CLAS Acts March 2015


Newsletter for Tenure Track CLAS Faculty

March 2015
Vol. 8, issue 7

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.


Frederick J. Antczak, Dean

This is another winter that should probably come with the promise of an "I Survived" T shirt.  But just when you start to think the weather conspired against every candidate we brought to campus and every exam you wanted to give, you discover that our forced indoor confinement turned out to be inspiringly productive. For instance, your Faculty Council has produced a new incarnation of the Out of the Box series that has some new and exciting dimensions-including bringing in a speaker:   Professor Larry Gerber, author of   The Rise and Decline of Faculty Governance (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).  The members of the Council have worked hard to identify and bring in this expert on faculty governance, and I hope you will make it a point to attend on Thursday, March 12, 1-2pm in 2204 KC..  I'm detecting a theme of "when you can't shovel out, bring someone interesting in".  On March 23, Sociology is bringing in Jo Reger, Professor of Sociology at Oakland University to speak on The Everywhere and Nowhere of U.S. Contemporary Feminism.  Not to be outdone, Classics is bringing in Cleopatra-that's a film, not a speaking mummy, on March 24 and 31. You can still catch The Evolving System:  Group Portfolio and Recent Printmaking Works by our colleague Bill Hosterman (Red Wall Gallery, LOH, through March 13). Psychology has a film series on Wednesdays, an International Relations alum is speaking on Syria, there are many opportunities to hear some wonderful music-in fact, you really need to have a look at the CLAS Happenings poster-it is a 2-pager this month.  Speaking of posters, you may already have spotted an initiative to see if we can provide advisors and students with a little more information about spring and summer offerings in our college.  It is such a shame when a course that represents a fabulous opportunity does not run for lack of students.  Our "Fun and Fascinating" poster hopes to get a few more eyeballs on opportunities.  Not all units chose to submit courses to promote, but we hope that we will have a positive effect on those that did.  Want an extra poster? Contact  Winter has also been a time of recognition for our students.  Our film students won a Pixie Award.  CLAS Student Advisory Committee member and twirling champ Moriah Muscaro was recently featured on Fox 17.  And the Grand Rapids Business Journal wrote about our student-run PR firm, Grand PR. As you noted last week's weekly mailing, both the Hauenstein Leadership Academy and the CLAS Student Advisory Committee have requested nominations.  These are opportunities that students tell me they love.  Do think about matching great students with these opportunities.   CLAS Service Awards applications are due to unit heads on March 3. And you still have a little time to nominate deserving AP employees for AP Awards. 

  Remember that it is in your enlightened self-interest to look out for these folks-you may need to forage with them for firewood if this winter keeps up. I am, of course, kidding.  We don't have a lot of fireplaces, and I have it on the best authority that Spring will come.  Monica says she will send a chocolate bar to the person making the first verifiable daffodil sighting (no fair getting a snapshot in a southern clime on spring break though, and the big iron artwork east of STU doesn't count).  When I write you again, we'll be thinking about the Tigers' Opening Day-and a whole month of student honors and graduation.  If that prospect doesn't get your blood flowing, you've shoveled too much snow! For Your Calendar--April 1, 2015 CLAS Sabbatical Showcase and Spring Celebration Russel H. Kirkhof Center, Grand River Room (2250 KC) Showcase:  11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Spring Celebration (Awards, Dean's address, lunch):  12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. Showcase:  1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.

CLAS Faculty Research Colloquium The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences sponsors a series of six CLAS research colloquia per year.   PAD 308 2:30 pm  refreshments followed by four or five 20-minute presentations (15 minutes plus 5 minutes for discussion).

Final date of the academic year for the CLAS Faculty Research Colloquium Thurs., March 19, 2015 Contact Mark Staves.  

Welcoming Our New VP for Inclusion and Equity

Two receptions for faculty and staff members will be held to welcome the new vice president for Inclusion and Equity to campus.
All faculty and staff members are invited to meet Jesse M. Bernal on Wednesday, March 11, from 3:30-5 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center, Thornapple Room; or Thursday, March 19, from 3:30-5 p.m. in the DeVos Center, University Club Room.
Bernal was named vice president in late January. He had served most recently as director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at Santa Clara University in California.                  


