Sunday, November 15, 2015

Guest Blog--Flatland

A very thoughtful piece from my colleague, Associate Dean and Professor of Mathematics, Michael Lachance:

In Edwin A. Abbott’s 1884 80-page Victorian allegory and geometric treatise, Flatland: A Romance of many dimensions, he envisioned a two-dimensional universe in which there was no up or down, only north, south, east, and west. In this planar world women were represented as line segments: visible only from the side, invisible if approaching you, and hence dangerous. Only slightly superior to women were soldiers, skinny isosceles triangles. Men were regular convex polygons. Each union between man and woman would yield a son, with one more side than his father. Long-lived families would have so many sides as to become indistinguishable from circles, the priestly class. Offspring that were not regular, that did not have sides of equal lengths, were destroyed.

Enter into this scenario a sphere hovering above the planar universe. The sphere reaches out to a Mr. A. Square, and eventually persuades him of the possibility, indeed the reality, of a third dimension. With the sphere’s help Mr. Square is able to escape from the plane and to see his universe for what it is. When Mr. Square asks the sphere if there is a fourth dimension, the sphere replies that that is absurd! Puzzled by this, but excited to share his newfound insights with his countrymen, he returns to the plane and is promptly imprisoned for heresy by the priests, put under the guard of lowly soldiers.

So how does one become aware of a booklet like this? And what does one do with a story like this? What’s the point? There are a number of things brought up in this summary alone that one can seize upon: the obvious insult to women, the cruelty directed at irregular children, and the arrogance of the priests. There is also the notion of a flat universe, ignorance of directions or dimensions beyond what is evident, and the certainty that nothing exists beyond your experience.

Most folks become aware of books like this, and discuss ideas like these, in universities, and more specifically in colleges of liberal arts. Universities offer a dimension, a direction, that enables us to escape our otherwise flat land.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Making it Count for our Students

As I was sifting through the avalanche of daily emails that flows into my inbox a couple of weeks back I happened upon one from a friend that included a link to a new Washington Monthly ranking of “Best Bang for the Buck” colleges and universities in the Midwest:

The friend sent it to me because UM-Dearborn fared very well on this list coming in at number seven for the entire region and outranking all of our state public peers, including the Ann Arbor campus. I was, of course, certainly thrilled to read this as it confirmed my own view of the special nature of what this university (and especially CASL) does so well. Reading a bit further about the rankings, however, left me a bit dissatisfied.

The rankings are based on an assessment of which schools are the best value for one’s money based on "net" (not sticker) price, how well the school does graduating the students they admit, and whether those students go on to earn at least enough income to pay off their loans. While these are certainly very important goals and I am ecstatic to see that UM-Dearborn measures up so well against this yardstick, I am also struck by how much the rankings miss in this rather singular focus of what constitutes bang for the buck. The reason why UM-Dearborn ranks so highly on this list is because of the incredible learning environment that exists on this campus. We prepare students to succeed in the world and that preparation in turn allows them to graduate, earn steady incomes, and to pay any student debt they may have accrued (our students actually accrue less debt than their typical state peers). While that rich learning environment is a hallmark of all four of the university’s colleges CASL stands at the heart of that success.

When I think about the high impact practices that help students to be successful I am happy to see CASL sets the pace for the university. Beyond the longstanding staples of co-operative education and internships CASL also offers first year seminars to incoming first year students, academic service learning courses, robust academic support and tutoring services, access to mentored student research, study abroad opportunities, and a wide array of cultural programming and co-curricular events. College faculty also played a critical role in creating and implementing the university’s new general education curriculum known as the Dearborn Discovery Core, which shifts general education away from our old menu style checklist to a more purposeful, outcomes based model that offers multiple paths more carefully aligned with individual student interests. Likewise, CASL faculty and staff are playing central roles in the university’s launch of the new Metro Talent Gateway, a new initiative designed to assist students to integrate their varied university experiences to better appreciate the synergy between academic pursuits, co-curricular activities, engagement, internships, etc. and to prepare them for life beyond the university.

There is much great work being done on this front and I am happy to add that there is much more to come. CASL is embarking upon an aggressive campaign to ramp up our student success efforts to ensure even more positive outcomes. The 2015-2016 academic year promises to be an exciting one. I look forward to working alongside of my faculty and staff colleagues to ensure that both CASL and UM-Dearborn continue to deliver excellent value to our students and to ensure that they are well positioned to be successful in whatever path they choose to travel.

