Tag Archives: Fall Faculty Series

#RadicalModeratesUnite! Protest 101


Dr. Taylor Houston

Dr. Taylor Houston, assistant professor of sociology at Mount Mercy University.

I’m not sure I’m cut out for this protest business. Sure, I marched for science. I am also the proud brother of sisters, many of who sport “those” pink hats. And yet, I don’t want to divide the world into “us” and “them.” That may be a necessary step, however, if I aspire to run a successful “movement” to enact social change.

And I do. I’m so concerned about the doughnut shape of our current politics—about the hollowing out of the middle and our migration into like-minded, competing, hostile camps farther on the left and right that I want to close the cap, bridge the divide, put the hole back in the doughnut.

I want a middle, darn it. I don’t want to act so surprised that former President Bush has some intelligent things to say. I don’t want to associate with folks who find the Obamas—surely one of the strongest, healthiest, most traditional and respectable nuclear families to inhabit the White House since, I don’t know, ever—so objectionable on a personal level that only invective can describe them.

I want to be able to respect a President, Democrat or Republican. The present President has exempted himself from that instinct, by the way, due to gross incompetence, rampant narcissism, corrosive ignorance and pervasive use of racist dog whistles—I can only respect a Republican who wants to serve America and serve as president to all of her citizens. If the last nine months have taught us anything, it’s that, left or right, GOP or Democrats, we should acknowledge that the crazy old man who temporary resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not that President. He needs the apprentice treatment—to be told “you’re fired”—ASAP.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

Yeah, I know, I’m deviating from my core message. Trump bashing is not helpful while I am trying to say “up the middle!” I say it because there will be a U.S beyond the Trump era, and I do want an America where there is a hint of compromise and competence among our political elites.

#Makepoliticsworkagain. #ItsnotthenewsthatsfakeDon.

Anyway, Dr. Taylor Houston, assistant professor of sociology, gave an interesting talk tonight at Mount Mercy University Oct. 24 as part of our 2017 Fall Faculty Series. His speech was called: “Protest 101: How to be an Effective Activist.”

He noted early that he wasn’t really going to give any complete recipe, but rather some sociological perspective on what makes movement successful, and some advice for would-be activists. I can’t fault the content of what he said—he seemed to base his remarks clearly on good social science—but some aspects of his talk were disconcerting.

For example, to have a successful social change movement, it’s very helpful early on to define an enemy, so you can court cohesion among “your” allies by having a “them” to attack.

 

Bah, humbug. I wish it weren’t so—more divisiveness seems to be just what we don’t need—but as a communication tactic, I have to concede the advice is completely valid.

Other points Dr. Houston made included:

  • Watch for your WUNC. “The strength of a movement is determined by its WUNC,” Houston noted. That is, a movement needs to have Worthiness (from the point of view of the people who support it), Unity, Numbers and Commitment. Those interplay in interesting ways, he noted. For example, “numbers” doesn’t have to be a majority—the TEA Party movement has successfully reshaped the Republican Party with relatively small numbers, but enough commitment and key strength in primary races to make its mark. WUNC. Get some. A lot, actually.
  • Start local. If you want media attention, you’re more likely to get it from local journalists. If you want to influence conditions in Cedar Rapids, Mayor Ron Corbett is a much easier to influence than President Tangerine Hair Nightmare (sorry, slipping again. Mr. Drumpf does that to me).
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    Man at the speech handed me this. An invite! I’m invited to protest!

    Send an invite. The most important step to get fellow travelers to sign on to your movement is to do something and ask others who are like minded to join in. “People who care the most are the most likely to get involved,” Houston noted. “Those mostly likely to be involved are those who have been asked.”

Houston had much more to say—about framing a message, for example. About how starting a movement is a lot easier than actually accomplishing a goal—and we seem to excel at making noise but fall short at knowing what to do next.

So, what movements do I want to start? As I noted, I’m ready for some radical compromisers. For people who are willing to “make it work.”

