Linton Hall Through A Glass Ball

Living Values

By | Dean | No Comments

In the open letter we wrote to the College of Arts & Letters community in January 2018, we promised to look critically at ourselves, recognize our failures, and rebuild the trust that is required of us. This commitment has led to an intense period of critical self-reflection in the Dean’s Office and across the College in which we have considered the core values we aspire to embody in our work and interactions with one another.

Over the summer and through the fall, all units in the College undertook a values-based planning process in which the core values of each unit were identified and mapped onto the major initiatives each seeks to advance. 

The Process

In November of 2017, the HuMetricsHSS initiative held a workshop on the “Value of Values,” in which we considered the core values that shape scholarship in the humanities and social sciences and how those values might be embodied in the practices and products of scholarship. A major takeaway from that workshop was the transformative power of conversations about values in deepening relationships with colleagues and refining our own understanding of our scholarly work. 

Drawing on these lessons, we in the College of Arts & Letters Dean’s Office developed Guidelines for a Values-Based Planning Process in which we asked units to:

  • Identify the core values that animate your work together, and
  • Articulate how these values are put into practice in the main initiatives you plan to undertake over the next three years.

We invited all our units to participate in this process, including administrative units in which staff were fully engaged in the conversations that identified and mapped values.

We had a good sense of the effectiveness of this approach because we had undertaken a similar process in our August 2018 deans retreat and in our September 2018 retreat with department chairs. In the deans retreat we identified three values to which we are committed as a group. Although we have intentionally sought to enact these values in our work this year, I resisted a desire to write explicitly about them at the time, because I didn’t want to predispose units in the College as they reflected on their values and identified the practices that bring them to life.

Whiteboard from August 2018 College of Arts & Letters Deans Retreat
Values, Weaknesses, Conditions

In embarking on this values based approach to planning, we have been intentional in emphasizing that the process itself is the product. Candid conversations about the values we hold most dear and the initiatives through which we will put those values into practice build the trust we need to advance our work together with integrity. 

Now that the values-based Fall Planning process in the College is complete and all units have submitted letters that articulate core values and the initiatives through which they will be enacted, it is important publicly to share and reflect upon the process and some of the results. Openness emerged as a core value, so making our process transparent and reflecting publicly on the values that shape our work is one important way to live up to our commitment to openness.

The Values

A heartening aspect of this process has been both the diversity of values that were identified across the College and the emergence of a group of what might now fairly be called the shared values of the College of Arts & Letters.

Three core values emerged as primary:

  1. Equity – inclusivity, diversity, social justice, equitable access, accessibility
  2. Openness – transparency, open process, candor, accountability, open source
  3. Community – collaboration, collegiality, empathy, respect, connection
Values Cloud from the College of Arts & Letters Fall Planning Process

These values shaped our 2018 College of Arts & Letters Fall Planning Letter to the Provost as we articulated the initiatives through which we will put these values into practice.

One thing to note is that at the deans retreat in August we articulated equity, openness, and accountability as core values. It was heartening to see that two of the three values we had emphasized as important come up through the Fall Planning process. Where we had ‘accountability’, the College process surfaced ‘community’. The commitment to community engagement that runs through the College dovetails well with the land-grant mission of the University and with our efforts to bring the arts and humanities into the world in ways that enrich our lives together.

Accountability emerged in the Deans retreat as an internal and external check on our commitment to living up to the values for which we advocate. The power of a values-based approach is that it requires us to reflect on what animates our lives and work. Values are anchoring and aspirational; they hold us accountable to what is most important and empower us toward the selves and communities we most want to be. In reflecting on our values, we also recognize the degree to which we fall short of them. We are, in a sense, always on our way toward our core values even as they also shape the ways we live and work together.

In The Price of the Ticket, James Baldwin references a song in which this powerful line appears:

I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do. 1

Identifying our core values as a College is only the beginning of a longer- term commitment. However difficult those initial values conversations have been, or however inspirational and empowering, the more difficult challenge is for us to live them through the initiatives we undertake. In order to do that, we must hold each other accountable to the values we’ve identified, cleaving close to them as we weave our commitments to one another into the communities about which we care so deeply.

In our 2018 Deans Report: Resilience, we sought to tell the stories of how we are living our values. The video on the Culture of Care captures some of the progress we have made and points to the importance of the work ahead. 

Six Images of Resilience

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. 

Sincerely,
Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters

Six Images of Resilience
Pittsburgh Bridges 2009

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

Red Cedar River in July

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.

Original Seal of the Michigan Agriculture College

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.

Sincerely,

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

Linton Hall in Spring

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.

Sincerely,

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

Tree Roots

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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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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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.

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.

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.

Sincerely,

Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters

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.

Sincerely,
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.

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.

View story at Medium.com
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.

humetricsteam

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

#SpartanDeans

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:

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.

Sincerely,

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:

View story at Medium.com

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:

View story at Medium.com

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:

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

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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

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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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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:

Catalytic Opportunities

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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.

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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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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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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Beginning Anew with #PSUGenEd

By | The Administrative Life, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | No Comments

At the Penn State General Education Spring 2014 retreat, we decided to begin anew with GenEd as we try to find ways to feasibly adopt a curriculum that would be animated by substantive integrative learning outcomes. At the retreat, we ripped up the planned agenda, and started thinking anew about how to create a curriculum worthy of our Penn State students.

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General Education Reform at Penn State

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

The Information Technology unit at Penn State holds IT Matters breakfasts a few times a year. This semester I joined colleagues on stage to talk about my work and how it intersects with IT at Penn State.

Because we have partnered with Brad Koslek and the TLT Studio to create a dynamic online space of dialogue and conversation about General Education reform at Penn State, they asked me about the PSUGenEd reform process. My 4 minute riff on GenEd, its importance, and how we are trying to change it at Penn State is embedded below.

Our partnership with the TLT Studio has gone some distance in modeling a way of using digital media to cultivate community around an important education reform issue. Because Penn State is a single university geographically dispersed, the GenEd Matters site has become a kind of marketplace of ideas and information about the GenEd reform process. We have sought to include a wide public in these conversations and, as a result, we have received an enormous amount of very helpful feedback on the process and suggestions for the emerging curriculum.

The site is continually being updated, its functionality improved even as we use it to engage in conversation. It’s a little like rebuilding the ship of Theseus as we sail it. Still, it is an intensely collaborative endeavor as we think about how design impacts discussion and how transformative reform can be undertaken in and with a thoughtful public.

You are invited to watch the video and join the conversation.

#PSUGenEd and the Research Endeavor

By | The Administrative Life, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | No Comments

We at Penn State are engaged in an intense, ongoing and, in my view, very healthy dialogue about General Education reform.

In order to integrate the research endeavor into the undergraduate experience, we ought to more intentionally engage leaders of our university institutes and college centers as we develop coordinated clusters of courses around specific research themes.

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Cultivating an Online Scholarly Presence

By | Presentation: Interactive, Presentation: Other, Presentations, The Graduate Experience, Vita | 5 Comments

Graduate students are often confronted with conflicting advice about how much of their academic work they should share publicly online.

Although there are good reasons to consider carefully what one shares and how, graduate students who do not intentionally cultivate an online scholarly presence will increasingly be at a disadvantage both professionally and academically.

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Expanding the Humanities PhD Market

By | The Graduate Experience, The Long Road | One Comment

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article Susan Welch and I wrote about the data the College has collected since 1996 on the placement of our graduate students in the social sciences and the humanities. In it we focus on how the 2008 recession affected placements for our humanities PhDs.

The short story, as mentioned in the article, is that “the impact of the 2008 recession was far more severe on our humanities PhDs than it was on their counterparts in the social sciences.”

