Dean's Newsletter

Vol. 6, Issue 3

Spring 2012: Vol. 6, Issue 3

The recent Chronicle article about Cleveland State reminded me of another Chronicle article that appeared only a month earlier. The earlier article focused on the work of Nancy Cantor, President of Syracuse University. President Cantor is being accused by some of her faculty of abandoning the goal of increasing the university’s academic prestige in favor of diverting its resources to revitalize its sagging rust-belt city. In addition, rather than trying to make Syracuse a more selective institution, Cantor’s focus has been on increasing opportunities for minority and low-income students. As a result, the university has fallen in the U.S. News and World Report rankings and has dropped out of the prestigious Association of American Universities. Some faculty wonder whether the university’s top priority remains excellence in teaching and research. They also wonder whether the university is using its increasing tuition dollars to improve academics or the local neighborhood. These charges are different from the ones the Chronicle leveled against CSU, but the idea is the same: an important university is exposed for retreating from excellence in one metric or the other. But do these articles give the complete picture?

The reason the Cantor article caught my attention is that I had just been reading an address that she had given to the Imagining America Conference in 2003. The title of the address was “Transforming America: The University as Public Good.” The focus of the address was on the “rare and critical role” universities play in promoting public, as opposed to private, good. Certainly, the education our students receive will enrich their private lives and wallets in important ways. However, we can never forget that the work of large universities impacts our society in a wide range of large and small ways. As Cantor writes: “We educate the next generation of leaders. We address important societal issues with discoveries that change our world. We preserve our cultural past while laying the groundwork for the future. And we experiment with ways of building community.” In addition, as the Ohio Business Roundtable reminds us, we also build the critical mass of educated workers needed by our communities to compete in the global economy. And these important contributions to the public good are the key reasons why public universities merit the state subsidies that allow us to keep our tuitions within a reasonably affordable range.

When we add up the many kinds of contributions that universities make to both public and private goods, it is no wonder that disagreements can arise as to how to balance the many competing claims for our time and resources. Which is more important: our commitment to reasonably wide access or our commitment to increasing the quality and success rates of our students? How do doctoral/research institutions balance their competing obligations to expand their original research contributions while at the same time improving the quality of active learning that takes place in each and every one of our classrooms? How can we be effective stewards of place, improving the viability and, indeed, vitality of our neighborhoods, while at the same time allow our faculty the detachment and resources necessary for intense academic pursuits? As Cantor writes: “We do our best when we are poised between two worlds, the world of the monastery with its dedication to a higher purpose, and the marketplace, with the multitude of pressing concerns of everyday life,” and I think that this is especially true for urban universities.

The word “university” comes from the medieval Latin “universitas,” which meant “the whole number of things, the whole world, the universe.” Etymology suggests that there is a wholeness built into the very nature of our institution, and that the idea of a university implies that we must, within our limited resources, seek to address a great number of important and sometimes conflicting societal obligations concurrently. It is a complicated and sometimes frustrating business, and we are, therefore, likely to have fundamental disagreements on how to get the balance exactly right. However, I, for one, prefer a university “poised between two worlds” to a university that builds walls between “town” and “gown.” Moreover, while we might disagree on the details of how to balance all our responsibilities, we should still celebrate together our collective commitment to the whole of this complex enterprise.

It seems that all the big news since my return from Turkey has to do with CLASS facilities. After a long, multi-year process, the Department of Art and the Department of Theatre and Dance are on the verge of moving into spectacular new quarters on the first, second, and fifth floors of the Middough Building. If all goes as planned, the two departments will move over the winter break and will begin teaching classes on our new Fine Arts campus in January. As might have been expected, the last steps in this complicated process are proving to be messy, but the latest reports from the contractors are encouraging. We are hoping for a certificate of occupancy by January 1st. I have been over in the Middough several times since my return, and I know that the finished product will more than fulfill our needs and expectations. This is truly a momentous step forward for our arts programs.

As if the move to the Fine Arts campus was not enough, we were recently treated to a front-page story in the Plain Dealer, which announced to the whole city that CSU has plans to vacate Rhodes Tower above the level of the CSU Library. The article made it seem like the move was imminent, but that, in fact, is not the case. After having explored the possibility of a thorough remodeling of Rhodes Tower, university leadership has decided that such a make-over is too expensive to be feasible. They do not yet, however, have alternative space for the many CLASS departments that currently reside in Rhodes Tower. It is not, therefore, time for CLASS faculty to start boxing their books. A move, when it comes, is many years down the road, and this is also true for the departments that are currently housed in the Chester Building. As dean, I will continue to monitor the possibilities and try to assure, as best I can, that, when the move comes, CLASS faculty will not be further fragmented into an even larger number of buildings. The optimal solution would be to find funding for a new building for all the humanities and social sciences departments (with the exception of Communication), but this will be difficult in the current state budget context. In any case, I will continue to monitor the situation and report news when I hear it.

In the meantime, the faculty in Art and Theatre and Dance have said their last good-byes to their current buildings. The Department of Theatre and Dance staged a magnificent production of The Tempest, which was also Shakespeare’s last good-bye to the stage. The play was directed by Alan Byrne, and Michael Mauldin played Prospero while Rodger Govea played Alonso. The Department of Art held its last exhibition in the old Art Gallery. 2307 Chester Ave.: The Last Exhibition featured the work of some of the department’s faculty and most talented alumni.

The Department of Sociology and Criminology held its most recent Butler Jones Lecture, which featured a distinguished criminologist from Ohio State, Ruth Peterson. Dr. Peterson, by the way, received both her B.A. and M.A. at Cleveland State. Finally, Evan Lieberman and his students are gearing up for an exciting new project. Working with university contributor and friend Bill Julka, they are producing a pilot episode of a program on Indian cuisine and culture. The series will be called “Beyond Curry,” and hopes are that it will one day appear on either PBS or the Food Network.

Recent CLASS faculty accomplishments include the publication of Regennia Williams’ co-authored book Through the Lens of Allen E. Cole: A Photographic History of African Americans in Cleveland, Ohio (Kent State University Press). In addition, the Ohio Choral Directors Association presented a Distinguished Service Award to our former professor and choral director Ernest L. Hisey.

Our fall semester CLASS valedictorian is Brittany Bate, who completed three degrees (in Sociology, Criminology, and Psychology) last August. Brittany is currently enrolled in our M.A. program in Sociology, and she hopes to enter a Ph.D. program in Psychology next fall. While completing her three degrees, she played on CSU’s women’s softball team for five years. She also contributed her time to many different charities and organizations, including the Cleveland Food Bank, SOAR! (a program for handicapped adults), and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Finally, Brittany was inducted into the Golden Key National Honors Society. Brittany is an inspiring representative of the best CSU has to offer, and we wish her well in her career pursuits.

I close with my heart-felt wishes for a peaceful and joyous winter holiday season. I also want to thank all faculty and staff for their contributions during 2011 to the whole mission of our complex enterprise. There are indeed many recent accomplishments of which we can be justifiably proud. 2012 promises to bring even more exciting challenges and opportunities for the college, and I predict that our collective path forward will move in a smoother and easier incline upwards. Keep warm!

Best wishes,