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

Engaged Scholarship

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

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

Engaged Scholarship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theory and practice are co-determinative.

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

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

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

Catalytic Opportunities

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

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

Catalytic Opportunities

I’ve begun thinking about strategic initiatives as catalytic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toward an Ethics of Philosophy in a Digital Age

By | Digital Scholarship, The Long Road | 3 Comments

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

Read More

Seeding Publics from a World of Readers

By | Digital Scholarship, The Long Road | One Comment

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

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

Read More

The Most Innocuous Freedom, Everywhere in Chains

By | Digital Scholarship, The Long Road | 10 Comments

In his famous 1784 essay, What is Enlightenment?, Kant identifies the activity of enlightenment with a certain way of being public. This post considers that essay as a performance of public philosophy, arguing that in advocating in public for the public use of reason, Kant is engaged in an important public philosophical practice: the attempt to use words to cultivate the habits of mature thinking and acting in and with the public.

Read More