College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

"Operationalizing Trust: the 04-05 Academic Year"
(A speech given by Dean Fred Antczak to the faculty and staff of the
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on April 25, 2005)


Congratulations to all we have honored here, and to everyone who has done the very hard work that has helped us through this challenging year.  This has been an unusual year for the state, and consequently the University.  In our lifetimes, Michigan has led the nation in many things, but rarely in unemployment, and the manufacturing base on which the state economy has long depended is now losing jobs again--it's a sobering scene. We know that both political parties recognize than higher education must play a lead role in creating the well-paying jobs of the future, but we--like so many other states--still await state government taking effective action on this priority.

You know, some of my scholarship has been on Abraham Lincoln, and sometimes the budget difficulties recall for me his famous lines:

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.  As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew."

But then I look at the scale of our unprecedented problems, and the next thing I think is, "sure Abe, easy for you to say."

I confess that in a funny way the odd weather pattern of April, our own sometimes-stormy present, brings a little comfort.  It was so weird to have unseasonable summer warmth, succeeded by snow in late April!   Given the weekend weather I feared that we'd be hearing low whine during this assembly, rising from the Meadows, which I imagined coming from our colleagues who are members of the faculty/staff golf league; I envisioned them ululating to keep warm on the first time out.  But that turned around in time. I guess the old saying about Michigan still applies: "don't like the weather?  Just wait a while."  A similarly fast and unpredictable reversal in the budgeting climate would bring back a sense of spring to an environment that at its best has felt brisk and windblown, and has had moments of late that have felt downright chilly.   "Now is the early spring of our discontent," as Richard III did not quite say.

But we can put our troubles and opportunities into more productive context if we remember what we have accomplished together this year, and what we are capable of.  Thus today we recognize the teaching and scholarship of those celebrated here, as a synecdoche for the successful and praiseworthy work you all have done, and for how far we have come together.

It's funny to look back.  Just this time last year, perhaps the most troubling concerns revolved around the task of becoming one College, and figuring out what that meant, more or less on the run.  Put another way, the challenge of this year was to build trust even as we had to operationalize it.  'Operationalizing trust' has an entertainingly oxymoronical ring, but your willingness to build ON what we were at the same time building UP was extraordinarily generous--and extraordinarily advantageous for our College.  There is one group that deserves particular praise on this account: none of this would have been possible without the patience, the criticism, the creativity and the adaptivity of our unit heads, and I want to recognize them for their contributions.  Could I ask the unit heads present to please stand?               {APPLAUSE}

We massaged all these contradictions into realistic operating procedures that drew on the strengths of all three divisions, and now we have the systems in place to handle the mundane administrative challenges confronting the College.   That's a big step forward.

At the same time we challenged ourselves to address greater than day-to-day concerns.  The most important example: in connection with strategic planning, all instructional units were asked to complete a 'Course Capacity Inventory.'  This massive project of data gathering blended with a sometimes painful re-imagining of pedagogy.  As you know, this CCI first asked each unit to identify 'aspirational departments' in their discipline(s) at other universities, models from which the department could learn. One lesson that perdured across many departments has been that as challenging as times have been at Grand Valley, the same problems are everywhere, often in more devastating forms.  Another recurring lesson was that while there were lots of good ideas we could adapt, ARE adapting, from other places, there are virtues here that are distinctive and worth sacrifice in order to preserve--and that's a worthwhile lesson too.

The CCI has also been the occasion for departments to think systematically about how they might offer, in a pedagogically responsible way, more seats total including more general education seats under three sets of funding assumptions.  The emphasis on pedagogical responsibility rather than summer opportunistic growth has moved every department to identify potential capacity if needed.  And I'm here to tell you now that more capacity will almost certainly be needed, probably in the very short run.  We have already given transfer students an incentive to flock here this summer by establishing higher admission standards applicable this fall.  We have 5% more students registered to come to orientation this summer than last; it would not be a surprise to see a freshman class of 3,500, the good news about which is that academic credentials are almost certain to be higher than any class in GVSU's history.  And demand may whipsaw us from another direction: as many people have been warning for years, we now are approaching a full blown crisis in providing enough seats for the themes we require for graduation.   In my opinion, those problems are quite formidable; it's estimated that to have an adequate number of seats to meet the demand of the oncoming classes, we'd need 33% more seats in themes than in 04-05; we've bent over backwards to schedule 7% more in 05-06, and demand is only compounding.  Already one of our sister colleges seems inclined to ask that themes be abolished.  But integrative interdisciplinarity is one of the distinctive virtues of a Grand Valley undergraduate education.  This problem will go to our elected committees in the fall, but speaking only for myself, I'd like to see us try to meet at least the original intention of the requirement.  To do so, we clearly will have further work to do, next year and beyond.

By the way, it may have occurred to some of you that as we grow and grow, at some point we'll need more people (faculty AND support staff)  and more space.  In some ways the latter is actually a harder sell than the former.  But I've been working to make audible all over campus a mantra I hope you'll repeat every chance you get: 'beyond Lake Ontario Hall, we need a new academic building of 150,000 square feet this year, and the next year, and the year after that.'  And upgrades in instructional space need to start happening in Allendale.

