College of Arts & Letters (CAL) College Meeting with Provost Teresa Woodruff (September 24, 2020)
From Danielle Nicole DeVoss on September 24th, 2020
College of Arts & Letters (CAL) College Meeting with Provost Teresa Woodruff (September 24, 2020)
Recording of the college meeting with Provost Teresa Woodruff held on September 24, 2020, including opening remarks from Provost Woodruff, responses to questions gathered via webform prior to the meeting, and a live question-and-answer session.
Complete transcript available below and at:
Danielle Nicole DeVoss (2020-2021 CAC Chair): And we'll go ahead and begin. Welcome, Provost Woodruff. Welcome to MSU and congratulations on your recent Endocrine Society Laureate Award.
Provost Teresa Woodruff: Thank you.
DeVoss: We're delighted you're here with us today. I'm looking forward to speaking with and hearing from you. I'm Danielle DeVoss. I'm the chair of our College Advisory Committee. Also, with us today is Sarah Jackson. She's the elected staff rep of the committee. To give you a sense of who we are, the College of Arts & Letters is a unique community of stellar support staff, academic staff, faculty, and of course, undergraduate and graduate students who represent both the arts and the letters. We illuminate, illustrate, and engage through artistic creation and humanistic inquiry. We engage our research, represent and indeed lead our disciplines. We work with students by analyzing, critiquing, theorizing, historicizing, and contextualizing, and by making, doing, producing, delivering, and performing.
We touch the lives of a large number of students through our general education offerings. Our first-year writing taught in my department, WRAC, for instance, supports thousands of students every year in transitioning to university level writing. We're home to IIH, which engage students across campus and arts and humanities work. We support our majors in the humanities and the undergraduate and graduate levels in developing and putting to use creative, innovative problem-solving skills crucial to addressing today's wicked problems. And our priorities of equity, openness, and community are at the heart of what it means to be a world-class research-intensive land-grant institution.
A bit about process, the College Advisory Council solicited questions by a webform. We compiled those and shared them with you in advance, and I'll repeat them again today. I'll paste each question in the chat. And chat is turned off, everyone. But please if you have questions as we move along, please use the Q&A icon in the Zoom interface that's at the bottom there if you want to locate it, if you haven't used it before. And I'll end by sharing our conversation norms that we invite all to participate in. Except that people from different contexts and cultures communicate differently, approach conflict in different ways, and use a diversity of language expression, be willing to have meaningful conflict to create unprecedented goals and solutions, work towards specific steps or actions, but accept nonclosure. Be careful not to derail, be concise, allow your ideas to be developed further by others and give credit where credit is due and share the responsibility for keeping these norms during our conversation. Provost Woodruff, did you have opening remarks for us before we jump into questions?
Provost Woodruff: I just love that rubric. So, first of all, thank you. Let me start with some gratitude. And I do have some opening remarks, if you don't mind. I really do thank you for allowing me to come and meet with you in this format. I really want to thank your wonderful dean who I was talking with just before this webinar. There's clearly so many amazing things going in in the College of Arts & Letters right now. I'm really excited to learn more about them. And so, Danielle, at some point, I'd love to be able to have people just give back to me at some point what do you wish your new provost would know as they start out? I think that's really good.
I also think, Danielle, I love the fact that you use active verbs to describe the college. That's really important. You mentioned that you're really solving wicked problems. And I think we really are in the middle of a pernicious biological villain. And we need ways to be able to label and understand and be able to get through this time together, which really has taken a toll on all of us, on our physical health, on our psychological health. And so that's probably one of the wicked problems we're all really facing in this particular moment. But despite all that, I'm really delighted just to be here with you this afternoon. It's in an odd two dimensional format, which we've all become very used to.
I hope that at some point I'll be able to come back to the College of Arts & Letters in an embodied way and walk through your spaces, see Chris's office, which I understand is a very substantial and important space on campus. And so I look forward to that, and I hope you invite me back for that return visit when we get to meet with you. I told a funny story the other day, which is I've only really met Sam Stanley one time in an embodied way when we walked to take a picture for his Instagram. We both walked across campus toward Beaumont Tower, which by the way I was looking down because I was using my cell phone to try and find my way there across the street.
And we got they're both in our little Spartan masks. And he looks at me kind of quizzically and he said, "Is this the first time we're meeting?" And I said, "Yes, it is." And he said, "You're taller than I thought." And so we will all have this moment of embodiment where we are different than we think. And it is something that we should use to think about because there are very few times in this rapidly spinning orbit that we're in, that we have that time to really stop and think. And even though things seem to be going by us at such a quick pace, this is a time when we eventually return together to really think together.
