching feedback loop in which our theories are practiced, our practices theorized.

The proposal goes on to identify at least three activities that would inform the initiative: reclaiming, preserving, and interconnecting. Before further delineating these activities, however, it will be helpful to attend more intentionally to the phrase “critical diversity in a digital age.” The proposal does a nice job of specifying the kinds of diversity in which we are interested, the diversity associated with the lived experience of human differences. More specifically, our interest is not abstract, but oriented toward questions of social justice as it plays out in a digital age, broadly understood. Critical here, however, is the meaning of “critical” itself.

In attempting to think through the meaning of critique here, it is helpful to draw upon a broader history associated with critical theory, without however, embracing the overemphasis on emancipation we find in critical theorists like Adorno and Horkheimer. Orienting ourselves toward justice in addition to freedom will enable us to focus our scholarship on concerns that, when put into practice, enrich the communities with which we are engaged.

We might then consider three dimensions of the activity of critique associated with the Critical Diversity in a Digital Age initiative:

  1. To expose the limits of existing practices and structures of reality in order to interrogate the conditions under which they operate and thus to uncover what they enable and prevent;
  2. To discern what is possible in the wake of this exposure so that we might imagine more just possibilities of engagement;
  3. To enact practices of justice and indeed freedom rooted in and animated by discerning critique.

Perhaps we could summarize the initiative as animated by a desire to put discerning critique into practice and thus to allow our practices to be informed by and in turn inform our responses to questions of diversity in a digital age.

Do these dimensions of critique begin to delineate the contours of our approach to diversity in a digital age? It would be helpful to have some feedback here to help further refine the meaning of critique in this context.

The proposal suggested at least three activities around which the initiative might begin to focus its efforts:

  1. Reclaiming: using digital methods to locate, present, and engage with texts, practices, and media productions that for various historical, cultural, and socioeconomic reasons have been neglected, underappreciated, or ignored;
  2. Preserving: promoting the use and creation of digital archives and other sites with attention to how knowledge is produced and valued in the first place; engaging issues related to form, aesthetic, and material transformations, reception, access, and dissemination;
  3. Interconnecting: building participatory networks through publishing practices and other innovative modes of scholarly practice that create enriching publics, advance knowledge, and orient our efforts toward questions of social justice.

This is not, of course, an exhaustive list of activities that would animate the initiative, but it helps us point to possible directions of initial investment.

With this theoretical framework as a background, are there examples of projects and questions that can help us clarify the sorts of questions critical diversity in a digital age might interrogate?

Here are a few examples to which Bill Hart-Davidson, Associate Dean for Graduate Education, pointed us, but we welcome more examples to help us further refine the initiative:

Machine Bias

Digital Redlining

These are but two of a wide range of issues and topics that might be engaged through an initiative that focuses on Critical Diversity in a Digital Age. We invite you to add examples through the #MSUCDDA tag on Hypothes.is. I’ll continue to curate examples here below.

Bianchi’s the Feminine Symptom – A Response

By | Presentation: Academic | No Comments

This is the text of the response I made to Emanuela Bianchi, The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos, (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014) at the 2016 meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existentialist Philosophy in Salt Lake City on October 21, 2016. It is the continuation of a 25 year old conversation Emma I have had on how to read Aristotle.

In the very middle of her masterful and beautifully written book, The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos, Emma Bianchi gestures to the risk and power of her hermeneutic approach to Aristotle.

On the one hand, she recognizes Page duBois’s critique of feminist psycholanalytic readings of ancient texts as a “colonizing gesture that reduces a rich and multivalent field of representations of women and sexual difference in the ancient world to a crude schematism of presence and absence of the phallus.” 1 On the other hand, she deftly reminds us that this every reduction and crude schematism shows itself in the Aristotelian texts themselves. Here, she embraces Luce Irigaray’s approach, which “offers the possibility of an immanent critique, in that when deployed critically and to feminist ends, psychoanalysis not only foregrounds questions of sex and gender in philosophy, but also permits a disclosure of the precise topologies of the reductions at play and the symptoms produced by those reductions.”2

For Bianchi, an immanent feminist psychoanalytic engagement with Aristotle is well worth the risk of a bit of crudity, for its power lies in its ability to disclose the pathological reductions at work in the Aristotelian texts. Indeed, one might say, having learned something of the lesson Bianchi’s book has to teach, these very reductions, the ways the recalcitrant feminine is repressed, are not only at work in these texts but are precisely what make these texts work. They enact a repression of the disruptive energy of the feminine which, precisely because of this act of repression, comes to language in the texts at certain symptomatic moments. We will return to this symptomology in a moment, for the degree to which it resonates with what I have called legomenology turns out to be at the heart of an ongoing and long-standing, generous, and, for me, enriching dialogue with Emma about the nature of Aristotelian thinking and writing.

But before delving more deeply into the meaning of the symptom in Bianchi’s book, it is important to recognize that her methodological approach moves also beyond the immanent critique for which Irigaray advocates. Bianchi’s is a queer feminism, so her feminist critique is, as she puts it here in the middle of her book, “entwined with a queer critique of ontological sexual difference, engaging the Aristotelian text in a practice that is simultaneously faithful and irreverent, rigorous and deforming, legitimate and bastard—in a word, symptomatic—and also, I hope, illuminating, enabling, and generative.”3

One of the most important and powerful aspects of Bianchi’s book comes to language here, for she speaks of her reading as a practice. Interpretations do things, and Bianchi’s reading of Aristotle is designed not only to do things with him and with his legacy, but also with each of us who enter into genuine hermeneutical dialogue with the text.

This dialogue involves, for Bianchi, what Spivak calls “critical intimacy,” a way of engaging the text that is both generous and skeptical. She rightly understands reading itself as a practice, indeed, she calls it a “responsive practice, one which not only reads but responds.” 4 Such a responsive practice, of course, is not undertaken in a contextual or historical vacuum, and Bianchi’s book is thus oriented, as it must be, both toward Aristotle and toward the current situation in which the reading takes place.

Reading Aristotle from the perspective of the present, Bianchi charts a delicate course between Aristotle as master systematizer, the first of a long line of Aristotelians, and what she calls “reparative phenomenological readings in the Heideggerian vein.” 5 If I am not mistaken, Bianchi has my own reading of Aristotle in mind with this later formulation. Here, as elsewhere in the book, Bianchi is generous in her critique: on the one hand, she recognizes that my phenomenological approach seeks, like her own aleatory feminism, to attend to countercurrents in Aristotle’s texts. She appreciates too, my designation of Aristotle’s methodology as a “legomenology,” the attempt to do justice to the manner in which beings express themselves and come to expression. Yet, on the other hand, she is, as she has long been, graciously insistent about the limits of a reparative approach. She writes: “Such approaches are certainly exemplary in their attunement to Aristotle’s words, but however richly they complexify his legacy, they do not entirely vitiate the overarching teleological and hierarchical architecture with which I am grappling.”6

It is, of course, not only Bianchi who is grappling with the legacy of the hierarchical architecture of Aristotle’s thinking, but all of us insofar as the effective history of Aristotle’s teleology and the patriarchy it consolidated, legitimized, and passed down continues to structure our social, political, and indeed personal relationships with one another. The gracefulness of Bianchi’s approach is experienced in the manner in which she is able to grapple seriously and critically with Aristotle’s teleology without reducing the living and dynamic nature of his thinking to caricature.

Throughout the book she resists the temptation to explain away Aristotle’s systematic aspirations, and when she encounters contradictions, she identifies them, rightly, as symptoms of an aleatory materialism that refuses to go quietly into the hierarchical structure of Aristotle’s patriarchal architecture. There are two moments in the book that illustrate this poignantly, and they are worth considering in more detail both because they demonstrate the power of Bianchi’s intimate critique and because they enable us to practice an intimate, immanent critique of our own.

The first moment on which to focus is her reading of Aristotle’s God, a figure who, more than any in the Aristotelian corpus, embodies the potency of Aristotle’s teleology—or to be perhaps more accurate: a figure who fails to embody any potency at all, if we are to adhere rigidly to Aristotle’s insistence, in Metaphysics XII.6, that if what is primary has potency, “there would not be everlasting motion, since what has being in potency admits of not being.”7

The second moment on which to focus is Bianchi’s careful reading of Aristotle’s shifting account of generation in the Generation of Animals, which she calls, channeling Heidegger’s characterization of Aristotle’s Physics, “the hidden and therefore never adequately studied foundational book of Western patriarchal metaphysics.”8 This formulation is telling for two reasons. First, it justifies the way The Feminine Symptom is structured, framed as it is by opening and closing chapters that engage Generation of Animals in substantive ways. Second, however, it also suggests the degree to which Bianchi’s own reading presumes a kind of grand narrative of the history of philosophy that the deconstructive theory she also embraces has done so much to call into question. One might say that this poetic formulation about Generation of Animals as the hidden book of Western patriarchal metaphysics is itself a symptom of Bianchi’s tendency to frame her reading of Aristotle in terms of the broad sweep of Western philosophy. She comes by this honestly, of course, as we both were attracted to the New School in part at least because of philosophers like Agnes Heller and Reiner Schürmann, who told such wonderful and compelling stories about the history of Western philosophy. Even so, however, we also learned there to be critical of grand narratives, so where it symptomatically appears in Emma’s book, I’ll gesture to it so we can perhaps take it up together in our ongoing discussion of the broad historical implications of this excellent study.

In order to address these two moments in Bianchi’s text with the critical intimacy they deserve, it will be important first to outline briefly the two central concepts around with the book is organized: aleatory matter and the feminine symptom.

Aleatory Matter and the Feminine Symptom

The aporia that most tellingly haunts the Aristotelian system is the appearance of the female offspring herself. On the one hand, Aristotle’s canonical account of generation requires the male form embodied in the semen to master and shape the female matter in order to produce one such as himself. The female appears as the result of a failure of mastery, or as Bianchi puts it “a material mishap.”9 On the other hand, of course, without the female, no generation at all is possible. The feminine is at once necessary and accidental.

Bianchi captures the signature of this aporia with the phrase “aleatory matter.” She puts it this way: “Aleatory matter—that is, matter that is apparently self-moving, disruptive, exterior to any teleological unfolding, indeed that acts against nature—poses continual difficulties for the Aristotelian cosmos.”10 The aleatory, for Bianchi, names that chance happening which Aristotle’s teleological system can neither subdue nor do without. As a result, it appears throughout the Aristotelian corpus as a sign of a certain inability, that is, as a symptom of the system’s incapacity to account for what it seeks to capture.

Symptom, here, takes on an important technical meaning. Bianchi draws together the two dimensions of the Greek word “sumptōma,” which combines the prefix sum-, which means “together,” and pipto-, “to fall,” in order to amplify the manner in which chance and coincidence befall the Aristotelian system. For Bianchi, “the sumptōma signifies a fundamental disruption of hierarchy and teleology.”11 A reading attuned to the feminine symptom in Aristotle will hear in certain decisive passages an equivocation, inconsistency, or vacillation, that is symptomatic of the resistance of aleatory matter to the hegemonic operation of the Aristotelian teleology. The beauty of Bianchi’s reading is the way it refuses to shrink from such symptomatic moments, finding in them instead precisely the signs of another dimension of Aristotle’s thinking that comes to language despite itself. Her intention is neither to indict nor repair, but rather, as she writes at the end, “to tarry with the aleatory.”12 In this, however, we also encounter the practical dimension of Bianchi’s reading, for in attending carefully to her texts, in following along with her as she enters into an intimate and critical engagement with Aristotle, we too learn to cultivate something of what she calls “interruptivity,” “a capacity both to be interrupted and to interrupt existing orders.”13 The cultivation of capacities of interruption enables us to welcome alterity in ways that can lead to more enriching modes of being together with others in a shared world.