And, secondly, I still want to start the Pollinator Garden Movement at MMU.

Join me, friends. Let’s try to talk and find common ground. And let’s also grab our rakes and plant some Milkweed seeds!

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Went for a bike ride around Cedar Lake before tonight’s speech. And saw this. Milkweed! We need more of it. So say “us.” Not “them.” Darn them, anyhow.

OK, as I said, I don’t see this protest thing as coming naturally to me. Still, I found Dr. Houston’s talk fascinating, especially when he complimented the crowd for filling Betty Cherry on “the start of winter.”

Oh, you poor southern sociologist, from the Texas city of your family name. Winter is coming.

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Forget Friday the 13th—Thursday the 12th!


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Dr. Eden Wales Freedman and Scarlett O’Hara–two strong feminist icons.

Of course, the superstition is that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, so any comparison to Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, isn’t totally apt. It wasn’t, for me, a particularly unlucky day, although it did wear me out.

I had to give a mid-term exam that afternoon, and it was a bit dicey getting everything ready and printed. I am behind in grading for that class, too—and how I have an exam to add to the pile. After hustling to the exam, I had a newspaper meeting. There may have been cookies.

Anyway, the meeting broke up early because there were three big events that students needed to cover that night. First, at 6 p.m., the MMU Law and Politics Club was sponsoring a visit by Ronald K. McMullen, former U.S. ambassador to Eritrea. He shared many interesting stories about his career as a U.S. diplomat.

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Ronald K. McMullen, former U.S. ambassador, speaks Oct. 12 at MMU.

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MMU Times reporter covers the ambassador’s visit.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

He also noted that he had wanted to study geology, and admired the many geodes in MMU’s Grotto. The state rock, he said the geode “is rough on the outside, like many Iowans, but inside we are all gems.”

But I had to rush off. At 7, Dr. Eden Wales Freedman, assistant professor of English, was speaking as part of our Fall Faculty Series, “Divided we Fall.” Her topic was “Feminism is for Everyone.” The theme was that the feminist movement in this country has often been focused on the needs of affluent white women, to the detriment of others.

Despite the many competing events on this crazy Thursday, Dr. Wales Freedman attracted yet another full house to Flaherty Community Room.

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Dr. Eden Wales Freedman, demonstrating the face we’ve come to call the “Robertson eye roll.”

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Dr. Wales Freedman with Dr. Joy Ochs, professor of English. Dr. Ochs coordinates the Fall Faculty Series at MMU.

On the way in, I had been greeted with the thump of Latin music. The Latin Club was doing some Zumba on the plaza. Because, you know, Thursday the 12th.

I noticed my sister and sister-in-law attending, but felt bad I could not linger and chat with them. Because at 8, Jason Sole was visiting to describe his personal journey from prison to earning a PhD.

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Jason Sole speaks in the Chapel of Mercy to the third sizeable crowd drawn to an interesting Thursday night lecture at MMU.

Sole’s speech was compelling, but I didn’t quite make it to the end. I had to finish grading an exam I needed to get back to a Friday class, so about 8:30 I packed it in and headed home. To work until about 11 p.m. or so.

That’s what Thursday was like. MMU is an exciting, vibrant place, and was, especially on this Thursday. To cap it all, right before the 6 p.m. speech I had spotted a pair of hawks hanging out on Warde Hall. Honestly, birds of prey on that high perch are not that unusual, but I’ve not seen two together before.

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Iowa hawks at MMU–on top of Warde Hall, framed by pine trees.

I’m cheating a bit on the hawk image—they were back on Friday and I shot this image that day. But here are links to more images from Thursday: the ambassador’s visit, the feminism speech and the student-organized prison to Phd presentation.

Thursday the 12th—it was a day that we’ll remember for a long time. Honestly, I hope it’s not repeated—I liked all of the events, but may have liked them even more spread out just a bit.

But it was still my best day this week.

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Where is the Care in Healthcare?


