Message from the Dean – February 25, 2019

First some good news:

Associate Professor of Graphic Design Lanie Gabbard recently designed a t-shirt collection based on her hand-lettering. Her work has been selected for inclusion in a runway show during Paris Fashion Week this Thursday, February 28 in Paris, France. Congratulations and good luck, Lanie!

Now a story:

I have won a few awards over the years. Back in 1981, my fellow high school seniors awarded me a certificate as the “Most Verbal” member of the graduating class. That was reasonable at the time. A fellow classmate, Julie Johnsson, and I authored and published a satirical, weekly, underground newspaper called, The New Zoo Review which kept students guffawing, and administration grumbling. As a young man, I was also reliably guilty of effusive verbosity at social gatherings. Under my yearbook photo, I chose as possible future job titles “artist” or “writer”. During the intervening decades, increased introspection has tamed the loquacious extroversion of my adolescence. I no longer anticipate being the life of the party. The Myers-Briggs personality test indicates that I outgrew my youthful ENTP skin, and molted into an INTP. My classmate, Julie proceeded without misstep into a distinguished career in journalism, writing for the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s and currently for Bloomberg News. Meanwhile, I stumbled jerkily into academia and the life of a professor/potter, eventually becoming the “artist” I predicted in the yearbook. In retrospect, Julie probably deserved that “Most Verbal” award back in 1981.

Humans relish the recognition of rewards, respect and gold stars. We love appreciation and positive feedback, frequently becoming surly when we feel neglected or under appreciated. I keep a pile of thank-you cards in my office to hearten me when I feel blue. Jealousy invades consciousness when unequal awards, or a lack of fairness is perceived. An experiment exists where a pair of Capuchin monkeys, caged side-by-side, are given differing rewards for similar tasks. In the test, after handing the trainer a stone, one monkey is given a piece of cucumber, while the neighbor is rewarded with a grape. The second time this happens, the monkey paid with cucumber throws it back at the trainer, becoming increasingly piqued as the inequitable system of recompenses continues. Although we love external validation, there is a significant danger in allowing ourselves to put too much stock in it, especially if we compare our rewards with neighbors or colleagues. It is best to self-validate, and let external rewards become an unexpected, additional delight.

As practitioners in the arts, we consistently make will-o-the-wisp, difficult to describe, gut-level decisions concerning quality. We exist in an essentially non-objective world. Auditions produce a hierarchy of chairs in an orchestra, symphony, band or ensemble. Directors assign leads and chorus members. Juries produce best-in-show honors, projects earn gold, silver and bronze medals, and performances earn positive and negative reviews. As teachers in the arts, we appraise dozens of student projects with similar parameters and award grades based on creative quality, not on time spent. Within artistic disciplines, there are vastly different rewards for work that is essentially similar. Like a monkey remunerated with cucumber, it is easy for students to descend into anger or despair if they believe classmates were unfairly compensated with grapes. This is why rubrics and transparency in critique are so vital. Whenever possible, we need to explicitly explain the key performance indicators that drive decisions on grades, casting, and placement.

When accolades are received, they are best savored with those we respect and admire. The Provost, John Barthell, Associate Vice President, Charlotte Simmons, Sandy and I joined Design faculty and students during the Addy Award ceremony on February 16. Of the 83 student Addys distributed, UCO won 71. These awards included Best in Show, Special Judges Choice for Illustration, Best in University, The Braggy, for most awards won by any school, and 23 Gold Addys. We also won 5 professional Addy Awards, including a Gold Award for our suite of recruitment materials. It was intensely gratifying to earn the recognition of the professional advertising community for a project the design team accomplished against strong headwinds.

It is a source of pride for me that a high percentage of Design faculty attended the award ceremony, and were present to celebrate these accomplishments with their students. Mentorship is a vital attribute of our culture. I appreciate voice faculty attending nearly every opera or musical theatre performance their students participate in. I see theatre faculty in the house for student-run plays. Dance faculty are present to cheer recital performances and the Kaleidoscope dancers. ACM faculty are in the Performance Lab for ACM Alive, and Art faculty attend student exhibitions. When we are present for our students, they feel valued and respected. Building those relationships of mutual regard is the key to transformational learning. I am grateful to every faculty member who donates time outside of class and office hours to illustrate the value we place on our students, whether they are award winners, or not.

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