Nevertheless and Therefore: A Year of Accountability and Accomplishment


 Fred Antczak, Dean of CLAS

 to the faculty and staff of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences  

April 17, 2007


It is simply impossible to begin this speech with anything other than an expression of compassion for the shooting victims at Virginia Tech yesterday—our  hearts go out to them and their friends and families.  For such a violent fate to befall them on a college campus, perhaps the best and most peaceable place in all of our public sphere, is shocking—a defiling of a space we hold and treat with special reverence.  I ask for a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Virginia Tech students slain and the many members of that community who were injured by yesterday’s sad and frightening events.


There is no doubt that what happened yesterday will change American universities, and we need to be thinking and talking with each other about how it will touch Grand Valley.  But I will not make the obvious move, to say that this horrific event somehow “puts our everyday struggles in perspective.”  Madness does not put anything in a reasonable perspective.  It was just madness, the irremediable waste of what is most irreplaceably precious.  I want to talk with you today about the challenges we faced this year, and to do so reasonably—the way communities of learners do, the way that despite differences we surely did this year—requires us to set aside what is not reasonable.  But today—a day of retrospection for us, and in no small measure a day of celebration—those students will not be far from our minds and hearts.   Let us, as learners, pledge to one another here to try to learn more about each other, and in so doing build a community in which chaos and force give way to continuing conversation among colleagues. 


Wordless at the sight of unspeakable loss, let us try turn our thoughts for the moment from the tragic present in Blacksburg to our year’s past.  We will remember 2006-2007 as a year of externally oriented tasks—strategic planning, assessment, workload—all to give a fair account of ourselves to constituencies ranging from accreditors to legislators to trustees.  Moreover, these are tools to give a fair account of ourselves to ourselves, in the belief that taking the trouble of knowing in finer detail what we all are doing together is important, first and most importantly, for building our own future together. 


I remember when, at the very first Unit Heads meeting of this academic year, I told the chairs of departments and programs what was on the docket for the year and what all we had to accomplish.  If facial expressions were any indication, they had assessed remarkably accurately the challenge and seriousness of all the undertakings in the year immediately ahead.  Like it or not, we’d found ourselves in a new era of accountability.  Some of the tasks we had to address were in areas outside our expertise and many quite outside what we most love to do.  And all of us were about to meet the challenge of making the most of it. 


We need to keep our retrospective on our year of accountability in focus.  When we think of 2006-2007, it is important to remember that all this was work that HAD to be done.  Our tasks were not cooked up by suddenly hyperactive and unusually imaginative administrators.  They were either required in order to be accountable to increasingly demanding external constituencies, or were unavoidable necessities: 

  • The last review of GVSU for NCA accreditation in 1997-8 specifically required us to do more planning before our turn came ‘round again in 2007.  So, we planned.  
  • Reflecting an external climate which is vastly more interested (and not always very thoughtfully) in outcomes, NCA has chosen to place much heavier emphasis on assessment.  So we put ourselves to work to assess something meaningful.  
  • The software company that serviced the Sys system was no more.  So, like many other universities, we converted. 

Now, only once every one or two decades do we put into place a student records system such as Banner; we undergo an accreditation review only once in ten years (sooner if all does not go well).  Even more rarely do they coincide; lucky us, huh?  The departmental discussions on workload and areas of significant focus, the Bylaws our Faculty Council wrote (and the other colleges immediately took as their models), the work of the Advising Taskforce—these will provide the basis for better practices while only requiring periodic tweaking.  And as for filling out the Faculty Activity Reports and holding our elections, we will find the necessary annual activities easier as we get used to them. 


Of course, as teachers sometimes tell students, there are some tasks that can’t be simplified past a certain point without losing the purpose for which they are done.   I know the faculty very much wanted to do a good job in their work, and no one can deny that CLAS faculty dug in and took ownership of their tasks this year.  So for the ways we were not as clear we might have been, and for the times we were not able to make the tasks dovetail optimally, and for any activity if it genuinely will prove unproductive in the long run, I take responsibility.   We tried our best, but you deserved better.  I pledge that we will continue to sanity-check our processes and requests, and continue to use the College website as a mode for conveying information and keeping things transparent.  Best practices should apply not only to teaching and scholarship, but to administration—should, and will.  We’re always looking at suggestions about how to simplify, pare back, merge tasks, eliminate paperwork.  For instance, Steve Schlicker suggested the other day that given the annual FARs in the new “FARP” form they have taken, it’s not necessary for faculty to update and submit their CVs annually—so we’ll relax that requirement to a new CV every three years, and you all have Steve to thank.  In fact I’d like to give special credit to the unit heads for working all year to find ways to ease the burden; unit heads, you accomplished a great deal in a challenging year. Please stand for a round of applause for your work.