And so let me just give you a little bit of my thinking. As we come together, I do want to start by really thanking you. One of the things I've identified is how broadly you support the land-grant institution. The access and opportunity you do for all of your students and for academic excellence is really extraordinary. One of the things that is a key feature is your holistic approach and how the core values that I see really are informing and enabling your strategic goals, and those in turn then drive your projects and initiatives. Really, I think that's really an alignment that it really resonates with me. It really is the way that I think the provost office can and should begin to approach its values, priorities, and initiatives.
I do think there's a real wisdom in that in how we think about investing ourselves, how we invest our resources, and how we invest our time in this great work that we're doing. You have great commitment to integrate the arts at the heart of MSU research mission, and you have core commitment to undergraduate students' studies and study student success. In particular, there's a program that I quite like, the Excel Network, as well as the Citizen Scholar Program. And through these, you really are living out your values. I think that's really a breadth and a depth that I really enjoy.
Back in June... Actually, well before my June or July, Chris, I can't remember now. But well before my start date, I have to look through and see where he is. Through my start date in August 1st, your dean sent me a welcoming email. Many of you did as well and there are those of you who have joined and we've had wonderful eCommunication and even shared time sitting on one of the park benches outside of Hannah. But Chris sent me a welcoming letter from you and sent the College of Arts & Letters dean's arts Advisory Council letter. And the letter really spoke to me in a very deep way, about the vital role that the arts play not only in helping us navigate our current situation, but also at the heart of the intellectual and creative life of the university.
And Chris, I think I replied right away. You don't have to hold me to that. But I replied, thanking you for that welcome, and also sharing and he may have sent this on to you that we really are in lockstep regarding the critical role of the arts in the public sphere and central to the intellectual life of our students, our faculty and to institutional leaders. I really look forward to learning from you how students use the opportunity of the funding that will flow through this process, and we'll talk a little bit about that later too so that they can visualize, perform or express their sense of these times, of themselves and how they see us moving forward. So I think that's very exciting. I also am happy to share that I recently approved a College of Arts & Letters Artists-in-Residence project, one of your Artist-in-Residence in Critical Race Studies, Young Joon Kwak, for an exhibit project called Molding the Spartan. Do you all know about this? Everybody's very excited about this project.
Dean Long: You might need to explain it a little bit…
Provost Woodruff: I will explain it because it's very exciting. It really involves creating castings of the well-known bronze outdoor sparty statue. And the artists describe the project in this way. I'm going to use quotes because I thought it was so powerful. "The aim of this project is not to politicize the symbol of the Spartan or to demolish it as has been done with so many other statues and monuments around the world during this time, but to explore what lies beyond the symbolic skin of the Spartan to serve as an object lesson to consider what form the future will take by simulating and expanding a critical discourse about the implications of public monuments, campus identity, and the nuances of the diversity of identities beyond representation amongst the communities at MSU." This really to me is so powerful and it's those kinds of statements of purpose that I think have to be part of our collective endeavor. And so that's one of the ways in which I guess I can tell you that I'm really with you in what you're doing.
In addition, we don't really have ways to get to know each other individually, but I'll tell you that I am a personal investor in this and supportive of the arts and humanities. I'm a former cellist, I say former. The arts and humanities really do help us to think more deeply, experience our lives more fully, they enrich our lives, they speak to our universal concerns over time. They really are the intellectual and emotional heart of how we teach, how we think, how we challenge each other, and how we spark development for all of us. So that really is a critical part of who we are. We have to have it to remain relevant, receptive, and responsive to the 21st century and to maintain ourselves as a top 100 university. And so in order for MSU to retain this leadership globally, we have to be committed to excellence in the arts, language, philosophy, history, together with the natural and physical sciences. And all that will help us to lead and adapt to the world in which we find ourselves.
So before I turn it over, and Danielle, I know I'm talking a little too much not trying to overstep my time here, but I did want to also just make sure you know that from myself and from President Stanley, we realize how much work has gone into this pivot to remote learning in this particular moment that we find ourselves, that many of you worked many and long hours over the summer and continue to work those many and long hours as we have devoted ourselves to the reopening effort and to the teaching that you've done in this... First, we're not even to the quarter semester, but in this first bit of our academic year for our undergraduates. You've worked longer, and you've worked harder, and you've worked differently than you ever have before.
But I really want to spend time right now to really just deliberately slow down and say to you thank you. Thank you from me as Provost, from this great university, and really from all of the students in whose interest you serve, who also may not be fully embodied in a way that we would expect. But in their interest, thank you for all you are doing. You are really rising to this unprecedented challenge in remarkable ways. There are ways in which what we do today will advance the students' lives going forward. We won't all be here when they make those great discoveries 30 or 50 years from now, but what you're doing today will in fact impact those students directly.
