Saturday, June 24, 2017

Klink - The Deans' Bible

A dear Maryland friend, Marylu McEwen, sent me a book a number of months ago, Angie Klink’s The Deans’ Bible (2014). I started it once, got distracted, and then returned recently to finish it. I anticipated reading about the wonderful legacy of the five Deans of Women and eventually women Deans of Students at Purdue University from 1933 to the 1995. These women, whose names we should never let slip into obscurity – Dorothy Stratton, Helen Schleman, Beverley Stone, Barbara Cook, and Betty Nelson – were not only unique because of the legacy they shared as student affairs work grew at Purdue but they are also important for the courageous leadership they offered in so many other ways. These are women of conviction who sacrificed much in their struggle to provide equality of educational opportunity for women, students of color, and students with disabilities.

Klink’s combined professional biography of these five women is liberally spiced with entertaining anecdotes about their lives. The anecdotes track all the way from the years when Amelia Earhart was brought to live in Purdue’s women’s residence halls to offer role modeling for career women to the turbulent 1970s when Deans were expected to keep campuses under control and make sure that students didn’t get into trouble. The foundation that allowed the five Deans to excel in their work and serve students to the greatest degree possible was their shared commitment to compassion for their students and advocacy for their welfare. A symbol of the origin of that compassion was a Bible, owned by the first Dean of Women, Carolyn Schoemaker, signed by Dorothy Stratton when she passed the Bible to her successor, Helen Schleman, and on down the line. Each successive Dean signed the Bible and noted her favorite scripture as she passed it on to the colleague who would follow in her footsteps.

The early role of Dean of Women was filled on a part-time basis by Carolyn Shoemaker who would serve from 1913-1933. Carolyn pursued the role with a passion for making Purdue, a male-dominated and challenging institution, a place that would also welcome women and would support them as they increasingly sought careers in conjunction with or instead of family. An early admonition to women was to never be caught in life without a back-up plan, an insurance policy when male support was unavailable. The commitment to making Purdue a place that nurtured women as well as men came with a commitment to holistic education. This vision of holistic education emerged from early and deep philosophical inquiry and it was also heavily influenced by Dorothy Stratton and Bev Stone’s attendance at Teacher’s College of Columbia University’s student personnel program. Bev’s lifelong connection with Esther Lloyd-Jones, her major professor at Columbia, would be particularly influential in Bev’s thinking and work. In a note from Bev to Esther, she wrote, “I suspect you have no notion of the extent of your influence you have had form the time I had the first course with you in 1937… Many students I may have reached may not be aware that a part of you has influenced my reaching out to them.”

The Deans’ Bible is about a very special legacy of women advocating for other women. It is also about educators who were able to transform an institution in ways that made it fundamentally better for both women and men. I saw these five Deans once at the 1986 meeting of the National Association of Women’s Deans and Counselors. It was in Denver, close to my hometown of Boulder, Colorado, so I attended the convention and took my mother to see one of the sessions I thought she would most enjoy. It was the five Purdue Deans and it was the first time I ever saw Esther Lloyd-Jones who attended the session to see her dear friends and protégés.

David Brooks - Poisoning the World

A blog with the intent of pursuing leadership questions has no choice but to acknowledge and comment on David Brooks' recent op-ed piece, "Donald Trump Poisons the World," in the New York Times. There have been many difficult leadership issues raised throughout the last year of political life in the U.S. but Brooks raises one of the most fundamental - Are Donald Trump and his advisors purpose-driven or simply woefully unprepared intellectually and ethically for the challenges of the U.S. Presidency?