I’d also like to recognize Dean Stark and Dean Cimitile for working persistently and ingeniously to smooth the way.   In fact, at this time I’d like to call Gary and Maria up to the rostrum.


On behalf of grateful, relieved, and thanks to you, not completely exhausted faculty (not to mention staff and students), I present you with these T-shirts as a sign of our gratitude and an ensemble for future planning meetings—if any.


Let me note that Maria will be taking her sabbatical in fall semester, as Jann is doing right now (and this is a promise I’ll make to you for as long as I am your dean, the College Office will be peopled by active teacher-scholars).  Succeeding Maria on an interim basis through December will be the former chair of the College Curriculum Committee, Professor Sherril Soman of Chemistry.  I hope you work with her to make her feel comfortable in that role.  But please join me now in thanking Maria for all the good work, full of patience and respect, that she has done in helping us with strategic planning this year. 


Now that we have a faculty driven strategic plan, we must resolve to put it into action.  I’m pleased to announce a committee including faculty, staff and students that is specifically charged to keep the momentum going.  The Committee for the Future of CLAS will meet once yet this spring, a couple of times just at the beginning of next fall, and monthly thereafter.  Its charge is to prioritize the strategic plan action steps, send out information to parties responsible for those steps, receive and process feedback from those parties, follow and encourage progress across the College, and revise the plan where necessary.  Our colleagues on the “Future” Committee are Steeve Buckridge, Patricia Clark, Cindy Hull, Karen Libman, Mark Luttenton, AP Diane Laughlin, COT Ginny Klingenberg and student Alex van Ameyde.  Let’s have a hand to thank our colleagues for serving.


This year’s tasks had to be done and lessons have been learned; most importantly, together we met the challenges of accountability.  All strategic plans are in, and responded to by the College.  All the way across our departments, we have set the pace for the University on assessment.  Benchmarking is largely done.  Workload documents are coming in, with the “scope of work” the most elusive concept, but those documents will be in on time.  We have met the challenges of accountability, and succeeded.  That, nevertheless, was just part of our journey this year.  Beyond accountability, what is far more remarkable in how we responded is what else, therefore, we have been able to accomplish together.


We have already celebrated service with our award winners, but it needs to be said that Nancy, Neal and Ed stand for so many CLAS faculty who have so generously served their department, college, university, community and field this year.  The excellent teaching we are known for was exemplified by our university teaching award winners: Michael deWilde of Philosophy, Kevin DenDulk of Political Science and David Coffey of the Mathematics won Pew Teaching Awards.  Once again this year CLAS colleagues were recognized with the Pew Teaching-with-Technology Award, Janel Pettes Guikema and David Eick of Modern Languages and Literatures.  Grand Valley State University’s nominee for the state Professor of the Year Award is Mark Luttenton, from the Biology Department and the Annis Water Resources Institute.  At Grand Valley, teaching remains Job One, and we had a remarkable year at our essential task.  And that’s not all.


Look around you, and you can take pride in the scholarly accomplishments of our CLAS colleagues, only some of which are represented here.  My special thanks to all of you whose work we celebrate today in the Sabbatical Showcase, let’s give them all a hand!  And please join me in giving thanks to Jann Joseph for running this Showcase and to Keesha Walker who was instrumental in pulling it off—and to everyone who assisted them.


In addition to the Sabbatical research showcased here today, we also come together to celebrate the many other CLAS achievements of the year.  Though I’m glad many have already come up in the committee reports and that in total they are too numerous to recount fully here, I do hope to give you a sense of the scope.  To start, our faculty has received many awards and grants, and have been elected to prestigious posts.