I want to pivot very quickly to values and priorities that are guiding our thinking within the office of the provost. And these are areas that I definitely want input. I think of myself really as a provostial partner. Chris will tell you he's heard this a million times, and it is lowercase p, a provostial partner. We are really all part of a university machine. And to me, there's not hierarchies or ivory towers. There are really gears that need to work together in concert with one another. And so that's the way I think of how we all must work in a shared and collective way.
We're working really in the provost office to enable the best intellectual health for our students success and academic excellence even as today we're working on the physical health of our students. And so my goals really and the ways I'll be working are to work towards academic excellence and scholarship and research and creative and performing arts and the engineering of biological sciences literally around the entire compass of intellectual thinking and work. We will be working towards student success, student learning. This college has a great tradition in moving all of us forward with the way you think about student learning and are continuing to do that. We may talk about that a little bit in the discussion later.
We want to think about innovative and effective teaching. Those are definitely intertwined and they do change over time. We want to create a healthy, safe, inclusive, and welcoming culture and climate. And that's something I'd love to hear more from you. What is happening with them in the College of Arts & Letters in that regard, as well as creating an equitable work environment. I'm on about day... I don't know, I think I'm around day 60. So maybe 50 or 60. So once you lose counts of days, maybe that's a good thing, you're starting to settle in. Feels like probably 600 days. But anyway, we're really in that first 100 days.
But I've been talking about the things I want to do in the first 100 days. And the first is really stakeholder engagement. How do I get to know what you're doing in your scholarship and your research and your teaching? And really, trying to learn that in this environment is one that really does require all of us to be engaged. I really think many of you who have reached out to me and have sent me information about what's happening within your areas, I want to encourage you to continue to do that. I'm meeting with all the colleges, and so I'll be continuing to do that and hope to have that entire group of colleges and conversations wrapped up in the next month or so.
I'm looking at our communication strategies. What are the ways by which we communicate? How do we communicate with the deans and how do the deans then waterfall the information to all of you? And how does it become actionable? And how do we get information back centrally? How do I know what's happening within all the different parts of the good work that you're doing? So thinking through communication strategies. Core competencies. What is it that we do within the provost office? How do we do it? What's the value proposition? So thinking very carefully about what's been developed over time and what do we need for this great university going forward.
Financial literacy and strategies. How do we enable the best academic excellence and student success going forward? We have narrowing finances. And so how do we make sure that we take advantage of every dollar and spend it in a way that's very strategic? And so my fifth point is strategic thinking. I always say that I never learn anything by talking to myself. And so strategic thinking really is to engage in a lot of dialogue and see what's really necessary and needed for MSU at this particular time. And for that, I really do invite the discursive, the long form, the poetry, the discussions and ways that we can understand this.
I wrote a letter to all of you early in August to really try and outline some of the structures that I would be looking at within the provost office and really from the lens of anti-racism and anti-sexism. I've really directed everyone within our academic leadership to look very closely at the inclusive and equitable university that we wish to have and how our current structures support or not all learners, all teachers, all leaders, and really each of us as human beings. Rather than identify us by certain descriptors, I just want to say all humans.
And so we are looking across all of our policies and practices and behaviors, looking for evidence of hurdles or barriers. And some of the activities that we're working on right now is really a start with a review of recruitment, retention, promotion and tenure processes. How do we ensure that all of these processes are as equitable as possible? The deans have been really magnificent to help me think through what is happening within the colleges. This is one of the ways that as provost I want to make sure that I'm as educated as possible on how MSU has worked and then also bring my own lenses into how that process can be advanced.
We also are looking at ways to support student success. I'm looking very carefully at our mission process. We've started to look at general education. And thanks to you and the College of Arts & Letters for being real leaders and thought leaders there. We're also looking at a new and creating a new honorifics program that really spotlights our great faculty. There is so much underlying strength that nobody knows about. That's one of the things as I was doing my due diligence and considering coming to join you here that I was finding all this evidence, but without annotation.
I think that is a very MSU way of work because there's no one who does this for the spotlight or the attaboy, but it is that you deserve it. And so this is an honorifics program that I'm developing together with Doug Gage. And it is to really spotlight across the spectrum of work that is happening. Because I think by putting that spotlight, it allows everyone to see what is happening.
Before I turn it back over, and I know I'm talking at a high baud rate and I will stop soon so we can have the great dialogue that I want to have, I did want to alert you to one structural change that we've already taken, and that is a change in the language around the way we discuss international scholars. This is really going to be implemented in a memo that's forthcoming from the provost office, the vice president for research and by a hear-hear from our vote of the deans. There are a series of documents that we engage in that use words like alien and foreign.
As I looked at this, in particular in documents that need to go back to the federal government, I've asked us whether or not that's actually how we want to describe our international colleagues. And so we've decided to adopt non-pejorative terms that describe geography, including non-domestic or international. And language really matters. I know in the College of Arts & Letters language truly matters. I hope you'll all join me really in issuing that kind of terminology that may create an unconscious or literal bias against individuals or groups and creates an us versus them culture.