We said that the trend away from tenure-line positions toward more non-tenure line positions is “worrisome,” but it is of course not surprising. Major colleges and universities, including ours, increasingly rely on fixed-term lecturers to provide high quality and dedicated teaching for our undergraduates. In the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State, we have sought to ensure that our lecturers receive good benefits, are integrated into the academic life of the College, and have fair, renewable contracts.

Still, the deeper question in relation to the placement of Humanities PhDs is how to respond to a situation in which the market of tenure-line positions for which we train students continues to be anemic. We didn’t have space to address this in the article, nor would it have been appropriate in that context.

However, there are a number of strategies we have adopted in the College to give our Humanities PhDs experiences that can help expand the markets in which they might more effectively compete.

First, we have developed the Humanities in a Digital Age initiative in collaboration with the University Libraries. Here is how we articulate its purpose and value:

The HDA initiative was created to enhance the research and public profiles of humanities faculty in the College and the University Libraries, open new opportunities for high caliber graduate placements in the humanities, and enrich the undergraduate experience by providing undergraduate students access to and support for cutting-edge humanities research.

By combining digital literacies with advanced humanities degrees, we hope to open new markets for our Humanities PhDs. These students bring advanced communication, analytic and critical capacities to their digital work and learn how to effectively use technology to build community, work collaboratively and engage a wider public beyond the academy.

Second, we have created a Graduate Internship Program for our social science and humanities PhD students. The program is designed to provide PhD students with an opportunity to learn more about the work of the wider university and to develop a wider range of marketable skills. This is how we put it on the website:

Recognizing that graduate students in the humanities and social sciences have highly sought-after writing, communication, and quantitative skills that can enrich the operations of units across the university, the Liberal Arts Graduate Internship Program (GRIP) is designed to connect graduate students in the liberal arts with those university units that can most benefit from their expertise.

We are working with units across the university to create a variety of these internship experiences. The hope is that such experiences will enable Humanities PhDs who obtain a tenure-line appointment to become more effective young faculty because they will have a better sense of how a university operates. But we also want to open new opportunities to those students who, by choice or necessary, pursue a career off the tenure-track.

Third, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State has recently become a member of the Humanities Without Walls consortium. One of the main initiatives of the consortium is to help pre-doctoral students in the humanities pursue meaningful careers outside the academy.

Finally, speaking of alternative academic careers in the humanities, the Center for American Literary Studies (CALS) is hosting a symposium this spring on #Alt-Ac careers on March 3rd, 2014. I am looking forward to presenting on a panel about #Alt-Ac careers in the Liberal Arts.

All of these initiatives, however, are designed to augment and support our ongoing attempt to educate creative, incisive, and visionary scholars in the humanities.

General Education Reform and the Art of Listening

By | The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 12 Comments

By the time we took the stage as the final panel of the day, we had heard the voices of expert educators, faculty, administrators, employers and alums speak about the value and importance of general education. Now it was our turn.

But this panel was to be reversed, with panelists asking questions of the audience and listening attentively in response.

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A Domain of Your Own

By | The Graduate Experience, The Long Road | 5 Comments

As a graduate student in the digital age, you need a domain of your own.

First of all, you will be Googled, and when you are, your domain should appear early in the results as the fulcrum of a carefully cultivated online identity.

Second, in order to leverage the power of the social web to cultivate a community of scholars interested in your work, you need a domain to which to point your friends on Facebook, your followers on Twitter, and those who have circled you on Google+.

In thinking about your online presence as a graduate student or academic, it is helpful to conceive of it as a kind of ecosystem in which various elements work together to offer the public a picture of who you are and the work you are doing.

A canonical website – a domain of your own – should provide the essential nutrients of your online ecosystem. To create one, register your name or, if you have a relatively common name, register a unique name that identifies you across a wide spectrum of websites. It is not too expensive to register a domain name with a service like Blue Host, for example. Even if you decide to host your site somewhere else, it is important to register your domain so you have some control over your online identity.

Once you have a website setup under your domain, consider it the place in which you document your research, write reflectively on your scholarship, and invite others to discover your work. You might also use the site to curate content about a hobby of interest so as to give people a more well rounded sense of who you are. At minimum, anything you would put on your CV should be added your website and amplifed through various social media channels.

Depending on your area of research, one social media channel might be more important than another. There is a robust and influential community of Digital Humanists on Twitter, for example; while Academic.edu seems to be emerging as a kind of Linkedin for academics.

In this regard, Google Plus has a special role to play. Even if you are not very active on Google Plus, it is worth creating a profile and posting your work there because Google is beginning to integrate G+ into its core business operations, and specifically search. Once you create a G+ profile, you should link it to your domain. This allows Google to associate your G+ profile with the content you author on your site so they are able to serve information about you up with links they present in search results. When it’s set up, this is what is looks like in Google Search:

Chris Long Author G+

Here you can see the way information about you as author is connected with content you wrote to authenticate both the value of the link and your status as author. Once this connection is established, you will be better able to control the content associated with your name when a potential employer or an interested student or colleague Googles you to find out more about your work.

Resources

Music, Philosophy and the Liberal Arts

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

On the day he was to die, we find Socrates writing poetry.

This is very strange because Socrates generally chose not to write, opting instead to engage in dialogue with those he encountered in and around Athens. But he has been haunted by certain dreams which, here at the end, he wonders if he has interpreted properly.

These recurring dreams told him: “Socrates, produce and practice music.” (Plato, Phaedo, 60e6-7.)

He had always taken this as an exhortation to practice philosophy which, he says, “is the highest kind of music.” (Phaedo, 61a3-4)

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Google Logo

The Googled Graduate Student

By | The Graduate Experience, The Long Road | 4 Comments

It is going to happen. Maybe not today or this week, but eventually, you will be Googled.

I am not talking about being Googled by an old friend interested in what you might be up to these days, but about the kind of Googling academics do when we are interested in learning more about the work of a young scholar.

Often, of course, this happens during a job search, but it can also happen in the course of your graduate education as you cultivate new professional relationships through disciplinary organizations and public appearances at conferences.

When it happens, you will want content you created to appear early and often in the search results.

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Beginning Again with the Liberal Arts

By | Education, The Liberal Arts, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | 4 Comments

The rhythm of the academic year returns us again to the beginning.

State College is charged with energy as parents drop off their children, some for the first time, and students turn and return to a course of study that will transform their lives.

This year, as in past years, I find myself thinking about how to address over 700 incoming freshman in the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State. I hope to encourage them to take an active role in their own education.

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Twitter Owl by Codiew

The Tweeting Graduate Student

By | Technology, The Graduate Experience, The Long Road | 10 Comments

They will tell you it is too dangerous, that you’ll say something stupid and never be hired.

They’ll say it is too fast, too superficial, too full of snark to be of any value to anyone who aspires to serious scholarship.

They’ll say it’s a waste of time, that it’s noise that will distract you from your research and dissertation.

But don’t listen to the naysayers who steer you away from Twitter and other modes of social media communication.

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Research and the Penn State Vision

By | Education, Technology, The Long Road | 2 Comments

The Long Road at the BWVision

On Saturday, January 19, 2013, I joined administrators, staff and members of the Penn State Board of Trustees for the Blue and White Vision Council Seminar at the Nittany Lion Inn. The goal of the seminar was to provide the Blue and White Vision Council a broad perspective to develop a strategic direction for teaching and technology at Penn State.