Friday, May 8, 2015

From the Hill to the CASL

I am incredibly proud to announce that the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters is entering into a partnership with former Congressman John Dingell. The longest serving congressman in U.S. history, Congressman Dingell played a key role in shaping legislation that touches every facet of American life. The former Congressman will be taking up residence on our campus and will be sharing his experience and insight into the legislative process and the operations of our government with UM-Dearborn students and faculty. Beyond his appearances in classroom settings, the former congressman will also work with our students on research projects aimed at documenting his illustrious career and will moderate a speakers series featuring some of the nation’s most important leaders.

That Congressman Dingell chose to partner with CASL and the university should come as no surprise. Dearborn, of course, is his hometown and the city long sat at the center of his congressional district. But even more than that, the congressman shared with me his deep appreciation of what we do and who we are as a university. In particular, he noted the university’s gift for transforming the lives of our students and of helping them to chart a path to success. I know I speak for many on campus when I say that we are humbled by this acknowledgment and by the congressman’s decision to join our community.

This is a proud moment for CASL and for the university. I know that Congressman Dingell will add much to our campus community.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Our Nature: Sciences or Letters, Teacher or Scholar, Does it Really Matter?

In this entry, Associate Professor, Jorge Del Pozzo Gonzalez, in the Department of Language, Culture, and Communications, reflects on the Teacher/Scholar model:

In Spanish, as well as in English, the four P´s (in commonly used business jargon) refer to: Place, Product, Promotion and Price. In his recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education (see link below), Professor Rob Jenkins of Georgia Perimeter College identifies an alternate set of four P´s that he sees as the main characteristics of great teachers: Personality, Presence, Preparation and Passion. I know firsthand that many of my faculty peers in CASL exemplify these characteristics. Teaching/learning is a relationship: like a plant it requires both internal and external inputs to grow and bloom—nurturing, water, sunlight, care. Both the faculty members and the students in this relationship are constantly aware of how that relationship is evolving.

Too many people tend to dissociate teaching from research, yet the University of Michigan-Dearborn emphasizes the importance of the teacher-scholar model. How are these two activities linked and how does one inform the other? How do faculty balance these two pursuits? Students sometimes find themselves at the same crossroads: Studying or working? Additional classes or an internship? Any college of arts and sciences, particularly our very own CASL, is an ideal spot for developing and disseminating the concept of balance and connection. The link between teaching and doing research is just another relationship that needs some love in order to bloom.
Recently, in another article about careers that appeared in (see link below), Dan Albert offered ten reasons why including humanities in preparation for a scientific career is crucial, and this applies to students and faculty alike.. Albert’s 1st and 4th points, “Humanities prepare you to fulfill your civic and cultural responsibilities,” and “Humanities study strengthens the ability to communicate and work with others,” respectively, address the role humanities can play in striking a balance between home and the workplace.

I’ll conclude with Albert´s 10th point: “The study of humanities teaches that the supposedly sharp dichotomies that separate sciences from humanities do not really exist.” Said another way, culture influences science and science influences culture. Whatever your career, your major, your passion, find your equilibrium, juggle all worlds possible and live them to the fullest. As a faculty member, balancing the teacher-scholar model presents its own challenges. I may not be very good at it, but I don´t think it matters: I believe demonstrating a balance is and should be our nature, our way of living. Furthermore, it should be the main way to keep up our relationship with our students in order to show them how teaching and scholarship are intricately connected, as are personal and professional success.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Art of Thinking

Another in our ongoing series of guest faculty blog posts; this one by Professor of Mathematics (and Associate Dean) Michael Lachance:

The single greatest export from a mathematics department is not mathematicians, but clear thinkers. Under the guidance of an instructor, students in mathematics classes, at every level, practice thinking. These days words like creative and critical adorn the main activity of thinking, but those words distract from what is really important: practicing thinking.

Mathematics does not have a lock on thinking. In every classroom around campus students are engaged in the practice of thinking, guided by teachers whom themselves are skilled in the art of thinking. At a university there is a path, a practice, for nearly every interest. It is tempting to distinguish among the paths—disciplines, minors, majors, and degrees—attributing a cloak of purity, perhaps exclusivity, to some over others. To do so is unfair to the student who pursues a passion or a dream, in either case a path, who chooses a form of practice with a distinct focus, under the guidance of a host of teachers who possess that passion.

Professors at a university are at once teachers and students. Their role in guiding and developing students is profoundly important, but the reason that they are given that opportunity is because of their past and ongoing commitment to their discipline, to their own thinking. Their effectiveness as a model is a function of their practice, their discipline, and this they deepen with each investigation, experiment, article, or book.

