Snow on the living center roofs

CLAS Acts 

December 2018

Monthly newsletter of the TT faculty of CLAS


If there is a Snow Day during Final Exams

In the event that a closing would involve a specified exam day, those exams affected would be held on the next available day after the exam week has concluded.

Link to the closure policy


This year’s end is a time to savor.  Our long preparations successfully met the actual Higher Learning Commission accreditation visit last month.  You helped us tell our story well in the many meetings.  And there’s more to celebrate now: the end of the term is upon us, a pivot point in this endeavor we share, so unusual for its fullness of beginnings and endings, but really always about the continuity of things.  When we ask that every course have a culminating experience, I suspect that what we seek in our students is more like taking stock and preparing for the next leg of a lifelong journey.

We head into the eight Decemberish holidays* celebrated around the world, many of which celebrate endings or mark new beginnings.  It is a time for both!  As you heard, our own Cindy Laug (who has been in the CLAS office from Day One) will soon retire; her last day is January 2.  The celebration of her career here will be held on December 12, 3-5pm, in the Thornapple Room of the Kirkhof Center.  Remarks at 3:30pm. We hope you received the emailed invitation we sent.  As you’d imagine, she was instrumental in showing me the ropes at GVSU (right through this week!) and has been instrumental in so many of our processes.  She has some travel planned, and I keep setting her the goal of winning CLAS on the Green, but she remains skeptical.  I hope you can join us at her celebration.

 This is a particularly musical season, with many recitals, the Fall Arts musical performance on December 3, and don’t forget that the dance concerts are also on stage early this month.  If you want some science in your holiday mix, catch Martin Burg in Science on Tap at the Speake EZ Lounge on the “Courtship in the Fruit Fly: What’s Histamine Got To Do With It?”

 In recent years, CLAS had some truly excellent results getting the grades in correctly.  I thank you for your attention and diligence because it is so very important to our students who may be seeing their first college course grades, may have a scholarship or their academic standing dependent on a fraction of a grade point, or may be preparing to send final transcripts to graduate schools.  The staff in Records are all-hands-on-deck to make this happen, and we really help them when everything is complete and on time.  Make sure you review the special handling of any Incomplete grades, and the Last Date of Academic Activity (LDAA) must be reported for all students who earn an F or NC. And please make sure your department coordinator can contact you if necessary on December 18.  Don’t be the one who holds up your students’ progress!

 I also look forward to seeing you at the University Holiday Party on December 6 where the long service of our colleagues will be celebrated and at the December 8 Commencement.

 Offices will be closed from the end of the workday on December 21 until they reopen on January 2 to start a new and exciting semester. Two things to celebrate in one sentence! Ah, the joys of year’s end!


*Hannukah, St. Lucia Day, St. Nicholas Day, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year, Three Kings’ Day


Chasing Student Success

By Monica Johnstone, PhD
Director of CLAS Communications and Advancement

Looking out over the impressive 8:30am audience of students at the Teach In panel discussion on invisible disabilities, I had one wish that there were faculty to hear what was about to be said.

The Teach In was very well attended, but simultaneous sessions and other commitments always mean that we can’t make it to everything.  I hope that in some small way, through the generosity of the three student panelists and Chemistry faculty member John Bender, I can recreate some of what the panel expressed.

First an admission; I am old enough to have gone to see the 1973 release of The Paper Chase in which John Houseman vividly portrayed an exacting and stern law school professor compete with starched shirt, patrician speech patterns, and bow tie.  Merciless as he was in his classroom full of young/white/male students in cord jackets and aviator glasses, I secretly loved that atmosphere of rigor and accountability which he demanded as his due.  You could almost smell the polished wood surfaces and tweed and elite privilege.

Forty-five years later, the students in that class look materially different than our current reality, and John Houseman is looking pedagogically unsound.  What arguably worked for his audience then was predicated on their assumed privilege to study without the pressures of outside obligations or serious health concerns.

Now we pride ourselves on accommodating service animals and a wide range of needs detailed in letters from Disability Support Resources.  The next level of challenges may be less apparent.

John Bender offered this perspective: "As a faculty member with a mitigating medical disability (diabetes), navigating the Allendale campus during work is much more time-consuming and fraught with dietary/social constraints than most.  However, as a senior faculty member, I am also empowered to lobby and act on behalf of those who easily cannot: our students, and pre-tenure junior faculty colleagues.  Where possible, I advocate where they cannot, and do so sincerely, from the perspective of my own disability.  No one can see the hours per day I spend simply managing my medical condition, yet I count on the university to have reasonable accommodation made for all campus members, and for my faculty colleagues to extend professional accommodation where they otherwise would not understand how I need to spend my work time differently."

The students on the panel detailed the stress imposed by a system designed for students carrying 15 credits when faced with the challenges of an autoimmune disease that necessitated the surgical removal of her colon, of autism, of cystic fibrosis.  They admirably detailed their daunting circumstances and their undaunted aspirations.

My contribution to the invisible disability panel was to speak to the constraints of the rather ubiquitous joint replacements that can make an elevator outage or fire drill the cause of additional physical therapy.  What I didn’t foresee was how much of a hurdle a staircase was for two of students on the panel as well.  Though both outwardly look as hearty as their peers, both were actively trying to manage their academic day so that it did not leave them profoundly exhausted. 

All worried what their professors thought when they had to leave the room in the middle of class, when they started to nod off, when they coughed disruptively, when they preferred to work alone.  They all knew that it is easy to jump to conclusions, but weighed that against divulging their disability to every professor, even the ones who took off points for every absence.

Listening to the real experiences of the panelists, I found myself recommitting to being something very unlike John Houseman in my teaching.  I must not read as disrespect or bad planning that a student must leave the room unexpectedly.  I need to remember that the student nodding off is not always partying too hard, but is just as likely to be an athlete who has already been to two hours of practice before my 8:30am class or is attempting to work second shift and go to college or has an exhausting medical condition, and fights every day to get an education anyway.  I have to make sure I don’t confuse the valiant for villains.  Recalibrate I must to be rigorous and accountable to the students rather than they to me. 

If I retain wistfulness about the bygone era I can always wear corduroy and pretend that corde du roi is not a false etymology after all.