The seminar included two morning lectures, one by Michael Horn, co-founder and executive director of Innosight Institute, the other by Clay Shirky, Partner for Technology and Product Strategy at the Accelerator Group. Horn highlighted a white paper on Disrupting College in which he established an analogy between the demise of the steel industry and the current crisis in Higher Education. Shirky, on the other hand, offered a different analogy, suggesting that MOOCs unbundle courses from curricula in the way Napster and iTunes unbundled songs from albums. The suggestion in both analogies was that Higher Education is an enterprise ripe for disruptive transformation that would likely lead to the demise of many universities unable to respond effectively to the revolution in technology we are experiencing.

The afternoon was focused more on the innovations we at Penn State have already undertaken with the growth and expansion of the World Campus and the integration of strategies of teaching with technology into our residence curriculum.

The day was full and I continue to reflect upon it, but I left with an unsettled feeling that the heart of Penn State was somehow missing from the discussion. That feeling was surely rooted in the absence of the voice of faculty in general, and our research faculty in particular. The seminar focused on teaching and technology, so it would have made sense for our faculty to have been more centrally included. They were, with a few exceptions, largely absent.

This absence signals something of deeper concern, for it suggests that there may be a failure to appreciate the deep connection between scholarly research and teaching.

As I have argued previously, the most effective way for Penn State to defend and strengthen its position in Higher Education is through the research mission that has long sustained and enriched the education we offer students. Only by infusing rigorous academic scholarship into all aspects of the educational endeavor–from general education at the undergraduate level, to our online offerings on the World Campus, to our professional and academic graduate programs–will we be able to offer a more compelling and transformative education than those who seek to deliver courses more efficiently and inexpensively.

To be sure, rigorous scholarship will mean different things in each of these contexts, but the education we deliver in the future will be neither competitive nor compelling unless we empower our research faculty to infuse rigorous scholarship into all levels of the curriculum and to inspire a new generation of students to take up and appreciate the research endeavor in which knowledge is not merely passed down, but discovered.

This is not, of course, to say that we ought not be innovative, or that we ought to reject opportunities to improve efficiencies and cut costs. Nor is it to deny the economic challenges facing our educational enterprise.

But our innovation must be fueled by rigorous academic research, our curriculum made relevant and compelling by engaged and engaging public scholarship, and our attempts to reach out beyond the physical campuses of the university ought to be animated by a vision of education rooted in a commitment to the transformative power of academic research.

If Saturday was designed in part to articulate for the Board a vision of the future of education at Penn State, I fear they may have left without a deep understanding of what ought to drive that future: excellent academic scholarship.

Initial Reflections on MOOCs and the College Curriculum

By | Education, Technology, The Long Road | 11 Comments

As the debate over Massively Open Online Courses, also known by their unfortunate acronym: MOOC, rages on, I thought I would begin by curating a few articles here:

http://www.diigo.com/user/cplong/MOOC

The impetus for this little Diigo collection is the recent appearance of two articles, one skeptical of MOOCs, the other more sanguine about their transformative power.

In their December 17, 2012 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “For Whom Is College Being Reinvented?,” Scott Carlson and Goldie Blumenstyk gather the skeptical voices who insist, as Peter Stokes of Northeastern University, puts it:

“The whole MOOC thing is mass psychosis,” a case of people “just throwing spaghetti against the wall” to see what sticks…

Of course, if the MOOC is psychosis, it is born of a deeper pathology; for as Robert Archibald of the College of William and Mary is quoted there as saying:

“At most institutions, students are in mostly large classes, listening to second-rate lecturers, with very little meaningful faculty student interaction. …Students are getting a fairly distant education even in a face-to-face setting.”

It is a response to this deeper pathology of contemporary Higher Education that seems to be at the root of Clay Shirky’s analogy between the MOOC and the MP3 file format.

Shirky’s Higher Education: Our MP3 is the MOOC is the second article to which I’d like to point as a way to begin thinking through the implications of the MOOC for higher education. Shirky’s argument is based on this analogy: 

mp3 : album : music industry :: MOOC : curriculum : higher education

Just as the mp3 file format, by making music accessible and sharing simple, unbundled individual songs from albums and transformed the music industry, so too will the MOOC, by making education accessible and massively open, unbundle courses from curricula and transform higher education.

Shirky presses the analogy further: just as the mp3 unbundled individual songs from the albums the record companies forced us to purchase, so too will the MOOC unbundle specific courses from the degrees for which institutions of higher education force students into debt.

Shirky emphasizes that the promise of MOOCs is that “the educational parts of education can be unbundled.” 

But that, of course, is a packed suggestion itself not so easily unbundled. For there is a difference between taking a course or series of them and being educated. 

Just as one swallow does not make a spring (Aristotle, Nic. Ethics, 1098a19), neither does a course divorced from a course of study make an education. The educational parts of education cannot be unbundled like a single from an album, for the education is both in the curriculum and the manner in which that curriculum is delivered.

The challenge the MOOC posses to institutions of higher education is that they will force us to re-imagine the curriculum into which we have placed our individual courses. And institutions of higher education have not historically been particularly nimble when it comes to creating and implementing innovative curricula responsive to new forms of literacy and public communication.

If our courses are not to be unbundled from the curriculum without perverting the education they together offer, then we in higher education will need to articulate and develop new, more coherent, well crafted, and, yes, even efficient curricula capable of enriching student lives and preparing them in a relevant way for a world in which many will have been taught, but fewer well educated.

Twitter, Community and the First Year Experience

By | Education, Technology, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | 10 Comments

Words do things. What they do, depends on the manner in which they are said, written and received.

What they did, and failed to do, last night is something that requires some reflection.

That is the purpose of this post on my visit to the Catholic University of America to deliver a keynote address to the 2012 freshman class.

When I was invited, I was encouraged to do something innovative and unconventional with technology, so I invited students to use twitter to participate in a shared experience designed to perform the central idea for which I advocated in the lecture:

The real value of a liberal arts education is political because it teaches us how to speak, act and respond to one another in ways that enable us, if we are willing and graceful enough, to create enriching public communities that are the conditions under which a fulfilling human life is possible.

The lecture was designed as a performance in which students would be empowered to actively and publicly engage with the question of the liberal arts and politics so that we might directly experience our shared ability (and inability) to create an enriching public space of community and communication.

The Design

The lecture was designed on three levels.

First, the written text was rather traditional. It was organized around Athena’s encounter with the Furies in Aeschylus’s Eumenides. I argued that the story illustrated how our ability to imagine our way into the position of others, particularly those with whom we disagree, is the central virtue of a liberal arts education and the key to establishing healthy and flourishing communities.

Second, I used Keynote to create slides with images and quotations that supported and augmented the points the written text made. These slides were not merely designed to reinforce the written text, but were themselves meant to add value to the lecture by exposing students to a rich history of artwork and imagery about Athena, the Furies, and the judgment of Orestes.

Third, through my keynote slides, I was able to live tweet my own lecture: when a slide appeared, I had pre-written a tweet to go with it. These tweets, like the slides themselves, were designed to add another layer of meaning and texture to the lecture.

To give you a sense of how the images and the tweets were designed, I created a specific Storify just with my tweets and some of the artwork included in the lecture.

A Good Plan and a Calculated Audible

Because I had experience using twitter in front of a large audience of first year students at Penn State that deteriorated quickly once students realized they could tweet snarky comments to a screen that everyone would immediately see, I knew I would need a way to moderate the tweets before they appeared on screen. We used the #cuafye hashtag (Catholic University of America, First Year Experience) to curate the tweets, but we needed a way to filter out those that were immature, overly snarky or otherwise impoverishing of the community we wanted to cultivate.