We have put this into some documents that have already gone back to the federal government. And I'm calling this the start of an MSU lexicon. I hope this is something that really resonates with you. These are the kinds of things that we want to work on collectively and communally, to listen to, to develop meaningful approaches that can have small impact and some that can have bigger impact, some that will happen immediately and some that will take longer time to change.
So really, just thank you so much for allowing me to come and meet with you this afternoon to learn a little bit more about the College of Arts & Letters. I am data voracious. I want to hear as much as I can. And I ask you to really join me in thinking about what can be, what should be as we turn I hope ever closer to a post-pandemic academy. So with that, I really thank you as your colleague, your new colleague. I want to listen and learn. I'll turn it back over to you Danielle and others on the panel for other parts of this dialogue.
DeVoss: Thank you, Provost Woodruff. I have to shine your compliment back at you in terms of active verbs to engage students and each other to visualize, perform and express their experiences, to engage our work in and beyond our college to be relevant, receptive and responsive in and to the world and inclusive in equitable ways. I would like to take just a moment to thank Chris and the college leadership team for the values based work that they've led, and that we've built, and that we've done, and we're working to sustain through... to borrow the way you just expressed, that are smaller, everyday interactions and gestures and the larger sustained strategic activities we're taking on as a college. I would ask everyone to bear in mind the provost’s question, what do you wish your new provost would know?
Provost Woodruff: Yes, please.
DeVoss: And to toggle us into questions, we don't have any softballs here as you saw from the list. So I'll start with the first one, and that is... And I pasted the questions into chat. How will general education conversations be faculty-driven? That is, what processes will be used to make sure that faculty subject matter experts, in our case, in the arts and letters, and among our science and social science counterparts be centered along with student needs?
Provost Woodruff: Well, I think this is a faculty... You need an executive to say go. But after that, I think it's mostly faculty. The deans and I have had several wonderful conversations because we are a federation of colleges. And so we want to make sure that whatever happens really maximize the opportunities for as many students as possible across the width and depth of this great institution. We already have folks, some of which are pictured here, Kyra Solano, I would call out as one of our faculty leaders, really starting to think already about general ed.
I've had a number of meetings with faculty just to hear and absorb some of what they think are the real opportunity spectrum. One of the things I've heard is that we're really interested in persistence rates, making sure that students when they come in have that valuable general education prism through which to look at where they might want to go, through their educational experiences, towards graduation, but then beyond. General education is a great gateway to helping students find their way and find themselves at the institution. The more success early and the more gravitational force we can give them to education itself, I think the more persistence that we will have. I think that's a really important part of what our faculty are seeing as the opportunity.
Our general education is a bit ossified. There have been some great work that has happened, but the last general education reform was really about 1988. And so pedagogy has changed, evaluation has changed, the kinds of curriculum we might want to have changed. We have different schools, different colleges at MSU than we had in 1988. So there really is every opportunity to have faculty begin to aggregate across colleges and to think about what general education might mean to our students in 2020 and beyond. I think it's very faculty driven, maybe others in the college might want to speak up and talk a little bit more about the process. I'm very excited about where we might end up with perhaps a pilot next year and perhaps integrating other reforms in the following year. So it's an exciting process from my perspective.
DeVoss: Thank you. And thank you too for your... The first key thing you mentioned was stakeholder engagement, getting to know us, giving us the opportunity to get to know you, which will be absolutely crucial in these bigger conversations. The next few questions have to do more specifically about the arts and humanities and continue our role in the university. During your interview, you expressed a deeper appreciation of the arts and humanities and the important role they and we play within the university. Thank you. Can you say a bit more specifically about how you will support and prioritize Arts & Letters faculty research in the coming years, especially given the tighter budgets under which we're operating?
Provost Woodruff: Well, I would say, first of all, I have an absolute, not just appreciation, but a deep abiding commitment to arts and humanities as central to what education is. And that's true whether or not a student ends up as an engineer building a bridge, or whether or not a student ends up as a medical doctor, or a student ends up as a philosopher and a dean somewhere at a major research institution. So I think there is a real integral part to how Arts & Letters as a college is integral to what we do. I think there are tighter budgets. But as long as that's first principle, I think we needn't worry too much. We need to continue to develop and evolve. We want to make sure that the creative activity, the performance, the humanistic scholarship is all valued in addition to the teaching.
I guess what I would say is that students success and academic excellence are my two pillars. Teaching is what we often think about for students success. And you do that in an extraordinary way. And general ed is part of what we're going to do to amplify that up. But I also think that the scholarship and the research, the creative activity is equally important. And so being able to value that, to be able to understand it, to be able to take advantage of it within our larger environment, all of those are things that I bring as an academic.