Let’s Talk About God

There is no other figure in the Aristotelian imaginary less welcoming to alterity than the Prime Mover. I say “Prime Mover” here specifically, because God in Aristotle is said in many ways, and one way God comes to language is as first mover responsible for the motion of the cosmos. Another way, however, God comes to language is as “the thinking of thinking thinking.” What precisely comes to language in this later formulation is worth pursuing in more detail once we have established the robust and in many ways compelling critique Bianchi levels against the Prime Mover.

Following Irigaray, Bianchi traces a line of thinking in Aristotle from the account of place in the Physics to the figure of God in Metaphysics. She begins, in fact, further back, with an account of Plato’s conception of space or chōra as receptacle, with its rich resonances with the feminine, arguing that in Aristotle, the feminine receptacle is recast as place or topos. This is important because it opens the crucial question of the container, the contained, and the boundary between them. In the Physics, Aristotle develops a conception of topos as boundary, indeed, as the “primary motionless boundary of that which contains.”14 After citing this definition, Bianchi calls our attention to this important passage: “a place is together with [hama] the thing [contained], for the limit [of that which contains] coincides with [hama] that which is limited.”15 Here issues of inside, outside, and boundary are somehow navigated by means of the appearance of the little word, hama, which itself takes on significance in Bianchi’s reading as an expression of the feminine symptom.

The annunciation of “hama” here, according to Bianchi, draws together the temporal and the spatial in a telling way, for it means both “at the same time” and “together with.” This duplicity of meaning gives expression to the paradox of the boundary itself and points to the manner in which the rectilinear motions of the sublunary realm where each element tends toward its proper place give way to the higher circular motions of the stars that marks the passing of time. But, according to Bianchi, the hama here is symptomatic insofar as it brings to language the perplexing structure of the boundary itself in which the contained and the container somehow coincide. Even my own formulation here resorts through the use of “somehow” to an Aristotelian tendency to appeal to an indefinite pronoun to signal the ambiguity of the problem.

For Bianchi, however, Aristotle himself never tarries long with the ambiguous moments his own language betrays. Rather, in the end, he opts to appeal to an ultimate principle of hegemonic authority, the Prime Mover itself, unmoved, but capable of moving others by virtue of its divine authority. On this reading, the Prime Mover is the engine of Aristotle’s teleology. Bianchi puts it this way: “the masculine signifier par excellence is unmoved, motionless, standing beyond the physical cosmos, outside space and time.”16

Here the symptomatic ambiguity heard in the word “hama” gives way to the dominance of patriarchal automony.

In the heavens, the feminine no longer has any place at all, not even as a giver of place. The woman/mother is superseded and the relation between subject and paternal function, now understood as that between heavenly body and divine prime mover, is mediated at her expense, at the price of her disappearance.17

Yet there remains this “hama,” the symptom of aleatory matter and the trace of that which cannot be disappeared by the positing of an ultimate.

It should come, then, as no surprise that when Aristotle turns his attention to the living activity of God perhaps here now properly described as “Father,” that little word appears again as Aristotle attempts to give voice to the complete activity that has its end in itself. To express this, as he does in Metaphysics IX.6, Aristotle differentiates between incomplete activities, like building, which have their ends outside of themselves in the product toward which they aim, and complete activities, like seeing, thinking, living. Aristotle expresses complete activities this way: “one is seeing and at the same time (hama) one has seen (heōrake), and one is practically wise (phronei) and one has been practically wise (pephronēke), is thinking and has thought (nenoēken)….”18 Striking here, is first how Aristotle deploys a combination of verb tenses, the present, with its progressive aspect, and the perfect, with its completed aspect, to bring to language an ongoing activity that is complete in itself.19 In this context, Bianchi rightly emphasizes again the appearance of the adverb, hama, which, as she says, “explicitly seeks a unity, collapsing the present and perfect tenses, while also marking and giving the possibility of a temporal difference, the possibility of a time other than the present.”20 Just as in the case of the earlier discussion of place where the adverb announced a chiasmatic coincidence and separation of time and space at the boundary of the sub- and super-lunary spheres, here too, hama appears symptomatically to gesture to another time. Bianchi is right too to identify this other time with the living activity of God, which Aristotle also describes in terms of receiving, touching, holding, thinking, seeing, being loved, and, living. In this sense, the adverb again announces the recalcitrant feminine symptom, for as Bianchi herself emphasizes, with these formations, the divine activity “also in its articulation bears traces of that very materiality, embodiment, and temporality from which it is purportedly free as a superlatively perfect form of life.”21

Aristotle thus posits the autonomous activity of God, pure and complete, as the ultimate hegemonic principle of patriarchal metaphysics at the same time as (hama) he gives voice also to the feminine symptom that refuses to go into the teleological system without remainder. The feminine symptom comes to language again, it seems to me, in the very manner in which Aristotle articulates the activity of God as the thinking of thinking thinking (noēsis noēseōs noēsis), a formulation which, I have argued, “declares the manner in which a certain dynamis remains cooperative in that activity of thinking which expresses the relational dynamic of encounter on which all life depends.”22 Attending to those moments in Aristotle’s text when the feminine symptom comes to language is what I have called “legomenology,” a method that follows Aristotle’s lead in attending to the things said by those who seek to give voice to the truth of things.

Bianchi has long been a trusted interlocutor who attempts in what she says and writes to give voice to the truth of things, and her book is an eloquent testimony to her endeavor to hold Aristotle accountable for the things he says. In a sense, she attempts to do with Aristotle what Aristotle did with Empedocles when, at the beginning of the Metaphysics, he sought to “pursue and get hold of Empedocles’ thinking, rather than what he said inarticulately.”23 To this end, she insists that the thinking behind the articulation of God as life without body, matter, and time is the establishment of a teleological of order in which the feminine is systematically repressed. There can be little doubt that this has been the misogynistic legacy of Western thinking and acting that a certain Aristotelianism has wrought.

Her critique of my legomenological approach, despite its similarity with her symptomology, is my alleged unwillingness to hold Aristotle’s feet to the misogynistic teleological fire. She writes:

Long’s immanentist reading moves quickly over the radicality of this transcending of matter in the figure of the prime mover, instead emphasizing its rootedness in the relationality of perception and thus its continuity with the human experience of thinking as apprehension and encounter with alterity.24

If, however, I move too quickly over the way Aristotle radically attempts to transcend matter and divorce God from the world, which indeed I very well might, Bianchi could be said to move too quickly to posit the hegemonic dominance of the prime mover as the ultimate teleological principle of patriarchal metaphysics. Ironically, of course, as she suggests, my desire to tarry with ambiguity and affirm relationality at the root of Aristotle’s thinking is animated by a philosophical commitment similar to her own. It is a commitment to do justice to difference, indeed, to learn the habits of welcoming alterity that Bianchi so eloquently associates with aleatory matter. What she calls the feminine symptom, I trace through Aristotle’s legomenology, decidedly not however I hope, as an apology for the misogynistic tendencies in Aristotle. If my reading colludes in covering over the misogynistic tendencies in Aristotle’s thinking and the broader impact such tendencies have long had on the history of Western thinking and acting, Emma is right to criticize me and to highlight these dimensions of Aristotle’s legacy.

However, I would suggest that my legomenological approach is consistent with and capable of lending further support to her own feminist symptomology. To flesh that out further, it will be helpful, finally, to turn our attention to the Generation of Animals, that hidden foundational book of Western patriarchal metaphysics. Here, however, although our approaches resonate with one another, we ourselves fall on different sides of the question of the degree to which the technological model ultimately holds sway as the central metaphor through which Aristotle understands generation.

Generation and Techne

Bianchi begins and ends her book with a substantive engagement with Aristotle’s Generation of Animals. A thread that runs through her interpretation of generation in Aristotle is that Aristotle tends to assimilate the processes of “nature to the scene of technical production….”25 In this, she follows our teacher, Reiner Schürmann, who insisted that Aristotle ultimately treated politics and nature in terms of human fabrication.26

In the final chapter of her book, Bianchi turns her attention to what might be considered the central crisis of Aristotle’s canonical account of generation in the Generation of Animals. The crisis concerns the appearance of certain hereditary phenomena associated with the mother and with the maternal ancestry of the offspring. The canonical account bases generation on production, a model in which the male semen provides the form that shapes the material provided by the mother. As the producing agent, the masculine principle overcomes the feminine matter to produce offspring like itself. This is the source of the odious tendency in Aristotle to identify the generation of a female as a “teras,” a monstrosity, because it is a departure from the masculine norm.27 Indeed, at the beginning of her book, Bianchi points to the female offspring herself as the feminine symptom par excellence.28

Aristotle’s canonical account of generation, predicated as it is on the model of technical production, demonstrates its limitation in the wake of attempts to account for the generation of the female and of the appearance of maternal hereditary features. In GA IV.3, Aristotle deploys a sophisticated battery of concepts to attempt to account for such hereditary phenomena, including, first and foremost, the very appearance of a daughter. Chief among these concepts is the distinction between two sorts of interaction between the powers of the male and female: existasthai, which names the failure of the mastery of the male that results in the appearance of the female; and luesthai, a loosening of the agent resulting from its being acted upon by that upon which it acts. Aristotle deploys the difference between these two ways the male principle can fail to produce one such as himself to account, through existasthai, for the appearance of the female, and through luesthai, for the appearance of male children with maternal characteristics.

Bianchi does a very nice job of summarizing it this way:

Loosening (luesthai) is a rather passive failure of the generative principle, and results merely in a walking over (meta-bainei) to the next same-sex ancestor in line. Existasthai marks a misdirection or deviation in matter that results in radical transformation into a contrary: a meta-ballei or throwing over into sexual alterity.29

The solution is as creative as it is problematic. While is saves the phenomenon of generation and heredity, it problematizes the canonical model of generation in which form imposes itself upon matter in a manner analogous with technical production. Bianchi suggests as much when she writes: “Aristotle’s quite brilliant solution to the problem of inherited characteristics nevertheless results in a profound incoherence in relation to his theory of sexual reproduction, because it requires a balance of powers (dunameis) between the sexes that cannot be effectively translated into the matter-form distinction.”30

This incoherence has far reaching implications for how we understand Aristotle’s thinking as a whole, for it falls together symptomatically, arguably, at the very heart of his biology, which Bianchi rightly situates at the root of his thinking.31 It has implications too, for the degree to which we ought to follow Bianchi (and Schürmann) in identifying technical production as the central model according to which Aristotle thinks natural being. Although it is true that technological thinking haunts Aristotle’s corpus throughout, particularly when it intends to articulate the separate dimensions of form in its relation to matter, the complex messiness of generation undermines the sort of clean distinctions between form and matter Aristotle’s canonical hylomorphism seems to require. Bianchi recognizes and indeed emphasizes it as one of the primary sites in which the feminine symptom appears. Indeed, I would argue, the feminine symptom comes to language in a wide variety of places in the texts handed down to us under Aristotle’s name, including here in the discussion of the generation of animals in the form of the distinction between existasthai and luesthai. Yet, Bianchi herself here might be said to move too quickly away from the incoherence that comes to language here, an incoherence that would require us to consider the degree to which Aristotle’s thinking truly is obsessed with the technological model of production and the rigid teleology in which it finds a home.