The plan was to have Taylor Fayle use the @MyCUA_FYE twitter account to retweet only those tweets he felt added value to the conversation. The idea was not to censor students–they would still be able to see anything posted to the #cuafye hashtag on their personal devices. Rather, we wanted to add a layer of review to ensure the level of the conversation reinforced the points the lecture articulated.

We thought we had it worked out too, but about 20 minutes before we started, we realized that the way it was set up would not update and scroll quickly enough to accommodate the tweets we were by then already receiving.

So I called an audible and told Todd to allow the raw hashtag feed to run, knowing full well that the dynamics of the entire lecture would thereby be altered.

It was … and not for the better.

And yet, strangely enough, I think the shared experience was educationally richer, if intellectually and emotionally more taxing.

Here is the Storify of the event with tweets from the students to give you a sense of what happened.

But this doesn’t really capture what was happening in the room. That is partly because students went back and deleted some of the more vulgar and disrespectful tweets (about Penn State, Sandusky, and other immature rudeness). But it is also because the twitter feed did not capture the overwhelming sense of respect and maturity I felt from a majority of students in the room itself. That respect and maturity was felt more palpably in the question and answer period, when we had the chance to reflect upon what we had together experienced.

What we experienced, however, was a failure to use words to create an enriching community. The twitter stream deteriorated quickly into immature snark, and students were not able to pull themselves out of that cycle of immaturity, despite some valiant attempts by some to convince their colleagues to imagine their way into another possibility.

Now, for my part, I knew exactly what was happening, though I could not follow all the posts as they were coming so quickly and I was, after all, trying to speak and tweet my lecture. Still, by calming the students down at specific points, speaking extemporaneously to refocus their attention and by emphasizing the things I had written into the text to invite their generosity and grace, we were able to proceed … for a while.

Then someone of the faculty decided the twitter feed needed to be shut down.

When it was, you could feel the frustration of the students, but you could also feel their attention turned more fully to me, and I was able to finish the lecture in a much more traditional way – with more passively receptive students for the words I was articulating. Of course, students still had access to the live stream on their devices, but not having the feed up on the “big screen” robbed them of a shared experience and thus diminished the allure of the snarky tweet.

Shared Reflection

The most rewarding aspect of the lecture for me was the question and answer period, because we were able to reflect together on the experience we’d just had. A central point of the lecture was that a well cultivated ethical imagination is required if an enriching community is to be created.

What we experienced, among other things, was a collective failure of ethical imagination. But it is not only that the students failed to imagine their way into the position of a visitor who had travelled a distance to speak with them and who had put a lot of thought and energy into the design of an interactive lecture. Rather, more fundamentally, we failed together to imagine another possibility for ourselves as a community.

Perhaps once I called the audible to allow the raw feed to roll, the die was cast and we were destined to descend to the shallowest expressions of ourselves.

But even so, there was something redemptive about that failure and the opportunity we had to reflect upon it together afterwards. During the question and answer period, we tried to come to terms with what we had experienced: was it right to have the feed pulled? Did that go against the very points I was trying not simply to argue, but also to perform? Were the students treated fairly by requiring that they attend a lecture in which they would be expected to participate freely and in good faith?

And what about the content of the lecture itself? There were excellent questions in this regard; questions that demonstrated without a doubt that many students were not too distracted by the experience to understand at a deep level what I was trying to accomplish.

One does not often have the privilege to reflect so candidly and insightfully with one’s audience about the very dynamics that emerged between us during the performance of the lecture itself … perhaps that elusive, more enriching community began to take root during those shared reflections reflections at the end. Perhaps those roots are continuing to grow as faculty teach into the experience in their classes.

Here, in fact, is an example of what can happen when faculty do just that:


As I think further about it, and as I continue to engage in ongoing conversations with students via twitter about what we experienced, I have come to recognize that the performance of the lecture itself had all the beauty, and all the ugliness, all the hopefulness, and all the disappointment, all the complexity and nuance and texture of all our attempts to enter into public communication with one another in order to establish a more fulfilling community together.

Words do things; and what they are capable of doing depends on our capacity to imagine an enriching life for ourselves and our ability to put that shared vision into words.

An education in the liberal arts is schooling in the beautiful life.

Literacy in Bloom

By | Education, LwCH, The Long Road | 3 Comments

DancinGirl has fallen in love with words. Actually, she has always loved to play with words, singing, rhyming, mimicking.

Literacy in BloomBut now her love of the verbal has exploded into literacy.

She is reading voraciously; book after little book, she reads, sounding out words she does not recognize, learning the joys of story. There you find her, in a chair in the spare bedroom, on the floor in her own, on a sofa, with a book.

She is always under the caring tutelage of her mother, well versed in the ways of Vygotsky, who makes sure she has a book just challenging enough to push her, but not too challenging to frustrate her.

Tonight, however, the reading inspired writing. She had recently read in school a book by Kevin Tseng entitled Ned’s New Home, and she took to the chalkboard to write.  She spent almost an hour writing her story, after which time, she read it to us.

Here is DancinGirl’s version of the Kevin Tseng story with, as she said later, a few words of her own: DancinGirl Reads Her Version of Ned’s New Home

To listen to your daughter discover the beauty of the written word is awesome.

ALP at Penn State: A Vision of the New Research University

By | Grants, Fellowships, Awards, The Administrative Life, Vita | 5 Comments

University budgeting and strategic planning was the focus of the final Academic Leadership Program (ALP) sponsored by the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) held at Penn State, April 12-14, 2012. No two topics have more impact on the life and direction of an institution than these.

In reflecting on this final ALP seminar (the other two were at Indiana University and the University of Chicago), I began to imagine what it might look like for Penn State to pursue a bold strategic vision of the new public research university in the 21st century. The vision would need to be grounded in the history of Penn State as a public institution, even if it would likely involve greatly diminished support from a Commonwealth intent on systematically starving the University of the resources that first made it possible over a century and a half ago.

At the center of the vision would be an unwavering commitment to the excellences of rigorous public research. The rigor would be rooted in a curriculum designed to cultivate in each student, undergraduate and graduate alike, a sense for the transformative power of inquiry and the imaginative intellectual abilities to discover new knowledge. The university would be “public” less because it receives public funding, and more because it is oriented toward public concerns and intent on pursuing the public good. Its research endeavor would be integrated into undergraduate and graduate teaching at all levels of the university. The historical commitment to ensuring that education remains accessible would be pursued on a global scale through the reach of the World Campus, and new technologies would be used to create new opportunities for innovative collaborative research and teaching. The new public research university would be smaller, more nimble, bolder and unwaveringly focused on initiatives that strengthen its core mission to pursue rigorous public research.

Multiplayer Introduction Game

By | Academic, Education, Technology, The Long Road | 2 Comments



Jane McGonigal

Originally uploaded by Joi

At the 2012 Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium at Penn State, I had the honor of introducing Jane McGonigal, Creative Director of Social Chocolate, and game designer extraordinaire.

In his book, The Grasshopper, Bernard Suits writes: 

“Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”
Jane McGonigal quotes this in her own book, the name of which I am omitting for reasons that will become clear presently. She then goes on to say: 
“Compared with games, reality is too easy.” 
Now, I feel the same way about giving introductions, it is too easy; so I thought we could make a massively multiplayer game of it. 
The game has 7 quests and 5 minutes to complete them:
  1. The title of her New York Times best selling book.
  2. Three games she has developed to help people tackle real world problems.
  3. The title of her TED talk. Bonus: How many times has it been viewed?
  4. What is her current job title?
  5. Where did she get her PhD?
  6. Tweet the link to her webpage with her twitter handle, the TLT Symposium hash tag and one of my twitter handles.
  7. Tell us something we didn’t know, something I would not have come up with in a traditional introduction.
I am very happy to report that we successfully completed this game in 3 minutes and 38 seconds. I brought the introduction as a whole in under 10 minutes, so it all worked out well.
The introduction itself was designed to perform some of the ideas that Jane went on to present in such a compelling way.

