Celebration and Resolve
By now many of you have heard of the sudden and tragic passing of our colleague in Biomedical Sciences, Steve Hecht, yesterday. He was a brilliant and wonderful colleague. I ask that you reach out to BMS students, faculty and staff. There really are no words, but your kindness will be a balm for a fresh and grievous wound. I ask you please for a moment of silence to remember him.
Celebration and Resolve
Frederick J. Antczak
April 6, 2017
Even beyond the sorrows of the day, what a vertiginous year it has been all around us! Possibly to everyone’s relief, I’m not going to say too much about the contingencies of our extraordinary circumstances in 2017, on and beyond campus, here and abroad. Instead I’m glad you’re here to celebrate this year, this extraordinary year for CLAS. Celebrating our accomplishments can raise our resolve, no matter the challenges.
Today we celebrate the work of our governance committees and the fabulous productivity of our colleagues who have returned from the adventure of sabbatical. It has been a year particularly worth celebration—and as we’ll see, the achievements gather around several sorts of themes. Our great teachers, their scholarly and creative work, university and community service—these are and should forever be recognized as the essence of the public good that is public education. We have discovered this year that the best responses to external concerns come from our shared values, our love of the learning we do in our disciplines, our commitments to the colleagues and students who grace our lives—out towards our wider role in the world.
As professors, we’ve had the privilege to ascend the Ivory Tower. OK, it’s not exactly Ivory. But we are comparatively privileged. My grandfather Joe Ryszko worked for 42 years in wretched and dangerous conditions in the gypsum mines southwest of town. I have his headlamp in my office for whenever I need a sense of guidance—or when the power goes off in MAK. My Dad Walt Antczak was a firefighter; during a career where he was recognized for saving at least 17 people over the decades, he was hospitalized 6 times. Once, allegedly, he fell from a roof three stories to concrete—and walked away. I have to say allegedly because it happened before I was born, but he did keep a crushed metal flashlight as a sort of trophy. Though I come from sturdy stock, I never did anything quite that unpleasant or remarkable, but in one summer job I had to kill a rat in a food warehouse with a shovel.
Rather in contrast to that, we have meaningful work in pleasant circumstances, and notwithstanding the snake Amy Mathews saw in the tree outside her office when the Au Sable extension was being built, we can put down our shovels. But our goal can’t be to take permanent residency in any tower; it’s to propagate the perspectives that we gained—and as these sabbaticals show, the perspectives we can retain and sharpen—only with continuing ascent. Our job is not shining headlamps or axing through burning roofs or even fearsomely wielding garden implements; it is to champion knowledge, empowerment, sustainability, creativity, excellence in design, critical analysis, ease with complexity, and lifelong learning that includes a widening notion of justice.
And we have championed them in our work this year. Look what we’ve accomplished in the teeth of the year’s challenges; we had a year worth celebrating. From just the last several weeks:
- We became one of 11 universities nationally to receive the 2017 Beckman Scholars Program Award.
- We had a raft of important and extremely well attended events such as George Heartwell’s talk organized by Geography & Sustainable Planning.
- Movement Science hosted the 2017 Midwest ASB Regional Meeting
- Patricia Clark just published a new book of poems entitled, The Canopy.
- Ted Sundstrom, in his final semester before retiring, snagged the Mathematical Assoc. of America's Daniel Solow Author's Award.
- Roger Ellis received the Standing Ovation Award from the Michigan Educational Theatre Association.
And today we are surrounded by the insights of our colleagues’ work. Let me say, not every university is in such happy shape. So, what should we celebrate in our getting here? What must we resolve to do going forward?
There are of course basic tasks we need to perform to spread our educational values, first among which is that we need again to be accredited fully. Last time, it was a full 10 years, no strings. This time, whatever else we’re doing in the near term, we’ll need to fulfill the requirements of the Higher Learning Commission. I promise that the CLAS Office will continue to work to lighten your load in this regard.
But some of our continuing duties will be of a higher order and for longer term effect. Of the goals in our strategic plan, there’s one area where we clearly must do better. We have five strategic objectives revolving around inclusion and diversity—and this have been a first organizing theme for our efforts. Our energies should be, and this year have been, focused on hiring a diverse faculty and staff, and abolishing for good the revolving door—we must do more to make sure all of faculty thrive in our college, and stay. This means improving departmental mentoring of all hires, but also pushing ourselves to be culturally more aware—that’s not work that ends, for anyone. Our faculty has worked at cultural awareness and internationalization like the grant Jeff Kelly Lowenstein received from the Fund for Investigative Journalism that will take him and his students to the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in South Africa, and will fund some student travel for their reporting.
I think next year that we can learn a key lesson from this year’s successes. Be bold. Work big. A large display of art—I’m thinking of the exhibit of 20 pieces Norwood Viviano staged this year at the Smithsonian—has a special sort of impact. This is also true for an ambitious public project in the sciences, like Karen Gipson’s organizing of a regional chapter of the Association of Women in Science. One of our newest faculty, Kristin Hedges of Anthropology, presented at a CLAS Faculty Colloquium about her project in Africa that concerns natural medicines and their physical and cultural ecology. It promises lots of interdisciplinary opportunities, and includes students.