The proposition that Brooks poses is that it is the world view of Trump that is at the root of the problem. H.R. McMaster and Gary Kohn wrote in a Wall Street Journal piece that Trump had gone to the Middle East with a cleareyed view of the world, on that assumed the "world is not a 'global community' but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage." This view is familiar to many and is at the core of Paul Ryan and his type's philosophical favorite, Ayn Rand, the reactionary conservative out of Russia who wrote Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and other books about Darwinian processes of survival of the fittest. I read these books as well as a 20-something, naive and self-centered enough to believe that cut-throat competition and denigration of one's enemies sounded reasonable as a way of every person becoming her/his best self. The thing of it is, I grew out of it and realized that the world isn't a playing field that is fair and that our moral striving for goodness includes being aware of, concerned about, and willing to sacrifice some of what I might want for the benefit of others. Trump, Ryan, and the people who are pushing forward in their conservative agenda appear not to have grown out of their captivating and self-centered youth and the rest of us are suffering for it.

The journey of humanity has always encountered bumps, detours, and sometimes chasms that appeared impossible to bridge. The period in which we now live is one of those times, likely not the worst of them when we think about McCarthyism, Nazism, or even the Golden Age of American industrialism. However, it's important that we pay attention and it is fortunate that there are many journalists who are warning us - pay attention and think about what is happening. We do not live in normal times and we do not have a normal President. We have a President who is willing to lie on a regular basis because of a philosophy he carries deep in his soul - he is trying to survive and his survival is directly related to making sure someone else is defeated.

The world David Brooks describes and I believe Donald Trump embraces is not the world in which I want to live. I hope this era is an awakening for many citizens around the world who can see the bottom line and are committed to work to defeat it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Our recent trip to Luxembourg to participate in the Transatlantic Dialogue offered the opportunity to explore my life-long interest in music as well as to explore other European cities with which we’ve had little or no exposure. The atelier that I offered at the Transatlantic Dialogue was a stretch for me but ultimately reinforced the importance of music in my life and demonstrated that music is a very effective metaphor for learning about culture.

The inspiration for the Transatlantic Dialogue came from a Luxembourg colleague, Francois Carbon. Francois is an artist himself and works to enhance students’ experiences at the Univesite du Luxembourg through cultural activities. I attended the first Transatlantic Dialogue in 2008 and was honored to be invited to contribute an atelier (artistic experience where I would perform on piano) for the 2017 meeting. I have not played serious piano in public since college so even thinking about performing wrought significant anxiety. However, I worked on two pieces for many months (among other pieces I’m mastering) to demonstrate the similarity between discovering art and learning/mastering culture. To my great satisfaction, I didn’t freak out as a result of focusing on performing as simply being the conduit for great music. It worked, and worked so well that the participants gave me the most positive feedback I’ve ever had on a conference presentation. Who would have thought that, after all these years of speaking at conferences, playing piano and using the music to learn about culture would have such an impact? I thank Francois for his leadership and Judy Rogers (former Miami colleague) for twisting my arm to explore a different part of myself in such a supportive place. Someone asked at the conclusion of the atelier, “Well, did you like what you found?” I responded, “No question!”

After Luxembourg we rode a train to Basel, Switzerland, spending a day there before boarding a river cruise for 8 days on the Rhine River through France and Germany and ending in the lowlands of the Netherlands. Three weeks in central Europe renewed our passion for travel and allowed us to meet so many wonderful people and see many interesting places. My favorites were Strasbourg, France, Rudesheim, Germany, and Leiden, Netherlands. Each of these towns has a fascinating history shaped by dynamic cultures over time. Strasbourg has been traded back and forth between France and Germany several times in the last 100 years, resulting in a unique blend of both as well as the emergence of a unique Alsatian culture, cuisine, and perspective. Rudesheim lies at the mouth of the Rhine River gorge, an area lined with many old castles and fortresses; it is also a village that boasts German pride through an amazing sculpture standing atop its vineyards and defiantly confronting France across the river. Leiden, birthplace of Rembrandt and home to the church that the early American pilgrims left in order to seek religious and personal freedom, possessed all the cultural and artistic diversity of Amsterdam but with an understated charm.

Transatlantic Dialogue, the opportunity to perform music again, and exposure to diverse histories and cultures was profoundly renewing. Regardless of the challenges countries face today, I was reminded of the goodness of most human beings, the struggles faced in human striving, and the strength that comes from colliding cultures.