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

2018 Dean's Report Featured Stories

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

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

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.

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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

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

Dear College of Arts & Letters Class of 2021,

Welcome to Michigan State University!

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

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

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.

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

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

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? 

Read More

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.

Read More

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.