Happy Ada Lovelace Day

[author’s note: this should have posted yesterday. Ah, well]

The second Tuesday in October is celebrated annually as Ada Lovelace Day, to encourage women to enter the STEM fields. Ada Lovelace, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, is widely considered to have devised the first programming language, and her work later inspired Alan Turing. In a reversal of stereotypes, her father was an emotionally tempestuous poet, one of the founds of the Romantic movement, and her mother was a mathematician.

More information can be found about Ada Lovelace Day here.




What we talk about when we talk about “us”

The Council of Presidents, State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Independent Colleges of Washington, and the Washington Student Achievement Council have put out a joint statement supporting Washington’s DACA students, denouncing the termination of DACA, and urging congress to find a legislative solution. Reading the statement, I was struck by some of its language: “These students and those who came before them are not strangers on our campuses, in our communities, and in our homes. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and our family. They are us.”

That last sentence led me to thinking about how people form a picture of “us”–that is, when someone says “we,” who is included and who is excluded in the mental picture formed by the words “we” and “us”? “They are us” could function as a grammatical oxymoron, or it could serve as a revolutionary and transformative way of thinking about our relationships to our communities, to our neighbors, to our fellow residents, to our fellow Americans, to our fellow occupants of planet Earth. Who do you picture as you think each of those terms? Who is your “us”? Is the “us” that you automatically picture the “us” that you would like to picture? Or would you like to have a more inclusive picture, to move people from “they” to “we” in your mind?



“Don’t criticize something if you haven’t read it”

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first of the Harry Potter books in Great Britain. Reading those books as they came out was one of the most enjoyable literary experiences of my life. One of my favorite memories of the series is reading Goblet of Fire aloud to a friend who was recovering from a back injury and getting to do my best Dobby the house elf voice. Another favorite memory is buying Half-Blood Prince at a bookseller’s in the London underground, as I just happened to be in London on the day of its release. And, of course, whizzing through Deathly Hallows to find out whether or not it turned out that Neville, rather than Harry, would be the one prophesied to defeat Voldemort (the ending I always wanted to see).

It’s not the ending of the series I really want to talk about, though, but rather the beginning, and how I came to be a fanboy of the series through my students challenging me to practice what I preached.

In the late 90s, when the first three books of the series had been released and the series’ popularity had really started to become a phenomenon, I made an offhand comment in a graduate seminar I was teaching. I don’t remember what prompted the comment, but I’ll never forget what I said, or what one student said in response.

“Nobody reads anything anymore but those Harry Potter children’s books!” was my expression of exasperation.

“Have you read them?” my student asked, and in challenging her professor modeling the courage of Dumbledore’s Army.

“Of course not!” I replied in Umbridge-like fashion.

“Well,” my student persisted, “haven’t you always told us not to criticize something we haven’t read?”

Reader, she had me there. So, in a more McGonnagall-like fashion, I told that class that I would, indeed, read the first book, so that then I would be entitled to criticize it to my heart’s content.

I read the first book and found it so intriguing I read the next, and the next. And reported back to my students that I had to eat my words and admit that I was quite wrong and that they and everybody else should read all the Harry Potter books they wanted. (Not that I don’t have criticisms–like, boys get to do all the good stuff in the books, but the Hermione-is-really-the-hero meme is good on that score). And how could I not appreciate the terrific boost to interest in reading that the series produced while the release of each new book created such excitement that kids and adults waited in long lines at actual bookstores to get them?

My real point here, though, is this: my students were right to hold me to the standard of don’t criticize something you haven’t read. If we all followed a simple protocol: read first, think second, respond third, we might be one step closer to the wisdom of Dumbledore.