Third, to make these sorts of things happen, we need to continue to pursue external grants. In the last few years, for example, our college has been proud to watch Al Steinman and his colleagues at AWRI do wonderful lake restoration and education projects—though I have to admit, they did some of them on funding from agencies now in peril. People like Bill Ryan and Amorak Huey received coveted NEA grants. Diane Rayor had support from NEH that allowed her to share her translation work more widely. Sok Kean Khoo and several others in the sciences have funded exciting work in collaboration with their students with benefits to health and the environment and our understanding of the world. The CLAS Fulbright Club has expanded to include Lisa Feurzeig and Brian Phillips, and Gregory Maytan received a Fulbright Specialist award. In all, 34 of our faculty applied for federal grants last year, and it’s instructive that our faculty’s applications have enjoyed a higher “hit” level than the national average. So if at first you don’t succeed, well…cannibalize your application prose for other purposes and…apply, apply again. Because when you do, you inspire and often include your students. And the prestige of these awards rubs off on the department and the whole university.
Community engagement is one of our emerging strengths, and those whose disciplines are in some ways about community set us some wonderful examples this year. I’m thinking immediately of Geography & Sustainable Planning, Anthropology, several of our Sciences, our languages, the Arts. AWRI was named the 2016 “Watershed Stakeholder of the Year” You set us up to reach members of the community directly, by way of media, in the narratives in our publications, through reconnection with alumni, and in “runs on the board” that we can show legislators and donors. In terms of publications the 2016 Quadrennial Report, led by Monica Johnstone, won a national Educational Advertising Merit Award. And the upside to this way of extending the definition of what we are is that it puts the lie to any idea that the University, especially OUR university, has walls or borders.
But that’s not to ignore the work we did this year and the future work we’ll have to do in a fifth area, improving student success—which begins with retention. Student persistence to graduation is not just some bean-counting game. Now, thinking extrinsically, retention does happen to be one of those compelling measuring sticks for legislators, national databases and the like. When we do well, the rewards come to us in areas such as recruiting and improved state funding—because of our performance, year after year, we’re no longer last, per capita! But intrinsically, I want you to think about the students behind the statistics. Retention and graduation play out in enriching their lives and expanding their horizons. Stopping out can result in a sense of failure, debt, missed opportunity, and for those in a first gen family, an example for siblings that suppresses hopes and dreams rather than unleashing them. In this connection let me mention that Commencement is Saturday, April 29 (come out in the morning or afternoon, or both; like Ernie Banks I’m playing two). Please come to celebrate our collective success and see the excitement on the faces of graduates and their families.
Some students need help to get to their Commencement day, and developing your advising chops is an important part of your continuing professional development. Our lives as advisors can be made easier by learning to use new tools. At events like this we tend to focus on faculty accomplishments, but this year a staff team led by Betty Schaner debuted a great new advising resource, a website dedicated to faculty advising that provides you many useful tools. We’ve included the link in the weekly mailing, aired it at a unit heads meeting and displayed it at the new faculty session in February, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s www.gvsu.edu/facultyadvisor/ . Let’s never forget that advising is a crucial form of teaching.
Because finally and at the heart of it all IS teaching. Most of us got into this calling because we cared about facts, pursuing the truth, finding what really works and really helps people. That demands of us that we regularly think about reinvigorating our teaching—even what has proven to work—because there are changes in our fields, our technologies, our students, and even ourselves. To teach takes resolve, because it requires us to continue to renew our teaching, for our students’ sake. In this regard, kudos to our spectacular Faculty Council for bringing us over the last two years programming at their nationally distinctive Out of the Box events, to help us understand students as they are now and to discern new possibilities in collaborative teaching. We also have many in our college who have been going boldly in new directions that have been really exciting. Coming immediately to mind are Robert Talbert’s generously shared work in flipped classrooms and the Reacting to the Past explorers including Gretchen Galbraith and David Eick.
I want to thank you for all your contributions in 2016-2017. In the face of wild upheaval around us, we were not unsettled, but centered; not enervated, but energetic. Our vocation is intrinsically demanding; we must continue to change and grow, and that takes resolve—resolve, by happy coincidence, to do exactly the difficult and exciting things the university is asking that we plan to do, measure when we do, and resolve to continue to do, and improve. CLAS can take special pride in our important and successful work this year. It has been an especially apt year for us to have done so much to reconfigure public education as a public good. So let us also take resolve from this celebration to continue to do the tasks so intrinsic to our work—inclusion, working big, seeking external support, engaging the community, improving student success, growing in our advising, and keeping teaching at the heart of all we do—so that next year we may continue to have extrinsic effect on an ever imperfect world which, whether darkened by sadness for Steve or damaged by the perfidy of politics that needs us and our work more than ever.
Before I relinquish the podium, I want to give special welcome to English’s distinguished external consultants, Dr. Kim Middleton, Director, Center for Academic Innovation and Creativity, Mt. St. Mary’s University, and Dr. Brooks Landon, of the University of Iowa. Brooks and I were colleagues for 17 years, and when I was younger and more dashing we would be mistaken for each other in the parking lot. Brooks, I was always flattered, and I always admired how you bore that with such equanimity. So, welcome, Professors Middleton and Landon!