Next year we will confront a range of important decisions.  Happily, as Dean Stark indicated, we will have elected representatives of the faculty, a new CLAS Faculty Governance, to engage them.  Thanks again to the members of the Task Force for CLAS Faculty Governance who successfully met their charge all done in time to hold elections:  Jan Brashler, Anthropology; John Bender, Chemistry; Robert Hendersen, Psychology; Karen Novotny, Mathematics; Diane Rayor, Classics; Ed Wong-Ligda, Art & Design; Rob Franciosi, now President of the UAS and our colleague in English; and our able associate deans Julianne Vanden Wyngaard, Neal Rogness and, doing much of the most thankless and most necessary work, Gary Stark.   Please give our colleagues a round of applause.

Another huge task accomplished this year was Strategic Planning.  I want you to know that this process has already given the deans, as I'm sure that it will give the elected committees, clear guidance on how the College is to contribute to the University's mission, goals, and values.  This planning will also be useful next year as we begin again the cycle of departmental self-assessments.  In some places, too, I hope it will help guide conversations about developing Masters programs.  And these plans will help us with developing and applying standards for time assigned for research, and equity in bearing our shared professional burdens.  This promises to be a lively conversation; but the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences needs to keep pushing to be the leader in the University's efforts to take on the workload issue in a way that is fair and responsive to individual talent and accomplishment, and we must make substantive progress next year.

We can look forward to a summer of progress on a couple of other fronts.   A Task Force for College Advising, comprising faculty, staff and students and Advising led by Professor Michael Ott, is meeting now with a late fall deadline, to advise us on how to structure advising in the College.  There hope is to maximize faculty contribution to student development while perhaps shifting some of the gruntwork burdens away from them.  Given resources currently available, their plans will probably be on a multi-year scale, but this group has a broad charge and high ambition, and I really look forward to their advice.

And since diversity, all sorts of diversity, is an academically essential priority of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a Task Force on Diversity led by Associate Dean Julianne Vanden Wyngaard will report in October.  This is an aspect of our mission to which we must rededicate ourselves, both in ideals and in practices.  The world for which we prepare our students will require themeven if they work and live their entire lives in west Michiganto work productively with people from cultures around the world, people of every creed, race, class, range of physical abilities, sexual identities and lifestyle, and every scholarly perspective.  Indeed for us to understand thickly and robustly the intellectual issues we examine, we must have the benefit of the full spectrum of perspectives.  Part of what we need in this endeavor is to develop measures of progress; I hope the Task Force suggests ways of measuring our success in both recruitment and retention of students, faculty and staff.

I promise to continue to communicate our progress on this and other tasks.  We have developed a useful College website on which more and more is happening, thanks to the submissions of unit heads, faculty, students and staff.  We have posted, both on the website and on message boards across the campuses and in every CLAS building, colorful and informative fortnightly updates on "What's Happening in CLAS."  We have had some preliminary success using a weekly Unit Head Mailing to convey information to departments.  And since last November we even have begun featuring the expertise of our faculty in regular interviews on Shelley Irwin's WGVU program, at 10:30 on the "Third Thursday" of every month.  For example in April, Autism Awareness Month, we featured one of our experts on autism, Psychology Professor Amy Matthews.  Our colleagues Jennifer Stewart, Michael deWilde, Veta Tucker, Mark Schaub and Peimin Ni have appeared in previous months, and n May Anthropologist Mark Schwartz and Deana Weibel will talk about anthropology field schools, June will have Doug Kindschi recounting his Antarctic adventures, and July will have Grand Rapids poet laureate Patricia Clark.  Since most of us are rather busy at 10:30 Thursday mornings, I'm working to put archived audiofiles of future interviews up on our webpage.  I'm also hoping to make some of you TV stars sometime in the future; I'm working with Fred Martino of WGVU television to develop some "town halls" on topics of public interest.  So while we have a good start, we can look forward to even better things.

Yet while I look forward to next year, we have much to be proud of this year.  We have succeeded in 2004-2005 in shaping much of the infrastructure necessary for make possible and envisionable the aspiration, resources permitting, to offer the best undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences of any Michigan public university.   We will face tests and challenges, potholes, slippery spots and snowbanks along the road to spring.  The one thing we can predict is that the future is unpredictable; if you don't like the weather, just wait a little while. 

And in a strange way, what we do as faculty and staff prepares us to make all those changes.  I hope we never forget how lucky we are to do what we do.  We have the privilege to work with an unquenchable supply of bright young people.   We have the luxury of pursuing questions we wish to ask, defining projects we will undertake and be judged by, pursuing the knowledge we think most worth having.  For our time here at Grand Valley, we have been given a truly remarkable trust, and an enormous responsibility: to engage our students in an education in the liberal arts and sciences, an education for living, and a lifetime of change.    We are perhaps uniquely prepared to weather the changes and challenges ahead of us.  As we learned from the events and achievements of this year, when we are piled high with difficulty and must rise with the occasion, we can build, and build upon, our trust.

So I invite you all out to the lobby, a perspective from which perhaps  we'll see if we have to wait a little while, or if a change to better weather is already on its way.

Thank you.

Page last modified January 7, 2009