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Nominations for the Grinnell Lecture

Topics/tags: Grinnellians

Mike Latham made many valuable changes while he was at Grinnell. One of my favorites was an annual celebration of faculty scholarship. As part of that celebration, one faculty member is chosen to give a lecture, which we call the Grinnell Lecture. A host of impressive folks have given those lectures. If I recall correctly, our first five Grinnell lectures were by Tyler Roberts in Religious Studies, Bill Ferguson in Economics, Leslie Lyons in Chemistry, Shonda Kuiper in Statistics, and Vince Eckhart in Biology [1]. Each year, the faculty are encouraged to nominate their peers for the lecture. I’ve never nominated anyone. It’s not that I don’t think there are people who are worth nominating; it’s more that I don’t feel that I have deep enough knowledge of the colleagues that I would like to nominate. Nonetheless, since tomorrow is the deadline for nomination, I thought I’d share a few notes about who I might nominate. The list is necessarily incomplete; I have way too many colleagues that I respect highly, and, as I said, I don’t know nearly enough about many colleagues. In any case, it’s fun to think about possible candidates, particularly ones I’d like to hear speak. Here goes. In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve arranged the list by first name.

Alissa Nutting. Nutting is a talented writer, one whose novels speak to a host of issues in modern American society. Her work is strong enough that it is being adapted to television, or so I understand [2]. Nutting, along with Dean Bakopoulos, has also brought important new characteristics to our creative writing program [3]. How often do we have folks on campus who have the knowledge and skill to be both Writer in Residence and a faculty member?

Celeste Miller. Celeste has built a strong dance program at Grinnell. But it’s the variety of her work in choreography and dance that makes me consider her an appropriate candidate for the Grinnell Lecture. I know of interesting collaborations that involve telepresence, training of physicians, multiple disciplines, and more. In our conversations, I appreciate the thoughtful way she seems to approach all she does, from her dance to her teaching.

Jerod Weinman. I don’t think we should have another scientist give the Grinnell Lecture this year. But if I did, Jerod would be one of my top candidates. Jerod does interesting, complex, and valuable work on computer vision. His current work on text recognition in historical maps has received accolades at conferences and represents a wonderful intersection between computing and the humanities. Jerod is also known as a challenging teacher and has one of the most thorough advising syllabi I know of.

Lee Emma Running. Lee is an incredibly talented artist who works in a variety of media. The sculptures she installed at Grinnell Regional Medical Center not only engage the mind but also induce peace and relaxation. Her current project on the fate of deer on the highway is moving and challenging. And I look forward to seeing what she does as director of the Center for Prairie Studies.

Marc Chamberland. Like Jerod, Marc falls into the category of people who I think should give the Grinnell Lecture, but probably should not give it this year. Marc has been doing a wonderful job on what I’d call mathematics outreach, with a trade book on one-digit numbers and a quite popular YouTube channel. Public scholarship is important to Grinnell, and Marc’s work should be acknowledged. (I’ll admit I don’t know enough about Marc’s real work in mathematics.)

Ralph Savarese. Ralph just released a very important book, See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor. More broadly, Ralph does incredible work at the intersection of language and autism that deserves recognition by the College. Ralph’s also no slouch on that big whale, either. Plus, Ralph is as much of a curmudgeon as I am [5].

Sarah Purcell. Sarah’s been doing quite creative work in digital humanities, or digital history, or virtual history [6], or whatever you want to call it. I’ve written previously about her broader import to the College. I’d love to see her give a Grinnell Lecture on her most recent work.

Tammy Nyden. Like Ralph and Sarah, Tammy seems to have gone in a new direction since starting at Grinnell. While I know Tammy does important work in philosophy, I’d want to see her give the Grinnell Lecture about her even more important work on what she terms the school to prison pipeline, the way that certain groups of students encounter situations and policies that nudge them closer and closer to prison, rather than to success. I particularly appreciate her work to bring together different groups to share their experience and advocacy, rather than focusing just on one group. I also appreciated sharing time with Tammy as Obermann Center Fellows.

That’s my quick, off the cuff, list of people who I think would make great Grinnell Lecturers. As I said, I know that there are many more. If I wrote the list next week, I’d likely identify a different set, with some overlaps. Grinnell has a host of wonderful faculty who do interesting work and are good (and, sometimes, exceptional) speakers. I imagine the work of selecting the Grinnell Lecture recipient must be a difficult one.

Personally, I’d like to see someone whose scholarship is in the arts give the next lecture. Too rarely do we acknowledge the great contribution of our artists, dancers, theatrical designers and directors, creative writers, and other creative individuals. It would also be a nice change after three years of scientists.

As I said, I don’t feel like I have deep enough knowledge of any of these individuals [7] to write a full-fledged nomination. I hope that my short notes inspire someone else to nominate one or more of these awesome folks, or one of the other awesome faculty on campus [8].

Postscript: I just reread the message about the nomination process. It’s easier than I thought. You don’t need to write a nomination letter. You just need to pass on a name. At that point, the Dean’s office asks the nominee to supply additional details. I don’t think I should nominate all eight [9] of the people above, but I’ll nominate a few. You can still do the same [10].

[1] All of those folks would have given excellent Scholars’ Convocations.

[2] I was right. A quick Web search reveals that Ray Romano is one of the stars and that the show is on HBO Max, whatever that is.

[3] I suppose one could nominate Alissa and Dean Bakopounutts [4]. But that’s up to someone else to decide.

[4] Bakopounutts is likely a registered trademark of Alissa Nutting and Dean Bakopoulus. If it’s not, it should be.

[5] I hope he doesn’t mind the comparison.

[6] That’s probably the wrong term for VR + history, but I’m sticking with it.

[7] With the exception of Jerod Weinman.

[8] We also have some awesome staff who could be candidates for something like the Grinnell lecture. However, the design of the lecture and the nomination process limits both recipients and nominators to faculty.

[9] Nine, if you include Dean.

[10] At least if you’re a faculty member.

Version 1.0 of 2019-10-03.