And perhaps one of the things that is important to know about me for those of you who did get to know me through the interviews in April, I come to you as an academic leader. So you've had many administrative provosts, and I certainly have a depth of administrative background. But I come to you as an academic, first and foremost as a professor and provost. So one of the things that I bring to you is the value proposition of understanding and valuing the kinds of work that happens within the College of Letters. So it is not just on the radar, it is a priority. I think that's an important thing for you to hear from me.
DeVoss: Thank you. Thank you very much. The next question puts a slightly finer point on this question. Has to do with the MSU Arts Strategy. Are you planning to implement it? And if so, can you talk with us a bit about next steps, support, timelines, etc?
Provost Woodruff: I think it is a great strategy, and I do endorse it. Judith Stoddart has done some great thinking. She's been very good at helping me in the provost office to think more fully about what an implementation strategy looks like. I know that this has been a faculty-driven endeavor. And so I think that's really critical that it comes from the faculty and really is a way of thinking about the arts going forward. There are some really massive ideas that are included in that strategy and a lot of them have to do with infrastructure. Even as we're opening the new STEM building that has integrated into it and arts space in the middle where... I'm forgetting the name of the artist, but is doing a walk in virtual space that will be changing over time. I think that's really an interesting way of integrating arts into the lives of the science community.
I think there's also really important fundraising opportunities for the infrastructure that will be necessary to build out the art structure. And so with your dean and with development, I'm ready to begin a strong partnership for the next capital campaign. And I think that will place very front and center the art strategy really within the bricks and mortar of this institution. Now, that I think is a bold thing to say in COVID times, but I think it is part of what I think about as we begin to look towards an ever closer, I hope, post-pandemic academy. And so this is something that will begin.
I think there's such a great and important role that the Broad plays and Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, who is I hope here someplace, your great new director of the Broad Art Museum, making sure that her new vision is also implemented within the art strategy is something I'm very excited about doing. She's really a great thought leader. What she did in New Orleans is just spectacular, particular her view as it brings in a much broader and more diverse population into our art strategies. I know that's going to be integrated here as well. I'm very excited to elevate the centrality of the arts. I see it as a key part of the mission. I love the fact that this was faculty driven and I'm very much engaged in thinking about how we can move this forward.
DeVoss: Thank you. To pivot a bit, the next few questions have to do with staff and faculty in the budget context. The first question is... And I'll quote it directly, "Cutting our retirement is much worse than cutting our salary. Taking a lower salary to work at a state university was supposed to be offset by retirement benefits. Now, we have a reduced salary and an even larger reduction in retirement benefits. All we're being asked to do, as you mentioned, as we well know, more work and learning that there are even more administrators being hired, when will retirement benefits be reinstated?"
Provost Woodruff: So this is something that Sam Stanley has heard loud and clear. He is well aware that this is an issue. He felt that this was one of the levers that he had to pull in order to maintain the solvency of the institution. And I think he did it with great gravity and really concern. I know that it is something that he takes very seriously, how we can move back towards what our original expectations were for our retirement. And I think he's trying to take the long view as well as the personal view, so the institutional view over time, as well as the individuals who make up that institution right now. I do meet with him every week and I got your questions this morning. And I thought this is something that he has heard, but I will carry this back as one of the outcomes of my meetings with the college that this is something that continues to resonate with our faculty in the College of Arts & Letters. I'm sure he will be grateful for that input, and I will carry that message back.
DeVoss: Thank you. This next question might be another one to engage more conversation and for you to carry forward with the president. And that is there have been long-standing conversations at MSU about the working conditions, pay and job security for fixed-term faculty and academic specialists, and there have also been conversations in tandem about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Can you talk a bit about the connection between those issues specifically because in some units non-tenure stream faculty are disproportionately women and people of color?
Provost Woodruff: Yeah. So I've met with fixed-term faculty, I've met with the academic specialist group most recently and extraordinarily strong and creative and outstanding part of the MSU environment. I'd like to learn more about the specific concerns and what have been those conversations and where the dots have not been connected. And so we want to make sure that... And maybe this comes under the how would you like to educate your new provost? I actually say, and Chris has heard me say this a lot, I think it takes a village to raise a provost. And in as much as you raise the provost, you raise the institution.
So these are some of the places that I'd love to get more insights and input and I welcome that. From there, I will carry it forward, or carry it to the side, or carry it in ways that actually I hope could be meaningful. So that when I come back next time, again, hopefully under different circumstances, but I'm also happy with Zoom, if not, with more of a direct answer for how we might be able to connect the working conditions with the DEI issues and with the promotion and outcomes from an academic excellence perspective, which I think is the triad that this question is looking at. So I'm happy to learn more from the College of Arts & Letters perspective on that.