The point here is not to initiate a reparative reading of Aristotle, but to complicate the grand narrative that situates his thinking at the beginning of the history patriarchal metaphysics. In complicating things in this way, however, I hope am beginning to learn the habits of interruptivity that a reading of this remarkable book cultivates. If so, it is yet another symptom of how Emma’s work continues to enrich my own engagement with Aristotle and the broader lens through which I encounter the world and those I meet in it.

The Liberal Arts Endeavor: On Editing the Journal of General Education

By | Journal of General Education, Publication: Journal, Vita | 3 Comments

“The Liberal Arts Endeavor: On Editing the Journal of General Education.” Journal of General Education, 65, 1 (2016), v-vii.

In accepting the editorship of the Journal of General Education: A Curricular Commons of the Humanities and Sciences, I am pleased to recognize the thoughtful and creative work of Jeremy Cohen and Patty Wharton-Michael, who have served as editors for the past four years, and of Catherine Jordan, who served as the editorial manager. They cultivated and nurtured a journal committed, as they so eloquently articulated, to general education “as a distinctive cornerstone of the arts of liberty.” Drawing on this enduring mission, the journal will be committed to furthering the arts of liberty as integral to our attempts to “prepare citizens to live engaged, responsible, and meaningful lives.” Read More

Nurturing Fulfilling Scholarly Lives

By | Digital Scholarship, Education | No Comments

In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, there is a famous passage in which he reminds us that “to be happy takes a complete lifetime; for one swallow does not make a spring, nor does one fine day; and similarly one day or a brief period of happiness does not make a person blessed and happy” (Nic. Eth., 1098a16–20).

This passage came to frame our conversations around #Humetrics at this week’s Triangle Scholarly Communications Institute, because it reminds us that a fulfilling life — what Aristotle calls, eudaimonia, happiness, that is, a life well lived — requires cultivated habits rooted in core values that, when intentionally practiced, shape the character of a good life.

In the end, what we value should be embodied in what we do, not once or twice, but regularly over the course of a lifetime.

In framing our conversation about #Humetrics with this ancient conception of ethics, excellence, and character, we seek also to advance and reinforce the idea that a scholarly life can only be well lived in communities of practice with others.

For the #Humetrics team, this year’s Triangle SCI experience was a swallow that signifies but does not yet fully manifest the coming spring. It opened for us a space for the flowering of a community of practice oriented toward the question of how we might more broadly cultivate communities of practice that embody the values of fulfilling scholarly lives.

Five Core Excellences of Enriching Scholarship

core-excellencesWorking out loud together, we identified five core excellences of enriching scholarship:

Rebecca Kennison wrote about Equity.

View story at Medium.com

Simone Sacchi wrote about Openness.

View story at Medium.com

His point was amplified further by Rebecca Kennison in her post about The Value of Openness.

I wrote about Collegiality.

View story at Medium.com

jasonrhody wrote about Quality.

Nicky Agate wrote about Community.

View story at Medium.com

And Stacy Konkiel sought to tie things together by distinguishing between enriching and corrosive values:

View story at Medium.com

In writing together in this way, we seek to embody the excellences for which we advocate.

The question that animates our work is this:

The Winter of Our Discontent

For too long, we humanists have been allergic to metrics. This allergy has prevented us from engaging in a serious and sustained conversation about what practices of scholarship we might want to cultivate and incentivize both through the activities we measure and those we celebrate.

As a result, a large and growing battery of metrics have been developed based on the practices of more scientifically oriented scholarship or simply on what it was possible to use our technologies to measure.

Current metrics of humanities scholarship have been shown to be too blunt to capture the multiple dimensions of scholarly output and impact (see, Haustein and Larivière). In addition, the inappropriate nature of current indicators can incentivize perverse scholarly practices (see, The Metric Tide, Wilsdon et. al.).

A critical component of our emerging #Humetrics conversation at Triangle SCI involves finding ways to expose, highlight, and recognize the important scholarship that goes into the all-too-hidden work of peer review, syllabus development, conference organizing, mentoring, etc. Our current metrics fail to capture what is most substantive about the rich life of scholarship we practice together in living academic communities.

In this context, our challenge and our responsibility is to articulate, incentivize, and reward practices that enrich our shared scholarly lives and expand our understanding of scholarship itself.

Without being naïve about how difficult it is to change culture, we hope to begin to reshape the conversation about metrics around the values of enriching scholarly practices and the communities in which they thrive.

Although our time together at the Triangle SCI was only one swallow that does not yet make a spring, the seeds planted there may begin to take root over the weeks and months to come, and the communities of scholarship that blossomed there just might be “made glorious by this sun” that shines when a broader public is invited to join the conversation.


Bringing Your CV to Life

By | Blogging and Social Media, Digital Scholarship, Presentation: Interactive, The Long Road, Vita | 2 Comments

Traditionally, a curriculum vitae (CV) is an articulation of one’s qualifications and accomplishments in an academic context. The Latin root of the term suggests the extent to which the CV indicates a “course of life.”

Despite the dynamic and organic connotations of this Latin root, most CVs are printed documents updated periodically by faculty members as we accumulate accomplishments rather than living expressions of the course of our academic lives.

Increasingly, however, faculty are beginning to take advantage of the affordances of digital modes of scholarly communication not simply to document accomplishments and credentials, but more ambitiously to cultivate communities of practice and engagement around the work we are doing.

Inexpensive hosting services (like Reclaim Hosting), powerful publishing platforms (like WordPress) that are easy to set up and broadly accessible, and the wide adoption of social media (TwitterFacebook) have opened new opportunities for us to create communities of colleagues interested in our work and capable of enriching it through dialogical response and collaboration.

The barriers to our success in creating and nurturing such communities of scholarship on the web are now less technological than they are cultural. Our habits of online communication, scholarly and otherwise, remain immature; we are still learning what we can do with our new technologies and what they are doing with us.

The situation in which we find ourselves calls for examples and opportunities to reflect together on what is possible in a course of a scholarly life rooted in digital modes of engagement.

The Academic Advancement Network (#msuaan) session on October 4, 2016, brings faculty together from across campus who have created dynamic and living online spaces that open new opportunities not simply for wide exposure, but more significantly, for collaboration and engagement that can enrich and advance the quality of their work.

A major challenge for highly productive faculty is how to integrate habits of online community building into our everyday scholarly workflow so we are not pulled away from our research and teaching.

In identifying these colleagues, calling them together, and amplifying their work, we have sought in the session and here online, to embody a culture of generosity, amplification, and engagement that we hope will begin to take root and grow, not only here at Michigan State University, but more broadly across other academic communities and their emerging digital networks.

This approach is consistent with the long-standing MSU land-grant commitment to advancing knowledge through public engagement, and it’s integral to bringing our academic work to life.

Participants in the Oct. 4th #msuaan session include:

Alexandra Hidalgo: http://alexandrahidalgo.com/

David Lowery: https://davidbryantlowry.wordpress.com/

Dylan Miner: http://www.wiisaakodewinini.com

Robby Ratan: http://www.robbyratan.com/

Chris Long: http://www.cplong.org/

Twitter as a Platform of Collaboration

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | No Comments

Whenever I talk to faculty and students about the use of social media in the academy, I advocate for a community building approach. The idea is relatively simple: communication has the power to enrich or impoverish our relationships with one another; we should resist impoverishing and cultivate enriching practices of social media communications.

However simple the idea, putting it into practice is difficult.

Adopting enriching practices of communication is difficult in every context, but it is made more difficult in a social media context in part because we have horrible models and in part because social media is often not taken seriously as a space for genuine relationship building.

In the interest of highlighting examples of how I try to cultivate community around my administrative and academic life, I thought I would curate three recent stories that were encouraging to me.

Online Scholarly Presence

In my role as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters, I have been advocating strongly for the importance of cultivating elegant and eloquent online spaces for our faculty and students to give voice to their intellectual life. I have tried myself to model this through cplong.org.

To facilitate this, we entered into agreement with Reclaim Hosting to provide free web hosting to all faculty and graduate students in the College. As we told the story through YouTube and Twitter, the initiative has started to catch on across MSU:

Listen to the Twitter exchange that followed in which I responded to Sarah Dysart’s enthusiasm with an offer to collaborate and Leigh Graves and Scott Schopieray took up the thread to put it into practice through an initiative shared between the College of Arts & Letters and the College of Education.

As Sarah suggests, this exchange demonstrates the power of Twitter to create real connections across campus, networks that will advance our shared attempts to facilitate public engagement with the scholarship of our faculty and students.

A Deepening Sense of Place

As second example comes from a name we found etched into a 135-year old window in Linton Hall. After it was pointed out to me, I took a picture and tweeted:

Despite my mis-reading of C.F. as C.P., the archeology group on campus responded:

The MSU Archives then joined the discussion:

These resources, provided by generous colleagues, allowed me to craft a welcome letter to our incoming class of 2020 around the story of C.F. Baker:

View story at Medium.com


The third example to which I’d point concerns the use of Twitter among administrators. Last year, as a new Dean at MSU, I sought to use Twitter not only to celebrate the work of faculty and students in the College of Arts & Letters, but also to deepen my relationships with my dean colleagues. And yes, we had some fun along the way (#DeansLookingOutWindows).

As we thought about welcoming a new group of deans to campus this semester, we decided to adopt #SpartanDeans as a way to celebrate the work we are doing individually and in collaboration:

These interactions led to the collaborative welcome video for new students at Michigan State University which I’ll conclude:

$1.2M Mellon Grant for Big 10 Academic Alliance Partnership on LCTLs

By | Grants, Fellowships, Awards | No Comments

Michigan State University will use a three-year $1.2 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to lead a multi-university research project to improve the teaching of less commonly taught languages, or LCTLs.

Faculty from MSU’s Center for Language Teaching Advancement, or CeLTA, housed in the College of Arts and Letters, will direct the initiative on behalf of the Big Ten Academic Alliance (formerly the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, or CIC).

Read the the MSU College of Arts & Letters Press Release and watch the video below for more on this project:

Finding Your Place, Leaving a Mark

By | Dean, Education, The Administrative Life, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | No Comments

Dear College of Arts & Letters Class of 2020,

Welcome to Michigan State University!

As you begin your journey in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University, let me tell you a secret.

CF Baker _Charles_Fuller_1872-1927Scratched into the corner of a 135-year old window in Linton Hall is the name of a student who graduated in 1891 from what was then referred to as the Michigan Agricultural College. His name is C.F. Baker; and he is but one of the thousands of graduates who precede you.

Like the man himself, whose scholarly contributions, it was said after his death, “were all too obscured by his indifference to public recognition,” the name etched in glass goes largely unnoticed. Yet, once it is called to your attention, you can’t enter the room without some awareness of the presence of C.F. Baker.

He was a scientist and an educator, the embodiment of an idea that has long stood at the heart of the Michigan State University land-grant mission to “advance knowledge and transform lives.”

After graduating, he received a master’s degree from Stanford, and his desire to advance human knowledge of entomology and fungi led him to the Philippines where the specimens he gathered significantly enriched the collection of the Smithsonian, to whom they passed upon his death in 1927.