ALP at University of Chicago: Virtues of an Education for Democracy

By | Grants, Fellowships, Awards, The Administrative Life, Vita | 2 Comments

In her address to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation‘s Academic Leadership Program at the University of Chicago last Thursday, Martha Nussbaum offered a compelling defense of a liberal arts education. She advocated for an education for democracy in the face of increased global emphasis on education for economic growth.

In the United States and around the world education policy has come to be driven by a concern more for economic growth than for a flourishing democracy. One need only look as far as the 2006 Spellings Report (pdf) to see this trend at work:

“America’s national capacity of excellence, innovation and leadership in higher education will be central to our ability to sustain economic growth and social cohesiveness. Our colleges and universities will be a key source of the human and intellectual capital needed to increase workforce productivity and growth.” (Spellings, 7)

Nussbaum sought instead to articulate a set of educational virtues for democracy around which our institutions of higher education should mobilize. The three on which she focused were:

    1. Socratic self-criticism: the ability to argue coherently, to criticize thoughtfully and to hold one another accountable for the implications of our political policies and beliefs;
    2. Becoming a citizen of the world: the ability to understand and converse about global problems, the recognition that we are part of a global community;
    3. Narrative imagination: the ability to “read” the stories of others, to recognize that everyone has a internal life and a set of motivations that determines the way they relate to others.

These three virtues, decisive for the long term well-being of democracy, are cultivated largely through the traditional liberal arts curriculum which is increasingly under attack by those pressing for a more focused, narrower, professional education oriented toward economic growth.

As the Academic Leadership program at the University of Chicago unfolded, the tension between an education for democracy and an education for economic growth came more fully into focus. When we turned our attention to the research mission of the University, it seemed that the economic argument for research came to eclipse the concern for the virtues of democracy for which Nussbaum advocated.

Joseph Walsh, Vice President for Research at Northwestern University, began his presentation by emphasizing the educational mission of research, suggesting that in the classroom, we teach our students, but with research, we teach the wider world. However, he focused most of his comments on those research discoveries at Northwestern that had the most palpable impact on the economy, reminding us that four-fifths of all economic growth comes from technological development, and that much of that development happens at research universities. In this context, he outlined the argument he offers to the politicians in Washington whose funding support research universities seek: economic growth is driven by the research done at our best research universities; funding research increases employment opportunities. It is all about “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The 2012 Academic Leadership Program Fellows at the University of Chicago.

As we returned from Chicago, I found myself reflecting on this tension between education for democracy and education for economic growth. Then, we were lucky enough to miss our connection from Dulles to State College. I say ‘lucky’ here, because the long drive from Dulles offered a number of us the opportunity to talk further about our experience at the University of Chicago. Driving through rural Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, we began to focus our attention on what a major land-grant research university has to offer students educationally that they can’t get from smaller, private liberal arts colleges. We kept coming back to the research mission of the university.We began to consider ways to integrate the research enterprise more tightly into the undergraduate experience at Penn State. Students need to be exposed to the passion for discovery that animates all great research endeavors. They need more opportunities to work closely with our research professors so that they might feel the power and excitement of research as an educational endeavor. To accomplish this on a grand scale at Penn State would likely require substantive changes to the general education curriculum and other significant financial resources, but I am convinced that if we are able to integrate the research enterprise more deeply into the undergraduate experience, we will have begun to cultivate in our students the very virtues Nussbaum suggests are critical for a flourishing democracy. Students engaged with research will learn self-criticism, the concerns of a global community and narrative imagination as they come to experience precisely these abilities at work in our most excellent academic researchers.

Following such a path at Penn State would, I imagine, illustrate the extent to which economic growth is not so much a goal of research, but an important, albeit secondary, outgrowth of an education rooted in traditional liberal arts virtues infused with a deep engagement with the research enterprise. Perhaps an education for democracy can also be an education for economic growth–the history of the American land-grant system of higher education seems to suggest that this is precisely the case. Perhaps the best way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act is to redouble our efforts to combine rigorous research with the long standing virtues of an education in the liberal arts.

ALP at Indiana: Herman B. Wells

By | Grants, Fellowships, Awards, The Administrative Life, Vita | No Comments

Sometimes without looking, one finds a paradigm – an example that can serve as a model.

Last week I visited Indiana University as a one of Penn State’s Academic Leadership Fellows in the Academic Leadership Program of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (Big 10 Academic Alliance).

I went expecting to hear administrators from across the Big Ten speak about best administrative practices and about the role of the public research university in the 21st century. Although I received what I expected in that sense, I did not anticipate encountering a figure who embodied some of my own most deeply held educational convictions: Herman B. Wells.

Wells, who died in 2000, was the 11th president of Indiana University. Born in 1902, he was the youngest state university president at the age of 36, in 1937. While there are many important contributions Wells made to the educational mission of Indiana University, I would like to focus here on three, each of which embodies one of the themes that became important to me during the seminar at Indiana University entitled The Evolving University.

Cooperation

In 1958, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation was established by the presidents of the Big Ten Conference. Herman B Wells was one of its founding members and lasting champions. As I listened to former president of Michigan University, James Duderstadt, speak at Indiana about the importance of increased collaboration between public universities in the 21st century, the foresight of Wells and his generation of presidents came into focus.

Duderstadt described a 21st century world that does not respect traditional boundaries between regions and geopolitical borders. He spoke about the need for more collaboration between universities and the hope that we might reduce the zero sum attitude that establishes intensely competitive relationships between us and places us in extremely predatory environments with one another. The vision of cooperation Wells laid out and helped put into practice, places the CIC universities in a strong position to cultivate yet more cooperative relationships given the 50 year history of collaboration and interaction on which we can draw.

Ethical Imagination

Wells was well known as an advocate for student self-governance, for a desegregated university and for academic freedom. He worked tirelessly and unobtrusively to end racial segregation in the dining halls and on campus housing; he protected Alfred Kinsey’s controversial and ground breaking research on human sexuality, and he worked to preserve the woods on campus. These are all elements of what I would call his highly cultivated ethical imagination: the ability to imagine one’s way into the position of each individual other. Wells held office hours for students, and they came to talk with him about their individual experiences. He signed each individual diploma himself, over 62,000 of them, because he wanted “a sense of direct identification with each graduate.”

This capacity for ethical imagination serves as a model for what is possible when administrative service is able to make decisions for the mission of the university by attending carefully and with care to each individual member of the community.

Service

In her remarks, Provost Karen Hanson spoke of the suspicions faculty have about administrators. She traced that suspicion to the late ’60’s and early ’70s when the institutional authority of universities were called into question. She then spoke about the qualities of a good administrator: the ability to disagree without being retributive, the need to be open and patient, circumspection. She also reminded us that the word “administer” derives from the Latin, “ministrare“, which means “to serve”.

I left Indiana with a much deeper appreciation of the nature of administration as a way of serving.

Wells put it this way: “Remind yourself daily that general administration must be the servant, never the master, of the academic community. It is not an end unto itself and exists only to further the academic enterprise.”

And as we left Indiana, the news about the Sandusky indictment broke, and we returned to a Penn State transformed. In the week since, the nature of administration as service and the need for ethical imagination and cooperation have taken on a deeper and more urgent meaning.

Open Letter to the Liberal Arts Undergraduates at Penn State

By | The Liberal Arts | No Comments

Dear Liberal Arts Student Colleagues:

As we process the events of the past week, it is difficult to grapple with what we and others are thinking and feeling. Each of us responds to these events from where we live, from our perspectives as individuals and as members of an educational community to which we have dedicated our time, our energy, our lives.

