Tag Archives: Fall Faculty Series

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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Oh That Crazy Amygdala


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Dr. Dennis Dew gave a presentation that helped explain fear of immigrants from a social psychology perspective.

In East Africa, 3.5 million years ago, fear wasn’t the only thing to be afraid of. For our early human ancestors, the world was a harsh, dangerous place, full of all kinds of threats.

So it is not that surprising that our brains evolved with quick, subconscious reactions to stimuli. According to Dr. Dennis Dew, a psychology professor at Mount Mercy University, our almost automatic, hard-wired fears include fear of snakes, spiders and unfamiliar people.

Dr. Dew spoke tonight in the third forum of the Fall Faculty Series, Building Walls, Building Bridges: The U.S. as an Immigrant Nation. His presentation was called “Fear of an Immigration Nation: Prejudice, Stereotyping & Discrimination.”

He traced part of the fear to the ways in which are brains evolved. He also noted that humans have an innate tendency to be “cognitive misers,” and that it’s easier to quickly categorize people rather than think of them as individuals.

I liked the way he began, pointing out examples of fear of immigrants throughout U.S. history. For Benjamin Franklin, 20 years before the revolution, it was Germans who were a threat to the social order of Pennsylvania. Later, John Jay, an author of the “Federalist Papers” that helps push the convention that would write the U.S. Constitution, said that the new country needed “a wall of brass for excluding Catholics.” Well, Mexico is an overwhelmingly Catholic country. Has Donald Trump specified the building material he wishes to use?

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Audience member, probably MMU student, poses a question.

Group cohesion has always been important, too, to humans, and that leads us to automatically think of an “in group,” our tribe that we’re comfortable with, and the “out groups” that we fear.

Those are just a few ideas Dr. Dew spoke of. He covered the classical conditioning and guilt by repetition that he wrote about in his Gazette guest column earlier this week.

The media came in for some of the blame, with Dr. Dew noting that there is an “if it bleeds, it leads” tendency in news reports. As an old newspaper editor, let me note that quote was originally descriptive of television news, but I think he had a point.

It all adds up too three ways of thinking that are detrimental to our approach to immigration:

* Stereotyping, which is our cognitive response, our internal picture of a class of people.
* Prejudice, which is our emotional response to the group we don’t like.
* Discrimination, which is our behavioral response.

Well, the situation is not all dire. Dr. Dew noted that while our brains our subconsciously hardwired to react to fear through our amygdala, it’s also true that we’re not strictly controlled by that region. We have higher brain functions and can recognize our pattern responses and whether they are rational.

And, he concluded, there are practical steps we can take. He suggested a few:

1) Mentally emphasize what we share. Enlarge our tribe, think of the “superordinate” group. For example, Dr. Dew said he is a middle aged white male, but in dealing with other faculty who are female and of a different age, he can think of “college professor,” the relevant, more inclusive group that both parties are part of.
2) Increase cooperative contact He noted that contact alone with immigrants may not change attitude—but it makes a difference if there is a positive task involved. It does tend to change ones outlook if one works with Habitat for Humanity with an immigrant to build them a house, for example.
3) Find out as much about each individual as we can. Reach beyond group identity. Once an individual becomes “personalized,” we aren’t so quick to mentally put them in the “in” or “out” group.

Once again, the event was well attended. The room seats about 100, and there were some people sitting at the sides. I don’t think every chair was taken, but I would estimate there were between 90 and 100 people.

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Student takes notes during Dr. Dew’s presentation. Note packed room.

It was also a nice mix of faculty, administrators, students and community members. My hope is that this series, like some past ones, will build in popularity.

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Dr. Dew makes a point while he looks at screen.

There are a few faces I’m starting to notice who attend each event. That heartens me—the topic at hand has not been in any way exhausted. There is much more to say—indeed, more to say than we’ll get to in the whole series.

So thank you Dr. Dennis Dew. I enjoyed your presentation.

Next week is Mercy Week at MMU, which means a brief break in the faculty forums, but there is a “Poems, Promises and Music of Many Nations” event next Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Chapel of Mercy—part of both the Fall Faculty Series and Mercy Week.

image-of-logo-colorOn Sept. 29, Dr. Mohammad Chaichian will speak on the logic of border walls, based on his sociological research into a number of such historic barriers.

It’s proving to be a very interesting faculty series, Hope you can make it to some of our events—see www.mtmercy.edu/immigration for more information.

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Thinking of blood lines and blood line thinking


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Deb Brydon, associate professor of criminal justice at Mount Mercy University, spoke about U.S. policy towards Native Americans on Sept. 13 in Flaherty Community Room.

It’s an odd issue that tarnishes American history and still haunts our political debate today.

What kind of people are people? What kinds of humans are full humans, and who has more rights than others?

I recognize the questions themselves, if you’re an enlightened person, are offensive. The answer, frankly, is that all people are people and no one “type” is more human than another.

And yet, sometimes, we quibble. Muslims don’t belong here. Those Irish are dangerous Papists who will destroy society. America is for “Americans,” whoever those are. Due process of law protects citizens but not “aliens.” A person of color “has no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

That last quote, by the way, you may recognize from the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case. The same nation that proudly proclaimed that man has “inalienable rights” has not always been willing to acknowledge the humanity or human rights of all men—or women.