  • Shaily Menon[1] had a great year, including election to The International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) of the National Academy of Sciences and receiving the Barbara Jordan Award.
  • Ander Monson’s book Neck Deep and Other Predicaments: Essays  was published and won the 2006 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize.[2]
  • A $500,000 National Science Foundation grant was made to Michael Chu of AWRI.[3]
  • John Harper Philbin[4] of the School of Communications directed a film, "The Gospel According to Roy," that won a film festival award.
  • The Michigan Sociological Review is edited here by Joe Verschaeve[5]-- and Michael Ott and Mary de Young are on the editorial board.
  • A continuation of Jim Persoon’s[6] Fulbright lectureship to Ghana is making possible some branching out from his well established expertise in British and American Literature.  Jim is now researching the slave castle at Cape Coast; he delivered a paper about it at a conference in the UK in March on Transatlantic Slavery commemorating the 200-year anniversary of the British abolition of the slave trade.
  • These, and so many other accomplishments of our faculty helped inspire me this year as I worked to contribute to our culture of scholarship; it’s evidence that a culture of scholarship is rich when even the dean was caught up in it, publishing one paper in the journal Pedagogy, and presenting another paper at a national conference; I can also report that I’ll be serving for ten days in May as NEH Professor at Northeastern University, teaching in a seminar for college teachers on the American Lyceum.  And I’ll be keeping out of trouble this summer preparing to teach a section of the Comm 203 Argumentation course in the fall semester.


And there’s one other aspect of CLAS I’d like to celebrate, albeit somewhat prospectively.  I want to acknowledge the incredible new faculty that departments have brought to campus in the last couple of years—faculty who are already begun doing incredible things, that are a glimpse of how a community renews itself.  I am convinced that as our new colleagues get more comfortable, they will have a distinct voice within the departments that chose them.  And I want to offer a special invitation to all of our newer faculty to participate, in your own time and your own way, broadly and actively in the intellectual and professional life of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


The list of CLAS accomplishments would not be complete without acknowledging our students’ achievements, only some of which were gloriously on display not quite a week ago at Student Scholarship Day.

  • Matthew Stamp is now the 4th Niemeyer Award winner from the Mathematics Dept[7] in 5 years.  I like to laugh at James Thurber’s line about Ohio State University, that it aspired to be a University the football team could be proud of.  But let’s keep score here: 4 out of 5 years, that puts the Math Department neck and neck with the football team.
  • Jeff Lewandowski has been named a finalist in the 2007 International Trumpet Guild Competition and the very exciting news you may not have heard is that our New Music Ensemble[8] has been invited to play in New York at the prestigious Bang on A Can marathon.
  • And our students are participating in research that ranges from creating documentaries about local WWII regiments[9] to providing the campus with a better understanding of our storm water run off[10]
  • Our students are receiving substantial graduate school scholarships—so much so, that we have plans to start tracking where our graduates are going, and posting their good news with pride on our website. 

In the College Office, we have redoubled our efforts to support and promote these achievements.  And in that connection I wanted to make sure everyone had met the new faces in the College office:

  • Paula Wicklund (coming to us from the Medical University of South Carolina) has seen us through the last paper copies of the Curriculum change forms and the transition to the electronic system.
  • Heidi Nicholson (from MOVEMENT SCIENCE)  is our frontline person - the first to direct students and staff to resolve their questions, as well as handle Dean Cimitile’s lively calendar.
  • Dr. Monica Johnstone came aboard as our first Director of CLAS Communications & Advancement and has been able to assist many departments with publicizing events and achievements.  Through her good work, media coverage is measurably up. The bookstore now carries many more of our faculty’s books and the Library has featured and celebrated them.  Also thanks to Monica’s good work, you will notice that the CLAS website has been renovated; it now includes a special section on advising, which we expect to develop ever more helpfully.  And if you haven’t been there already, please visit our page on “The Future of CLAS.”

Some of our support has come in the form of sponsorship of events.  Pat Haynes helps me live by the adage that Stevie Wonder contributed to the literature of management: “Ya gots to work with what you gots to work with” and yet we were still able to assist a variety of events and programs.  You know, part of the beauty of such a large and diverse college is that we can find partners in our undertakings.  Some of the events this year are great examples of that. 