During his time in the Philippines, he helped found the Philippine College of Agriculture, fought tirelessly for appropriations and, in his role as Dean, “sought eagerly for a faculty fired by a kindred zeal to his own.”

The tenacity, humility, and diligent commitment to excellence we’ve come to associate with what it means to be a Spartan were handed down to us from predecessors like C.F. Baker, who wrote that one of his most cherished principles was not to give up, who inspired his students — he “could capture their imaginations and stir their hopes as no other member of the faculty could” — who followed his research wherever it led him, and who left a mark, not only here on campus, but on the lives of those he met and on the world he loved.

As you begin your time here on campus, I encourage you to take full advantage of all that Michigan State University has to offer. Explore different majors, embrace the research endeavor, pursue an internship, and study abroad (more than once).

And as you chart a path of your own, pursue excellence in your chosen field of study, and seek to make the world into which you will graduate a better, more beautiful, and more just place, keep the spirit of predecessors like C.F. Baker close to you as a model of what a Spartan’s Will can do.

Welcome home, Spartan Class of 2020.


Christopher P. Long, Dean
College of Arts & Letters

Investing in Humanities Publishing

By | Dean, Digital Humanities, Digital Scholarship, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 2 Comments

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the headquarters of the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C. early last week to take part in a discussion about a new model for open access digital monograph publishing in the humanities.

The meeting, organized by a Task Force convened by the AAU, American Association of University Presses, and the Association of Research Libraries, included an impressive group of directors of university presses, deans of libraries, and academic administrators.

I was there to represent Michigan State University. In February, Provost June Youatt asked me for feedback on the Task Force’s proposal to establish a sustainable model by which long-form humanities scholarship could be published in a digital open access format. The proposal called for up-front institutional funding for the open access publication of manuscripts accepted through standing AAUP best practices for peer review.

I was enthusiastic.

Given my work on the Public Philosophy Journal, my service on the Board of Directors of K|N Consultants with its Open Access Network initiative, and my own efforts to publish my book on Socratic and Platonic politics as an open access enhanced digital book, I arrived in Washington prepared to put my commitment to open access into sustainable structural practice.

Still, I was not sure what to expect because we have heard so much — too much — about the “crisis” of the humanities in general, and of scholarly communication in particular. Further, the ecosystem of scholarly publishing is complicated — faculty depend on acquisition editors, presses depend on libraries, tenure and promotion processes depend on the integrity of peer review …. With so many moving parts and with so much at stake, developing a supportive and sustainable funding model for open access is daunting.

From the beginning, however, it was clear that the Task Force, under the leadership of John Vaughn, Elliott Shore, and Peter Bekery, had gathered a group of creative, thoughtful, and generous colleagues who were willing to imagine what might be possible if universities committed to fully funding the cost of open access monograph publication up front.

Questions of cost, addressed by the Ithaka Report on the Costs of Publishing Monographs and qualified in interesting ways by John Sherer of the UNC Press, did not derail the conversation, which took a decisive and, in my view, positive turn when we agreed not to frame the initiative as a response to a crisis in either the humanities or in publishing.

Far the better strategy is to seed an initiative that will establish a sustainable publishing workflow designed to expand access to and engagement with humanities scholarship.

Publishing is one important way the humanities are put into practice. Ideas only enter the public realm when they are made public — that is, when they are published. But publishing is not simply a matter of making ideas public; it is also an opportunity to create publics, to establish relationships around shared values and ideas, and by extension, to transform existing realities in light of new possibilities opened by novel ways of thinking.

Attempts to establish a sustainable financial model for open access publishing in the humanities should ultimately be motivated by a commitment to advancing the capacity of humanities scholarship to transform, enrich, and shape publics.

As a dean, I understand any up-front contributions the College of Arts & Letters would make to facilitate the open access publications of our faculty as an investment in the transformative power of the humanities.

Beyond the important academic benefits of having the work of our faculty more widely read and cited lies the land-grant mission of Michigan State University to “advance knowledge and transform lives,” to educate “globally engaged citizen leaders” and to facilitate research and scholarship that will lead “to a better quality of life for individuals and communities, at home and around the world.”

Broadly accessible humanities scholarship, work that is not merely published, but widely read, enriches public life by enabling us to imagine and create more just and responsive publics.

This ideal of the humanities deeply woven into the fabric of public life motivates my own humanities scholarship and administrative work; and it animates my interest in the work of the Task Force to seed and support a sustainable financial model for open access long-form humanities publishing.

I was heartened by the conversation we had in Washington, D.C. last week and by the emerging plans to establish a process, funding model, and workflow that will enable us to begin publishing open access long-form humanities scholarship in the near future.

More heartening still, however, is the palpable sense of what is possible when universities, presses, and libraries collaborate across institutions to expand public access to humanities scholarship capable of enriching public life.

* * *

This have been cross published on Medium:

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Responding to Complexity with Nuance and Grace

By | Politics, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | One Comment

In the wake of last week’s violence, we have again become caught up in the fraught dichotomy into which public discourse always seems to force us. It is as if somehow the human capacity to hold complex thoughts consistently together dissolves the moment ideas enter the public sphere.

The heartbreaking killings of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana require us to face the pathological pattern of violence white police officers continue to perpetrate on fellow African American citizens even as we mourn and denounce the assassination of police officers in Dallas.

The situation, our situation today in the United States, demands something difficult of us. It requires us to come to terms with the long and abiding history of racism that was woven into the fabric of the American experience long before it was ratified and legitimized in the texts of our founding documents.

There is no short term solution for this endemic racism and injustice. But there is a longer, more difficult path on which we might embark that will, over time, enable us to create a more just and a more perfect union.

It is the path of a certain kind of education, a liberal arts education deeply attuned to the fraught and broken world we share yet committed to cultural engagement and social justice.

A culturally engaged liberal arts education facilitates the capacity of citizens to respond to complexity with nuance and grace, and it deepens our shared commitment to make the world a better, more just, place.

Nuance is vital, because it involves the ability to discern the texture of a situation, to recognize how history saturates the present, how the contours of experience and identity and interest intersect, playing themselves out in our interactions and through our institutions. Grace, however, it’s vital too, because it empowers us to navigate our relationships with one another elegantly, that is, in ways that affirm and honor the experiences of others so that we might begin to move together toward a justice broader and more enduring than our finite selves.

These capacities for nuance and grace, however, remain impotent unless they are enlivened by an intentional choice to weave a commitment to justice into our relationships with one another.

The sort of liberal arts education we are seeking to cultivate in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University is grounded in the belief that our deepest divisions, our most enduring social and political challenges, can only be redressed by a citizenry capable of and committed to pursuing justice with nuance and grace.

Ours is a vision of the liberal arts endeavor deeply rooted in the University’s mission to transform the lives of our students and improve the life of our shared body politic.

To begin to put this vision of a culturally engaged liberal arts education animated by a commitment to justice into practice, we must redress our collective failure to educate a more diverse generation of faculty. This is why we have focused significant attention on graduate education, and specifically, on recruiting graduate students like Shenika Hankerson, who brings her rich understanding of cultural practices to her research in ways that cultivate an appreciation of and respect for difference.

An education in the liberal arts is an education in the art of the possible. In the wake of the events of the past week, in the wake of the long history of racism this country continues to endure, it is all too easy to remain pinned like butterflies, as James Baldwin put it.

The harder path is the longer road we embark upon whenever we take up the liberal arts endeavor and seek the justice that is possible despite the very real injustices we continue so poignantly to encounter.

Cross posted on Medium:

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MSU Shadows

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | No Comments

A year ago today, as I began my tenure as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University, I made reference to a passage by Peter Raible, one that draws from Deuteronomy, in which he reminds us that “we sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.”

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this passage resonates with the MSU alma mater, which speaks to the shadows cast on campus “when twilight silence falls.”

The passage and the song are important to me because they serve as reminders that we benefit from the vision and commitment of those who came before us, and that we have an obligation to build upon the legacy we have inherited so that when our “twilight shadows fade,” there will be shade enough of trees for generations to follow.

Since my arrival, we have sought to plant new seeds that will enrich the academic experience for future students and faculty of Michigan State University.

Among many other things, we have nurtured success among our faculty through the Summer Faculty Fellowship initiative; we have invested in our graduate students through our External Funding Incentive Program; we have advanced the diversity and quality of our undergraduate students through the creation of our signature Citizen Scholars program; and we have recognized the important work of our staff through the creation of two new staff awards.

It’s been a year of sowing.

And even as we pause for a moment to look back, we look forward to reaping what we have sown.

The 2016 Dean’s Report, to be released on July 11th, draws on what we have accomplished to date in order to advance a vision of the College for the future. To this end, we have sought to focus our message on the Liberal Arts Endeavor, which requires us to cultivate in ourselves and our students the ability to communicate with eloquence, embrace diversity with grace, perceive globally with imagination, and respond to complexity with nuance.

More specifically, the report focuses on three dimensions of the Liberal Arts Endeavor: how we are enriching the undergraduate experience, engaging graduate students in advanced scholarship to prepare the next generation of faculty, and excelling in recruiting and retaining a world-class faculty. Each of these elements — enriching, engaging, excelling — are anchored by a video that speaks to one aspect of the Liberal Arts Endeavor and introduces a concrete example of how we are putting our values into practice.

Rather than attempting to summarize all of our many accomplishments this year, we have sought instead to present a vision that will enrich the lives of those future faculty and students who will gather beneath the pines where light and shadows play.

Here is a teaser video for the 2016 Dean’s Report:

Public Philosophy and Philosophical Publics

By | Articles, Publication: Journal, Vita | No Comments

de Avlillez, André Rosenbaum, Mark Fisher, Kris Klotz, and Christopher P. Long. “Public Philosophy and Philosophical Publics: Performative Publishing and the Cultivation of Community.” The Good Society 24, no. 2 (2015): 118–45.

The emergence of new platforms for public communication, public deliberation, and public action presents new possibilities for forming, organizing, and mobilizing public bodies, which invite philosophical reflection concerning the standards we currently look to for coordinating public movements and for evaluating their effects. Developing a broad understanding of public philosophy, this article begins with the view of philosophy and intellectual freedom articulated in Kant’s publicly oriented writings. We then focus on the power of philosophical discourse to form and further articulate public bodies. Drawing on Dewey’s work, we discuss the role of philosophical discourse in the articulation of publics into self-regulated, sovereign entities. We conclude with an account of how publishing itself might come to play an important role in the practice of public philosophy in a digital age. Read More

Learning to Play in a More Inclusive Key

By | Dean, Education, The Administrative Life | One Comment

On three different days in three different meetings, the same note was sounded. It struck a cord that resonated with me as I listened to faculty from three groups talk about their experience in the College of Arts & Letters.

At the end of March, we convened a series of “Conversations with the Dean and the Faculty Excellence Advocate (FEA),” one with women faculty, a second with faculty of color, and a third with LGBTQ+ faculty.

The common chord that emerged as a theme was the emotional and cognitive resources faculty in traditionally under-represented groups spend addressing the corrosive dynamics of an environment that diminishes the quality and legitimacy of their work. Whether it is a comment that undermines the value of one’s scholarship, an unwelcome look, or the general feeling of a lack of support, the effort it takes to absorb such negativity depletes the energy of our faculty and drains the College of academic productivity.

