Monday, May 30, 2005

What does it take to stay married 50 years?

In a blog written some days ago, I quoted the response of a friend to my question “what does it take to remain married for 50 years?”. “It ain’t easy” the this wise octogenarian lady responded. When I recently mentioned to my counselor that I was attending a 50th wedding anniversary celebration, she remarked, “…one of the few marriages that survived the 60s.”

I think I may have discovered the secret of long marriages and it is quite simple. Virtually all marriage ceremonies include a solemn vow that this is a lifetime commitment. The most widely used vows (in protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic church) also include the phrases “for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until death do us part.” Young men and women who repeat these vows to seal their first marriage rarely have the slightest idea what they really mean – how could they. The have not experienced the moments of “…for worse” that with certainty lie ahead for them. When those moments hit, one or both partners, in about 50 per-cent of US marriages abjure their vows.

A colleague of mine, titled a recent book: Second Marriage: The triumph of love over experience. Those who marry a second time should at least know what their “lifetime” vows mean – though many of these marriages too, end in divorce. A women friend of mine, still enduring a bad marriage (her second) but contributing nothing to changing it, once described her marriage certificate and the vows it recorded as “nothing more than a scrap of paper.”

But for those whose marriages survive fifty years, their vows have proved to be ‘more than a scrap of paper.’ For whatever reason, they have created a space within which the two “partners” have chosen to make the accommodations that staying married required. Honoring the “for worse” and “until death do us part” clauses in marriage vows is obviously the first – and simple – answer to the question “What does it take to stay married 50 years?” It takes the commitment on both sides, for whatever reasons, to stay married, “for better or for worse.”

Of course that commitment does not guarantee that all marriages surviving 50 years are “good marriages”. Survival (mere survival) says little about the quality of the relationship.

Psychologist Judith Wallerstein studied 50 marriages, self characterized by both partners as “good” and tried to capture what as essential about them in her book The Good Marriage. The essence of her description, as well as the yearning for a genuinely good marriage most of us share is captured in the following quotation.

“In every study in which Americans are asked what they value most in assessing the quality of their lives, marriage comes first – ahead of friends, jobs and money. In our fast paced world, men and women need each other more, not less. We want and need erotic love, sympathetic love, passionate love, tender, nurturing love all our adult lives. We desire friendship, compassion, encouragement, a sense of being understood and appreciated, not only for what we do but for what we try to do and fail at. We want a relationship in which we can test our half baked ideas without shame or pretense and give voice to our deepest fears. We want a partner who sees us as unique and irreplaceable.

“A good marriage can offset the loneliness of life in crowded cities and provide a refuge from the hammering pressures of the competitive workplace. It can counter the anomie of an increasingly impersonal world, where so many people interact with machines rather than fellow workers. In a good marriage, each person can find sustenance we all feel in the face of frustrations about having to yield to other people’s wishes and rights. Marriage provides an oasis where sex, humor and play can flourish.

What is required for a "good marriage?" Minimally, I believe, it requires that both partners make their commitment to the marriage a priority. They have to work at it, but not too hard, – and play at it too. When people marry, they often assume that the marriage part of their lives is ‘handled,’ by virtue of their marriage vows, giving them license to move on to other priorities – career, good works, a passionately followed hobby or avocation, children, other relationships and the like. In my entire life, I have only witnessed one marriage that rose to the level described in Wallerstein’s book, though I believe my parents 50+ year marriage may have approached it, at times. I am no longer close enough to my friends in Cleveland to judge, after a short visit, where their marriage fits on the continuum between mere survival and a good – even great – marriage.

Actuarial realities make it highly unlikely that my own second marriage will endure to celebrate a 50th anniversary. And I don’t regret that my first marriage did not. All in all, I am ambivalent about 50 year marriages, though the very best of them appear to have repaid the couples who invested in them with substantial dividends. Perhaps only those who have had the experience are in a position to judge thoughtfully.