  • The CLAS Research Colloquium
  • A standing-room-only lecture by Ernie LaPointe, the great-grandson of Sitting Bull
  • The Michigan Science Olympiad
  • Black History Month events : Dr. Mary Frances Berry & the Cesar Chavez Celebration
  • The Classics Department’s multi-day continuous reading of the Iliad, the “Homerathon,” culminated with a reading by translator Stanley Lombardo.
  • Argentine dramatist Patricia Sua’res.
  • PLS attendance at the Lech Walesa dinner
  • printing bulletins for WISE, Women in Science and Engineering, a co-curricular learning community with which our colleague in Chemistry Laurie Witucki has done wonders this year; we look forward eagerly to what Mark Richards can do next year with the new pre-law living center.
  • Music Opera – Secret Garden
  • Membership in the Humanities Council of Grand Rapids
  • Flannery O’Connor conference workshop
  • Math in Action Conference
  • 9th annual Conference of the Americas –Jewels of Nature
  • Lanthorn ads and software/computer for brochures for Alert Lab
  • Critorama—an artistic community open house
  • Family Math Program
  • Spanish Writing Center
  • Laila Lalami visit
  • student delegates to National Model Arab League
  • Classical Theatre workshops
  • The Commission recognizing the bicentennial of the end of Atlantic Slave Trade—about which I’d like to take a moment to say two things: first, that Commission has benefited greatly from the leadership of our colleague in History, Steeve Buckridge.  Steeve, it’s a pleasure to recognize your accomplishment.  Second, I’d like to reinforce the vigilance we all need to practice, so that we may continue to walk the walk in the area of diversity.  This year, legal changes added to that challenge.  But the continuing commitments of the community at GVSU, and particularly people like Steeve and the many others working directly on our diversity initiatives, demonstrate that we will keep working in this area.


None of these are exhaustive lists, but they suggest the depth and breadth of accomplishment that we somehow managed, despite (and perhaps because of) a year that was brimming with administrative and governance challenges.  We embraced the idea of best practices and accepted the accountability and transparency which we know is the path to the sort of aspirations we described in our strategic plans, and those plans led us to partners in future projects.  This year we asked ourselves many painfully essential questions about who we are and who we want to be, how our work is best assessed and distributed, all in the context of the vision we have for the College.  And perhaps partly because of such efforts, we had an extraordinary range of achievements.  We were accountable; nevertheless and therefore, we accomplished a very great deal.


In the Politics, Aristotle described a similar situation.  He said:

When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life.


Perhaps we will reflect that this year’s efforts provided us not just with the bare needs of staying alive institutionally, but precisely because of our struggles, provided us with the basis of the good life toward which we are working.  And truly, we have much good living to look forward to next year.


We can look forward to hearing the award winning writer for the New Yorker, Professor Jamaica Kincaid, a novelist who explores the ramifications of colonialism and identity in light of the cultural expectations in her native Antigua.  She will speak at our Fall Arts Celebration thanks to the hard work this term of the selection committee.


For both students and faculty, we are looking forward to making the new, more manageable graduation ceremony memorable.  I encourage you to attend to enhance the experience of the graduates and to enjoy the fruits of their labor and your own.


For our campus community and our alumni, for the first time the College will be contributing a small film festival to the October 13 Homecoming game-day activities.  We will celebrate the film and documentary contributions of CLAS students, faculty and alumni as our “tailgate party for the mind.”


And as 2008 approaches, we will see signs of the new addition to Mackinac Hall that will provide a home for not only the College office, but also more appropriate facilities for several CLAS departments.  Floor plans are on “the Future of CLAS section of our website and Dean Joseph is working with all of the relevant parties on that enormous and wonderful project.


So let’s celebrate our achievement and look forward all that it will allow us to build.  While it is true that, as Walter Winchell quipped, that “nothing recedes like success”, as we move into summer, I hope you can step back, see the big picture, and take real satisfaction in your work on accountability and your accomplishments in teaching, scholarship and service this year.  I encourage you to use the coming months to relax and recharge, to nurture your intellectual life, to explore teaching innovations or research that may have been made to wait.  When the season comes around again, our best freshman class yet—can you believe that they will be the class of 2011 ?!—will be glad we did.


And after all we went through, I also hope you take pride in what we did together, a year of accountability and—nevertheless and therefore—of accomplishment.




[1] Biology

[2] Writing

[3] AWRI

[4] School of Comm

[5] Sociology

[6] English

[7] Math

[8] Music

[9] History

[10] Geology

Page last modified March 9, 2018