As students in the liberal arts, you have many resources to bring to bear on these difficult experiences. As humanists, you know something of the finite nature of human existence, of the complex and often tragic nature of human relationships, and of the healing power of words well placed; as social scientists, you know something about the role power plays in social interactions, the nature of psychological and physical trauma, and the intricacies of healthy human communities. I ask you to bring to bear on this difficult situation the wisdom of your disciplines, the power of your learning and the depth of your commitment to your friends, your teachers and your institution.

As we try to come to some terms with this experience in all its complexity, I hope we find ways to notice the beautiful and good things that are done at Penn State everyday even as we face the things we must as we learn more about what happened. Your good academic work, your integrity as students and your well placed energy contribute to what is valuable about Penn State.

Thank you.

If you or any of your colleagues need to talk with a professional counsellor, please don’t hesitate to call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 814-863-0395 or go online at: http://www.sa.psu.edu/caps/schedule_appointment.shtml

For emergencies: http://www.sa.psu.edu/caps/crisis.shtml

Once, in the course of my own education in the liberal arts, I came across a passage from Rilke. My wife reminded me of it last night and it seems to be helping me at the moment; perhaps it might be of some help to you today:

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

Sincerely,
Christopher Long

Christopher P. Long
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Classics
College of the Liberal Arts
The Pennsylvania State University
http://www.la.psu.edu/chrislong

Liberal Arts Voices Hanging Out on Google

By | Education, Technology, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | 11 Comments



Student Panel at LASTS11

Originally uploaded by LAUSatPSU

On Wednesday, September 28th at 4pm eastern, we in the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies office will take another step out into the great technological unknown by recording an episode of our Liberal Arts Voices Podcast live on a Google Plus hangout.

I hope that anyone interested in what we are doing in the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies office will join us. Here is a link to my Google Plus profile where you will find the Hangout when it is available.

The official guests on the episode will be leaders from the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Council, a dynamic group of student leaders who have always been willing to engage with new technologies with me in interesting and enriching ways. That they will be with us for this experiment is only proper since they have helped us grow our community through Twitter and Facebook.

The impetus behind this experiment is first to perform what we preach about the importance of practice in learning about new technologies. We will see what Google Plus adds to our discussions on the Liberal Arts Voices podcast, and we will experience directly what it takes away.

The second reason for this use of a Google Plus Hangout is that I think the ease by which this technology makes face to face conversations public is very compelling. It is a simple broadcasting platform that can be used to raise the level of discussion online by adding the ethical dimension of the face. In our attempts to use technology to enrich the undergraduate experience in the College, it seemed timely to try to put Google Plus to work in this way. 
Finally, we now have a number of members of our community out in the “real world’ – as if we in Happy Valley don’t live in the real world. But I digress… In any case, these friends who were so engaged when they were physically here as students or staff members remain engaged in various ways. It will be interesting to see if that distance can be traversed by the G+ technology and we will once again be face to face, talking about the importance of the liberal arts.
I am looking forward to what this little experiment will bring. 

The Untimely Death of a Preschool

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



St. Andrew’s Preschool

Originally uploaded by cplong11

It happened without warning, without any hint that the end was at hand. Suddenly, there it was: May 27th, the day after the last day of the preschool year, the announcement that St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church would close the Preschool that was born, lived and thrived within and around its walls over the past 40 years.

Death often comes that way, unbidden, suddenly. But we expected more from a church that had until that date, served as a caring site for an educational community that nurtured generations of young State College students. 

In their June 9th letter to the Centre Daily Times, Carl and Melissa Anderson captured the sense of anguish and betrayal many of the parents, staff and teachers associated with the preschool felt upon hearing the news.
Both of our daughters began their lives of formal education in the nurturing environment of the St. Andrew’s Preschool. There they first learned to trust adults outside their family; there they were encouraged to express themselves artistically and intellectually; there they found friends and loving teachers and a sense of wonder for all the world has to offer.
The spirit of the place is what drew us to it; for the teachers are dedicated, conscientious and caring; they developed a curriculum that struck just the right balance between guidance and play, structure and exploration. And this spirit has taken root in our daughters as they move out into the world, as it has for generations of students who attended the St. Andrew’s Preschool over the years. 
That spirit will set no future generation of thoughtful, caring young people onto the path of lifelong learning. 
And what makes it worse, even tragic, is that the church handled the demise of the school without even a modicum of the grace, care and sensitivity the Preschool and its teachers embodied over the course of its 40 year life.
====
There has been some interesting and moving historical testimony about the Preschool on the St. Andrew’s Preschool Facebook page.

Transformative Education

By | The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | 2 Comments

I first met Ruth Canagarajah in an honors course I taught a few years ago.  She already struck me then as a thoughtful, engaged and creative student.  She wrote an excellent paper for that course on Female Leadership in Sri Lanka.

Since becoming Associate Dean, I have had the privilege to follow the course of her education which, it seems, has led her back to Sri Lanka, the place from which her family comes.  The Liberal Arts Undergraduate Studies office loaned her a Flip Video camera during that trip so she could chronicle the work she is doing.  This is the video she produced with the help of Jillian Balay in the LAUS office.

I present it here as powerful testimony to the transformative possibilities of a liberal arts education:

Deliberative Dialogue

By | Education, Politics, The Long Road | 6 Comments

This image captures a poignant moment in the Flash Forum in Response to the Arizona Shootings held by the Center for Democratic Deliberation on January 21 at Penn State. The panelists are listening to a student accuse them of being irrational left wing ideologues who are attempting to blame right wing rhetoric for the shootings. 

The image, which I captured with my iPhone, bears reflecting upon because it displays a the range of expressions that suggest something important about the emotional dimension endemic to all political communication.  Each member of the panel has a slightly different look that range from skeptical amusement, to inchoate anger, to concerned disbelief.
As a member of the audience, my heart began to beat a bit faster as I listened to the belligerent tenor of the comment. Plato identified the affection of the soul operative in such situations as thumos, or spirited desire, and he intentionally placed Socrates in situations in which he faced and had to respond to such spirited interlocutors–Thrasymachus in the Republic and Callices in the Gorgias to name the two most famous.
From my perspective, the most interesting and important dimension of the exchange was this: whatever validity this student had in accusing the panel of a left leaning bias was lost by the agonistic manner in which he presented his position. His rhetoric was designed to shame and dominate rather than to question and deliberate. The panel did a nice job of undermining this rhetorical strategy. But the performance of a kind of political speech that erodes the possibility of common understanding served as a very powerful object lesson about how we talk to one another politically.
I was left thinking about how we model political communication in our classrooms and in our lives. When we disagree most vehemently, thumos overtakes us and clouds precisely those capacities we most need for deliberation and understanding: generosity, humility and critical reflection – to name just three.
It was heartening, then, to hear a second student take up the right wing perspective later in the conversation in a more respectful and thoughtful mode. He posed some hard questions that invited us to think further about our own ways of framing the issue, and he did it in a conscientious and considerate way. Professor Hawhee rightly paused at the end to positively reinforce the manner in which he formulated his position.
Sometimes deliberation depends less on what we say than it does on how we say it.

Mendeley on the iPhone

By | Digital Research, Education, Technology, The Long Road | 10 Comments



Mendeley on the iPhone

Originally uploaded by cplong11

I am happy to report that Mendeley has developed an iPhone app that brings us a step closer to the digital research model I hope to implement in the months to come.

Before I mention a few of the limitations of the application, I want to celebrate its very appearance. This is a huge step forward in mobile bibliographic and reference computing.