Young men and women who do not attend a university think no less than those who do. But the former are in effect responsible for developing their own thinking skills, sometimes missing the directed instruction that teachers provide. They have teachers to be sure—family and friends, workplace associates, structured religions, and media outlets. Even so, these students are less likely to be aware that these are their teachers. Students at a university, by virtue of their exposure to different thinkers and ideas, thoughts and models, are more likely to see themselves as engaged in a practice, to be reflective, self-aware, to see themselves in a context.

There is a phrase in some Buddhist traditions that is germane: “which must be cultivated to be known fully.” Cultivation is the key, whatever one’s pursuits or talents. And practicing thinking, for students and teachers alike, is how we come to know more fully.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Full Speed Ahead

If you've visited this site at all over the last few months you've read much about the importance of strategic planning and about the work done on this front by a select group of CASL faculty, students, and staff. It's time to kick the strategic planning process into high gear and to expand the conversation. For the next ten months, students, staff, faculty, and alumni will have opportunities to participate in the development of a CASL strategic plan that establishes long term goals, launches new initiatives, identifies priorities, maximizes resources, and enables the college to grow and change in ways consistent with its core liberal arts values.

Beginning this month, opportunities to join in conversations on topics important to CASL will be available via multiple communication channels. Are you interested in how to best invest in student success, strengthen our identity, align resources with curricular goals, more effectively organize the college, or build a stronger sense of community?

Your input is needed and valued. By collectively sharing our ideas, our hopes, and our concerns for CASL’s future, we can ensure robust discussions that reflect our diverse perspectives, spur collaboration, and prompt innovative thinking. Working together throughout 2015, we can craft a meaningful and sustainable plan to move CASL forward.

To get the ball rolling and to celebrate the college and its many accomplishments we invite you to:


From March 9th-13th, the CASL ATRIUM will be the place to share ideas and learn more about the college. I am inviting all CASL students, staff, faculty, and alumni to come together to celebrate our diversity and strength, to build community, and to create a new tradition. Among the week's events will be:

-CASL LOGO CONTEST: we want YOU to design a logo for CASL!

-POSTERS DISPLAY & PRIZES: all week there will be posters from each CASL department created by faculty and staff displayed on campus with prizes for the best design!

-SCAVENGER HUNT: How well do you know CASL? Start off the week with a scavenger hunt around campus!

-DINNER & CLOSING RECEPTION: Join the CASL community as we announce the winner of the logo contest!


We hope that you are able to join us. I look forward to seeing you at the Kick Off and to hearing from you over the next few months.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Guest Blog

One of the great things about working in CASL are the very many incredibly dedicated and talented faculty members that I have the privilege of calling my colleagues. I recently announced an open invitation to my faculty colleagues to contribute a guest blog post highlighting their experience in CASL, strategic planning, or sharing their thoughts about the value of the humanities and liberal arts. The following represents the first of what I hope will be many such posts. Enjoy!

Is A College Education Worth its Cost Anymore? (Jorge González del Pozo, Associate Professor of Spanish)
There is no doubt that the cost of higher education is significant and it is well known that those costs will continue to rise. Increasingly, many are questioning the value of a degree and whether it is even worth the effort to try to finance one.

When layered onto the widening economic gap in the United States between haves and have nots the question is all the more prescient. As the 2014 documentary The Ivory Tower reveals, the declining accessibility of a college education renders this milestone an increasingly unattainable one for many. Moreover, this growing gulf between those who can afford college and those who cannot captures in a striking manner the gap between those who have a shot to succeed and those who do not. The documentary filmed by Andrew Rossi is worth watching, and provides much food for thought. Is the cost/investment of a college degree worth the amount of debt that the nation’s underprivileged students will need to amass to finance their educations? Does the benefit of the degree outweigh its cost?

These are not easy questions to answer nor do the many points of view offered up necessarily put us at ease. Nevertheless, these questions are vital and they are questions that inspire the faculty in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters (who all share the belief that a college education is the wisest investment that anyone can make) to keep looking for solutions to both the issue of affordability as well as to how to make the value of the degrees we offer even more useful for our students. Experiential learning courses, internships, co-ops, study abroad experiences, or jobs related to specific fields of study are all educational practices that add to the value of the learning process and tend to balance the costs associated with paying for a college degree.

A college education, particularly one grounded in the humanities, arts and letters, offers students a broad outlook on the world and a wide array of disciplinary perspectives and tools to apply to any problem they encounter, thus easing their transition into the world outside of the university. That we do it at a reasonable cost is all the more noteworthy. Learning for life and being able to live one’s life fully should be the top priority for all students. University faculty represent the body that is instrumental in the facilitation of this path for students. Let´s not forget who we serve and why we are here: to share knowledge, to improve and advance lives, and for the students.