50th Wedding Anniversary

Yesterday I drove to Cleveland to help celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of some old friends. This morning, I am seated on the enclosed porch of their beautiful home, surrounded by plants, looking out over Lake Erie’s waters. Earlier, it rained and when I walked outside it was still chilly, but the sky is clearing, presaging a beautiful day, though perhaps a blustery one.

So many memories, personal and professional… Lake Erie means more to me than a casual observer. It was an early research site. With a graduate student, I drove around the entire periphery, visiting wastewater treatment plants. My computer simulation model, focusing on the problem of eutrophication, was one of the first attempts to dynamically simulate behavior of a large fresh water ecosystem. It became a principal analytical tool for the US Commission on Water Quality. Lake Erie is no longer referred to as a “dead lake” and I like to think that our model – my collaborator was a Dutch scientist – helped contribute to that transformation.

The lives of the anniversary celebrants and ours were closely intermingled when my first wife and I lived in Cleveland. For six years we lived cooperatively in many respects, co-owning a weekend/summer farm and sharing meals and many family activities throughout the year. When I moved to Washington our cooperative relationship ended gracefully and naturally. We sold the farm, divided the proceeds and proceeded along separate paths, which rarely intersected. We kept up via annual Christmas newsletters, but had no other contact for nearly twenty years.

I was struck by how little Cleveland had changed as I traced a once familiar route after nearly twenty years. The skyline was much as I remembered it. Familiar landmarks – for example a 1930s vintage power generating plant – remained. I was struck by the open spaces and unused land near the heart of the city, by the relatively uncongested traffic, by the slower pace of life in neighborhoods dotted with small houses resembling ones that my parents rented when I was a young child. It seemed so different from Washington’s energy and turmoil, but closer to the stable rural community in Western Virginia where my wife lives with her horses (and me, occasionally).

In some respects, Cleveland seems a metaphor for my friends’ lives. In the two decades since we parted I ended one marriage and begun another, held five different jobs at American University, transformed myself professionally from a futurist to a Sri Lankan scholar and developed close ties with the Island. My friends lived more stable lives remaining not only in Cleveland, but in the same waterfront house. They made their home more personal and welcoming – and they welcome friends and children to it. They nurtured their children through the tribulations of adolescence and early adulthood. They have sunk deep roots into their community, taking advantage of the rich resources of theater and art it provides. Now there are grandchildren to nurture and they are discovering they enjoy this Both are ‘retired’ but their lives remain busy and full, albeit with greater discretion.

It would be pointless to speculate on whether one of these very different life trajectories is, in some sense, “better.” But I do wonder, without regret, how my life might have unfolded had I chosen to remain in Cleveland rather than seizing the opportunity that American University provided.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Close but not that close

I ran into a colleague as I was wrapping up loose ends to complete my day. Since many faculty take summers off for research – this was always my practice before I became an administrator – I expressed surprise that he was teaching summer session. “I like to stay close to students” he responded.

Seeing a possible faculty in residence recruit, I said that if he liked to stay close to students, there would be an excellent opportunity for even greater closeness opening up – the new faculty resident’s apartment in McDowell Hall. His face fell as he responded, “I do like to stay close to students, but not that close.”

I can understand how faculty might feel that away. Despite the encouragement of my children, I approached my move to Anderson Hall with a degree of trepidation. But living on campus has been among the most rewarding experiences of my 30 year career, for which I have Anderson Hall students and RA’s to thank.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Who's Out There

I have been writing dormgrandpop for about eight months. For me this was a new genre, though the first person accounts of anthropologists and oral historians such as Studs Terkil have always engaged me. I learned about it by reading the blogs of AU students and others, chosen more or less at random and then made adaptations that reflected my interests, relatively mature years and position as “agent” of American University.

My primary intended audience is AU students, particularly my Anderson Hall neighbors. I write to provide a somewhat different window on one Professor’s life than students will experience in the classroom or office hours.

