Friday, October 29, 2004

Letters of Recommendation

It is getting late. Hopefully the traffic will soon begin to thin on Route 66 and I can head for weekend in the country. In the meantime, I am finishing up some letters of recommendation.

One of the most important responsibilities of a faculty member is writing letters of recommendation. And it is helpful for students to think about the future need for such letters, especially if you are considering graduate school. Freshman year is not too soon to begin identifying faculty members whom you can get to know personally, who can serve as mentors and who will write all-important letters of recommendation. Besides, getting to know faculty members, outside of the classroom can be fun, even if it takes a bit of effort. A great way to begin is by reading something that a faculty member whose class you enjoy has written. We - faculty - are all ego-involved in our writing. You will be amazed at what a favorable response your having read something we wrote will evoke.

Here is a brief - somewhat redacted - excerpt from a letter I just wrote for a student who is applying for a faculty position. But the qualities to which I refer are ones that most employers would be seeking. How might a faculty member or current employer describe you in a letter of recommendation?

Overall, however, I would predict that ... will have a lock on tenure by the time s/he is ready to submit his/her sixth year file for review, and perhaps even earlier. My assessment is based on qualities that s/he strongly manifests, both in his/her credentials and personally – maturity, a balanced commitment to teaching and scholarship, a focused timely research agenda, an exceptionally strong, varied body of teaching experience, maturity and self confidence. In particular, I can think of few young scholars who would have the self confidence to turn down three tenure track offers, while awaiting a position that would come closer to an ideal fit with his/her interests. I believe ..... will stand head and shoulders above most candidates. S/he is, as I have said, a known quantity with a very strong track record.

Living with Saints

A resident of Gandhi's Ashram, Mahadev Desai, after a disagreement with the Mahatma, wrote the following verse

To live with saints in heaven
Is a bliss and a glory
But to live with a saint on earth
Is a different story

(From Judith M. Brown's biography, Ghandi: Prisoner of Hope. Yale University Press, 1969, p. 286).

Thursday, October 28, 2004

We - all of us - can use all the help we can get

What a beautiful morning. I biked over to St. Colomba’s Church this morning for my bi-weekly (mostly) counseling session.

When one can afford it, or if resources are available, I think counseling, with the right therapist, is an extraordinarily useful form of preventative – sometimes corrective – psychological maintenance. My therapist is a ‘family systems’ practitioner, which means, roughly, that she believes that psychological good health and happiness depend, in part, on understanding and being in a state of ‘completion’ with parents, partners, siblings, and even other extended family members. She begins her relationship with clients by taking – and diagramming – an extensive family history. Since she is church affiliated, her counseling also includes a spiritual dimension, which takes into account an important part of my life and world-view.

I first sought her help when my mother contracted a lingering, terminal illness. Like many mothers, she had been a towering, turbulent figure in my life. We had been mostly estranged for nearly 20 years (an “unsuitable” marriage was the proximate cause), but then reconciled in the last years of her life. What kind of disequilibria would her absence in my life create?, I wondered.

More recently we have been exploring my relationship with my father, now a physically vigorous, intellectually acute ninety three. During summer break week, as some Anderson neighbors know, my father and I spent a week driving to New England, viewing leaves, visiting friends and sharing undergraduate memories on the spectacular Dartmouth College, from which we both graduated. I think my therapist’s insights have been useful as I have sought to gain and contribute value-added to a very special relationship. She reminds me that statistically, very few men of my age (66) have had the opportunity to experience nearly a decade of an increasingly close friendship with their fathers. It is a “gift of grace,” she would say, to be treasured and given priority.

As I said, I believe counseling is always a valuable resource, even for those of us who consider themselves “well adjusted.” At a luncheon that Dean Broder and I hosted yesterday for young faculty, the topic was – partly – a presentation by the Director of AU’s counseling Center, Abigail Lipson (and also the Director of the Academic Support Center, Kathy Schwartz).

Both the Counseling Center and the Academic Support Center are located on the second floor of the Mary Gradon Center, and the availability of these great resources is included in the price of your tuition (if you are an AU student) You have paid for these services already. The centers staffed are with caring professionals whose sole responsibility is to help AU students negotiate their educational and personal lives. Probably most of you, like me, consider yourself well adjusted. Even so, you should check them out.

We – all of us – can use all the help we can get.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Early morning walk

The coolness of an early morning walk
A new planting of blue pansies
in front of Mary Gradon Center
In March, the pansies were yellow
Harbinger of winter?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Walking across the quad

This was one of those exceptional fall afternoons when one looked for excuses to be walking out doors. There is a circle of rosebushes in the middle of the quad that is especially beautiful. Those of use who work in universities may take for granted, too often, the natural beauty of our surroundings - expanses of green grass, ancient trees, and roses. There was an small literature class sitting amidst the roses. The protaganist in the novel being read appeared to be named "Rose." I don't know if the Professor chose the venue intentionally.