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Dr. Danielle Rudd, assistant professor of biology, speaks Oct. 5.

I think you’d have to have a heart of ice not to be a bit riled up Thursday night.

Dr. Danielle Rudd, assistant professor of biology at Mount Mercy University, spoke on “Putting the Care in Healthcare” during the 2017 Fall Faculty Series. It was another standing-room-only event, attended this time by many MMU students as well as faculty and community members.

She was speaking about Americans who live with rare diseases—but she noted that it’s only the individual diseases that are rare. In total, about 30 million American, close to 1 in 10, are dealing with a “rare” health condition.

And she powerfully introduced the audience to three people who we’ve surely seen before—the current president of MMU’s Student Government Association, the daughter of a religious studies professor and the son of a prominent local alumnus. All have conditions that have forced their families into becoming advocates and exports in our dysfunctional health system.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

The evening was personal, enlightening, entertaining—and frustrating. Republicans have tried, and failed, to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, the Trump administration is doing everything it can to ensure the law’s failure, which they will surely blame on the law itself rather than their own governing incompetence. That’s when I got riled up. No, Congress, no GOP–we don’t want the ACA repealed. When you get a leak under the sink, you don’t decide sinks are a bad idea and ban indoor plumbing.

What does it say that too many of our national leaders don’t understand that adequate health care is vital to us all? And who could hear the stories we heard last night and want to go back to a time when too many would be denied insurance or care? What do you have that makes you think that way?

Hearts of ice.

Post script: After I wrote and posted this, I recalled that there had been at least 4 personal stories shared–and I felt a little bad, as if I were ignoring someone’s life. Anyway, I wrote this straight from memory without notes, which is why it is short of details and has no direct quotes. If I messed up details while thinking about the event a day later sans memory aids, I apologize, and, well, that’s just a sign of how an old brain works (or doesn’t).

Eden Wales Freedman, assistant professor of English, listens Oct. 5. She will speak Oct. 12 in a presentation called “From the Suffragettes to the Women’s March: Feminism for Everyone.”

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Ben Franklin Is Fake News!


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MMU Times photo by Brooke Woolley. Me and some other dude.

I can relax now. My presentation in the Fall Faculty Series is in my rear-view mirror.

It went well, from my point of view. The Flaherty Community Room at Mount Mercy University was packed Sept. 7—standing room only. I quickly counted chairs and estimated there were about 100, so I would say the crowd probably numbered between 110 and 120.

Jon, Phil—Facebook ads may be working! Dixie from marketing also notes that the Happenings on the Hill pamphlet went out in the neighborhood and could be an additional factor.

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My pre-talk photo of the crowd. Dr. Joy Ochs, series coordinator, is introducing me.

The title of my talk was “Fake News vs. the Free Press,” and I began with a short review of why the press is free—the “marketplace of ideas” concept that was enshrined by the First Amendment.

Then, I started in on “fake news.” The concept, and even the words, is not new—my first example was Silence Dogood, and I was pleased someone in the audience recognized it as the early pen name of Benjamin Franklin. Today on Facebook, a faculty member who was there noted that a tidbit from the evening was that Ben Franklin being the first Mrs. Doubtfire, to which another faculty member replied that he was also the first catfish.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

Anyway, I gave a 10 minute synopsis of the use of the term “fake news” leading up to 2016, and then talked about how the term last year originally referred to the false, real-looking stories that were deliberately placed on social media.

And then along came Donald Trump and his cooping of the term to mean anything that The Don doesn’t like.

I was hoping to highlight the need for us, the larger “us,” to be responsible news consumers and to be able to recognize when news is fake and when it’s not. Hint: If Donald Trump labels it “fake news,” it’s almost always not. I put in a plug for one of my favorite pipe dreams, that due to the economic model that supported news media in this country being broken, we need an American BBC. Forget the wall—build PBS.