I receive relatively few “comments” but a number of students tell me they number among my readers, at least sporadically. AU administrators, too, have read what I write occasionally – and let me know when they agreed and disagreed. With one exception, there has been no attempt to censor. On one memorable occasion, a blog I wrote about having the flu produced an anonymous gift of chicken broth, fresh vegetables and cornbread. Probably, I will remember that spontaneous generosity to my dying day.

In any case, I thought I would ask those to may read this and feel; so inclined, to drop me a line. I would be interested to know who you are (i.e. student, administrator, parent, other non AU reader) and what you think of what I write.

This is not to say that I am writing to please a particular audience. I am simply trying to communicate authentically, albeit circumspectly, about what I do and reflect upon. If, at least on some – or even most - days, this is of no interest to anyone, that is hardly surprising and not a problem.

Anyhow, I am curious about who is out there.

Early Morning's First Light

Early morning’s first light
Wild grasses' delicate blades
Transparent dewdrops

About twenty years ago, after separating from my first wife, I lived alone in the Berkshire Apartments, near American University for several years. During this period – I can’t remember why - I decided that I would write six haiku a day for an entire year. (Readers unfamiliar with Haiku can checkout and many other sources on line).

Though life in Faquier Country might create a mindset congenial to Haiku, I haven’t written one for years. But this morning, upon awakening, lying in bed alone and looking out the bedroom window, I experienced a classic Haiku moment. My description of the experience is found in the verse above.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

My office as 'Tar Baby'

When I was a child (in the pre-television era) my father and grandfather often read to me aloud. The Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris were among their selections and I have always remembered the story of the Tar Baby (you can read it on line, with commentary by Googling “Tar Baby.” In brief one of the two protagonists, Brer (brother) Fox makes a baby out of tar to trick his adversary, Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit is angered by the Tar Baby and as he tries to get the baby’s attention. The more vigorously he tries to arouse the baby, by shaking it, the more stuck he becomes.

Sometimes, my office seems like that at the end of the stay. The more I strive to “finish” my work – answering emails and ‘clearing my desk’ the more stuck I become. It is after nine. I need to adjourn and have dinner.

Stopping work will be an existential decision, having little to do with finishing.

Good night, office.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Creating Positive Karma

This evening, I was working late in my office when a faculty member rushed in seeking assistance. Her departmental Xerox machine had broken down and she had been unable to reproduce course syllabi. Her class was beginning. I suggested that she begin teaching her class while I reproduced the syllabi and brought them to her classroom. This took no more than 15 minutes.

Here is a quotation from the most important document every CTE staff member receives at our staff orientations in the Fall and Spring. It is entitled “Serving the AU Community and Relating to one Another.” In my presentation to new staffers, I have the entire document read out loud and we discuss each point. CTE staffers know that I take it very seriously and expect them to do so. The quotation follows:

In CTE, every staff member, from the Director to our most junior hourly worker is expected to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, irrespective of their job descriptions. Even more, CTE staff members are expected to proactively and creatively seek out what needs to be done, without waiting to be told. How can I make a difference? How can strengthen the results we produce? How can I improve the quality of work life and the quality of human relationships in CTE? How can I create positive Karma? These are questions we must be asking ourselves every day.

We are creating positive Karma when every person – faculty, student, staff, administrator or unaffiliated drop-in – who enters a CTE space or comes in contact with a CTE professional, completes the interaction feeling more positively about CTE and more positively about themselves.

Positive Karma is a Buddhist concept. Buddhists believe that each of us has a stock of it in the spiritual world, which is increased by good deeds. “Gaining merit” is another way of describing this. One ought to do good deeds for their own sake, not because one expects gratitude from the recipient. In Sri Lanka there are many street beggars and many – not all – treat them with respect and generosity. I know that the privations of some are charades, but it doesn’t really matter. The Karma one creates, via respect and generosity, is quite independent of this.

I believe that accumulation of positive Karma yields benefits in this life, as well as the next – and it is a very satisfying way to go about one’s work, as many CTE staffers have discovered.