Welcome our new Campus Director of Equity and Diversity, Obie Ford III

Please join me in welcoming WSU Vancouver’s first full-time Campus Director for Equity and Diversity, Dr. Obie Ford III. Dr. Ford comes to WSU Vancouver from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, where he served as the founding Director of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity since 2014. Prior to his time at Warren Wilson, he held positions at Columbus State Community College including Multicultural Facilitator and Career Counselor. He holds a BA in Psychology and an MA in Educational Policy & Leadership from The Ohio State University and a PhD in Higher Education Administration from Ohio University. Dr. Ford is also a poet who has carried out the projects #HaikuForJustice and #HaikuForLove. As Campus Director for Equity and Diversity at Vancouver, he will join the Chancellor’s cabinet and have campus-level responsibilities for carrying out the objectives of our strategic goal to promote an ethical and socially just society through an intentional commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity.

I had the opportunity to serve as chair of the search committee for this position, and am very pleased to have such a successful outcome for the search. I look forward to working together to advance our strategic goal relating to equity, and on improving our recruitment and retention strategies for faculty of color.


Association of Faculty Women meeting with the Deans and VCAAs

The annual AFW meeting with the Deans and VCAAs took place this week. I represented Vancouver and joined several of the Deans from Pullman along with a couple of the Deans in Spokane. We had a great discussion; AFW had designed two questions to pose to us. The first was, “we hear a lot about the budget situation recently and about the impact shortages may have at WSU. As you navigate these waters, what innovations or creative approaches are you considering for the near and far future?” I addressed that question by talking about our need to grow in order to achieve three goals: to be able to expand our participation in graduate education, to be able to hire more faculty into our emerging research areas, and to be able to offer a broader range of options to our students in terms of scheduling sections (such as being able to offer more than one section of required courses). The Deans talked very frankly about the challenges they’re facing, and the need to innovate in order to continue to be a great university and to work toward the drive to 25.

The second question was, “with regard to President Schulz’s ‘Drive to 25’ initiative, what ideas are being discussed in your unit to pursue those goals, generally and particularly as they relate to women?” I talked about our focus on hiring faculty with strong research potential to complement the strong researchers we have on our faculty; on leveraging our location, which can provide advantages to researchers in some fields; and about what a great campus Vancouver is for women. Not only do we have many women in leadership positions (3 Vice Chancellors, 3 Directors on the Chancellor’s cabinet; 6 of 7 Academic Directors, both Associate Vice Chancellors in Academic Affairs, and most of the leadership team in Student Affairs), but we have a strong representation of women in STEM fields, as well distinguished scholars and teachers across many fields. 

I enjoyed being on the panel with academic leadership from Pullman and Spokane, and I felt very good about the things I was able to say about our campus. I emphasized what a substantial portion of the WSU system we are–about 10% of enrollment, and about 10% of tenure-track faculty, and that we’re a 10% the system can be proud of.

Welcoming Holly Beck to Academic Affairs

Please join me in welcoming Holly Beck to Academic Affairs in the role of Principal Assistant to the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. Holly is joining us from the Chancellor’s Office, where she served as Principal Assistant from 2014 until her move to Academic Affairs, where she will support the Vice Chancellor as well as playing a major role in planning and supporting commencement, faculty recognition and other events, facilitate the faculty appointment and other personnel processes, work with the Council of Faculty Representatives, the Diversity Council and the Collaborative for Social and Environmental Justice, and respond to in-person and phone inquiries and contacts. This position will entail a wider scope of responsibilities than she had in the Chancellor’s office, and she is looking forward to working more closely with faculty and staff across our campus, as well as across other WSU campuses.

Holly has a strong background in this work, having previously worked for the Oregon State University Foundation’s Portland office, at Legacy Health’s Graduate Medical Education Department, and for a private medical practice. She has a BA from Marylhurst University.

Holly Beck is the person to contact to schedule meetings with me, or for questions relating to Academic Affairs in general. And yes, Holly Davis is also part of the Academic Office, supporting the two Associate Vice Chancellors and the Director of Blended and Networked Learning, so we now have two Hollys in our office! You can reach Holly beck via email at holly.clarke@wsu.edu or 546-9535.