There has, of course, been an ongoing attempt to raise awareness of micro-aggressions — the dismissive gestures that implicitly or explicitly undermine the legitimacy of colleagues and their work.

Such micro-aggressions are corrosive to the culture of care and support that empowers us to be our best selves and to do our best work. They are all the more pernicious and difficult to address because they often remain opaque and unrecognized to those who perpetrate them. And when they are directly addressed, colleagues are quick to become defensive and reticent to engage in genuine dialogue.

This expense of cognitive and emotional energy extends, of course, beyond micro-aggressions to the structures of authority and power around which an institution is organized. The common theme I heard repeated in our conversations was, however, one phrase in a broader leitmotif: the desire to inhabit spaces in which one can do one’s best work, where each of us can perform at the highest level, and feel enriched and supported by colleagues who care about the value of our work.

The cost of this cognitive and emotional expenditure is too high; and the price is paid at every level of the institution. The cost to the individual is pernicious and unacceptable; it erodes one’s ability to reach one’s full potential, to fulfill one’s goals, and to produce great work. At the department level, it comes at the cost of collegiality and an enriching academic life; at the College level it comes at the cost of fewer citations, awards, grants, publications and lost time addressing grievances and dysfunctional relationships. At the University level, it comes at the cost of reputation as it undermines our ability to recruit and retain the very best faculty and students.

The price we pay is too high ethically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually.

While we will always need to redress and remain vigilant against those micro-aggressions and structural inequities that deplete the cognitive and emotional resources of our faculty, we also ought to attend to and cultivate ways we can elevate, support, and nourish the work of our colleagues and students.

As I was considering how best to name such supportive gestures of care, I shared a draft of this post with my colleague Sheila Contreras. She pointed me to the work of Maureen Scully and Mary Rowe who call them “micro-affirmations” in their 2009 article, “Bystander Training within Organizations.” In this they draw upon Mary Rowe’s 2008 essay on Micro-Affirmations & Micro-Inequities in which she identifies micro-affirmations as:

apparently small acts, which are often ephemeral and hard-to-see, events that are public and private, often unconscious but very effective, which occur wherever people wish to help others to succeed. Micro-affirmations are tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening.

What struck me in this eloquent definition of micro-affirmation was the phrase — “wherever people wish to help others to succeed.” The condition for the possibility of micro-affirmation is a desire for others to succeed.

But too often in academia we see success as a zero-sum game in which the accomplishment of one colleague is felt directly to diminish the value of another.

To begin intentionally and consciously cultivating the habits of micro-affirmation, we might start by recognizing that when our colleagues succeed, our departments and programs improve, and when our academic units improve more opportunities open to us individually and as an academic community.

To the idea of micro-affirmations, then, we might also add that of micro-provisions to better better amplify the embodied nature of our responses to inequity and to reinforce the central importance of the desire for others to succeed.

A provision is a form of nourishment, a way to feed our shared hunger for transformative scholarship and pedagogy. More literally, a provision is fore-sight, a form of ethical imagination that enables us to anticipate what our colleagues and communities need to be most productive and fulfilled. In this sense, a provision is also a gift, rooted in generosity without expectation of something in return.

Recently, we celebrated just such a gift at our College of Arts & Letters Alumni Board Faculty Awards Ceremony. Yomaira Figueroa, Assistant Professor of Global Diaspora Studies, nominated her colleague, Tamara Butler, Assistant Professor of English and African and African American Studies, for the Community Partnership Award. And she won!

Butler and Long

This award elevates Tamara’s work and provides her with a credential that will enhance her academic profile. In elevating the work of her colleague, Yomaira has helped to raise the reputation of the English Department and enriched the community in which we all work. Yomaira’s nomination was an act of affirmation and provision; it was a caring way to enhance the academic culture of the College, and I am grateful for it.

The common theme that resonated as a leitmotiv through our three meetings at the end of March suggests that by cultivating the habits of micro- and indeed macro-affirmation and -provision as modeled by Yomaira, we might as a College better learn to play in a more inclusive key, one that enriches an atmosphere in which we can all thrive and flourish.

Update, Spring 2018

Yomaira’s act of affirmation and provision for Tamara was reciprocated this year when Tamara’s nomination letter helped Yomaira win the 2018 Faculty Leadership Award.

View story at Medium.com

Practicing Inclusion as a Matter of Institutional Habit

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 3 Comments

Institutions of higher education across the country have long talked about diversity and inclusion. Many have established offices of equity or inclusion and hired staff to ensure that the institution is living up to its promise to foster an inclusive culture.

At Michigan State University, inclusiveness is one of the three core values by which we define ourselves, and we have created both an Office of Institutional Equity and an Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. In my first fall planning letter for the College of Arts & Letters, I wrote:

If the university intends to embody the core value of inclusiveness, we must invest resources and articulate priorities at all levels of the academic mission — from the curriculum, to the faculty, to the culture — that reinforce our commitment to the reality that there is no excellence without diversity.

Yet, when we make diversity an institutional goal, when we profess it as a value and build it into our organizational structures, we can fail to recognize it as a shared task that requires assiduous attention everyday.

When it appears as a priority, inclusion as a lived experience often withdraws.

The manner in which diversity recedes from view as it is institutionally redressed is the focus of Sara Ahmed’s insightful and challenging book, On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life.

She puts it this way: “This book investigates what diversity does by focusing on what diversity obscures, that is, by focusing on the relationship between diversity and racism as a way of making explicit a tendency that is reproduced by staying implicit.” 1

In describing how diversity practices appear in institutional contexts, Ahmed takes a phenomenological approach. Phenomenology requires us to describe carefully the ways things appear in everyday experience so that we are able to trace what disappears from consciousness in the very process by which a given phenomenon shows forth.

In attending to the way diversity appears as an institutional priority, Ahmed is able to call attention to the way justice can recede from view. For Ahmed, diversity work is a kind of phenomenological practice: it requires a critical description of how the ideal of diversity can, in being institutionalized, reinforce structures of injustice the ideal itself attempts to ameliorate.

When things become institutional, they recede. To institutionalize x is for x to become routine or ordinary such that x becomes part of the background for those who are part of an institution. 2

Her phenomenological approach gives us some purchase on how diversity, in becoming a priority, can undermine the very value of diversity we are trying to embody. Ironically, instead of creating a culture of greater inclusion, diversity work can reinforce institutional habits of repression. In creating offices of equity and inclusion, in hiring staff focused on diversity work, and yes, even in speaking regularly and earnestly as a Dean about how there is “no excellence without diversity,” we can cover over the phenomenon of exclusion that continues to condition our relationships with one another.

Ahmed’s book challenges us to consider how these good faith attempts to redress inequity can end up reinforcing the very institutional racism and structural injustice they were designed to remedy.

One reason for this failure, it seems to me, is that such institutional responses can have the effect of suggesting that redressing structural racism is someone else’s job. Once there is an office of diversity and staff hired with job responsibilities that focus on fostering inclusive practices, then somehow we who make up the living reality of institutional life no longer feel the need to consider how our own habits and practices embody a bias we ourselves cannot recognize.

In short, by institutionalizing diversity as a core value, we can fail to live up to the ideal we had hoped to embody.

Embodying Practices of Inclusion

But embodiment is a matter of practice; and to embody the ideals of inclusion we hope to weave into the life of the institution requires the cultivation of habits. Redressing structural injustice is not a problem to be solved, it is an ongoing task that must be taken up anew each day, a commitment that must be intentionally integrated into our relationships with one another.

To speak of “institutional habits” is to risk misunderstanding. First, many of us consider habits behaviors we do without thought. And, of course, there are bad habits, like fingernail biting, and good habits, like regular exercise. Those habits we cultivate intentionally to make our lives better require deliberation and discipline: deliberation because we need to consider what is best from a broad and holistic perspective, discipline because good habits require fundamental changes in everyday practice. Cultivating the habits of inclusion requires discipline and vigilance in our daily interactions. Habits of inclusion are not passive dispositions, but active conditions of character we need to nurture each day in our relationships with one another.

Second, many of us think of institutions as static disembodied organizational structures. But the word “institution” itself points to a more dynamic and active practice of beginning. Here again Ahmed is eloquent:

Institutions can be thought of as verbs as well as nouns: to put the “doing” back into the institution is to attend to how institutional realities become given, without assuming what is given by this given. 3

Emphasis on the verbal nature of institutions invites us each day to initiate the values we want our institutions to embody.

To cultivate the practices of inclusion as a matter of institutional habit involves the deliberate, disciplined, and ongoing attempt to weave a commitment to justice into our encounters with one another each day. It is not the job of one office or one group of people, but a shared commitment to a common task to ensure that we embody the values we hope to institute.

  * * *

Cross posted on Medium:

Practicing Inclusion as a Matter of Institutional Habit

Tweeting the Liberal Arts @Muhlenberg #MCLA16

By | Presentation: Interactive, Presentations, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road, Vita | 2 Comments

In his inaugural address as president of the college he founded, Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg spoke of the values that animate the institution: “We do not regard an education as complete that aims only at improving the intellect,” he said, and goes on to emphasize that Muhlenberg is an institution that “contemplates the education of [one’s] conscience and the cultivation of [one’s] heart.”

This commitment to a complete education, one that includes the cultivation of intellectual and ethical habits of thinking and acting, is at the heart of a liberal arts education. Even as the liberal arts come under attack from wide range of voices across the American political spectrum, we do well to remember that this commitment to educate the whole person is deeply rooted in the history of American higher education and has long been a source of innovation and growth.

In the wake of new, dynamic modes of digital communication made possible by the creation of the world-wide web in 1989, this commitment to educating the whole person and the need to bring the excellences of the liberal arts to our interactions with one another have never been more important.

The technologies associated with the web have now grown so familiar and become so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget how new they are and how young we are with them. We are still learning what we can do with them and what they are doing with us.

Technologies always work both ways.

Their affordances and limitations can best be discerned by putting them into practice; for by using the technologies and being used by them, we come to better understand the possibilities they open for us and the challenges they present.

My visit to Muhlenberg is informed by a commitment to put the technologies of digital communication into a liberal arts practice in order to open a space to reflect upon how they might enrich and impoverish our relationships with one another.

The education of conscience to which Muhlenberg calls us is a task to be taken up anew each day; it involves a commitment to weave a concern for justice into our interactions with one another be they online or in person.

Cultivating Communities of Learning with Digital Media

Drawing on my experience with public writing in an Ancient Philosophy course, this faculty workshop focuses on the pedagogical affordances and limitations of public writing in digital environments. The discussion will circle around questions raised by my article, Cultivating Communities of Learning with Digital Media: Cooperative Education through Blogging and Podcasting.

Of central importance to the design of that course was the scoring rubric used to cultivate the habits and practices of public writing on the co-authored blog. I share it here so that it can be freely adapted as needed.

Tweeting the Liberal Arts @Muhlenberg #MCLA16

Below are the curated posts from the interactive presentation held at Muhlenberg on February 1, 2016 at 8pm.


I am allergic to cynicism.

By | Dean, The Long Road | 2 Comments

I have been owning up to this affliction in each of the introductory department meetings I have had with faculty across the College during my first semester as Dean.

Of course, the more cynical among you will see such a confession as yet another mode of administrative manipulation. How can a Dean, so often the source of cynicism, fairly claim to be allergic? 