Seek out an opportunity to create positive Karma, today… tomorrow… and every day. Its fun and it makes a difference, in the life of the creator most of all.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

'Completing the Past': One Key to a Successful “Retreat”

Graduation and “moving out” mark the beginning of the “retreat” season at American University. Retreats are a time when groups of AU staffers gather in some secluded spot for a day or so to reflect on the past, plan for the future and communicate with one another in ways that may not be possible in the press of day-to-day business. The CTE Management Group held its summer retreat on Thursday and Friday at a conference center in Virginia’s Faquier County. We also hold a mid-year retreat in my apartment, prior to the spring semester. Each of our retreats has been productive and two, including this most recent one, have produced real breakthroughs in the way we conduct our activities.

A key to this success, I believe, is extensive preparation, including an exercise we call “completing the past”. Three weeks before the retreat, we devote an extended Management Group Meeting to reviewing the past year in general terms. Each group member is asked reflect on and write answers to three questions: (1) What worked ? (What were our successes?) ; (2) What didn’t work (Where did we fail or fall short?) ; (3) What did we learn from our successes and failures?

Two weeks before the retreat, we hold a second meeting focusing on the goals to which Group members agreed to hold themselves accountable. These goals are posted prominently in each members office and monthly progress reports are given at Group meetings. Each member reports on the goals they achieved fully, the goals they achieved partially, the goals they failed to achieve and the lessons learned.

A key to the usefulness of this process is a willingness to identify failures and shortcomings in the presence of other Group members. The ability to do this takes constant practice, reinforcement and the creation of a “safe space” for such communications. The counselor with whom I meet bi-weekly argues that acknowledging and correcting shortcomings is a critically important key to successful management and an area where many managers fail.

By “completing the past” as part of pre-retreat preparations, we are able to begin our discussions with a relatively clean slate, with an exercise we call “envisioning the future” From the visions created in that exercise, we work toward successively more specific levels, concluding with commitments to specific goals, benchmarks and milestones.

For those who want to read further – here is a brief synopsis of topics we covered last week.

Envisioning a Future Center for Teaching Excellence: What should the delivery of teaching/learning/technology support services at American University look like three years from now?

Mission Statement: What mission statement for CTE will most effectively, align empower and mutually reinforce the diverse functions for which we are responsible and our commitments to the multiple constituencies – faculty, students and administrators we serve? What statement will communicate our purposes, capabilities, and culture most powerfully and effectively.

Functions and Activities: (1) How do the functions and activities of our group contribute to the mission of CTE as we are defining it in our retreat?
(2) Are there functions and activities that do not contribute to CTE’s missions and should be curtailed and eliminated?
(3) Are their new functions/activities not now being carried out or being carried out by another group that could be carried out more effectively by our group?
(4) What support do we need from other units of CTE to function more productively and effectively?
(5) What support can we provide to other units in CTE that will help them to function more productively and effectively?

Brainstorming the Organization of CTE: This was a free-wheeling discussion, catalyzed by a number of questions that Group members were asked to review in advance.

Setting goals and Priorities: Group members were asked to respond to the following questions: (1) For what goals and activities will I hold myself accountable during the coming year? ; (2) On what goals and activities do I expect to work as a collaborator on the coming year?

Should a retreat be lead by an outside facilitator? Because I have considerable experience as a workshop facilitator, I decided to combine the roles of facilitator and CTE director. Whether this is appropriate will depend on the individuals and circumstances involved.

In sum, the key to a successful retreat is preparation, preparation and more preparation. Attention to “completing the past,” prior to the retreat, in a safe space that empowers transparency and candid communication is essential.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What Does a Faculty Resident Do and Contribute

Not long ago I was asked to prepare a short talk on my three years in Anderson Hall, for a presentation. The text of the talk follows. Though it had to be cut significantly, I thought I would blog the unexpurgated version for those who might be interested.


I spoke about the Faculty Residence Experiment – now the Faculty Residence Program – at American University, in the Spring of 2002.