Inspiring Talk at AAC&U Conference

I attended the Pre-Conference Symposium of the American Association of Colleges and Universities conference, where the keynote presentation was titled “Reclaiming the Racial Narrative.” The speaker was Gail Christopher, Vice President for Policy and Senior Advisor, W.K. Kellog Foundation, who talked about the Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation project.

She noted that we Americans have built our history on a “false taxonomy of the human family,” which does not value every human being equally, but groups people according to a racial hierarchy. She said that we must replace that false taxonomy with an absolute belief in our equal and equitable right to realize ourselves. I thought that was a particularly eloquent way to express the racial history of our country, and to encapsulate the change we need to make.

She pointed out that because of the power of narrative, we need to change our stories, to create a new narrative and allow multiple narratives to expressed. To which I say, yes.

Part of the Kellog Foundation’s project is racial healing. She says that one of the reasons we have built our false taxonomy of the human family is because of our separation. In order to heal that division, we need to come together and know one another. “We are one human family descended from a common ancestor on the continent of Africa,” she observed. The notion that there is a hierarchy of values of human beings is an absurd notion, she insisted, and I again completely agree.

A very powerful question that some of us engaged in equity work on our campus have been talking about recently is this: when was the last time you had dinner with someone of a different racial identity from your own? The answer to that question will serve as an indicator of how racially isolated you are, or are not. That can serve as a way for each of us to start thinking about our racial experiences, our commitments to equity, and the steps we need to take to move toward jettisoning that false racial taxonomy that has shaped our world.

Christopher’s inspiring talk, thought-provoking, and offering, I think, some powerful rhetorical tools with which to examine our own thought structures and begin to talk with others to ask them to examine that false taxonomy, as well.

For more on the Kellog Foundation’s project click here.

New language for syllabi regarding reporting sexual harassment

WSU Vancouver has developed new language which we encourage faculty to include in their syllabi regarding reporting sexual harassment. One of the findings in our campus climate survey in the past two years has been that students don’t know what to do if they experience or witness sexual harassment. Including this statement in syllabi is meant to help reach more people with the information they need to report such incidents.

Please consider including the following language in all your syllabi going forward:


All WSU employees who have information regarding an incident or situation involving sexual harassment or sexual misconduct are required to promptly report the incident to the Office for Equal Opportunity (OEO) or to one of the designated Title IX Co-Coordinators.  Students who are the victim of and/or witness sexual harassment or sexual misconduct should also report to OEO or WSU Vancouver’s Title IX Coordinator, who is Nancy Youlden (youlden@wsu.edu or 360.546.9571)

Kudos to our Facilities and Public Safety personnel!

As I look out from my office window this morning at a landscape of snow and ice, where our amphitheater hill has become a bobsled course, I just want to heap praise upon our facilities people and public safety people for all they’ve done during this snowpocalypse we’ve been having. My neighborhood has been an ice rink, Salmon Creek Road is a driving adventure, but our campus roads and pathways have been clear and have made for easy driving and walking. I’m really impressed by the efforts and hard work of all our people that have kept the campus in such good shape.

Thanks to James Martin and his facilities people, and to Dave Stephenson and his campus police. I appreciate everything you’ve been doing for the campus, our faculty and our students.


Two Vancouver Faculty Selected as Community Engagement Faculty Fellows

Mike Berger, School of the Environment and School of Biological Sciences, and Cassandra Gulam, Foreign Languages and Cultures, have been selected as Community Engagement Faculty Fellows by the Center for Civic Engagement, along with faculty from Pullman, Tri-Cities and Spokane.

Funded by a WSU Seed Grant for Student Success, the fellowship program will establish a community of practice for engaged scholarship, develop curriculum-based service learning opportunities for students, and address authentic needs through collaboration with community partners. Starting in February, Fellows will participate in several interactive workshops and a campus-community forum prior to designing new service learning courses to be offered in academic year 2017-18.

To learn more about the WSU CCE Community Engagement Faculty Fellows program and the 2017 cohort, visit cce.wsu.edu/facultyfellows.

Congratulations to Mike and Cassandra!