Giving Students Permission to Enter into an Uncertain Beauty

by Monica Johnstone, PhD

Peter Anderson, Associate Professor and Interim Chair of Classics, will certainly grant you that he has a lot on his plate.  For instance, Peter is teaching first-year Latin, a Capstone course, Classical World, an independent study with 4 students, and mentoring Abigail DeHart's thesis; serving as department chair; keeping up commitments to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program; and anticipating a book due out in March-- but somehow carries a sense of relative calm despite the fact you've caught him in medias res on his 12-hour teaching day, and he is one foot out the door to leave for Cardiff. His book aspires to help students as they make translation choices.  He wants to serve both the philosophical audience that strives for consistency of terms as well as the classicist audience seeking beauty in English despite the different structures of Latin.  He seeks, "beautiful eloquence to express a hard fact." I have had the pleasure of speaking with some of his students who note not only this characteristic generosity with his time, but also how his approach to his teaching has brought out the best in them and excited them about subjects that might otherwise seem a little difficult for modern undergraduates to engage, such as his recent course on Stoicism (CLA 365).  Something rather wonderful is happening when students clearly want to infect you with their enthusiasm for Stoic philosophy.  The elixir that Peter clearly has on tap in his classroom has something to do with technique, but perhaps even more to do with his general concept of what the teaching project is.  Pretty much every aspect of the academic life has some relevance to teaching.  He'll tell you that even committees are relevant to teaching, that all aspects of the rich professional life of faculty is organically related to the rest.  So his work for IB serves high school teaching and helps to shape what students internationally learn about his field.  "The nexus of student accomplishment and teacher accomplishment," he notes.  As he talks, these points of intersection and places where choices are made are where the action is. At the very first CLAS Teaching Roundtables event in 2010, Peter introduced his colleagues to contemplative pedagogy which has informed an increasing proportion of his teaching since 2006.  In the description of his topic, he explained, "A growing body of research shows that the deliberate use of mindfulness and other contemplative practices in higher education can increase student engagement, focus in the classroom, and academic performance. Indeed, contemplative components or courses of study have been adopted into many programs at many institutions, from the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown University to mindfulness initiatives in K-12 classrooms through programs such as the Inner Kids Foundation in Los Angeles." In terms of his Stoics course, a secular mindfulness integrates well with the topic.  To enter into it, students are mimicking stoic practice.  He estimates that 50% of the students really work at their own mindfulness practice, and, he reports, "80% wish they had done more because they saw the benefits to those who did."  These benefits come in the form of a higher degree of engagement and a higher quality of work.  Attendance rates are quite high.  In addition, he sees that mindfulness practice proves to be a powerful way to let the outside noise fade away.  When he was first acquainted with this practice, Peter used it only when it fit the course content, but he now thinks taking a moment at the beginning of just about any class to gather thoughts can work more generally toward student success. He does encounter resistance, particularly from some young students, and makes mindfulness optional.  He observes, "Students take suggestions or don't in many areas and this is one."  He sees it as a tool for success that will work for some. In his language courses, one of his favorite practices is fronting knowledge.  He acknowledges the long teaching tradition behind this pedagogical idea.  He explains that students' cognitive load in learning a second language is under stress.  At first you need to go slowly-- and slowing down increases cognitive load.  The brain is busy anticipating and discarding a great deal.  Managing students' expectations is brutally hard.  And in the early stages, the teacher is in control of what the students see-it is not language "in the wild".  So Peter understands his job at this stage to be to take away some expectations by saying, "Today we will only be looking at..." and therefore relieving some of the cognitive load and its attendant stress.  This focused approach is not yet the full complexity of the language, of course, but allows students to learn. In a sense, it too is lowering the noise. He explains that when students learn Latin, due to the nature of the way it is taught with a strong focus on the analysis of grammatical forms using texts that can be rather schematic, students can get the false impression that the language itself is schematic and is a collection of rules to be followed. (I recall my own experience in second-year Latin-I asked my high school teacher if the Romans spoke very slowly in order to get the endings right.  Her patience with me at that moment was not unlike Peter's.) Appreciating that from the students' perspective, rigid models seem to guarantee success, he tries to push his students toward a more productive view of Latin as a language of ideas.  He tries to leverage the way the student's brain works.  "Failure is an expression of uncertainty, never a bad thing," Peter notes.  "Latin is the language of second chances."  Recasting (asking a student to do it again after a mistake) has some utility, but even better is not making the error in the first place.  The teacher creates the environment for this success through guidance such as, "Remember when we talked about let's look at..."  Starting from a place of comfort, he is always gently pushing outside of that comfort zone into uncertainty.  He reminds us of the unavoidable fact that there is uncertainty in expressing yourself in language. This style of working continues until the students are really reading in the language.  Healthy habits are established early.  "We are habit-based creatures," Peter says.  While a more "at your own pace" style would be optimal, it is impractical for most college courses.  "The uncertainty of teaching and learning should be embraced," he smiles.  Ultimately, he hopes to reveal with his students what makes us express in certain ways and how those ways can be beautiful.