At the time, I had been living on campus for all of seven weeks. What drew me to what has now become known at the Faculty Resident’s Apartment, 101 Anderson Hall? Motivations included my own experiences as a Dartmouth College undergraduate; and a Student Confederation President’s public plea for closer faculty-student ties, outside of the classroom. There was one of President Ladner’s Fifteen points, calling for faculty-student engagement in a caring campus community. There was .... often expressed vision of a more vital residential living learning experience at AU, similar to Residential Colleges at Cambridge, Oxford, Yale and a growing number of other Universities in the US and abroad. When I shared the idea with my two adult children, one an AU graduate, they said “go for it Dad.

In that first talk, I spoke of participating in resident assistant orientations, RA staff meetings, a floor program, and my first fire alarm evacuations. I had invited various AU administrators to my apartment for a meal and a tour of what was foreign territory for and hosted my first dinner for residents. I had described my experiences to curious, bemused colleagues at a Faculty Senate meeting. A flattering article had appeared in the Eagle and after 25 years living in Washington, I wondered about the expose that might mark the end of my honeymoon period, headlined New Faculty Resident Disappoints.

More that three years have passed. Innumerable South Side residents, and especially three cohorts of resident assistants have become my mentors, companions and friends. Gail Hanson’s tolerance, flexibility and encouragement, backstopped by the support of Julie Weber and her staff, have permitted the faculty resident’s role to grow organically. There has been space to learn about residence hall culture – or cultures - which was an unfamiliar even alien culture to me and most faculty colleagues. There has been time to seek out and exploit targets of opportunity that would enable me to connect with students, learn from them and make a difference in their lives.

What does a faculty resident do? It seemed useful to begin by highlighting a few activities that provide opportunities engage with students and describe residential life to other campus communities. Then I want to describe what I see as 6 of the most important functions faculty resident can perform.

First – activities.

Because I like to cook, the faculty resident’s dinners may be the most rewarding and fun of all, so I have put these at the top of the list. On five or six Sunday night’s each semester I cook and serve a dinner for about ten students and often one or two faculty members Usually the cuisine is international, for example Sri Lankan curry, which provides an opportunity to talk about countries where I have worked and lived. Our last dinner of the year, served two weeks ago, is Peking Duck. Professor Joe Campbell, from whom you will be hearing later was among my first faculty dinner guests and I like to think that this experience, may have helped raise in his mind, the possibility of moving on campus. Over three years there have been several hundred student dinner guests (some repeat customers, of course, and perhaps 25 faculty members.

Two other activities also draw students, and in the case of the second parents, into my apartment for food and conversations. These are study break hours and continental breakfast on “moving in day” weekend in the fall and moving out day weekend in the Spring. Study break hours are held from 10:45 until midnight (or later) on the nights before final examinations each semester. They feature coffee, tea, Klondike Bars and other high energy snacks. Continental Breakfast, typically served from 8 until noon of moving out weekend if is a particular popular event with parents, providing a brief oasis of civility to which they can retreat from what can be an exhausting, stressful day.

The faculty residents weblog, is a new an popular way of communicating with students that initiated last fall, at the suggestion of the student assistant who helps with my dinners. Almost since it was initiated, dormgrandpop has been ranked as AU’s most number one blog by the student run competitor to AU’s portal, Daily Jolt. More about dormgrandpop later.

Another communication vehicle is the faculty resident’s bulletin board in the front lobby of Anderson Hall. We normally do about seven displays a year, including one for summer interns describing the sights and avidities of Washington. Some are standards, such as “welcome to AU and Anderson Hall” which goes up each fall and “dealing with stress” which publicizes messages from AU’s counseling and academic support centers in late November. Others are more topical such as a display on Tsunami relief and how students can help, posted in late January, and a display on my new book, Paradise Poisoned: Lessons About Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars, posted after the book’s release in April.

