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

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

“…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.”

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

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.

 

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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)

Read More

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.

Read More

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. 

Liberal Arts in a Time of Crisis

By | Presentation: Other, Presentations, Vita | 12 Comments



Pharmakon

Originally uploaded by cplong11
STATE COLLEGE, PA – These remarks were delivered at the 2011 Symposium of the Center for American Literary Studies: Crisis? Whose Crisis? What Crisis?

Imagine that you are a graduate student in Philosophy writing a dissertation on Plato in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and you met a visiting professor from Egypt; let’s call him “Theuth.” And Theuth came to you and said: “I have discovered a new art of writing; one that will make it possible for you to simultaneously co-author a document with your students about the Platonic dialogues you are teaching.” 

Let us imagine further, that Theuth explained his new technology this way: “This living document is structured in such a way that you and your students can comment on what you are writing together. It allows you to tag the things you write with multiple terms so you can actually watch themes arise organically in the course as you and your students write reflectively about the dialogues.” 
And then imagine that he began to get very excited and said, almost in a whisper: “The best part of this new art of writing, the aspect that makes it most wonderful and compelling, is that it can be made public in such a way that anyone, anytime, from anywhere can read and respond to it.” 
How would you respond? 
Would you say to Theuth: “as the father of this new technology, you have too much affection for it and you fail to see the damage this sort of exposure to the public will do to these young, impressionable minds; you fail to recognize that young people are not prepared to determine for themselves what is important or interesting or compelling about these ancient texts. And besides, it will kill our students’ capacities to concentrate and contemplate.” 
And let’s imagine yet further, that Theuth was so deflated by this that he returned to Egypt and hid his technology away and that you went on teaching as you were taught, lecturing, encouraging students to focus, concentrate and reproduce on exams and papers the wonderful things they heard from you, which they submitted dutifully–and privately–to you as the authority on the topic. 
Suppose, however, that one day, Theuth’s technology was discovered and put into the hands of students, and that some faculty had wind of this and were beginning to find ways to use it to empower students to write reflectively and dynamically on all conceivable subjects. Imagine that you have in the meantime become an established faculty member, a respected authority in your field. 
This would be the crisis you then faced: the intellectual and ethical capacities you have developed over the course of your career, the very abilities that made you the success that you are, no longer provide traction in a new, more dynamic world in which an unfathomable amount of information is always accessible, collaboration is the main way to create meaning and writing is instantly public to the widest extent imaginable
What I hope you can imagine feeling on a personal level–overwhelmed, dismissive, defensive, and ill-equipped–is amplified and rendered acute when we move from imagination to the concrete realities of our educational institutions. For you see, whatever else this time of crisis involves, whatever the limits of our old funding models, whatever the challenges the liberal arts face from increasing professionalism, whatever budget cuts are announced, these all pale in comparison to the crisis brought on by the revolution in literacy new media technologies have introduced
How will we as faculty, as administrators, as institutions and, indeed, as human beings respond? 
The good news is that the core values of a liberal arts education have never been more important as we attempt to navigate this crisis in ways that might in fact enrich rather than impoverish our lives. The bad news, however, is that although we have long held the values of excellent communication, ethical imagination, global understanding, an openness to difference and responsiveness to change–we have in our teaching and in the structures of our institutions done less to cultivate the intellectual and ethical practices that underwrite these values.
Our teaching remains largely a matter of conveying information delivered by the authoritative expert who controls the discussion and assesses the value of the responses. Our scholarship–particularly in the Humanities–is pursued largely in isolation, made public–to the extent that it is–at small, intimate conferences and only after long periods of incubation. Our disciplines remain dependent on a model of authorship that measures success by the reputation of old media journals read rarely and when read, almost exclusively by isolated experts. Our institutions remain determined by a business model that rewards the adoption of practices that increase efficiency rather than the quality of the educational experiences of our students. 
And yet, our institutions have the capacity to adapt; they remain committed in principle at least to the core values of the liberal arts. Our disciplines have become porous and are beginning to reach out across boundaries to draw rich resources to and from one another. And our scholarship–especially in the Humanities–is able to reflect upon the limits of its practices, to criticize the calcified conceptions of authorship and authority on which we have come to rely and which have begun to dissolve. And in our teaching, we are learning to empower our students to take an active role in their own education, to become writers, podcasters, bloggers, videographers–makers of meaning in a new and multifaceted world. 
Imagine, then, if you were a graduate student studying Philosophy today and you found your students and a few colleagues, perhaps even a faculty member or two, using Theuth’s technologies–how would you respond? And more importantly, how will we as faculty, administrators, institutions and, indeed, as human beings respond to this revolution in literacy in ways that enrich the educated life? 
Cultivating the intellectual and ethical practices that enable us to do this should be the main focus of the liberal arts in this time of crisis.

Blogging and the Business Classroom

By | Presentation: Other, Presentations, Vita | 2 Comments



July 2010 029

Originally uploaded by Penn State Smeal MBA

Today I venture outside of my comfort zone in talking about teaching and learning with technology in the Liberal Arts to address a group of faculty from the Smeal College of Business. In so doing, I am been thinking about how to translate the teaching and learning philosophy that has guided my teaching of Philosophy courses into the context of the Business classroom.

This led me to the embedded video below, in which Professor Debbie Ettington says:

“I think of learning as an active process, as a social process … we try to use lots of different ways to engage different learning styles, to engage students in working with each other …” (see: 0:45-1:03 in the video).

Professor Ettington’s words resonate with my own attempts to put a genuinely cooperative approach to education into practice in my teaching. They also give me the courage to share the story of how I use blogs in my Philosophy courses in order to open a discussion about how this model might be adapted to the particular contours of the environment in a Business classroom.

Below is a link to the presentation that lays out the model, but how precisely this might be taken up by professors in Business will, I hope, be part of our discussion we have in the session and perhaps here on the blog.

Designs on e-Learning

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

This September I will be presenting at the Designs on e-Learning Conference held here at Penn State.  My presentation is entitled Blogging and Podcasting the Liberal Arts (the link is to the blog post on which the presentation is based).

The abstract is as follows:

Over the past two years, I have worked to incorporate podcasting and blogging into my First-Year seminars in Philosophy. This session will present some of the best practices I have found to be particularly effective in the effort to use technology to expand the classroom experience and encourage the active engagement of my students in their own education. The presentation will touch upon my valiant failures as well as substantive successes. Some of the issues discussed will include: integrating podcasting and blogging, using RSS feeds to facilitate online community, example blog and podcast assignments and a discussion of the place of technology in the classroom. Attendees should come prepared to engage in a substantive discussion of both the concrete, practical issues associated with blogging and podcasting in the classroom and the more theoretical questions surrounding the use of technology in the pedagogical process.