I was also speaking against the easy, politically based fussing we do about “media bias.” Whether the media are liberal or conservative only makes sense to ask in the rather odd, narrow way Americans define their politics, and, while worth considering, political bias is not the most consequential form of bias built into our news system.

News, for example, focuses on conflict and human interest—which distorts the picture of the world that it presents. I don’t consider that kind of distortion necessarily terrible, as long as the audience is on to what’s going on, but it is pervasive. Bias is furthermore inherent in who presents the news—that it’s mostly white, college educated Americans.

My plan was to talk for 40 minutes and take questions for 15 or so, but I probably spoke for an hour and five minutes. It was past 8:30 by the time we were done, yet the audience seemed engaged, and I had lots of side conversations at the end of the evening.

Earlier in the day, I had emailed our library about recording the talk, but the library can’t spare the staff right now. However, Dr. Joy Ochs, series coordinator, already had that base covered and arranged to have Bob Najoks, a retired professor of art, do the recording.

For me personally, seeing Bob again, having my sisters attend, chatting with some neighbors and seeing so many faculty—that made it a fun evening. Thanks, guys.

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Bob Najoks.

In addition, Robin Kash of “Neighborhood Network News” recorded the program, and says he plans to post a video of it. I’ll pass along a URL when I get it.

So far, we’ve had two events in this year’s series, and both have been SRO in their respective venues. My communication colleague Dr. David Klope is the next faculty speaker on Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall, but the series includes other events. Check it out at the MMU web site.

Fake news! I don’t think that was what we had last night, but then again, I do not claim to be an objective observer. I appreciate that I’ve received some kind notes—the chair of the faculty stated that her husband though it could be a TED Talk, although there aren’t a lot of 90 minute TED Talks—but mostly I appreciate that my presentation was of interest to such a crowd.

It is always nice to speak before a large crowd, but I’ll try not to fixate on crowd size or ratings alone. Doing so would feel too fake.

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Series: What Makes the Muskrat Guard His Musk?


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The 2017 Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy will be interesting for several reasons.

One is that it’s the first series that I won’t coordinate. That role is being taken over by Dr. Joy Ochs, current faculty chair. She’s already setting up planning meetings.

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Inscription near Rohde Family Plaza. Mercy words.

Another is that it has a theme that could lend itself to many interesting directions. The theme is “courageous compassion.”

It takes some guts to go where mercy is needed, I think. In troubled times, the courage to care is an important human attribute.

So, I’ll enjoy watching this series. Joy already claims I still have to attend all the events—something about covering the series with Facebook photos and my blog. I’ll do my best—in any case, it still won’t be as time consuming as series that I did coordinate.

I feel pretty good about passing on this baton. For one thing, I think it’s healthy for MMU’s faculty to have someone else lead this effort. It makes it less one man’s crazy idea and more of an institutional thing, a tradition that “we” do.

For another, I have lots of faith in Dr. Ochs. She’s going to push to make this an interesting, compelling, series. I’m excited to see what she and other faculty members come up with.

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Saying TTFN to Immigration Series


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Dr. Laurie Hamen, MMU president, speaks Nov. 17, 2016 at final event of Fall Faculty Series in Chapel of Mercy.

The topic, of course, goes on. This past week was the end of the 2016 Fall Faculty Series on immigration at Mount Mercy University.

image-of-logo-colorThe series, called “Building Walls, Building Bridge: The U.S. as an Immigrant Nation” was well worth doing, I think. It brought out lots of information on an important topic.

And it was popular. As I noted Thursday night at the final event, my rough count is that, all told, more than 1,000 attendees were at series events this fall.

That’s not “unique” people—if a person came to two events, she or he was counted twice—but still, that’s a lot of people going to faculty talks and other events.

The penultimate event was the Barbara A. Knapp Business Series, given by Rue Patel, plant manager of General Mills. It was interesting to me, partly because I have an indirect personal connection—a family member who works at that plant.

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Rue Patel speaks Nov. 16 at MMU.