About three years ago, I had a phone conversation with a person in the sales department at Thomson Reuters, the company that makes Endnote. The purpose of my call was to see if they were developing a version of Endnote for the recently released iPhone. They told me that they did have plans, once Apple released the Software Development Kit, to develop a mobile version of Endnote. Already at that point, I could see the value of having my references so easily accessible.

Although that application has yet to materialize, I shifted, in the meantime, to Zotero because it facilitated the sort of collaborative research I hoped to put into practice with my students. As I mentioned in my previous posts on digital research more generally and on the way I use of Zotero in particular, a significant limitation to all the bibliographic software was the inability to use anything other than the web browser to interface with my reference libraries when using my iPhone and iPad.

I turned to Mendeley in the hope that I would find an application that would have all the collaborative functionality I required even as it allowed me to organize, read and annotate pdf files in a way that would integrate with my word processing software. I am very happy with Mendeley when I am sitting in front of a desktop computer. However, it is critical to the model of digital research I am trying to establish that all my references be accessible to me on all my devices wherever I am.

This is where the new iPhone application, even if it is tantalizingly labeled ‘Lite’, adds substantive value to my research workflow. The application syncs with my Mendeley libraries beautifully and allows me to read any of the pdf files I have posted to it. In the photo on the right, you can see the collections exactly as they appear in the Mendeley Desktop application and on the web.

If you have pdf files included in those collections, you can access them via the mobile device, assuming you are connected to the internet, by downloading them individually. This allows you to effectively carry your entire reference library in your pocket, putting thousands of pages of scholarship at your fingertips wherever you are.
For all of this, however, the application’s features remain rudimentary. You cannot annotate pdf files via the application nor can you edit any of the tags or bibliographic information associated with the references. The first iteration of the application is clearly designed to establish Mendeley in the mobile space – a place it basically has all to itself at the moment. But is also gives us a taste of possibilities to come.



PDF via Mendeley on the iPhone

Originally uploaded by cplong11
As for some of those possibilities, I would hope that this is the first stage in a series of upgrades on the road to a single integrated iPhone/iPad application. 
Porting such an application to the iPad has enormous potential for scholarship. If it allows for annotation, we will have a powerful new research tool on which to actively read texts related to our scholarly work. Building on solid web and desktop applications, Mendeley for the iPhone and iPad would offer us an integrated way to do serious productive research wherever we find ourselves. This will allow us to move more quickly from the research gathering to the productive writing phase of the process.
In the end, I am very happy to see the first iteration of this mobile reference resource. I look forward to the updates and to the “Pro” version, if indeed, that is the direction toward which the label “Lite” is gesturing. 
Despite some reticence at first, the appearance of the iPhone app tips the balance for me and I am now moving all of my references over the Mendeley in anticipation of upgrades to come.

From Engagement to Cooperation

By | Academic, Education, The Long Road | 6 Comments

It is widely recognized among educators that student engagement is a key to academic success. Disengaged students erode the social dynamics in the classroom, have a negative impact on their peers and drop out at a high rates. Thus, it is no surprise that the desire to move students from a disengaged attitude to one of engagement has become a major goal of our pedagogical practices.

Of course, student engagement has many meanings. Engagement might be measured by certain behaviors, as when students write effectively and with nuance; it might be felt in certain emotions, as when students express excitement about the ideas they encounter; or it might be understood by way of certain cognitive activities, as when students demonstrate an ability to analyze and synthesize in sophisticated ways. 1

Yet, despite its many dimensions, engagement itself seems too impoverished a pedagogical ideal. We ought to aspire to something more for our students and ourselves.

Let us move from the ideal of engagement toward that of genuine cooperation.

Strange as it sounds, focus on engagement remains too student centered. Its primary emphasis is on changing the habits, behaviors and attitudes of students, and often fails to consider those habits, behaviors and attitudes of faculty that close off the possibility of cooperative education.

Cooperative education takes seriously the social and reciprocal nature of teaching and learning. It recognizes that students, both individually and in the aggregate, have something to teach even as they have much to learn. It empowers teachers to relinquish authoritarian control, and encourages them to weave their expertise into the community of learning that emerges dynamically in the courses they teach.

Cooperative education understands that the teacher-student relationship is reciprocal, even if it is also asymmetrical. It is reciprocal insofar as students teach and teachers learn, but asymmetrical insofar as the teacher retains a certain privilege as one who has learned and thus has earned a certain expertise.

Cooperative education does not seek to elide this asymmetry, but rather, to invite teachers to carefully consider how their authority operates in the delicate ecologies of learning in which they participate. How we as teachers respond to this invitation is critical; for our authority is operative in everything we do. It can be used to close off discussion and shut down debate, or it can open students and, on our better days, ourselves, to new connections, richer and deeper insights and surprising discoveries.

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.

Cultivating these excellences is no easy task, but they can be learned, if they are practiced.

The American philosopher (who was also a Dean at Columbia University), Frederick Woodbridge, has articulated the sense of cooperation that informs this vision of education:

 “There is cooperation in the pursuit of knowledge, an interchange of discoveries, opinions, and results, a communication which would put agreement in the place of disagreement. We are not left each to his own devices, but employ the aid of others.” 2

For Woodbridge, this sort of cooperation is rooted ultimately in the human ability to work together with Nature in such a way that we are able to respond in meaningful ways to the world we encounter. The pedagogical significance of this robust naturalism is that we humans are deeply cooperative beings who naturally learn by working with one another in order to come to a deeper understanding of the world in which we live, together.

Some Initial Thoughts on the iPad

By | Education, Technology, The Long Road, The Undergraduate Experience | 5 Comments

It is already clear to me that the iPad does not replicate the experience of the iPhone even though many of the apps serve the same functionality.

The iPad is much less intrusive in collaborative contexts than either a laptop, which tends to come between members of the group, or an iPhone, which isolates individuals, severing each from the dynamics of the whole.

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Academic Transformation

By | Academic, Education, Technology, The Long Road | One Comment

Over the past few days I have been thinking more intensely about the meaning and nature of academic transformation.

In the wake of the TLT Symposium at Penn State last weekend, I traveled to Orlando to participate in the National Center for Academic Transformation’s Redesign Alliance conference.
I have been struck by a contrast that disappoints me from a national perspective even as it  encourages me at local level.

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Penn State's Energy Future Considered

By | Education, The Long Road | No Comments

The Rock Ethics Institute has taken a lead in cultivating a real dialogue about the Penn State’s energy future.  On November 18, 2009, Nancy Tuana, the Director of the Rock Ethics Institute, moderated a roundtable discussion of Penn State’s energy future with students, faculty and members of the Office of Physical Plant. The Institute has produced and published a number of interviews from those involved on their YouTube site.

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Embracing Different Voices

By | Academic, Education, LwCH, Technology, The Long Road | No Comments

After talking to trusted people, thinking things over and otherwise working through the transition I am making to Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at the College of the Liberal Arts, I have decided to embrace the model that Dean Chris Brady uses over at the Schreyer Honors College at PSU and tweet in two voices. So, you can now find me at: http://twitter.com/LAUSDeanLong And, as always, you can still follow me at: http:/twitter.com/cplong

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Time Management for Graduate Students

By | Presentation: Other, Presentations, The Graduate Experience, The Long Road | 10 Comments

One of the most difficult things for new Graduate Students to manage effectively is their time. This is in large part because graduate study has built into it large segments of unstructured time that can easily be wasted. One of the most important skills graduate students can learn early in their career is how to structure their time effectively.
I have gathered here some suggestions that might help students take control of their time so that it can be used most productively.

