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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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.

Between Beginning and Routine

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

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

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

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

A poignant question haunts this place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Critical Diversity in a Digital Age

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

School of Languages

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

Center for Interdisciplinarity

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

The Citizen Scholars Program

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

Excel Network

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

 * * *

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

Putting the Liberal Arts into Action

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

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

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

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

This too, of course, is too abstract.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Letter to the College of Arts & Letters

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

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher P. Long
Dean, College of Arts & Letters

Critical Diversity in a Digital Age

By | Digital Humanities, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 2 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 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 I’ll continue to curate examples here below.

Bringing Your CV to Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandra Hidalgo:

David Lowery:

Dylan Miner:

Robby Ratan:

Chris Long:

Finding Your Place, Leaving a Mark

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

Dear College of Arts & Letters Class of 2020,

Welcome to Michigan State University!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome home, Spartan Class of 2020.


Christopher P. Long, Dean
College of Arts & Letters

Investing in Humanities Publishing

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

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

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

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

I was enthusiastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

This have been cross published on Medium:

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Responding to Complexity with Nuance and Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross posted on Medium:

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MSU Shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been a year of sowing.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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

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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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.

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.