CLAS Acts March 2009

March 2009
Volume 2, Issue 7

Our Mission: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a student-centered and diverse learning community that engages in critical inquiry extending knowledge to enrich and enliven individual and public life.  

CLAS College Office Monthly Newsletter for Faculty


Frederick J. Antczak, Dean, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences   

And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of spring.
-   Samuel Taylor Coleridge

At his well-attended talk last week, Prof. Vincent Tinto reminded us of the important role that anyone in the university can play in a student's academic career by being in the right place at the precise moment of crisis, armed with the needed knowledge and the willingness to reach out.  As we've grown, it becomes more challenging to maintain that ability to help students connect; people come and go, new services spring up, the ways things are done shift, expand, change. But the good news is that in toto, we've simultaneously added, coalesced and improved resources. 

he CLAS Academic Advising Center has seen enormous and still-growing business; clearly more students are served in a more accessible and timely way there.  We've almost finished the four-fold expansion of our online resources for Unit Heads; when they next tour the site, I believe they'll be dazzled by the good work that our staff, led by Monica Johnstone, have done do make their leadership roles easier.  And I'm especially buoyed by the output of our advisory groups who help us to brainstorm and problem-solve. The student group always has ideas and energy. 

We'll be seeing our emeriti--people who've gone through difficult budgetary times before--very soon.    This time, though, I really must report that our staff group has shone: the recent one-hour meeting of the CLAS Staff Advisory Committee produced at least four ideas that have been immediately pursued; these representatives of our APs and COTs will soon be talking with all their colleagues about how we might further facilitate the functions in service of students that Dr. Tinto discussed.  One of the Staff Advisory Committee's concerns was to ensure that faculty know what to tell students who are despairing of continuing at GVSU due to the loss of their own or their parent's job.  This is important: please let your students in this situation know that they can have their financial aid reevaluated.  They need not sink or swim based on the calculation done before the economic bust that's proven calamitous for so many families in Michigan.  Please encourage any student who's been put into financial hardship to seek this reevaluation.  Some faculty, recognizing they can't notice every student who may be having such difficulty, are simply mentioning this publicly in class so that the message might get around via student word of mouth, and it might help someone suffering in silence.

On a brighter note, much evidence is blooming that the students in our College are thriving.  Right here in the College Office, student workers have been making us proud.  Taylor Davis has had her non-fiction short story "Winding Highways Nowhere" and Michelle Potgeter has had her poem "Web" selected for publication in Fishladder.  Petra Alsoofy, who serves both on CLAS's inclusion planning group known as GrIT and our Student Advisory Committee helped organize the recent Model Arab League meeting held at GVSU.  Theatre's Scott Watson advanced to the semi-finals in ACTF's Irene Ryan acting competition for the second year. And Nancee Moes was presented an Honorable Mention in Student Dramaturgy for Program Notes for the production of "Vinegar Tom." The faculty is setting them an excellent example.

Peter Anderson of Classics has hit a kind of academic trifecta-his book on Seneca's dialogues is now under contract with Hackett Publishing, he's a visiting fellow at the University of Cincinnati this spring, and he's just been named a recipient of the Pew Teaching Excellence Award.  Also receiving the teaching award from CLAS are Assistant Professor of English, Rachel Anderson; and Professor of Biology, Neil MacDonald.  I'd like to congratulate them all and thank their colleagues for nominating them. As you'll read more about in this issue's feature article, Psychology's Tom Herzog was honored for his influential scholarly work with the Distinguished Contribution in a Discipline Award.  GVSU has been selected as a field test site for the new MTTC exam for Latin teachers (Peter Anderson participated in Lansing on developing the criteria and test item questions over the last couple of years).  It is expected that we should be able to offer 12 to 15 test-takers, most drawn from the Latin Prose Composition course which serves as an introductory methods and skills/content course for secondary ed majors.   Similarly, the School of Communications is participating in the setting of MTTC exam testing standards in the area of speech.  In an important if long-range way, this type of service is helping to create our future students.   Speaking of our School of Communications, Toni Perrine recently shared with me a report on their recent initiative to include adjuncts and affiliates in their pedagogy discussions.  A good idea! I encourage the sharing of best practice ideas so that other departments can benefit from them too.  

More good news: Kingshuk Majumdar of Physics has just had accepted an intriguingly titled scholarly submission, "Von Neumann entropy and on-site localization for perpetually coupled qubits" to be published in an upcoming issue of Physical Review B.  Meanwhile, The Facts on File Companion to British Poetry 1900 to the Present has appeared, ably edited by English's James Persoon and recently emeritus professor Robert Watson.  And once you open its covers, you discover contributions by several more GVSU faculty.  So do open those covers and have a satisfying read.   Like the crocus projecting its color through the last of winter's snow, such contributions announce our continuing vitality.  These hard times for our students and state have not frozen our energy or our commitment.  

Commitment also shows itself in the willingness to serve: thanks to all of the 115 nominees who have made themselves available for faculty governance committees.  This important service contribution not only keeps the faculty informed and influential in the future of the University, it also helps to bind us together as a college.  As those who have served recognize, members of governance get to know their colleagues from other departments and the workings of the university in a meaningful and enjoyable way.  "And," as I'm frequently reminded by committee members, in the College at least, "there are cookies."  