If one listens carefully, while walking, snippits of conversation can often be heard

'...I don't know whether I'll go out tonight or just stay in my room and drink whiskey...

This is getting serious

Thanks to my enterprising assistant and publicizer, news of my blog appeared today in American University's announcements, "AU Today." This is getting serious - will the pressure be on to come up with something profound every day? ...Impossible! This morning I was up at 5AM to play tennis and then off to a meeting with the University Librarian. No time for reading Gandhi.

Over the summer I was seized with a powerful vision of a transformed AU library - it even had sidewalk cafe, with striped awnings in front. It was overflowing with students who wanted to be there. When I started pushing these ideas, both my colleague, the Librarian and my own staff reminded me that the Library was not really my affair, I had enough to do running the Center for Teaching Excellence - which is true. I suspect may be viewed as a campus busybody, by some.

An undergraduate in the School of Communication stopped late late evening and we had a long interview/conversation about the Faculty Resident's role --- this for a class assignment on writing a feature story. She was a relaxed, poised interviewer, our discussion was fun and it highlighted my thinking on one aspect of life in the dorm, form my vantage point. She asked if I didn't find living in the dorm 'burdensome' at least from time and how I coped with that. I had to think about this --- my response will perhaps sound like Polyanna but is, nontheless true. I hardly ever find my life burdensome - students are considerate, friendly, and seem happy to have me there. I feel that I am making a difference. Most important, I am having an opportunity that must be shared by a relatively small number of 66 year olds in the US or anywhere - being able to authentically share, to some degree, in the lives of a generation that is nearly 40 years younger than I am. There is a a lot to be learned; and I have many teachers. Life in Anderson hall is a gift, not a burden.

Of course there are the occasionally fire alarm evacuations - the bane of life in American University's South complex, but this can be viewed as an opportunity for bonding. Lately, I have been handing out Reese Cups and Nestle's Crunch Bars to make the experience more bearable.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

What caused Gandhi most concern

The Essential Gandhi is a book I often read from early in the morning. The following, which I read this morning, seemed like something that a professor - and perhaps university students too - might reflect upon.

An American clergyman once asked Gandhi what caused him most concern. “The hardness of heart of the educated,” he replied. (p235)

Friday, October 22, 2004

A busy day - like most days

What does a faculty/administrator do.... today's menu of meetings
  • 10:15-10:45 ...with visiting colleague and former AU development program founder, Steve Arnold (who coined the champaigne glass metaphor)
  • 10:45-11:00 ... with staff member about book dust jacket text and design (a new book is coming out soon... about time after seventeen years of research and writing
  • 12:45-1:20 ...lunch with Steve Arnold and ID colleagues
  • 1:30-2:30 ...meeting with two staff members to work through some communication issues; a workplace that is rewarding to work in depends on clear communication, including the expresson of concerns - this is a priority in the Center for Teaching Excellence)
  • 2:35-3:30 ...monthly 'one on one' meeting with a staff member (these are meetings with the staff member sets the agenda to some degree). He or she discusses what worked and didn't work during the past month and issues that need to be resolved
  • 3:30-4:15 ... weekly budget review with a staff member
  • 4:15-4:30 ...informal meetings individually with the two staff members to get their perspectives on the earlier meeting; both said it went well
  • 4:30-5:44 ... attended forum on international development issues and trends over the last 30 years.
  • 5:45-6:45 ... attended reception for students and parents attending parents weekend. Meeting and talking with parents is a fun part of my faculty resident's job
  • 6:45-7:00 ...catching up on urgent emails
  • 7:00-7:10 ...writing in my blog
  • 7:10--- replicating data bases, packing up for the weekend, driving to the country....

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The world as a champaigne glass without a base.

At the 30th anniversary of the SIS International. Development Program, founding Dir. Steve Arnold used a plastic champaign glass with the base removed to illistrate the distrubution of wealth in the world. And like the partial glass, thee system it represents is fundamentally unsstable.

This ia the 'elephant in the room' that discussions of terrorism in both Presidential campaigns are ingoring.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Introducing Dormgrandpop

People of my generation (age 66) are typically not regular bloggers, but for more than two years, I have been American University's resident faculty member. dormgrandpop seems like an appropriate name, because most of my neighbors are about as old as my children's children.

This blog is primarily for my AU neighbors, to provide a bit of a window on what someone of an older generation - and a neighbor - is reflecting and feeling.

It is after 10:30 - what am I still doing here working? Is one a 'workaholic' if work is fun, or can work be recreational.

I crossed six items of my 'to do' list today, answered mutiple emails - had dinner with Anderson 1 north residents, had lunch with my staff members. I won't speculate as to whether anyone would have slightest interest in any of this. I am too new to blogging.

The Anderson Hall resident assistants meet at 11:00 PM The mood at our meetings can cycle between euphoria and exhaustion in a single hour. It is the end of a long day for everyone, but a wonderful group - mostly responsible beyond their years (except for me).