So the odd issue is the way we classify people by race or class or gender into categories that make them more or less human. It’s a deep instinct, but one we all should struggle against.

Anyway, I’m thinking such thoughts prompted by a rather emotional presentation that I attended tonight. I don’t mean “emotional” in the sense of people wailing or rending garments or shedding tears—everybody seemed rather civil and calm—but I mean touching on deep emotions, cultural undercurrents that need to be recognized and talked about.

image-of-logo-colorDeb Brydon, an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice who is also an attorney, gave a presentation called “The First Americans: U.S. Policy in ‘Indian Country’” at Mount Mercy University. It was the second in our 2016 Fall Faculty Series, which is called “Building Walls, Building Bridge: The U.S. as an Immigrant Nation.”

I coordinate that series, and I recall being pretty excited when Brydon proposed her topic as we were planning the series. In calling the U.S. an “immigrant nation,” it sounds as if MMU is excluding Native Americans. But the reality is that very few of the indigenous peoples who populated what is now the United States live in their ancestral homeland.

They were killed off or moved by the peoples who took over this continent, and therefore became unwilling migrants. In that sense, they “immigrated” too, without ever leaving the U.S.

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Brydon makes a point during her forum.

I didn’t think it was a stretch to include a presentation on Native Americans in an immigration series, and I’m even more grateful now that we did so. It proved to be a fascinating and powerful presentation. Brydon spoke of how the federal government became the entity that had all responsibility for Native American relations—because the Supreme Court recognized native tribes as semi-sovereign entities and in the Unites States, legal national sovereignty is strictly a federal function.

And “function” seems like an odd word to use for the changing, strangely evolving, often contradictory threads that ran through and run through the way our country treats its first inhabitants.

Consider the pipeline protests in North Dakota, and how one branch of the federal government is telling another branch of the federal government that it didn’t do enough to consult with the native tribes near whose lands that new oil pipeline would pass.

Anyway, I’m no expert in that particular controversy—I’m not anything of an expert in most of the topics that were raised tonight. But, that’s one advantage of having a series like this one at MMU—it gives us in the Mount Mercy and Cedar Rapids community a chance to hear from those who do have special insight into a key issue and a chance to grow and learn.

As Brydon pointed out, before there was an immigrant nation, “people were here.”

There were many parts of the evening that I found moving:

  • Brydon is connected through a grandparent to the Mohegan Tribe, and recounted how one of the movies called “The Last of the Mohicans” premiered with a New York gala in the 1930s. An elderly leader of the tribe was invited to attend, and reporters asked him: “How do you like our city?” He replied: “How do you like our country?”
  • The convoluted story of how Native Americans were first forced onto reservations, then forced to parcel out their lands, then lost their lands in tax disputes creating a “checkerboard” of conflicting ownership and jurisdictional boundaries was fascinating, but fascinating partly in the way World War II is fascinating. At one level, it’s a train wreck you can’t pull your eyes away from—an unfolding, confounding, infuriating narrative. What a tangled web—and yet the one constant is that, in the long run, it seems the dominant culture finds creative new way to steal from the displaced culture.
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    Genevieve Bern speaks.

    A member of an Alaskan tribe attended and gave some interesting thoughts after Brydon’s presentation. The woman, Genevieve Bern, noted, for example, that although much of the 90 percent die off of natives peoples caused by European diseases may have been unintentional, it still represents a genocidal experience form the point of view of natives.

  • Race and ethnicity and racial issues are an important subtext to the larger immigration saga MMU is taking on. Bern’s remarks helped highlight that, and are another reason I am glad she came. My one regret in our whole series is that we don’t have a more examples of various racial or ethnic perspectives, such as more discussion of the forced immigration of African Americans. Then again, I’m still hoping to get more speakers for our Oct. 15 “Our Immigration Stories” day.

One legal twist in American policy Brydon pointed out was the way in which Native Americans became associated with gambling and casinos, partly due to an enabling law passed in the 1980s. Dr. Mohammad Chaichian, professor of sociology, asked if the results had been positive for native tribes.

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Dr. Mohammad Chaichian poses a question. He speaks Sept. 29 about border walls.

In an economic sense, overall, I would suspect so—but as Brydon pointed out, the track record is very mixed and differs a lot depending on who controls the casinos  “There are a lot of different experiences,” Brydon says. That sounded like a good analogy for the whole presentation, in a way.

It was a fascinating evening, and left me hungry to learn more. I don’t think you can state any higher praise for such a faculty event. So thank you, Bed Brydon. Thank you, too, Genevieve Bern and all the others who shared the evening.

As coordinator of the Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy, my primary reaction to tonight is gratitude. Thank you, MMU faculty, for putting on this large discussion. It was the second of many events this fall, and about 80 people attended—again, an excellent turnout for this kind of event.

Next? Dr. Dennis Dew, who wrote an excellent column for the Gazette related to his topic, speaks Thursday night on “Fear of an Immigrant Nation: Prejudice, Stereotyping & Discrimination.”