I also give two or three floor programs to groups residents each semester, normally about 9 in the evening. Among this year’s topics were “Choosing the right courses”, “what to do when you have a bad teacher” and “Hooking up with a great mentor”. Sometimes I will also join in on floor programs given by others, including, interestingly, “sex milk and cookies”, the student lead program on sexuality, condom use and sexually transmitted diseases. I continue to attend resident staff meetings and host meetings and meals for faculty and staff in my apartment.


The functions I have described, and many more, are intrinsically valuable, but far more important because of the opportunities they provide for a faculty resident to learn from and contribute to students, often in one on one conversations. Here are ______ ways that I believe a faculty member can learn and contribute.

First is the faculty resident as mentor.

One night about 11 PM. I was returning to Anderson from my office. One of my RA friends caught me and asked if I could help out with personality conflict she was having with a faculty member. She felt that a personality conflict was threatening her success in the course and was fearful a bad grade would ruin her chances for graduate school. I connected her with the Associate Dean of her school, a close personal friend. On another occasion a student told me she had recently been chosen for Peace Corps Service in Africa and I was able to put her in touch with a network of returned peace Corps volunteers. A third student knocked on my door about 10 PM seeking help for assignment (probably due the next day) the required an interview with someone who had personally experienced the Viet-Nam war era. Fortuitously, I had been an active duty Naval Officer and my brother, a leading war protester. Last Thursday night at 11:30, I took a student to my apartment and helped him copy a term paper from AU’s computer network. He had forgotten that the Library’s all night computer lab closed after final exams completed

When a faculty members lives or has his office on campus, there are numerous activities for such formal and informal mentoring.

A second contribution might be termed the faculty resident as ombudsman.

About two years ago, topic of AU’s Health Center came up at a Sunday night dinner. Student views of the Center were almost universally negative and when I probed for details, one told us about a recent circumstance where she felt Health Center Staff members had treated her insensitively and unprofessionally. I coached her on an appropriate, constructive response (not writing) to President Ladner. Soon afterwards I arranged for the Health Center Director to visit Anderson for an informal discussion with students about their concerns. There have be numerous other instances, where it is been possible to coach students in seek constructive solutions to institutional problems that concerned them.

Bridge building is the way I would describe a third contribution.

In some ways, having a faculty administrator as faculty resident is not idea. The Center for Teaching Excellence, which I direct supports faculty in raising the quality of academic instruction, it helps socialize new faculty to our community and helps mentor them through the tenure process. In manages our on-line instructional system, Blackboard and trains faculty members in used. It manages information technology laboratories that provide services to thousands of student and faculty clients. It manages AU’s audiovisual services, supporting both classroom instruction and much more. I also teach in the school of international service and participate in a number of University-wide task forces and working groups. All of this means less time for one on one interactions with students, especially during daytime hours. But does provide numerous activities to communicate a student-centered perspective, from the vantage point of a 30 year AU veteran and senior faculty administrator in venues where this perspective is rarely heard. To cite just one example, not only did I discuss on campus living with members of the Middle States Accreditation team, but the entire team visited me in Anderson Hall, escorted by the Provost. Unfortuntately a tight schedule did not allow them to stay for dinner.

Living on campus also provides and opportunity for a faculty resident to share his life as a practicing scholar with students.

I believe it is important for a faculty resident to be an active scholar and for students to be exposed to that side of a faculty members life. Students should have the opportunity to learn that that their faculty resident does more that cook gourmet dinners, hand out Klondike Bars, and make himself available for interviews and mentoring at odd hours. Many students seek role models who are active scholars and are intensely curious about that facet of faculty member’s lives. Sadly, faculty members are rarely exposed to this in typical classroom settings, especially in first and second-year courses. My strategy bridging this gap is simply to have copies of my books present visibly, but not obtrusively in my apartment. Perhaps fortunately, a priority of mine has been to make technical subjects accessible to non technical audiences. Books I have written and to which I have contributed often have attractively designed covers and evocative titles: Groping in the Dark, the First Decade of Global Modeling; Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future; Ending Hunger: An Idea Whose Time has come, and the latest: Paradise Poisoned: Lessons about Conflict, Terrorism and Development From Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars. When a student visitor to my apartment, for a dinner, study break, mentoring session or office ours, picks up one of these books, it provides an opening to discuss my work and the life of a practicing scholar.