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Remembering Reiner Schürmann

By | Education, The Graduate Experience, The Long Road | No Comments

“Symbols effect the translation of discourse into a course, a path.” 1

It was early in the afternoon on November 21st, 1993 when I entered the expansive loft apartment above Houston Street. The space was full of books and paintings, but what I remember most was the overwhelming sense of absence. The effect was amplified by the art, large canvases by Louis Comtois. The bold vertical panels of color, insistent in their presence, rendered the absence of the painter and his partner, Reiner Schürmann, acute.

That day, however, we had come to collect the books for the Fogelman Library.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Only a year earlier, I was sitting in Reiner Schürmann’s class on Plotinus, wondering how he could wring an encounter with what is originary out of a text that seemed on the surface so dry and systematic. The way he read awoke something in me that remains even now, 23 years later, vibrant and urgent. He taught us how to attend to the depth of a text, to listen for the implicit experience that animates the author and puts us in touch with what is most originary as it finds articulation in the tensions and ambiguities of the writing.

In his essay, “Symbolic Praxis,” Schürmann puts it this way: “the symbol opens up a path whose course makes one experience the origin. The condition of this experience is to ‘live without why,’ to let that which is, be.” 2 This injunction to “live without why” is a reference to one of Reiner’s favorite passages from Meister Eckhart:

“If a man asked life for a thousand years, ‘Why do you live?,’ if it could answer it would only say, ‘I live because I live.’ That is because life lives from its own ground, and gushes forth from its own. Therefore, it lives without Why, because it lives for itself.” 3

For Schürmann, this was an eloquent articulation of the anarchic nature of life and a gesture to a living task: to tarry with that which appears from out of itself for itself, to listen attentively and to attend carefully to the ways beings express themselves. Drawing on the Heideggerian notion of Gelassenheit, Schürmann articulates the condition under which an experience of the origin is possible: an ability “to let that which is, be.”

In a sense, this was the lesson Schürmann had to teach us, and it is a lesson that can only be learned by being lived. The life to which Schürmann’s teaching calls us is symbolic and poetic. As he writes: “The poietics of the symbol gives us something to do. Symbols create. The praxis which they invite us to is not inaugurated by man, but by symbols themselves.” 4 In “Symbolic Praxis,” Schürmann is at his most Benjaminian, analytically focused on four phenomena—feast, song, dwelling, and work—to expose a symbolic value that enjoins action. But the poietics of the symbol, rooted in the capacity to “let that which is, be,” “agrees to be multiple and without conclusion.” 5

To cultivate the habits of symbolic praxis requires a deep and ethical commitment to the plural and a refusal to posit principles of stability which, though perhaps comforting, remain always unjust insofar as they refuse to let that which is, be.

Reiner Schürmann died on August 20, 1993.

The power of his presence at the Graduate Faculty is difficult to convey; the impact of his absence impossible to articulate. For those of us at the New School at the time, Schürmann connected us to a great european tradition of philosophy that extended from Alfred Schutz to Hans Jonas, and most significantly, to Hannah Arendt. He had arrived at the New School in 1975, just prior to Arendt’s death, and had seen the Graduate Faculty Department of Philosophy through a most difficult period in which its continuing existence was constantly in question.

When I arrived in 1991, the Department had entered a period of renewal made possible by a remarkable collaboration between Schürmann, Richard Bernstein, and Agnes Heller. But even as these three dynamic scholars were bringing the Philosophy Department at the New School back to life, Reiner himself was dying of AIDS.

It wasn’t until the spring of 1992 that I was able to summon the courage to take Schürmann’s course, “Modern Philosophies of the Will.” As a teacher, Schürmann was an imposing figure, his unrelenting demand for excellence struck fear in the hearts of his students as we tried to live up to his expectations of us. And yet, however daunting, Reiner was a noble, kind, and caring man.

I loved the tone and rhythm of his voice. You can still hear it in his written prose. To this day, I pick up Broken Hegemonies or Heidegger: On Being and Acting, just to read a few pages so I can hear his voice again. This voice is heard too in the volume of the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal dedicated to his memory. In addition to essays by his friends and colleagues—among them Jacques Derrida, Rémi Brague, Robert Bernasconi, Agnes Heller, Vittorio Hösle, Dominique Janicaud, and John Sallis—you will find three essays of his and an account of his two-hour conversation with Martin Heidegger in Freiburg on March 11, 1966. A twenty-four year old Schürmann had written to Heidegger in part to press him on the question as to whether in the experience of the gift, of the granting of being, there is “an experience of saying ‘thou’.” 6 Schürmann’s account of the meeting is compelling, but what strikes me most about it is that his description of Heidegger as a reassuring teacher who had a tremendous ability to listen is itself an apt description of Schürmann.

By the fall of 1992, when I took both of his courses, one on Plotinus, the other on Meister Eckhart, the vibrant figure who had taught us in the spring had become noticeably diminished. Yet he never tired of teaching, and he always had time for his students. I remember late that semester going to his office hours and timidly knocking on his closed office door. I knew he was there because I had seen him walking into the building, an exhausted figure against a cold and grey New York autumn sky. After a few minutes of rustling, the door opened, and he welcomed me with a rye smile, saying: “you now have access to a rested mind.”

Less than a year later, the man himself would be put to rest, but his thinking lives on in the work of his students and in the life of the mind articulated so eloquently in those silent books we came to collect that late autumn afternoon in November 1993.

Originally posted on the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal blog.

N.B. In looking for traces of Schürmann on the web, I found this audio recording of Reiner’s Introduction to Medieval Philosophy delivered in the Fall of 1991.

Engaged Scholarship

By | Education, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | No Comments

This was initially posted on Medium as part of my Writing Along the Way project.

Engaged Scholarship

To speak of “applied” scholarship is to divorce theory from practice in a way that impoverishes both.

This, at least, is the insight that has led me to adopt the language of “engagement” rather than that of “application” in our 2015 Fall Planning Letter. Engagement is far the better description of how best to live out the land-grant mission to bring education to the grand challenges of our time and to allow the education we bring to be informed by the questions the world asks of us.

I don’t relinquish the vocabulary of application without some trepidation.

Hans Georg Gadamer by Oto Vega Ponce via wikicommonsIn fact, if the term “application” was meant in the sense in which Hans-Georg Gadamer uses it in Truth and Method, I would not be inclined to reject it.

Gadamer’s understanding of application does not separate theory from practice. Rather, Gadamer recognizes that understanding is always a matter of application:

…application is neither subsequent nor merely an occasional part of the phenomenon of understanding, but codetermines it as a whole from the beginning.” 1

Understanding, for Gadamer, is informed by experiential pre-judgement, oriented toward future possibilities, and responsive to the present situation.

Genuine understanding thus requires us to put theory into practice and to allow our practices to enrich our theoretical understanding of the world.

Theory and practice are co-determinative.

Our common approach, on the other hand, is to think of applied scholarship in contrast to theoretical scholarship. But doing so segregates the interconnected dimensions of the human understanding Gadamer emphasizes. The dichotomy between theory and practice plays itself out in tensions of one sort or another all across campus. The presumption is that these are two different approaches, that theory can develop in isolation from practice and later be deployed in practical situations in order to solve real world problems.

In truth, theory must be practiced, and practice theorized if we are to attain a deeper understanding capable of addressing the most difficult challenges we face.
To diminish the efficacy of this impoverishing dichotomy, I speak of “engaged scholarship.” In so doing, I have something like Gadamer’s understanding of understanding in mind.
Engaged scholarship is informed by theory rooted in practice; and it is animated by practice enriched by theory. This means engaged scholarship is dialogical; it must respond to present concerns and challenges prepared to learn from the encounter with the complexities of each situation. Engaged scholarship is contextual; it is attuned to its own theoretical history and the history of the people and places with which it is engaged. It recognizes its own fallibility and is prepared to alter its approach, reconsider its assumptions, and reorient its perspective in response to the shortcomings it discovers in its encounters with the world.

Engaged scholarship requires cultivating the habits of dialogical response-ability I’ve written about in detail in my book on truth in Aristotle. They are also the habits I hope to embody as a dean.

Toward an MSU Arts and Culture Scholar Credential

By | Education, The Long Road | No Comments

As a member of the Cultural Engagement Council at MSU, I’ve been thinking about how we might create a more coherent and integrated arts and cultural experience for students at the university.

Drawing on my experience with badging and micro credentialing at Penn State, what follows is a discussion of badges, an example of how we made use of them in the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State, a proposal for how they might be used to create an MSU Arts and Culture Scholar badge program, and an example of how we are using badges for our College Teaching Graduate Certificate.

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Badges at MSU.002

Micro credentials have surface and depth. On the surface is the image of the badge, but underneath is the meta data associated with the badge and, most interestingly, the evidence that demonstrates how the badge was earned.

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There are a variety of uses for micro credentials, ranging from curricular to cross-curricular, from professional development to certifications.

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When I was Associate Dean in the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State, we developed at Liberal Arts Citizens badge to credential students for undertaking activities associated with the virtues of the liberal arts.

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There were four categories, including cultivating global perspective. One of the ways you could earn the Global Perspective was by being a “Globalist,” which we described this way: “Living abroad, whether for study or work, enables you to understand and appreciate other cultures and to see your own in a new way. Earn the Globalist badge by completing a six-week or longer study or intern abroad program.” To earn that badge, students had to write a blog post reflecting on their global experience.

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We also wanted to engage students to take initiative in their education. One way to earn the “Initiative” badge was to be an “Apprentice.” Here is how we described the Apprentice credential: “Learning by doing is a great way to develop knowledge and expertise. Earn The Apprentice badge by putting theory into practice in an internship or an undergraduate research experience.” The evidence for this badge requires students to have a supervisor write a short recommendation on the student’s LinkedIn page.

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A third cultivated habit was associate with a liberal arts education is leadership. One way students could demonstrate leadership was to become more self-aware. The Self-Aware Leader badge could be earned when a student completed Strengths Finder and reviewed the results with a career adviser.

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Fourth, we wanted to encourage students to be actively engaged with their own education, so we created an engagement badge. One way to earn it was to be a “Great Storyteller.” “Great storytelling allows you to bring people together and motivate them to act. Earn the Storyteller badge by participating actively and constructively in conversations on Liberal Arts Voices social media channels.”

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To earn the Liberal Arts Citizen badge, students needed to complete one from each category and then two other badges from any category. We designed a number of ways to earn badges that were relatively easy and others that were more challenging, so students with varying constraints on their time and resources could complete them. For example, a student could be earn the Global Perspective badge by working with international students on campus.

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As Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State, I am a member of the Cultural Engagement Council. One of the challenges we face is to provide students with a coherent and sustained arts and culture experience throughout their time at MSU. Given the model we developed at Penn State, I thought we could create a micro credentialing system through which students could earn the MSU Arts and Culture Scholar Badge.

What follows is a prototype in development for what such a credential might include. This is still in development.

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As students attend artistic performances, participate in discussion groups, enroll in our arts curriculum across the university, or visit a museum, they could earn badges if they demonstrate evidence of writing reflectively about them and thinking in a substantive way about how these experiences integrate with their majors or career goals.

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Perhaps the experiences could be organized into three broad areas: Performing Arts, Fine Arts, and Media Arts.

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Then, in order to earn the macro badge as an MSU Arts and Culture Scholar, students would need to combine badges from these three broad areas and demonstrate some ability to reflect upon how their arts and culture experience at MSU fits into a broader understanding of their life goals.