I hope to see you there. And if you have a personal story on immigration to tell, please do contact me. Oct. 15, right? Mark it down. It is intended as a day that will provide many opportunities to share.

See the MMU web site for more details.

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The Parallels to Today


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A few minutes before series starts–Betty Cherry Heritage Hall at Mount Mercy is filling up.

One thing about a history lecture—it can leave you mildly depressed, thinking “we’ve seen it before.”

In the wake of World War I, restrictive immigration rules were put in place in reaction to the Red Scare. A poster from that era proclaims “America for Americans.” The poster was made by the KKK.

Throughout America’s history, this land of immigrants has struggled with fear of the newcomer. In the 19th century, it as the Irish who were destroying the fabric of this country. Late in that century, we feared the “yellow menace” and banned Chinese immigration.

Now, we are worried about Hispanics, especially Mexicans.

It was interesting to hear MMU Assistant Professor of History Allison McNeese briefly cover the story of the U.S. and Iowa from an immigration point of view. She used many period images—quotes from letters, editorial cartoons and photographs.

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Allison McNeese shows a World War I Ding Darling cartoon from the Des Moines Register showing fear of the state’s large German population during World War I.

image of logo-color.jpgThe 2016 Fall Faculty Series: Building Walls, Building Bridges: The U.S. as an Immigrant Nation got off to a good start tonight. Approximately 100 people crowded into Betty Cherry Heritage Hall to hear McNeese speak.

Afterwards, there were cookies in the library by a set of posters that display information on U.S. immigration. I suppose my one regret is we didn’t have more people come down to the library to view the posters, but the good news is they will be on display for some time.

If you missed the first event, don’t despair—there’s lots more to come. More of my photos from day 1 here. Check out the whole series at www.mtmercy.edu/immigration.

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The Vietnam Series Comes to a Fine Conclusion


Event Program

Was seven students reading poems and prose too many? Actually, eight had agreed to read, but one was unable to attend. In fact, the number of readers worked out well. We had the final event of the Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy tonight, and with 10 poems, four songs, recognition of speakers, a video look back at the series—well, the program timed out at just about an hour, which was my target.

I don’t know for sure what it was like to watch—I hope the audience didn’t get too antsy, but those who spoke to me after the program were complimentary, so I think it worked out.

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Andrews Christian Academy Choir warms up before singing during MMU’s Fall Faculty Series final event, a night of music, poetry and prose.

I’m glad we had a school choir visit. After several sometimes grim poems written by Vietnam vets, it was nice to hear “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.”

“Amazing Grace” was a pretty amazing opening number, played on bells and a bagpipe. And the closing song, Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace) was the perfect touch.

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Bagpiper Craig Hazelbaker. Amazing Grace was amazing.

The audience didn’t get to see the sausage being made. Alison Brown stepped in, and all of the poems were read. Earlier this week, I had created a draft video retrospective, but then asked a more video savvy student to take a stab at polishing the project. She was enthusiastic and threw herself into it.

Sadly, today, her computer crashed, and we could not get her embellished video to play. We had to use the raw one that I had sent her as a starting point. It’s OK and served its purpose—and, again, the audience was unaware of the backstage crisis—but I do wish I had been able to use her finished product.

We also had one minor glitch during the program. Besides the video, I had prepared three slide shows to go with three of the readings. I checked them all during our warm up, but the computer went to sleep and refused to quickly wake up during the performance, so the first reading was underway before the images started appearing.

Oh well, it still worked out. The library shot video again, and I do hope they post this one to YouTube. I would like to see it.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the future of the Fall Faculty Series at MMU will be—but I’m pretty sure there is a future. Last year, we attracted much bigger crowds than expected to the forums when the first Fall Faculty Series centered on the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. This year, with Vietnam, it turned out so many still are processing that experience from four decades ago that the series resonated even more, and crowds were even larger.

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Mark Mettler, Alison Brown and Miranda Tumlity were three of seven Mount Mercy students who read at the final event of the MMU fall series. MMU Times photo by Dori Whitlock.

I think we had about 60 people at this final event .No event was attended by less than 30. Thousands came to visit the Moving Wall, and a veteran’s forum held during the wall’s visit packed the Flaherty Community Room with a crowd well over 100. One of our authors last week drew more than 200 to the Chapel of Mercy.

And even if the crowd at this final event was not huge, well, 60 is a pretty decent gathering at an MMU event.

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Carolyn Sternowski, Hand Bell Ensemble director, accompanies Andrews Christian Choir.

I wrote a thank you message for the program (don’t get me started on the program—those little publication are indeed a severe pain where the sun don’t shine). I put a link to the program at the top of this post, and the thank-you is the final panel of the program. Anyway, what did I do when the series was over? I hopped on my bike, rode home, found and fixed a frozen pizza and washed it down with a beer. Now, my tummy is full, my ears still hear that bagpipe and my heart is full of joy. There is a bit of a letdown when a big thing in life comes to its inevitable close—but I feel my life is much enriched by the many who came and participated in this second Fall Faculty Series. Thanks, it was grand.

So, MMU. About next year ….

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