Message from the Dean – May 6, 2019

First some good news:

Dance Education Major Stormii Luney was recently presented with the Outstanding Undergraduate K-12 Education Major Award by the UCO Department of Educational Sciences, Foundations and Research in the College of Education and Professional Studies during their Honors and Awards Ceremony.

Now a story:

Crisis brings out some of the best art the world has ever known. Whether it’s somebody being in love or a country at war or revolution. – Pete Seeger

My genealogical roots grow deep in the black loam of Iowa and Wisconsin, and in the red clay of Oklahoma and Kansas. I possess photographs of all 16 of my great, great grandparents. According to official census records the eight men were farmers and their wives were “keeping house”. By the time this humble family tree sprouted my branch, the Hansens were contractors. We built the houses we lived in, rebuilt wrecked cars to drive, and crafted the cabinets that stored our plastic bowls and cups. We put the Y chromosome in DIY. A stubborn, salt of the earth practicality permeates our genetic code. My decision to drop out of an X-ray technology program to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree contradicted all 92 strands of familial DNA. I remained sensible enough during the quest for a painting degree to focus the necessary energies on securing a teaching position to support my addiction to acrylic and canvas. Early successes in the New York and Chicago gallery scenes helped secure an initial teaching position at my alma mater. It was the perfect marriage of pragmatism and the idyllic pursuit of esoterica.

When ensconced in my artistic ivory tower, I enjoy a dry cocktail of philosophical banter, shaking ideas by Derrida, Baudrillard, Barthes and Foucault into a deconstructed theoretical martini. Creating concept-driven art satisfies a specific artistic and intellectual thirst. However, my practical side also allows for the production of commercial work. When my daughter chose to attend Beloit College, the financial aid letter indicated the family’s fiscal responsibility amounted to $19,000 per year. While I may have preferred to expend my artistic energies crafting sculptures that cleverly critiqued corporate oligarchy, I solved the financial crises by abandoning my lofty perch, planting my feet in clay, and creating and selling hundreds of cups. I spent 60-70 hours per week in the ceramic studio, for four consecutive summers, cranking out mugs that I sold on Etsy, wholesale, in galleries, and at craft fairs to satisfy Beloit’s bursar. While creating these finely crafted objects may not have fully satiated my intellectual thirst, it is gratifying to know that every day, multiple people will drink their morning coffee from a mug formed by my hands. Jack Troy, a well-known ceramic artist and author once remarked that it gave him great pleasure to recognize that his work is concurrently in museum collections, and being sold in garage sales. I agree.

As intellectuals, teachers, mentors, and administrators it is possible for us to become trapped in obscure and cyclical arguments of pedagogical and curricular philosophy to the detriment of practicality. The life-cycle of academia produces a specific type of myopic genus. Every professor has teased through the scholarly strands of their discipline’s DNA, until latching onto a single thread and pursuing it to an evolutionary first ancestor. Our ability to focus on a microcosm is a source of strength, and a potential weakness. The cliché, “can’t see the forest for the trees”, is frequently apt. Single-mindedness is a pronounced advantage for creative research, but a problem when a macro understanding is warranted. There are moments when “best practices” must be replaced with “best I can do right now”.

Knowing when to fight for a principle, and when to retreat in order to battle again tomorrow demands a wide-angle lens. As financial exigencies increasingly dominate academic conversations, it will be important for us to overcome our natural inclination to focus narrowly and protectively on our sub-disciplines. Although it seems unnatural, diverting our gaze away from the microscopic realm of individual expertise in order to think broadly about what is best for the university, department and students will result in a higher level of herd immunity when resources are threatened. It is helpful to remember that Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, was written in a concentration camp, with a minimum of available resources. The best art is often born in crisis and scarcity.

Graduation evokes introspection and evaluation for me. As we approach the end of the school year, and the beginning of a new leadership season at UCO, I’d like to quote the Byrds, who in turn quoted Pete Seeger who in turn, quoted Ecclesiastics. I find this poem a profoundly practical reminder that life includes both victories and losses, and that enlarging my focus is vital to ultimate success.

To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn),
and a time to every purpose, under heaven.

A time to be born, a time to die.
A time to plant, a time to reap.
A time to kill, a time to heal.
A time to laugh, a time to weep.

To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn),
and a time to every purpose, under heaven.

A time to build up, a time to break down.
A time to dance, a time to mourn.
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.

To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn),
and a time to every purpose, under heaven.

A time of love, a time of hate.
A time of war, a time of peace.
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing.

To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a season (turn, turn, turn),
and a time to every purpose, under heaven.

A time to gain, a time to lose.
A time to rend, a time to sew.
A time for love, a time for hate.
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.