Equally important living on campus provides an opportunity for a faculty member to share his life with students when he is not functioning as practicing scholar, senior faculty administrator or “agent of the university”.

I believe it humanizes a faculty member, making stronger connections possible, for students to see him when he is living in the role of classroom teacher, practicing scholar or, in my case, administrator. Living on campus 24 hours each day, makes it impossible to avoid this kind of interaction. Many of the activities described above make these informal connections even more probable. My blog, dormgrandpop is another channel for making myself more accessible to students by sharing unofficial parts of my life with them. Postings range from the profound, to the spiritual, to the topical to the banal. This is typical of blogs. Tiles of some recent postings will give you the idea”

Five life changing books; and more


AU’s Coffee Controversy. Social Choice and Individual Values

Save our Teams: A time Empathy, Compassion and Civil Discourse

Back from Halfway Around the World (after a trip to Sri Lanka)

Vulnerability, Sri Lankans face a second tsunami

Love is patient, love is kind

A lesson in humility, and

The Joys of Cooking Peking Duck

A final contribution might be called “paving the way.”

When I first moved into Anderson Hall and began speaking about it, the Faculty Resident Experiment was mostly viewed as a curiosity. The most frequent question I received was about fire alarm evacuations, which were notorious on the South side in academic year 2002-2003. My biggest concern was that the experiment, even if it succeeded, would be seen as depending on the idiosyncracies – some might say eccentricities – of a particular individual.

But as the faculty resident survived and seemed to for one year, then two and then into a third years, I could feel that perceptions were changing. A growing number of faculty, mostly my dinner guests, began dipping their toes in the water with hypothetical questions about whether their might be other opportunities to live – or at least work in a resident.

As you know, there was one faculty member, my colleague .... who pursued this with patience, enthusiasm, creativity and characteristically high energy. When space opened up in McDowell Hall, ... was not only willing but eager to move in. The faculty resident experiment had become the Faculty Resident Program. What is particularly exciting about Joe’s year in McDowell, as you will soon here is how he has capitalized on a very different set of assets and somewhat different North Side culture to create an ambitious, highly visible program, that breaks new ground in areas that might never have occurred to me.

Thus if I am to rank the contributions of my three plus years in residence, picking number one is easy. Along with .... and many others it is to have helped create a climate that encouraged a colleague of .....'s caliber to commit himself to an “in residence program” with the great results that this has already produced. Moreover we believe that the Faculty Residence program, as it has evolved so far, is only a baby stop to ward the vision of a living learning campus community that President Lander envisioned so eloquently as one of his fifteen points. Giant steps lie ahead as you will hear. With your ideas, encouragement and support, we intend to take them.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Meeting Parents at the End of an Academic Year

One thing I particularly enjoy about an academic year’s end is meeting the parents of students that I know will. Graduation – and especially the Continental breakfast I serve in my apartment on moving out weekend – provide opportunities to do so. It is so interesting to view a couple whose genes and personalities blended to create a student that I have come to know well; perhaps over two or three years.

Sometimes my acquaintance with parents extends beyond casual conversation, though this is rare. During these rites of passage times, parents’ focus is on their son or daughter – and perhaps their son’s or daughter’s friends, intimate and otherwise. They are happy to see – in the flesh - professors about whom they have heard, but there is hardly time to make a real connection. We are not quite sure what so say to one another, though I try hard to put parents at their ease. I actually want to know more about them. Praising their son or daughter in specific terms, something that is usually easy to do, seems to work best. And on graduation day, students deserve every scrap of acknowledgement they can get for completing their Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral Degree.

I know, perhaps better than most, what it has taken to pass these milestones. And it is such a privilege to be able to share in these journeys.