In March the Dean's Office (where all attempts to gather moss are scraped away by the rolling passages of different kinds of work), I will be, mainly, reading personnel files, interviewing candidates, working on transfer issues, participating in new faculty seminars, attending by invitation some department meetings, progressing fund development in a difficult time for external giving, and wrestling with our budget.  AD Jann Joseph, after returning from a conference during Spring Break, will be reviewing and making recommendations about facilities requests,  preparing the new elementary education minor proposal in collaboration with colleagues in the College of Education,  interviewing students for NSF S-STEM scholarships, and presenting a paper of the National Science Teachers Association Meeting.  AD Gary Stark will spend March supervising the salary adjustment process and personnel review process, facilitating work of the CPC and CLAS governance elections, and helping to rationalize the allocation of visiting positions for next year.  Interim ADs Karen Gipson and Paul Stephenson will continue to keep our curriculum work and student issues on track. Paul currently is in India, recruiting for the Biostatistics Professional Science Masters.  

I don't know if your spring break will be as exciting, but I do wish you a refreshing and restorative spring break, energy for the remaining weeks that accelerate toward Commencement as if in some sort of temporal gravity well, and continued success in the spring that surely must come.    

CLAS Faculty Feature

Method, Mirth, and Mystery; the Distinguished Contributions to Psychology of Tom Herzog

By Monica Johnstone, Ph.D., Director of CLAS Communications & Advancement  

At the award ceremony last month, the Provost noted Psychology professor Tom Herzog's fifty peer-reviewed articles and the 600 citations of his work, painting a picture of sustained activity that was now part of the fabric of his field over many years.   But if you ask Tom, he'll tell you he is surprised to be recognized in this way and immediately shares the accolade with the University for valuing a continued pattern of scholarly output and his department colleagues for their support.  He feels that they balance quite well their support of scholarship with GVSU's teaching mission. Tom's area of interest is in general experimental psychology and he has worked on areas related to our perceptions since graduate school.  After some early work on kinesthetic aftereffects, he changed tack to research in concert with mentors who were involved in the then emerging field of environmental psychology.  He liked its interdisciplinarity; it brought together psychologists with architects, urban planners, and geographers.  His work these days is, in a nutshell, what people like-and why-in restorative environments and humor.  At first these seem as different as, well, waterfalls and jokes, but Tom explains that he is able to use essentially the same preference-determining methodology to study both.  The method is essentially to take a large number of people and record their quantified preferences on a large number of settings or humor samples.  The large sample sizes allow him to screen out peculiarities and see patterns of core preference.  As it turns out, these preferences tend to hold up across cultures. For instance, we tend to prefer settings without blocked views, but with enough spatial definition to help us "find our way".  We like to be drawn in and provided with opportunities to extend our knowledge.  An element of mystery is a "workable predictor of preference" in settings with bending streams or curving paths or partial concealment by foliage.  An advantage is to be had by going into these settings. At this point in the interview it occurs to me that Tom probably ought to have a chat with our new library designers. Tom's most recent work is on restorative settings.  His orderly and friendly office is probably as close to being "restorative" as you tend to find in the workplace.  Not surprising, restorative settings are "positively correlated with preferred settings".  The places that do us some good we also like.  The reason why is rooted in the two distinct kinds of attention.  Tom mentions William James' work in this area.  Voluntary or directed attention requires concerted effort while involuntary doesn't.  The effort required in directed attention becomes fatiguing.  Once fatigued, we can't plan or be as helpful or social.  To recover and maintain our capacity to focus, we can make use of well known techniques such as sleep or getting out into nature.  What is key is that the setting doesn't demand direct attention.  There are reasons that a particular environment is your "happy place".  Such a place is different than your demanding environment, well structured, and fits your current needs and desires.  All of these characteristics need to be present.  Not surprisingly for many people gardens, museums, libraries, and houses of worship fit these criteria.  In our stressful and overworked era, a predictably restorative environment has definite appeal. What can be predicted about humor?  To find out , categories matter.   Tom illustrates with an example: hostile humor has a victim, and there are measurable gender differences in preference depending on the victim's gender in the joke or cartoon.  And cultural change in gender attitudes are reflected in the results Tom has found.  Unlike earlier studies which showed both genders finding hostile humor with female victims to be funny, the tolerance for female victims by females in Tom's study was uniformly low, with the degree of explicitness not seeming to be a factor for that group. (Gender differences in humor appreciation revisited, Humor, International Journal of Humor Research, 12, 411-423, 1999).  Times have changed and Tom has measured aspects of that change. In both his research about environments and humor, Tom's work contributes a way of testing and measuring some of the things we sense about our preferences.  It allows us to compare these perceptions across cultures or gender and demonstrates our commonalities and our cultural directions. At the end of the interview, I asked Tom what advice he would give to his newest colleagues starting out on their scholarly careers.  "People coming in these days know the score," he answered, not thinking them in need of his advice.  But pressed, he recommended finding a topic you can identify with and a theoretical framework that will be useful in the long run.  The danger in jumping from idea to idea is that the ideas tend to dry up.   And as Tom's research shows, dry, barren, undifferentiated landscapes are not preferred.