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Grinnellians you should know (or know about): Doug Caulkins

Part of an ongoing series about the people who inhabit or have inhabited our little College in the middle of the cornfields.

Doug Caulkins’ title is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Grinnell College. That title tells you much too little about Doug, so I’m going to try to tell you more. I’ll admit that as I sat down to write this essay, I found so many thoughts going through my head that organizing it was difficult; but I’ve tried. Let’s start at the present and work our ways backwards.

In case you didn’t know, Professor Emeritus is a title granted to faculty at the end of their career, when they have supposedly retired from active teaching. Doug’s been Professor Emeritus for at least a few years. It may therefore surprise you to hear that Doug has a teaching load that is nearly as high as that of most active faculty [1]. Each year, Doug teaches about three courses for the College: Two full courses on some aspect of leadership, innovation, and/or enterprise and one half-course in which he helps Grinnell students think about the career options a liberal arts degree permits. In all of these courses, Doug takes advantage of Grinnell’s enormous network of talented alumni by bringing them back to talk to and with students about the work that they do. These courses are also among the most enrolled of those at Grinnell, often attracting upwards of fifty students. If that wasn’t enough, Doug is more willing to teach Plus Twos [2] than any other faculty member I know of.

Does Doug do this for the enormous wealth it provides? Almost certainly not. He seems to accept a per-course stipend that is on par with what we pay new Ph.D.’s [3]. External signs also suggest that he is at least comfortable financially: There’s a Caulkins room at the library and a Caulkins room at Carleton’s awesome new arts center [4]. So why continue teaching? I think he does it for two main reasons: He thinks students need more opportunities to learn about these important concepts and he enjoys helping students think about these concepts. Doug also clearly appreciates connecting students to both our alumni and our community, and using both alumni and student resources to make our community better.

Doug’s enthusiasm for and skill in teaching these courses is reason enough to know and know about him. (It’s also a reason that the College should be thinking about what we need to do to prepare for the time in which Doug is less willing to sacrifice himself for the College.) But there’s much more.

As I look at the current state of my career at Grinnell, I find that I’m following in Doug’s footsteps in some ways, and that I didn’t listen to him nearly well enough credit in the past. Like Doug, I teach a Learning from Alumni course [5]. That class was clearly inspired by Doug’s class, but mutated to fit a particular population of students (CS majors) and budget (smaller, so we use Skype more than in-person visits).

I enjoy serving on the board of the Wilson Center and making use of the Wilson Center’s resources. I’m pretty sure that the only reason the Wilson Center exists is because of Doug’s hard work in convincing administrators how to use the Wilsons’ donation, in arguing to use more of the proceeds for that donation for the program, and in building many aspects of the program. I am ashamed to admit that I criticized the program when it was first created, spouting the traditional party line of What role does business have at a liberal arts college? Fortunately, folks like Doug and Pam Ferguson helped me realize that we have a responsibility to better help our students think about how they can put their skills to broader use.

I’ve been a member of the Technology Studies concentration [6] for most of the time I’ve been at Grinnell. I don’t know whether or not Doug founded the program, but it’s another program that I know he had a significant role in strengthening. I’ve certainly benefitted from talking to Doug about it at many times.

As most of you know, I now serve as one of the primary Curmudgeons on campus. Now, I’m not going to say that Doug is a curmudgeon. But Doug has a long history of saying really important things about Grinnell that people don’t want to hear. During the years in which we didn’t really pay much attention to fundraising, Doug regularly asked Why aren’t we putting the same effort into fundraising that Carleton is? [8] And Doug was right; in the past decade, our large endowment has grown, but slowly. In contrast, Carleton’s endowment, which was comparatively modest, is now coming close to our level (I think), and their trajectory is much better [9]. As I noted earlier, Doug challenged the administration on the use of Wilson funds. It took awhile, but it seems he finally succeeded in that.

Doug’s also done a lot of things that I’m not as directly involved in, such as serving as one of the first Grinnell-in-London faculty and one of the first co-directors of the Gender and Women’s Studies Program [10].

But Doug does not take sole credit for these things. In reviewing my essay, he found that he had to write an essay in response which he titled Collaborations. A sentence from the middle says it all: I think that the emerging point is that better together for me is less of a political slogan and more a way of life [11].

You may also find Doug’s scholarship of interest. When you think about Anthropology, you probably think about people who study non-western cultures, often cultures much different than our own. But Doug studies the culture of business. Over the years, that’s given him a lot of interesting insights. Given the increasing corporatization of the College [12], I expect that he has something valuable to contribute. Take a moment to ask him.

If that feels too controversial, ask Doug about innovation and leadership; you’ll learn something new. Get him to help connect you to an alum. Or ask him about things beyond the College: his decision to buy farmland and turn it into prairie; the heyday of EC comics; or the ways in which he and Lorna helped build a stronger public library. It will be worth your time.

Doug, as I wrote this essay, I realized that I’ve perhaps challenged you a bit too much over the years. I sincerely apologize. Thank you so much for all that you’ve done and do for the College.

[1] In reality, Doug’s load may be higher than a number of active faculty member’s load.

[2] A plus two is a strange Grinnell invention wherein a student can do an additional research project in association with a class. The student ends up with six credits for the course (four plus two). The faculty member ends up with extra work, but no extra pay.

[3] As I think I’ve ranted previously, that rate is lower than what I made for teaching one course at Dartmouth in 1993.

[4] More on that later.

[5] Yes, Doug, I know that I owe you royalties. You still haven’t specified the rate.

[6] Soon to be something like the concentration in Science, Technologies, Health, and the Human Experience. I prefer something more Chicago-esque, likeHistory, Philosophy, and Social Science of Science, Technology, and Health", which has the easily pronounceable acronym of HPSSSTH [7].

[7] Oooh! That’s almost a palindrome. Let’s work on that.

[8] Yes, Doug is a Carleton alum.

[9] Doug tells me that one of the reasons he brings alums back to the College to interact with students is to help build stronger connections with the College, connections that will pay off through greater engagement.

[10] Some of that corporatization is required by changing policies and laws; but a lot of it may be voluntary, driven by the perspectives of administrators and certain trustees.

[11] Caulkins, D. (2:09 p.m. CST, 15 November 2016). Personal communication: Electronic mail message titled Re: Sam’s Blog.

[12] A program which has now evolved into the Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies major.

Version 1.1.2 of 2017-05-28.