Patel spoke of moving to the United States at age 12 in the late 1970s. In school, sometimes classmates would ask ridiculous questions, such as “did you ride an elephant to school today?” Children can often be cruel, and one concern that we have now is they often echo the cruelty of their parents and are influenced by the larger culture.

Well, anyway, the Sisters of Mercy University Center was packed for the event. Thanks, business, for making the business lecture dovetail so well with the immigration series.

Thursday’s program included a speech by Laurie Hamen, Mount Mercy president. She talked of how important events like this series are to giving students a chance to become engaged in important ideas. As I said at the event, I appreciate that President Hamen has been so supportive of the idea of a series all along.

Two students gave readings, I presented some thoughts on the series and then we had a panel discussion from several of the faculty speakers.

All in all, it was an interesting event. It was the first time I tried to summarize the content of the series this way, and it wasn’t a bad idea, although I think last year’s poetry reading session was good, too.

Anyway, while the immigration issue is particularly important now, I am glad that the series is over. I’ll miss it, but this may be the final one that I coordinate, at least for a while. I’ve asked if another faculty member could step forward, and I think someone very capable is seriously thinking of the idea.

Which I think would be a healthy thing—someone new can revisit the way the series is done and maybe inject the idea with new life.

So, so long, for now, Fall Faculty Series. But I think you have a bright future.

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The Bottom Line? It’s Complicated, but Good


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Dr. Amyan Amer, associate professor of economics at Mount Mercy University, speaking Nov. 15 on the economics of immigration.

So, is immigration a net plus or minus for our economy?

It depends on who you ask and what you’re asking about. There is no single, simple answer.

“It’s complicated,” said Dr. Ayman Amer, associate professor of economics, who spoke Nov. 15, 2016 as part of the Mount Mercy University series on immigration. “You can’t just say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ to what?”

Still, after an extensive analysis of the many winners and losers, both in the U.S.A. and other countries, I think Ayman reached a conclusion about this country.

“GDP is my proof,” he said near the end of the presentation. “Two hundred years of GDP growth.” The U.S.A. has become the richest nation in the world partly due to the dreams, desires, energies and aspirations of her immigrant peoples.

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Two faces in the audience.

And, Ayman said, it makes a big difference where you start and stop your analysis. For example, if you are talking about immigrants themselves, their net economic impact seems to be either a wash or slightly positive. There are many who benefit and many who do not—for example, because of how taxes work and what the different levels of government pay for, the immigration population is a net plus to the federal government, but a drag on the state and local fiscal picture.

That’s the tax question, not net economic impact. As Ayman said, most analysis seem to indicate that immigrants themselves don’t have a huge economic impact one way or another—but that’s ignoring an important reality.

image-of-logo-colorYou also need to consider the next generation. The children of immigrants are parented by driven, motivated people who came across the world to make a new home and a better life—for their children. Those children tend to inherit their parent’s drive to work hard and succeed—and that first American generation is more educated than their parents or the population as whole, less likely to use social services than their parents or the population as a whole.

If you expand the analysis beyond the immigrants themselves to that first American generation raised by immigrations, it’s much harder to argue that America isn’t much richer due to the “teeming masses” that have been welcomed to these shores.

I felt that Ayman gave a very careful, balanced analysis. But he finished with poetic lines that cre carved in the base of the Statue of Liberty and an image of that statue. It was a fitting way to end. The bottom line may be complicated, but I think it’s still accurate to say that the U.S.A. has greatly benefited, and continues to benefit, from immigration. They don’t come here to take our jobs, they come here to build lives, and that life-building process grows our economy, and our culture.

And that’s to our benefit. As we argue over the right balance in our immigration policies, that’s a key point to keep in mind.

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Dr. Amer answers questions–final slide was fitting, showed Statue of Liberty. He noted that immigration is more than an economics question, and is important from an ethical point of view. An immigration from Egypt himself, Dr. Ayman Amer is an example of how this country benefits from immigration.

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