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When the Berlin Wall Fell

By | Education, Living, The Long Road | No Comments

Zeitkarte.jpgTwenty years ago today, I can remember the buzz that spread among my American student colleagues at the Institute for European Studies in Vienna when we learned that the Berlin Wall had fallen.

Just two weeks before, a group of us had been in Prague where we met a number of students from Czechoslovakia, as it was then called. They told us in no uncertain terms that something momentous was happening. At the time they and we did not know whether this was something to welcome or fear. 

Upon our return to Vienna, we discussed the question in our European History course.  The professor was a former Ambassador who assured us that whatever changes may or may not be underway, the overarching paradigm that held European powers in the grips of the Cold War would not change in his lifetime. (This marked an early realization of a truth that has borne itself out over the course of the last twenty years: professors don’t always know what they are talking about and the more certain they appear, the less their words should be uncritically accepted.)

BerlinWallPiece.jpgTwo and a half weeks later, many of us were on a train to Berlin to witness first hand the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In Berlin the excitement those of us gathered at the wall felt that day remains palpable. Borrowing a sledgehammer from a local German, I can still feel the thrill that came as I knocked off the large chunk I still have set upon my bookshelf.

I recall too, a discussion I had with a very thoughtful and earnest young Lutheran pastor from East Germany who watched the scene unfolding before us with trepidation.  His hope, as he expressed it to a young American student genuinely concerned to try to put a context to the history that he was witnessing, was that the West would not simply view this development as an opportunity to impose capitalist values and culture on the Eastern bloc.  It was, of course, unclear precisely how things would progress, but there remained a sense that a genuine meeting of the best ideas of the East and West might have an opportunity to converge.

id1.jpgAs I think back on those days, I am once again made aware that ideas have the power to transform reality. 

But for me, this had less to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, than with the students and teachers I encountered and the experiences I had during my semester abroad in that fall of 1989.  To meet students and educators who actively sought to imagine what life was like in another culture, to learn a new language, and to open themselves to the transformative possibilities of education was of decisive importance to me at a formative time in my life.

And although I did not take a philosophy course when I was in Vienna, when I returned, I was convinced that my course would tack toward education and that philosophy was the path it would have to take.

Re-designing the Long Road

By | Academic, Education, Technology, The Long Road | One Comment

One of the great privileges of my summer faculty fellowship has been the opportunity to work with creative and thoughtful educators and designers who were able to help me think more holistically about my identity on the web.

I have been blogging here on the Long Road since June 10, 2007, attempting to give voice to certain dimensions of my personal, political, academic and teaching life. Over time, however, it has become clear that my attempt to “blog the philosophical life” involves multiple dimensions that are somewhat separate even if fundamentally integrated. 

Perhaps this is simply the digital articulation of the deeper, existential question of personal identity.

In any case, the redesign of the website that we have rolled out in the course of the last few weeks grows out of an ongoing dialogue with all the great educational designers and IT managers at Education Technology Services, but in particular with two who deserve special mention and thanks here: Brad Kozlek and George Webster.

George has patiently and expertly worked with me to design the font, colors, look and feel of the site.  He was always willing to change things I found problematic and willing too, to change them back when I realized that the way we had it first was best.

Antique_Map_Mercator_Arctic.jpgThe design itself is based on this image of an antique map of the arctic I found online as I was searching for an inspiration for the colors and feel of the site. The map captured the spirit of the central metaphor around which the long road is organized: the attempt to chart in words the course of a life.

The long road is now composed of three blogs feeding a main home page, which serves as a pathway into the larger site. George worked with me to design the icons that go with each dimension of the site.

 
LRlogo.gifthe long road is the site on which you will find my attempt to put things personal, political, remarkable and mundane into words.

CpLlogo.gifdigital vita is the site that gives voice to my academic life, including information and resources related to the various presentations I make.

DDlogo.gifsocratic politics in digital dialogue is the site related to my research and teaching regarding the nature and practice of Socratic politics. It hosts the Digital Dialogue.

One of the main purposes of redesigning the site was to host the Digital Dialogue, the podcast I developed during my faculty fellowship. The Digital Dialogue is designed to generate discussion around questions concerning but not limited to the nature of digital dialogue, its political possibilities, the excellences associated with it and the impact it might have on our pedagogical practices.

Brad added the Yahoo! player to the site so that people could easily listen to episodes of the Digital Dialogue right from their browser.  Everyone can also subscribe to the podcast through iTunesU by clicking this link which opens iTunes on your local computer.

I hope everyone enjoys the new look of the site and continues to return frequently. You are, as always, warmly invited to comment on anything that appears here should you be so moved.

Many thanks to George and Brad for their great work on the site.

For Chloe on Her First Day of Kindergarten

By | Education, Living, The Long Road | 5 Comments

Dear Chloe:

Chloe to School.jpgToday you begin a great and wondrous journey. Today, you begin Kindergarten and with it, the formal education that will open you to a world of ideas and experiences that will shape the person you become.

Your Mom and I have sought over the course of these five years to prepare you well for this adventure. You know your colors, your letters, your numbers; you are empathetic and thoughtful, reflective and open. You make friends easily after you wisely assess them in their relations to you and others. You worry, but not too much. You have a passion for art, for new experiences, for writing, and for sharing your life stories with others. You try new foods with joyful anticipation and are not less willing to taste new things after you have experienced something bitter. You have a wonderful imagination and welcome others, especially your sister Hannah, into the worlds you create. You love easily but not indiscriminately; and you are fiercely loyal to those who have won your affection.

So, you are ready for this journey.

As you begin, know that your Mom and I, your sister and your family, are with you even when we are not physically present. We are there in the classroom when you feel uncertain; on the playground, when you need to stand up for yourself or your friends; in your heart and mind as you are enriched by the educational experiences that will sustain your life.

Yet although we are here to support you, now it is time for you to step into a new phase of the journey and to make a meaningful and fulfilling life for yourself.

I am so proud of you and love you more than I can say. I look forward to the adventure to come as I have delighted in your life thus far. You have taught me to see the world anew and the world is made better by your encounters with it.

Go now into this next phase with the joyful integrity that has marked your life from the beginning.

Love,
Dad

Grassroots Video

By | Education, Technology, The Long Road | One Comment

Over the last few months, I participated on an Educational Technology Services “hot team” that focused on researching the educational significance of grassroots video. If you don’t know what grassroots video is, check out our white paper, which gives a good summary. 

You can also watch the embedded YouTube video below. The grassroots video hot team produced a grassroots video designed to share its findings.

Our Document

By | Academic, Education, The Long Road | 7 Comments

I am beginning to notice something about my course blog for PHIL298H: Patriarchal Force and Political Power. As we discuss the material we have been reading for class and engage with one another online through the blog we are creating a communal document, a digital artifact of our work together this semester.  I am struck by this more this semester because of the structure I am using in which we all co-edit one blog rather than each editing a blog of our own.

As students post and comment, as they add links through delicious to articles and online resources, we are developing a community of communication that is at once dynamic and lasting.  I find myself responding to the ideas of the students more as I attempt to weave the themes found in the text into our discussion.  I realize, however, that the blog format allows them to become partners in thinking and it forces me to respond in multidirectional ways that I find exhilarating and daunting at the same time.
The weekly round-up podcasts adds a completely different dimension to the class that forces us all to think of this as a common endeavor more than as a unidirectional process in which knowledge is transfered from teacher to student. I am not sure where we will find ourselves at the end of the semester, but I am beginning to feel like the journey, although to a large degree directed by me, will take us all into unexpected territory.
It is good to know that wherever it takes us, we will have an eloquent record that maps our progress.