This may sound like a platitude, but it is true.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Anderson Hall study break hours resume again to night

Study break hours begin again tonight (Sunday) at 10:45 and continue through Tuesday night. I will filming a few minutes tonight for a presentation at the upcoming AU Board of Trustees Meeting.

On the way home from the country, this evening, I will be stocking up at the freezer section of the local Giant.

Love is patient, love is kind

This Blog’s title is from the Christian Bible: Apostle Paul’s first epistle (letter) to communicants in the Church of Corinth. The full passage is often read at weddings and I have it posted on my computer monitor.

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast,

it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered,

it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil,

but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts,

always hopes, always preserves

Love never fails

Not long ago, I bloged about tensions that come with the end of the academic year and graduation. Often, these times provide daunting opportunities to practice the way of loving that Paul described, in the company of close family members and more distant relatives.

Perhaps you have a close relative like one of mine. For him, “unconditional love” is an alien, even perverse concept. Love is a scarce resource, only to be accorded – very rarely – only to those who are deserving. In his view, the principal function of relationships within a family is critical “truth telling” intended to ensure that fellow family members do not become too secure in their self-esteem. Sometimes his (possibly) well-indended crticisms border on abuse.

I am tempted to post, surreptitiously, an 18 point bold face print of Paul’s passage on my relative’s computer monitor!

But Paul’s message is not about how I should instruct others to behave toward me, but how I should behave toward them, including, especially, my relative.

Some years ago, I asked a friend who had recently celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary to tell me the secret of her long marriage.

“It ain’t easy” the old lady replied.

The Joy of Cooking Peking Duck

Professors live mostly in their heads. When I am evaluating candidates for Ph.D. admission (the ‘union card’ for most university faculty positions), I give high priority to facility in abstract thinking. Stories of professorial absent mindedness (not ‘being in the moment’) abound. One of my favorites describes MIT cybernitician, Norbert Weiner (Cybernetics; The Human Use of Human Beings). A student noticed Professor walking from the Engineering Complex towards the MIT Faculty Club. Weiner stopped, paused and then looked around, puzzled. He hailed the student: “did you see which way I was walking, he asked.” The student responded with the information. “Thank you,” Weiner replied. “Then I must be going to lunch.”

Last night, for the second time in two weeks I cooked Peking Duck, accompanied a duck, mushroom and vegetable stir-fry. The process normally takes two or three days. (At an upscale Chinese restaurant you must place your order 48 hours in advance). You begin by washing the ducks carefully and then rubbing them all over – inside and out – with salt. Then you rub them all over with vodka (or equivalent Chinese liquor) and leave them to soak for 12 hours. You next prepare a mixture of water, honey and paprika (the thicker the better, I believe) and soak the ducks in it, inside and out. Next they are hung to dry under a fan, ideally for 36 to forty eight hours. This purges much of the fat that tends to make less carefully cooked duck dishes too greasy. Cooking takes about two hours, and must be monitored carefully by watching the skin color. The ducks sit above a pan of water, which fills the oven with vapor. Finally there is carving, which I do, wearing insulated rubber gloves and a razor sharp knife. The skin, now crisp, but still a bit tactile, is stripped off and served separately. The meat remains moist, rather than drying out as can happen with less careful preparations.

While the duck is cooking, there is time to carefully slice fresh ginger, mushrooms, peppers of various colors and onions so they are in readiness The stir fry must be prepared with lightening speed, just before the duck is ready to serve. I have found that organic, white flour tortillas make an easily obtainable alternative to rice flour pancakes, which can be difficult to obtain.

When one is not interrupted, Peking Duck preparation is a great way to become totally immersed “in the moment” of food preparation, for several hours. Time must be set aside. The process has its own internal logic and physicality. You can neither rush nor dream off. Aesthetic, olfactory and tactile sensations abound. When carving, done just before the meal is served, I can snack on the most succulent pieces.

It is a great way to get out of my head. And, in contrast to writing a book or article, the feedback comes quickly and is almost always enthusiastic.