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New Grinnell traditions I appreciate: The Grinnell Lecture

When I started at Grinnell, we didn’t talk much in public about faculty scholarship. That’s not to say that we didn’t have amazing scholars; rather, some kind of midwest humbleness or egalitarian spirit made it so that people did not want to announce it when they had a new book, or excellent article, or exhibition, or whatever. Usually, the only way that I found out that a colleague had published a book is that it appeared in the display of faculty books in the front of the bookstore [1]. There were some changes over the years, including an occasional pamphlet that listed faculty scholarship [2].

When Dean Latham arrived, he decided we needed a much more public celebration of faculty scholarship, and instituted the Grinnell Lecture series. Once each year, a distinguished scholar on the faculty gives a lecture on his, her, hir [6], or their scholarship. We also have a nice reception beforehand, an excellent dinner [7], and a performance by the Grinnell Singers afterwards. It’s nice to socialize with faculty, and to hear what people are working on.

So I congratulate Dean Latham on starting this new tradition; it’s one that I very much appreciate. I also appreciate the hard work of the people who make it come about, particularly Susan Ferrari [8], Laura Lof, and Amber Robson.

But I’m a curmudgeon, so I also have comments and critiques.

The Grinnell Lecture is essentially a faculty-only event [9]. I’m okay excluding students, particularly since it allows us to drink [10], but I have very mixed feelings about excluding staff. Our staff help us do all of our work, including our scholarship. Many of our staff have their own scholarship. Should we not include them? We talked last semester about Faculty-staff relationships; wouldn’t including them in such events improve our relationships? I’m not sure. But I should raise it with Dean Latham or Faculty Chair Rietz.

The casual conversations with other faculty also remind me that we’ve lost so many of the occasions on which faculty got together: We no longer have faculty lunches at Faculty House [11]. We no longer have coffee and rolls daily at 10:00 a.m. at Faculty House, or anywhere for that matter. We no longer have Friday afternoon social hour [12]. All of those events helped acclimate me to Grinnell, and introduced me to faculty I might not otherwise regularly meet [14]. I worry that the loss of these events has had an effect on faculty unity and perhaps even faculty governance [15].

I find all three winners of the Honored Grinnell Lecturer award to be quite deserving. They are excellent scholars and teachers. But I also know that we have lots of excellent scholars and teachers. Why do we have only a few times per year in which our own faculty give lectures [17]? I’ve written before about how much I value Scholars’ Convocation. If we had faculty do five-to-ten convocations each semester, filled in with the distinguished speaker convos and added the Grinnell writers program, we could have a full convocation schedule each semester. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Convocation has many advantages over our other venues for faculty lectures, in particular, Convocation is not only open to all members of the campus community, it is also open to all members of the broader community.

A weekly Scholars Convocation with Grinnell faculty lectures would also serve another important role: It would help our students learn more about approaches to public speaking. I’ve watched lots of faculty speak. We each have our own approach, and different approaches are clearly better for different situations or topics. Our alumni say that one of the things they wish they’d learned better is presentation. Scholars Convocation with Grinnell faculty would help.

As I reflect upon the celebration, I do wish that we’d paused for a moment to remember Karen Wiese, our former grants officer, who passed away recently. Karen made such an awesome difference to so many of us, but really preferred to stay behind the scenes.

After that thought, I don’t really have anywhere else to go in this essay. I started this essay thinking about how wonderful the Grinnell Lecture was. I continue to think that it’s wonderful. But I still think we can do better.

[1] It appears Display faculty books is not one of the core responsibilities of the bookstore, so that display has disappeared.

[2] The Dean’s office found it too much effort to produce that pamphlet by looking through faculty CVs. They purchased Sedona so that they could outsource the workload to the faculty. Of course, because Sedona is a PITA [3] that increased the total workload. But that’s okay, the Dean’s office has less work, and that’s what matters. Some faculty now outsource the entering of data to their ASAs [4].

[3] Pain in the Neck.

[4] I think ASA stands for Amazing Support Assistant, but I’m told it stands for Academic Support Assistant [5].

[5] Yes, I know that I’ve written it before. I really appreciate our ASAs, so I’m going to keep writing it.

[6] I wish that the College style guidelines told us what the appropriate gender-neutral pronouns were. I alternate between hir and zir.

[7] A dinner prepared by the legendary Scott Turley and his awesome crew.

[8] Susan was busy enough doing the work that supports our scholarship that she couldn’t even attend.

[9] More precisely, faculty and their partners.

[10] In moderation.

[11] We get a topic-free Faculty Friday about once per semester, but that’s not the same thing as a regular chance to meet.

[12] That social hour was somewhat unique in that we acknowledged that faculty have children, so we usually found ways to allow kids to play outside (or somewhere) while parents drank on the porch.

[14] Many other events also contributed. I find that summer workshops are one of the best ways to learn from and about my peers.

[15] I know that earlier I was complaining that we did not include staff, and now I’m complaining about the loss of faculty-only events. Remember that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds [16].

[16] I should know who said that. Google tells me that Ralph Waldo Emerson said something close to that, although he used little rather than small, and used an article at the front.

[17] In addition to the Grinnell Lecture, the Dean’s office sponsors the occasional Hear about faculty research lunches, primarily for the faculty. but perhaps also for the staff.

Version 1.0.1 of 2017-02-28.