DeVoss: Thank you. I know we have faculty who are excited and willing to share the research they've been doing around the issues and then on the ground work that they've been doing with academic excellence as the anchor. This is the last question. And thank you and you're welcome for already thanking us for what's been a tough for us, for the state, for the world past couple of months. The question is, given the additional work we've all had to do over an unpaid summer and working off contract, is there any plan for compensation of acknowledging this work beyond appreciative words? We recognize that financial compensation may not be viable, are there any other plans to recognize faculty effort? And how fully the person who asked this question said, for example, could there be guidance from the university that uncompensated summer work should be taken into account as work above and beyond during our review and promotion processes?
Provost Woodruff: Yes. So that is something that is being considered. And I think part of this is within colleges. So I think Chris is hearing that and part of this does roll up under the provost office. But there's active dialogue right now about how we make sure that the good work that has been happening... And in some cases, let me also say that in some cases, the scholarship that would ordinarily have happened would have happened, couldn't happen, because of very good reasons, with childcare, or eldercare, or the other ways that we've had to use our time. So what I don't want to see is someone being penalized because they had to do two kindergarteners or three kindergarteners or whatever that they're teaching and didn't have time to do that work, as well as those people who did disproportionate amounts of work on some projects.
So there's got to be a way in which we understand the COVID context for the professionals who make up the MSU ecosystem. And so what is that COVID credit that we have to provide? And so I'm looking for different examples and ways that faculty and academic specialists, staff can help guide us with ideas of what would make sense in your context. So, for example, this is what my summer look like, this is what I would like to see, I'd like to be on a roll call of those academic specialists who took an extra month to take this course online using these new tools. Many of the things that we've done over the summer and even now are likely things that will impact our post-COVID academy. I think there are things that are going to be durable assets and things that we really think about going forward. So how might those assets really play it forward? Are things that might be interesting.
On the other hand, someone might say that, "In this last month, I've been unable to complete that book that I was writing. I didn't finish that poetry contract that I had out. I was unable to complete the translation of this particular text that I had. And that was because I was not only juggling a new online environment, but I also had a first grader and a seventh grader who both were challenging me with math that I didn't remember." All of these things go into what the lived experience is of every one of us during this particular time.
And so how do we integrate that? I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all. I don't think there's a macro top-down. I think there's going to be a way in which we have to have a fluidity that we use, not just AI to say what the metric should be. I like to say I want to use GI not AI. Instead of artificial intelligence, let's use genuine intelligence. Let's sort out what the metrics for success really look like. I think that many of our leaders within unit directors, department chairs, deans, and this Provost will take into consideration the ways in which we've had to work and pivot in this particular time.
And in a letter I sent to all of you, I asked you all to extend to each other grace and empathy. I think grace and empathy is part of a metric of success. And that's going to go, I think, into the metrics that I use for evaluating this COVID time. It will be very interesting to see how these metrics of success, the GI versus just the AI gets a part of our post-pandemic academy as well. And where does that lead us? What happens as a consequence? What new intentionality is there in the kind of work we do? What is the output of that particular time? What discovery occurs because of the way we are released from some of the ways we've traditionally thought about metricing success and some artificial way of metricing success? I think all of these things are active parts of the dialogue. And it's all active and I'm ready for engagement on all of that. So that maybe gives you a little bit of an atmospheric answer of how I'm thinking, but it's certainly something I'd love to hear and gain feedback on.
DeVoss: We appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for listening and for gathering ideas and for situating a moment that feels so difficult and so challenging as an opportunity for us to move forward with, as you put it, a new intentionality around our work. I do want to encourage everyone too, the College Advisory Council is one key place where I think we'd be delighted and eager to hear about department and unit ideas, how you're talking to faculty and staff about representing their work and representing their challenges in terms of the COVID context. This is going to be abrupt, but I'm going to toggle back over to a gallery view so we can all see each other, or maybe not. Did that work? Are folks seeing the gallery view? Maybe, yes. Okay. We do have some time for live questions and then, Provost Woodruff, I know you had some questions for us. Sarah, are there questions in the Q&A?
Sarah Jackson: Yes, we do have one question. So I'll go ahead with that. Thanks so much for being here with us today, Provost Woodruff. It's nice to meet you. So the question we have is, although you say that terms like alien will not be used to describe international faculty and staff, the truth is that many of these faculty and staff are American citizens, though they have names and accents that are deemed by many to be foreign. Beyond labels, how will you ensure that so-called foreign faculty and staff are not constantly ostracized and are treated with the respect and recognition they deserve based on their tremendous talents, achievements, qualifications, and experience?