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We already have a badge system for our College Teaching Graduate Certificate in the College of Arts and Letters.

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To earn this badge, graduate students need to document their developing expertise as teachers in the classroom, through mentoring and professional development, research, and by creating a digital presence that showcases their work. In addition to the badge, the Graduate School at MSU provides a certification in College Teaching that appears on a student’s transcript.

Here are the slides on SlideShare:

On Touch and Life in the De Anima

By | Articles, Book Chapter, Vita | No Comments

“On Touch and Life in the De Anima.” In Phenomenology and the Metaphysics of Sight, edited by Antonio Cimino and Pavlos Kontos, (Leiden: Brill Academic Publisher, 2015, 69-94).

Although Aristotle is often thought to give canonical voice to the priority of vision as the most noble of the human powers of perceiving, this article demonstrates that in Aristotle, touch has a priority vision lacks.

By tracing the things Aristotle says about touch in the De Anima and specifically the manner in which he identifies touch as a kind of mean condition, this essay argues that a deeper understanding of the nature of touch connects us humans more deeply to animal life and the natural world we inhabit. Read More

Catalytic Opportunities

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | No Comments

Continuing my experiment in public writing along the way, this post on Medium outlines the contours of what I’ve been thinking about as “catalytic opportunities.”

Catalytic Opportunities

I’ve begun thinking about strategic initiatives as catalytic.

In chemistry, a catalyst causes a chemical reaction without itself being affected. But this isn’t exactly what I have in mind, because I don’t mind if the catalyst itself is enriched by its own activity. Rather, I am thinking about initiatives that, when they are undertaken, infuse multiple strategic priorities with enriching energy.

Perhaps that is too abstract. Here is an example of what I would like to call a catalytic opportunity.

My predecessor, Karin Wurst, established a Technology Teaching Assistantship for graduate students in the arts and humanities that provides one assistantship to each graduate program in the College. My colleagues, Bill Hart-Davidson, Associate Dean for Graduate Education, and Scott Schopieray, Assistant Dean for Technology and Innovation, have integrated these Tech Teaching Assistants into a wider Graduate Certificate in College Teaching program. The certificate is designed to mentor and train the next generation of undergraduate teachers. Graduate students with a Tech TA are able to use the certificate curriculum to focus on basic principles of instructional design and best practices for teaching and learning with technology.

The Tech TA initiative already had a catalytic dimension insofar as it advanced two priorities at once: 1) to enhance the competitive advantage of our graduate students as they enter a very tight job market and 2) to provide our graduate programs with sustainable support that would allow them to reallocate program resources in strategic ways.

The graduate focus of the Tech TA initiative is shifted by the Graduate Certificate in College Teaching, which catalyzes that energy by advancing an important undergraduate priority: to improve the quality of our undergraduate teaching. The catalytic energy of these two initiatives, however, also position us to strategically address another undergraduate priority: to improve our time to degree rates. By training graduate students to design compelling summer online courses that are strategically targeted at those courses students need to complete their majors or minors in a program, students are better able to take full advantage of the summer as they progress toward graduation.

These summer courses, in turn, generate some revenue back to the College and the programs that can be used to further enhance and support the catalytic initiatives. This is why, in addition to thinking about them as “catalytic initiatives,” I also talk about them as creating a virtuous circle in which resources are generated to support the main graduate and undergraduate mission of the College.

So as I talk to faculty and colleagues across the campus, I am listening for what might be called “catalytic opportunities” that will allow us to improve the quality of the education we offer and the research we undertake.

What catalytic opportunities have you encountered? Are there ways we in the College of Arts and Letters at MSU can help further catalyze them?

Habits of Public Writing

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | One Comment

This post on Medium initiates an experiment in public writing designed to facilitate transparency and refine my thinking in relation to issues I face in my role as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University.

I welcome engagement here on the Long Road or there on Medium.

Habits of Public Writing

When I write regularly, I think I’m a better administrator — probably a better husband and father, certainly a better scholar.

Writing affords me an opportunity to slow down and reflect, to craft a thought or articulate an idea. It gives me pause, and it opens a space for me to think holistically and strategically. Writing pulls me out of the busy-ness that captures so much of the time each day.

In a scholarly context, I have long understood that my own position only really emerges when I begin to write in earnest. Prior to that, I am a gatherer. My mind is open to possibilities and widely varying interpretations — or it is at least on my good days.

But writing brings things into focus.

Of course, as Socrates famously reminds Phaedrus, writing also has a tendency to calcify ideas. If in writing, my position finds its voice, in writing too, that voice becomes inert.
Yet, the affordances of digital modes of public writing can breathe life into those ideas that, in being written, too easily calcify into doctrine.

In my role as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State, I am all too aware of how my words are parsed each day, as colleagues attempt to discern what my position is and where they stand in relation to it.

We have, of course, many ways of communicating with a variety of different audiences associated with the College. The good work of Ryan Kilcoyne and his communication team ensure that the material we share publicly is carefully crafted and strategically designed. Our blog, the Long View, enables us to highlight and share more fully polished ideas and initiatives.

But what I am missing is a way to think out loud without each word being received as College doctrine, as The Position of the Dean. What I hope to open here on @Medium is a space in which to cultivate the habit of reflective writing along the way, even in the messiness of the everyday work of being a Dean at a major research university.

So, to begin, let’s agree, that if you read it here, it is unfinished. If it is written here, it is open to revision. And if you are interested in helping to shape the thinking you encounter here, you are invited to comment and to lend your voice in writing to what I write here.
So with more than a little trepidation, and with some concern that I will now have publicly committed to do something I am ultimately unable to accomplish, I’d like to try to use @Medium as a platform for this sort of public reflective writing along the way.

I welcome fellow travelers in this endeavor, but I ask for your patience and generosity. This is an experiment, an attempt to write publicly in a way that will help me continue to focus on what is most important to me: to cultivate a culture of excellence in the College of Arts and Letters, to embody dialogical transparency, and to live out a commitment to the transformative power of education.

Paths to Explore

By | Dean, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | No Comments

Last week was the first week of the fall semester at Michigan State. It was my first opportunity to welcome new students to campus as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters.

In order to encourage students to identify with the College and to feel that their Dean is accessible and engaged, we created a fun video, wrote an open letter of welcome, and used Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to celebrate the beginning of our academic journey at MSU.

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The Edge of the Oak Opening

By | Dean, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 4 Comments

As I begin my tenure as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University I find myself thinking of these lines adapted from Deuteronomy 6:10-12 by Peter Raible:

“We build on foundations we did not lay. We warm ourselves at fires we did not light. We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant. We drink from wells we did not dig. We profit from persons we did not know.”

The passage resonates with me now as I take up residence in the Dean’s office on the third floor of Linton Hall, a space that was itself for many years the Office of the President, first of Michigan State College, and then, under the leadership of John Hannah, of Michigan State University.

Linton Hall is the oldest academic building on campus. It sits at the edge of the original “oak opening” that was chosen in 1855 as the site for the Michigan State Agricultural College. 1 The office itself looks out over the “sacred space” around which Michigan State University has grown and flourished. 2 Indeed much of that growth was planned and executed by John Hannah within the walls of what is now the Dean’s office.

What it means to inhabit this office, John Hannah’s office, at the edge of the original oak opening around which Michigan State was founded is something I have been considering since I accepted the position of Dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

That it is now the Office of the Dean of Arts and Letters is perhaps appropriate, for it is the site from which the Michigan State University bodied forth during the middle part of the 20th century when John Hannah put the liberal arts at the center of its educational mission:

The concept of a great university as distinguished from a technical and professional school invariably emphasizes leadership in the realm of the cultural and humanistic… Michigan State was founded in the new scientific tradition, and has made a name for itself in that area of intellectual activity. But it has always placed a strong emphasis upon the liberal arts in general education. 3

It was not until Floyd Reeves, an educator from the University of Chicago, arrived at Michigan State College to create the Basic College in 1944 that a well-rounded liberal arts curriculum was established and MSC began to grow into the research university it is today. 4 The Basic College’s general education curriculum and the increasing emphasis on humanistic and artistic education helped to transform what had been a local agricultural college into Michigan State University.

If “we build upon foundations we did not lay,” it is important to keep in mind that those foundations were themselves laid upon a strong and sustained commitment to the arts and humanities.

As I move into John Hannah’s office, I feel the weight and power of that commitment; and as I begin as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, I hope we will draw deeply upon it as we continue the important work that has been handed down to us to deepen our understanding of the world we share and to enrich the lives of those we encounter.

Digital Dialogue 72: Reading Plato

By | Digital Dialogue Podcast, Socratic and Platonic Politics, The Evolving Book | One Comment

It is probably fair to say that Will Altman and I met one another in my book Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy. Perhaps it is strange to think of a book as a place in which two people can meet one another, but it was in Will’s reading of my book, his reaching out to me to share his generous review of the book, and then his willingness to enter into dialogue with me in the digital space the book opened and seeks to cultivate, that we came to know one another.

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Inhabiting a Liminal Space

By | Education, Living, LwCH, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 3 Comments

With the announcement that I would be recommended as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State, Val, the girls, and I entered a liminal space.

I have long be drawn to the idea of the liminal, that dynamic space of ambiguity characteristic of transitions, but to conscientiously inhabit a liminal space is an altogether difficult endeavor.

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Teaching and Learning Philosophy with Technology

By | Teaching Related, Technology, The Long Road | No Comments

My friend and colleague, Rick Lee (@rickleephilos), asked me to speak with his graduate teaching seminar at DePaul University about using technology to teach philosophy.

Rick and I have a long history of conversations extending back to our days as graduate students ourselves in the Philosophy Department of the Graduate Faculty at the New School for Social Research, so I jumped at the opportunity to engage him and his students on an issue that is of central interest to both of us.

In order to provide a bit of structure to that conversation, I have gathered here some resources about teaching philosophy with technology that I have curated and developed over time.

My basic approach is informed by a vision of education as a cooperative endeavor. I wrote about that back in 2010 when I was working on Aristotle on the Nature of Truth and thinking a lot about the work of Frederick Woodbridge.

There I wrote:

Cooperative education, then, must cultivate certain excellences in those faculty and students committed to it. It will need to teach and learn openness, comfort with ambiguity, generosity and equity. It will need to affirm the value of difference, embrace diversity and seek common ground. It will need to be animated by mutual respect for the experience of students and for the wisdom of teachers. It will need to empower students to take ownership of their education and faculty to move from imposition to collaboration.

I stand by that articulation of the nature of cooperative education and mention it here as a kind of orienting principle of teaching philosophy with technology.

As an endeavor, the attempt to integrate technology into the learning process has always been more about the pedagogy than the technology. Still, it would be naïve not to consider what it is possible to do with technology and what technology is doing to us in the process.

I tried to articulate the connection between technology and the practice of philosophy here:

In order to cultivate a culture of cooperation in the classroom, it is important for the faculty member to relinquish some control in order to empower students to take a more active role in the learning endeavor.

This was the strategy in my PHIL200 course in which I had students do all of their writing for the course in public on a co-authored course blog.

The pedagogical value (and risk) of public writing is that it brings the weight of appearing in public to bear on the learning experience.

Here some questions emerge:

  • What are the pedagogical affordances and limitations of having students write in a publicly accessible space?
  • How does making the boundaries of the classroom more porous enrich and impoverish the learning experience?
  • What learning objectives might be served by public writing?

