Dean's Newsletter

Volume 12, Issue 2

A Newsletter for Faculty & Staff in the
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Volume 12, Issue 2

In a recent email I received from the New York Times, the publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., wrote: “In my 40+ years working in journalism, I’ve not witnessed a news cycle as relentless as the one we’re in. And it’s not stopping.” This was a prelude to his announcement that, for this reason, the cost of my subscription is going up in January (!). Even if one considers it a rationalization for the price increase, I think that the statement might be reflecting something that is important. All of our media outlets, combined with the vast capacity of the internet, have combined to make the state of our public life a chaotic 24/7 presence in our lives.

The problem is compounded by the fact that not all news sources are reliable. “Fake news” is a reality—although identifying which outlets offer “fake news” seems now to be a political litmus test—and it is poisoning the world views of many of our co-citizens. I was reminded about this when I read a column written by my decanal colleague at John Carroll University, Dr. Margaret Farrar. The column begins with describing a basic assumption we all have about how democracy works:

Democracy assumes truth: we assume…that people will have access to true information, and will make decisions based on that true information. We believe that our political choices reflect different assumptions and preferences given a shared set of facts.

But in the age of “fake news,” this assumption is being undercut. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous remark: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts” seems almost quaint in the age of bombastic tweeting and unfettered internet “publication.” In addition, Dean Farrar describes how social media exacerbates political “astroturf,” i.e., movements that appear to be grassroots but “which are in fact orchestrated and funded by highly-organized and well-financed lobbying interests.” The danger of these astroturf movements is that they create a false sense of popular support for various issues when, in reality, there is little or none at all. She asks: “What is public opinion in the age of bots?”

Troubling developments like this underscore the crucial role of our faculty in the formation of good citizens. In particular, our role in teaching students about critical thinking and information literacy has become ever more important, especially as those skills relate to the use of the internet and social media. Citizens need to be able to distinguish “fake news” from news that is based on honest research and reliable sources. Researchers need to do the same. In the past, I remember patiently explaining to my students the difference between solid, peer- or editorially-reviewed publications versus other kinds of publications that received little or no external review. The same is true with respect to news outlets. With the explosion of news outlets—some of which subordinate fact checking to advancing ideology-driven points of view and even to spreading deliberate distortions—it is more critical than ever that students can make that distinction. In fact, I am becoming more and more convinced that teaching this skill is among our most important duties.

It is also important to teach our students the value of supporting authoritative news outlets. Legitimate newspapers are struggling today because their base of subscribers is dwindling, but if newspapers go away, who will do the investigative reporting necessary for the citizens to unearth the “shared set of facts”? That is why I will continue to subscribe to various newspapers…even if they raise their prices. In my opinion, it’s a civic duty.

It’s a very pleasant duty to announce that Leah E. Beck has been chosen out of a field of 19 CLASS scholars to be the fall 2017 CLASS Valedictorian. To be among the CLASS scholars, a graduate must have earned a cumulative GPA of 3.8 or higher, but the Valedictorian must also bring a record of outstanding accomplishments in community engagement. Ms. Beck, a double-major in Philosophy and Sociology with a 3.92 GPA, is a member of Tau Sigma Delta Honor Society as well as the Golden Key International Honor Society. She has been actively involved in the Philosophy Club and several community social service organizations. In addition, she was an undergraduate student assistant in the Department of Criminology, Anthropology, and Sociology as well as a student volunteer in the Department of Philosophy and Comparative Religion. Her main focus has been on the study of bioethics, and she plans to continue her studies, hoping to obtain both a Ph.D. in medical ethics and a J.D. We honored Ms. Beck as well as the other, truly admirable CLASS scholars at our CLASS Recognition Awards Banquet on December 5th.

I am also aware of some new and notable faculty successes. Jeff Karem and Caryl Pagel, for example, have recently been awarded a $74,300 grant from the Cleveland Foundation. The grant will partially fund the new Anisfield Wolf Managing Editor Fellowship for the Poetry Center for two years. In addition, Miyuki Tedor (Criminology, Anthropology, and Sociology), Patty Stoddard-Dare (Social Work), and Wenbing Zhao (Electrical Engineering) will be working on a new mobile app, funded by an FRD grant of $8000. This app will make it easier for providers of substance abuse treatments to communicate time slots and available venues to other professionals, who, in turn, can refer their clients more quickly. Eventually, the app will be made available directly to the consumers to increase the speed with which they can access treatment. Another $8000 FRD grant for developing a mobile app was awarded to Cigdem Slankard (Film & Media Arts) and Anne Berry (Art and Design) along with colleagues from Teacher Education and the School of Health Sciences. The proposed app will increase access to community spaces for children with mobility and sensory impairments. Finally, Cyleste Collins (Social Work) has recently received two grants totaling $107,994. One project is entitled Birthing Beautiful Communities Program Evaluation (from Neighborhood Connections) and the other is for Addressing Health Disparities (from the MetroHealth System). Congratulations to all these award winners!

It is unusual for CSU faculty publications to be promoted on the main CSU web page, but recently the books of two faculty members from our History Department have appeared there. First, Mark Souther’s Believing in Cleveland (Temple U. Press), a historical study of efforts to promote Cleveland as a “come back” city, was featured. And, second, Stephanie Hinnershitz’ A Different Shade of Justice (U. of North Carolina Press), appeared. Hinnershitz’ book is a study of the struggles of Asian Americans to win their civil rights. Publishing a book with a major academic press is certainly an outstanding accomplishment for faculty in the humanities, and these two books will undoubtedly have a major impact on their respective fields. I hope the practice of promoting our colleagues’ new books on the CSU web site continues.

I also want to recognize the creation of the Center for Behavioral Health Sciences, which is housed in the School of Social Work. The Center, under the leadership of Cathleen Lewandowski and in partnership with St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, will bring together faculty from several CSU colleges to work on basic and applied research in behavioral health, with a particular focus on substance abuse. Given Ohio’s opioid crisis, the creation of this center could not be more timely. For more information about the Center, see the latest issue of the Innerlink.

I would like to invite you all to the fall Commencement Ceremony, which will take place on Sunday, December 17th. Two CLASS faculty members will be given special honors at the ceremony. First, Jeff Karem will receive the 2017 CSU Distinguished Faculty Award for Service. Dr. Karem, who currently chairs the Department of English, has been very active in service on the departmental, college, and university levels. He has served with dedication both on the Faculty Senate and with the CSU chapter of the AAUP. Second, Maggie Jackson, professor emerita, former Interim Chairperson of the Department of Anthropology, and former Director of the School of Social Work (for 18 years!), will receive an honorary degree at the fall ceremony. Please consider joining us to help honor Drs. Jackson and Karem as well as all our new CLASS graduates!

Finally, I wish all CLASS faculty and staff a holiday season filled with joy and peace...leaving aside the frenetic voices on television or social media and enjoying, for a brief moment, the warmth and quiet of time with family and/or close friends.