Provost Woodruff: Well, I would say the first thing is that I see all of us as human beings. And irrespective of geographic origin or as the questioner said, accents, etc., I think that we all have to see each other, not see other. And that's an important feature that I believe is part of the MSU context. But if not, I think we all have to hold each other accountable. I'm hoping that what I did in changing the MSU lexicon is really changed one from a federal standpoint. But if we also need to do good work here on campus, I'm happy to engage in that as well. And it is the case that terminology that sometimes gets inculcated into our language has within it imbued otherness that we use it so often we don't think about that semantic or rhetorical way in which we create barriers.
And so the goal of simply changing that terminology, as I was sending information back to the federal government, was to take a stand to say that we are not other. There might be geographic location or places that we adhere to one government or another, but in all, we are human. And I embrace the humaneness, the human beingness that we all exist in. No matter where you hail from, we are all, in this, context MSU. And so I think maybe that statement of purpose is the first principle. And then from there, if there are ways that we need to work on this within the MSU context, I'm happy to do so. And perhaps simply signaling with this language it is what this provost values. That's one way for you to use this as you pivot in your own conversations to this topic.
DeVoss: Thank you. Sarah, were there any other questions?
Jackson: I don't see any right now, but I encourage everyone to submit one in the Q&A if you do have a question. I think we did have a question from Provost Woodruff, though.
Provost Woodruff: My question to you is what would you like your new provost to know? What are the one or two things that someone who has joined you 70 days ago or something like that would need to know to succeed in this position? You have the opportunity to tell me whatever you wish and I'd love to hear it and be able to integrate that into my thinking.
DeVoss: And one way to do that is I think... Bear with me all, I turn the chat back on. So we have the chat on in live and I would please encourage folks to share. If I can figure out how to do so, we can also make it so... Provost Woodruff, we set this up as a webinar. So now, I'm struggling a little bit with how we might invite others into the conversation. So bear with me. And if anyone knows how to turn on attendees' ability to chime in, we'll do so.
Speaker 3: I think if they raise their hand, if people raise their hand, we can reason out. If you hover over them, you can allow them to talk. Yeah. [inaudible 00:46:40] saying that. Yeah.
DeVoss: Sarah's nodding, so I'm going to defer to her expertise.
Speaker 3: There's a question from Kate Sonka.
Jackson: So, the question from Kate, who is one of our assistant deans in the college... Oh, I'm sorry she's not. She's supervised by one of our assistant deans of technology. Kate asks, "Can you share any insights into how you view disability as a dimension of diversity and what implications that has for how you approach teaching and learning across campus?"
Provost Woodruff: Well, I see persons with differences in abilities. And I'm really delighted to be working with Mike Hudson and others and the Resource Center for Persons with Disability. I guess I can tell you that, in fact, my thinking here is really informed by my departed and well-loved father-in-law who had polio, and he contracted it about six months before the Sabin and Salk vaccine. So he was one of the very last to contract polio, and in fact, was in an iron lung as that vaccine was being delivered to other young adults and children, for whom that virus, another pernicious biological villain, that really had a grip on the globe for about over a decade. He was in that iron lung during that time.
So my thinking has been framed for many years on watching him and be abled across a lot of different environments. And so I think about that quite often. I also very recently thought about it in my own personal context. So you might see me using my hand in front of my face. And that's because actually I have my own little disability, which is that I'm losing part of a jaw bone. And so to reconstruct this bone, they had to remove a tooth. Actually, some people have told me that it seems like a little barrier, but it really is that I just look like a pumpkin. I actually even in asking that question, I thought I need to do this and actually be able to have no barrier between myself and you.
And so what I think when we think about differences of abilities is lowering that barrier that would keep us from being together. And what is that that we need to all be able to walk confidently into an intellectual room and be able to be part of that conversation? And what is that part of our physical selves, what is that part of our skin color, or of our sex, of our race, our ethnicity, of how we sound that creates that otherness? So, to me, really thinking about all of this as part of the humaneness that we all bring to that intellectual pathway that we're all on is something that I really want to be a part of.
And what that means really is metaphorically and physically broadening the gateway, opening the door more broadly for my father-in-law to come through when he couldn't otherwise, and opening that doorway as broadly as possible for as many students who have appetite for knowledge to come through. And that once you're on this path, that we don't create a curb that is too high to go over, that we all find ways to lower the curbs, and that it is for all of us to look for where those low hurdles or high hurdles or literal barriers are that keep us as human beings from achieving our personal goals. And so these are parts of the ways that I think about this topic, and it is to me as central as anything I do.
DeVoss: Thank you. Do we have other questions or comments? That's a pretty darn intriguing question. What would you like, Provost Woodruff, to know about us, our units and our work?
Provost Woodruff: I would like to know anything you want me to know. I would love to know how you're doing work. Actually, I said... Many of you probably didn't hear it, but I gave part of a convocation for entering students. And one of the things I talked about was that we've been, as a global community, engaged in pandemics about every 100 years that brings us to our knees as human beings. This happened in the 1500s when the London play houses were closed and this young actor named William Shakespeare had to go home. And so he created one of his first poems. And that creativity may not have come if he was reading someone else's words.