Blogging in my courses is assessed by a robust scoring rubric designed to cultivate ongoing writing throughout the semester.

You are welcome to view, adopt, and adapt the scoring rubric here.

I have developed these ideas more fully in my article on Cultivating Communities of Learning with Digital Media public in Teaching Philosophy:

Aside from blogging, what technologies might be deployed to cultivate a culture of collaboration in the classroom?

  • Zotero can be used to share notes and pdfs associated with secondary sources so students can learn the art of collaborative research.
  • Diigo is a good way to curate and annotate the web with students.
  • Tumblr or Known are good ways for students to share content from around the web related to a specific course.
  • Then, of course, there is Twitter, a great way to engage students throughout the semester by crediting a hashtag for your course and sharing content along the way. You might think about using Storify to create and curate posts from Twitter and across the web.

A Liberal Arts Response to #Ferguson

By | Education, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | 3 Comments

The liberal arts have always given us powerful ways to study and understand the world we inhabit. The events in Ferguson call for a liberal arts approach because they are multidimensional. They require us to think critically, understand historically, analyze soberly, and respond ethically. This is what the liberal arts do, and it is what we hope to empower our students to do in this course.

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Tracking Plato’s Dogs

By | Articles, Publication: Journal, Vita | No Comments

“Who Let the Dogs Out? Tracking the Philosophical Life Among the Wolves and Dogs of Plato’s Republic.” In Plato’s Animals: Gadflies, Snakes, Stingrays, Swans, and Other Philosophical Beasts, edited by Jeremy Bell and Michael Naas, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2015). Available in Open Access Format: http://hdl.handle.net/2022/19576

Identifying a sustainable model for open access publishing in the humanities is a challenge that calls for creative experimental solutions. The model that sustains the growth of open access scholarship in the sciences is rooted in federal funding mechanisms that are unavailable at the same scale for the humanities. This situation requires innovative collaboration between humanities scholars and publishers to develop sustainable ways to provide open access to humanities scholarship at scale.

I am happy to report here on one such collaborative experiment in open access publishing in the humanities. Read More

The Liberal Arts and Sciences and the 21st Century Land Grant Mission

By | The Liberal Arts, The Long Road | No Comments

At the beginning of the Physics, Aristotle captures something of the essence of the liberal arts and sciences as an endeavor. This path from the surface of things to a deeper understanding of their nature is the common root of all disciplines in the liberal arts and sciences; it is the passage from a superficial encounter with the environment to a more substantive engagement with the complexity of the world we inhabit.

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The @PubPhilJ Paradigm

By | The Long Road, The Public Philosophy Journal | No Comments

At Bucknell’s Digital Scholarship Conference last fall, Zeynep Tufekci made a compelling case for public academic writing. Her keynote address, Researching Out Loud: Public Scholarship as a Process of Publishing Before and After Publishing, argued that public academic writing can have enriching effects on both public discourse and the research and pedagogy of individual scholars.

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Mellon Grant Expands Support for the Public Philosophy Journal

By | Grants, Fellowships, Awards, Vita | One Comment

Here is the press release we wrote for the second Public Philosophy Journal grant from the Mellon Foundation:

Penn State has been awarded $549,000 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for an additional two years of development for the Public Philosophy Journal, an online space for accessible and rigorous scholarly discourse on issues of public concern. The project is a collaborative endeavor between the Department of Philosophy at Penn State and the Matrix Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at Michigan State University.

Supported during its first year by a $236,000 Mellon grant, the Public Philosophy Journal grew an active community of readers and curators on its development website while building the networking and publishing platform that will be released in beta early in 2015. The second and third years of funding will enable further development of the platform and infrastructure, ongoing community development, a graduate apprentice program with Penn State University Press, writing workshops, and sustainability planning. The journal expects to publish its first open-peer-reviewed scholarly artifacts in Fall 2015, with its first volume being complete by early 2016.

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Plato's Dialogues in Digital

By | Socratic and Platonic Politics, The Long Road | No Comments

There is nothing more fun to teach than Plato’s dialogues. Whether they love him or hate him, the figure of Socrates Plato draws in his dialogues move students to think more deeply about their relationships with one another and the world they inhabit. If you plan to teach the Protagoras, Gorgias, Phaedo, Apology, or Phaedrus this semester, I invite you and your students to take a look at the relevant chapter of my enhanced digital book on Socratic and Platonic political philosophy and join the conversation online.

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Coffee, Smart Phones, and Open Access in the Humanities

By | Digital Scholarship, The Long Road | One Comment

@cplong: Advocacy for Open Access in the humanities is gaining momentum. I myself have committed to reviewing articles for Open Access journals and am working with colleagues to develop a new model of open access online publishing in philosophy via the Public Philosophy Journal. But it’s easy to advocate for OA, especially for established scholars, but what are the wider implications of OA in the humanities, and what sustainable funding models can be identified that would make more scholarship openly accessible to a wider public?

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Performing Collaborative Scholarship

By | Presentation: Interactive | 6 Comments

In this interactive keynote address for the Bucknell Digital Scholarship Conference: Collaborating Digitally, I articulate a model of collaborative scholarship in Philosophy that has enabled me to bring undergraduate students and a wider community of scholars into the research that has informed two projects: my interactive enhanced digital book, Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy, published by Cambridge University Press, and the Mellon funded, Public Philosophy Journal.

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Philosophy and the Networked Public

By | Presentation: Academic, Vita | One Comment

Philosophy has always been a public activity, although its relationship with the public and its own public nature have long been fraught with anxiety for philosophy and the public both.

At this year’s Society for Phenomenology and Existentialist Philosophy, the advocacy committee organized a panel entitled “New Media, Social Networks, and Philosophy.” Each panelist was asked to frame the conversation in ways that might open a wider discussion.

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Digital Dialogue 70: Thinking the Plural

By | Digital Dialogue Podcast | No Comments

Richard Lee, Jr., Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University, joins Chris Long for episode 70 of the Digital Dialogue to talk about the teaching and philosophy of Richard Bernstein. Rick and I were students of Bernstein in the early 1990’s, and although we learned a lot of philosophical content from Dick, mostly what we learned was an open, engaged, and fallibilistic way of doing philosophy in dialogue.

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The Ethics of Philosophy in a Digital Age

By | Presentations, Vita | No Comments

To honor the work of Richard J. Bernstein, a group of colleagues and former students will gather at Stony Brook University for a conference entitled, Thinking the Plural: Richard J. Bernstein’s Contribution to American Philosophy.

The papers from this conference are also being collected for a volume of the same name, edited by former students Marcia Morgan and Jonathan Pickle.

My contribution has the working title: The Ethics of Philosophy in a Digital Age: Peirce, Dewey, Bernstein and the Cultivation of Creative Digital Democracies. Drawing on Bernstein’s account of the ethos of pragmatism in his 1988 Presidential Address to the American Philosophical Association, the essay advocates for practices of digital communicative transaction rooted in the habits of an “engaged fallibilistic pluralism.”

Because these habits must be informed by digital practices, I’ve invited comment on an earlier draft of this paper here on this site, and received substantive feedback both in the comment section and via Twitter.

At Stony Brook, I will continue the process of drawing on a wider digital public to further develop the argument of the paper by live tweeting my talk and opening a space for ongoing conversation here on the blog.

AltAc and the Engaged PhD

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Vita | No Comments

Without diminishing the centrality of the PhD research endeavor, how can we cultivate more engaged graduate students?

This presentation situates the graduate research endeavor in its wider institutional and public context and suggests two concrete ways to give PhDs enhanced skills that will enable them to enrich their institutions and the wider world they inhabit.

For the full text of the presentation, see The Engaged PhD.

Socratic and Platonic Politics

By | Presentation: Academic, Presentations, Vita | No Comments

This presentation argues that there is a difference, and a similarity, between the ways Socrates and Plato practice politics.

Socratic politics, as depicted in Plato’s dialogues, may be characterized as the practice of using spoken words to turn the individuals one encounters toward the questions of what is just and beautiful and good. These three ideas function as erotic ideals that entice those animated by Socratic questioning to live a life seeking justice, beauty and the good. Of course, one of the main things we learn from the figure of Socrates we meet in the Platonic dialogues is that those ideals, however alluring, remain always ultimately elusive to finite human beings. Even so, Socratic politics is designed to cultivate in individuals a desire for them and to enjoin us to weave a concern for them into our relationships with one another.

The main argument of the lecture is that what Socrates attempts to do with those with whom he speaks, Plato attempts to do with those to whom he writes.

Platonic writing is political not because it presents manifestos, but because it requires each of us who encounters his texts to become actively concerned with the ideals of justice, beauty and the good and to consider how the course of our lives and our relationships with one another can be enriched by an engagement with those ideals.

The relationship between Socrates and the individuals he encounters is the site of Socratic politics. It is a “topology,” a place of saying.

The relationship between the written text and each individual reader is the site of Platonic politics. It is a “topography,” a place of writing.

The interactive lecture will outline the differences between the topology of Socratic politics and the topography of Platonic politics in order to invite further engagement with these ideas on the interactive website of my enhanced digital book: Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy: Practicing a Politics of Reading.

Adventures in Open Access: Plato's Dogs, Unleashed

By | Digital Scholarship, The Long Road | One Comment

It was paragraph three, section b) of the Contributor Publishing Agreement from Indiana University Press that gave me pause.

In it I read that I would not be permitted to post the final published version of my article, “Who Let the Dogs Out? Tracking the Philosophical Life among the Wolves and Dogs of Plato’s Republic,” on my website until a full year after the date of its publication.

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The Public Philosophy Journal at #DH2014

By | Presentations, The Public Philosophy Journal, Vita | 2 Comments

In this poster session, we present the project of the Public Philosophy Journal and our plans for cultivating a community of engaged scholars to sustain it.

At the session, we explain our motivations for designing the journal to perform public philosophy as its mode of publication, highlight the journal’s role as a hub for community-sourced curation and open peer review of existing work, and introduce our model for the collaborative writing and editing of publicly engaged scholarship.

We draw attention to common aims of differing conceptions of public philosophy, and discuss how the PPJ will leverage digital media in promoting both reasoned deliberation concerning the public good and the modeling of virtues of thought, expression, and action within the public sphere.

Here is the poster itself, designed in collaboration with Matrix at Michigan State:

Public Philosophy Journal Poster for DH2014

Public Philosophy Journal Poster for DH2014

Toward an Ethics of Philosophy in a Digital Age

By | Digital Scholarship, The Long Road | 3 Comments

To honor the work of Richard Bernstein and specifically his influence as a teacher at the New School for Social Research, Marcia Morgan and Jonathan Pickle invited a group of his former students to write essays for a volume entitled The Philosophical Spirit of the New School: A Festschrift in Honor of Richard J. Bernstein. I am making a draft of my contribution available here for comment in an attempt to live out the argument I make in it about the ethics of philosophy as a practice of public communication.

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Seeding Publics from a World of Readers

By | Digital Scholarship, The Long Road | One Comment

In his own essay on Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?,” Foucault ascribes to Baudelaire a modern attitude that captures well the spirit of Kant’s public essay on enlightenment.

For Baudelaire, according to Foucault, modernity is “an exercise in which extreme attention to what is real is confronted with the practice of the liberty that simultaneously respects this reality and violates it.”

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