Message from the Dean – January 28, 2019

First some good news:

The thirty members of UCO’s Concert Chorale group, under the direction of Dr. Karl Nelson, were invited to perform at the Oklahoma Music Educators Association (OKMEA) Honor Choir Concert last week in Tulsa. As the university’s premier mixed choral ensemble, the members are selected by audition each year from the UCO student population and include both majors and non-majors. The group has performed all over the state, the nation and the world since its inception in 1992. You can see a clip of last week’s performance here.

More good news:

The Charles Colin Publications, New York, recently published the piano accompaniments of Dr. James Klages to the Six Studies for Style by and the Six Staccato Studies by Ernest S. Williams.  The publications will be included in Colin Publications’ online, retail and dealer catalogs.

Now a story:

When The Big Lebowski premiered in 1998, I immediately identified with “The Dude”. There was a resemblance in personal style. I spent the majority of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s sporting shoulder-length hair, a goatee and a wardrobe that seldom strayed from jeans and a tee-shirt, often spattered with clay. My grandmother described me as “funny looking”. In Bill Clinton’s dotcom-bubble-America, before the term “hipster” was coined, my look was more hooligan than trendy. Soccer moms gave me a wide berth in Target.

Beyond the wardrobe and hairstyle, I identified with The Dude’s casual, Zen-ness. His catchphrase, “The Dude abides” appealed to me on multiple levels. After a childhood spent indoctrinated in the strictest polemic, two-valued, parochial creed, I simply wanted to “abide” in the grey middle-ground. When confronted with yet another religion-based “thou shalt not”, my inner “Dude” would quote, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” In my late 20’s and early 30’s, I definitely felt the calling of “Dudism”. The attitude seemed entirely compatible with postmodern relativism, and I took comfort from it. At the Golden Globe Awards this year, Jeff Bridges, the original Dude, accepted the Cecil B. DeMille award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. During his brilliant acceptance speech, Bridges quoted Buckminster Fuller’s philosophy of the trim tab. As a short-haired, middle-aged academic leader with a corporate wardrobe, I found myself relating to “The Dude” in a new way.

Buckminster Fuller introduced the “trim tab” philosophy in a 1972 Playboy interview. (Apparently some people DO read the articles). The interviewer asked how an individual who felt impotent to affect the direction of their own lives could possibly hope to positively alter a group or society. Fuller replied with a metaphor that recounted his Naval experience in WWII. He said that you could not immediately turn the rudder on a battleship or an ocean liner like the Queen Elizabeth when it was traveling at full speed. Too much water pressure kept the rudder in place. However, at the back edge of the rudder is a miniature tailpiece called a trim tab. Just moving the little trim tab builds an area of low pressure that literally pulls the main rudder around, changing the direction of the ship. Moving the trim tab takes almost no effort.

In this analogy, every individual has the opportunity to act as a trim tab. Instead of struggling to quickly force an institution-wide change, you trust small constructive actions in your immediate environment to affect positive transformation on a larger scale. Fuller stated that you create this area of low pressure, “by getting rid of a little nonsense, getting rid of things that don’t work and aren’t true until you start to get that trim-tab motion.” This inner “Tidying Up” process reflects Marie Kondo’s work in the home environment. Ridding ourselves of mental clutter, old grievances, and fear of change is necessary if we want to create an area of low pressure around us. Without the psychological baggage, it becomes easier to act with integrity, honesty and empathy, leading to transformational learning for teachers and students alike. Buckminster Fuller has “Call me Trimtab” engraved on his headstone. I believe it is a mantra worth abiding in.