100 years later, Newton had to leave Cambridge because the university was closed due to that century's pandemic. And sitting at home, he discovered the laws of mechanics and of gravity. Literally, the apple tree was in his backyard. So rather than being in a dorm, he was at home. So I'm wondering within the College of Arts & Letters, what inspirational new ideas, or poems, or productions, or translations, or teaching modalities, what has been inspiring in this time of COVID? That would be something I would love to learn.
DeVoss: I know that is certainly on all of our minds. And it's an intriguing and exciting opportunity to think about the investments that we've made over the last couple of months, and again, how they might move us forward in interesting ways and hopefully into a post-COVID context. I'm going to toggle here to a question from the chat because it's an intriguing one and one I think we'd value your input on. I have a question for the provost about her thoughts on abolish MSU's call for community to reflect on the university's relationship with the police. Anti-blackness and police brutality are not new to Michigan State University. In fact, has had a long history of using excessive force.
Most recently, MSU PD deployed its mine-resistant armored vehicle to protect alt-right supporters of Richard Spencer in 2018. And a little more than a year later, was mobilized once again during protests against anti-blackness and police brutality. And the question is how can we support our students and colleagues call their reflect on the place of surveillance and policing in an academic community? And this is certainly a question we should be asking ourselves. But again, would value your input on what approaches orientations might the Arts & Letters specifically engage to do this reflection and help me change in and around the institution?
Provost Woodruff: So it's a really important question. And we should ask it of ourselves all the time, not just in times of duress. And so I thank you for that question. I know the president has been thinking very deeply about this. And particularly as we went into the search for the new chief of police for MSU, there was deep meditation on what we want for a university police. And so I think there is a great deal that is going into a thoughtful process for who should lead us going forward, and that process the president is leading.
I think your additional question is how can we as faculty and how can faculty who are within the Arts & Letters community really meditate on this and also provide to this provost and to the president and to our eventual new police chief? What it is that we think we should have as a community of academics, a community of scholars, both new scholars and learned scholars? What is it that we want to see in this environment? How do we allow for the different voices which was so eloquently stated in your initial principles for this dialogue? How do we allow for that broad academic or variety of voices to be within this place and still have that kind of opportunity for safety in the face of radical dialogue as was mentioned in the questions?
So I think we're at a moment when you have a president or a provost that has come to you very open for dialogue, very open for input, and very ready to think through the meaningful change that needs to happen and also wants to be informed by the community. This is not a top-down institution, it is one in which we are in partnership. There are tough decisions that have to be made. And the President integrates a whole spectrum of data and input as he's making these tough decisions on behalf of all of us. Part of my job is to bring forth the wisdom and the thoughts of the broad community. And I hope to do that in an effective way. My hope is that as we move forward, we continue to get towards a place that it represents all of us, and it represents the way that we want to move forward.
One of the things that I've been so impressed by the police now have a dashboard, where they're actually presenting to all of us, not just in a compliant way, but in a way that we can everyday see what's happening within the university police. And this is something I think will continue to develop. Looking to see what's within the police, what's funded within the police portfolio in terms of wellness and psychological support, should that be where that is, or should that be sectored somewhere else? All of these are things that are part of a core competency review that is part of what I'm doing. So our eyes are on the topic and I think feed forward good ideas is an important part of what I would hope the community would be willing to do, and you have a willing and receptive administration that wants to hear those voices.
DeVoss: Thank you. And I can say on be half of the College of Arts & Letters faculty senators that this is something that is being discussed, has been discussed, and will continue to be discussed also at Faculty Senate and University Council. I know we have about a minute left and I want to toggle to a couple of responses your question that have appeared in chat. The first by a fellow faculty senator and our associate director for first-year writing, Joyce Meier, who shares, "Students in first-year writing classes are writing some amazing, moving, powerful essays about the impact of the pandemic on their lives." And our new chair, Stephen Di Benedetto, of theater writes about the incredible innovations and opportunities in a department so signif... We're all so significantly impacted theater, retreat criers' voice and bodies and being in rooms together and the incredible work they're doing. And he says, "We hope you'll have a chance to see our experiments when we stream them, to see the work of our faculty and our students."
Provost Woodruff: Please share those with me. I am so hungry for all the work that you're doing. I would love to see and read and be a part of any of this. So thank you for that.
DeVoss: We will be delighted to feed your hunger with our arts, our performances, our writings, our poetry, our scholarship, and evidence of our excellent teaching practices. Provost, thank you so, so much for your time and for being here with us. It was a pleasure to meet you and have this opportunity to talk with you today.
Provost Woodruff: Thank you so much. Thank you, everyone.