Tag Archives: “Mount Mercy”

Hello, Goodbye—Ceremony Season at MMU


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Every party needs cake! I was hoping to time it so I got in line to grab a corner piece. I didn’t quite get the job done, but there was one corner left and Bill cut it for me. Way to go, Bill-Karen!

It was an afternoon of transitions, in each end of the spectrum.

Three long-time MMU professors retired this year, and their reception was held in the library. After that, the Mount Mercy Enactus team presented its report on the year in Flaherty Community Room.

I was going from the culminations of careers, to young people just about to embark on theirs. It’s getting close to the end of the semester, and more transitions are coming. It’s the season of starts and finishes, of beginnings and denouements.

We are watching as Ronald Feldt, psychology; Katryn Coulter, business; and Charlotte Martin, religious studies, move on. They are important faculty members—Ron a former faculty chair, and Charlotte and Kathryn who could sometimes help faculty chair’s hair turn grey. They will be missed.

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Of course there were speeches. I thought one of the best lines was from Kathryn, who noted she has no specific plans, but wants to do what she loves to do, which “isnt’ grading.”

Ron noted that one of his plans is spend time at Half Price Books “where all the cool people hang out.” Since we frequent that store with our grandchildren, I guess that makes it official. We’re cool.

Charlotte, a cat lover, noted that cats seem to spell done “D-U-N” and declared “make it D-U-N” at the end of her remarks.

“We’re not quite D-U-N yet,” noted Provost Dr. Jan Handler before giving gifts to the retirees and noting that after graduation they will be emeritus faculty members.

One of the nice things about this annual event is seeing all who come back to MMU—Will and Jay and David and John and Chuck and Bulane. It’s quite a party.

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And then, after the handshakes and cake, then came Enactus—scrubbed youth shining with pride as they report on service projects completed by the business club. It was another nice program, and the club did a lot this year.

So, best of luck to all team members at the national Enactus competition in Kansas City right after graduation. And best of luck to all emeritus professors—hope I see you again before next year’s reception.

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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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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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The Rhetoric of an Immigrant Building


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Dr. David Klope speaks.

The Mother Mosque, the oldest standing mosque in North America, was built in Cedar Rapids in 1934, used as a house of worship until the early 1970s, and then fell into disrepair until it was renovated as a historic building in the 1990s.

And, according to Dr. David Klope, the building “speaks” to Cedar Rapids. That is, the associate professor of communication at Mount Mercy University made the case Nov. 1, 2016, buildings can be thought of as a medium of communication that send messages.

For example, he noted the new African American Museum in Washington, D.C, communicates by its design and location that it represents an important and integral part of the American experience.

The mosque is in a quiet, modest residential neighborhood south of the Cedar River. The way it is designed and located, Klope said, communicates that Muslims are long time neighbors in Cedar Rapids, part of the immigrant quilt that built Iowa’s second city, an integral and accepted part of the fabric of our community.

image-of-logo-colorThe presentation tonight, part of the MMU Fall Faculty Series on immigration, was attended by about 40 people—a good turnout for a Tuesday night. It also brought the first reporters to one of our series events—which is a bit of a surprise to me. The Gazette, KCRG, KWWL, KGAN, WMT, Mediacom—they all have had material about our series, but primarily small announcements of upcoming events, or, in the case of The Gazette, guest columns by speakers. Here is a link to Dr. Klope’s column.

While I’m grateful that the fall series has generated some local media buzz, I’m a bit taken aback that the first journalists to attend a series event are from Japan. Julia Masuda, from Yokohama, and Akihiro Yamamoto, an NTV production coordinator from Japan but based in New York, were at the forum tonight. I don’t know for sure what story they are working on—they actually were speaking with Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque when they learned of the MMU event—but there you have it. Journalists have arrived. I guess I just assumed when that happened, they might be from KCRG or The Gazette before they were form Yokohama.

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Akihiro Yamamoto, a production manager, listens. Two journalists attended the presentation tonight–both from Japan.

Anyway, I found Dr. Klope’s presentation to be engaging and interesting. I had not thought of the way a building itself is the convener of messages, but I think he makes a valid case. His rhetoric sold me.

But the best line of the night, I think, was from Imam Taha Tawil of the Mother Mosque, who spoke after Dr. Klope finished. Tawil recounted a bit of his personal journey from Jerusalem to Cedar Rapids, and reviewed, as did Dr. Klope, some of the history of the Mother Mosque. He also invited all of us to call him someday and tour the Mother Mosque, something I hope to do soon.

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Taha Tawil, Imam of The Mother Mosque.

Anyway, Tawil finished the night with some thoughts about American Muslims and politics. He noted that Muslims in America are a diverse group whose members have more political opinions than “the colors of the rainbow.” And he noted that it’s a terrible error to paint all Muslims with the same brush—to say, for example, that ISIS, which he condemned, is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.

“It’s like saying the mafia represents Catholics,” he said.

Yeah, that was it. Valid rhetoric, I think.

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Mercy Week & Mother Nature


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Father Tony Adawu talking about Pope Francis and Mercy. My wife, a nursing faculty member and OB nurse, was impressed Francis clearly knows how to hold a baby.

Here we go again. Just at the end of Mercy Week 2016, as we celebrate Mount Mercy’s heritage as a Sisters of Mercy institution, we have a reminder that the Sisters of Mercy take an extra vow—a vow of service. So service is part of the ethos of MMU.

In 2008, when devastating floods destroyed neighborhoods, Mount Mercy became a staging area for Iowa National Guard troops called in to help with the disaster. But that flood took place in summer—we’re facing the Flood of 2016 in the midst of a semester.

The good news, knock on wood, is the crest is not expected to reach the 2008 level. But it will be bad, and it will do some damage to some culturally important parts of Cedar Rapids—Czech Village and New Bo, for example.

And one reason that the Flood of 2016 might not be as devastating as 2008 is whole areas wiped out by the earlier flood have left empty patches of land where once vibrant neighborhoods stood.

In eight years, lots of plans have been slowly made to protect Cedar Rapids from flooding, but little has been done. Here’s hoping Mother Nature shows us some mercy—may this be a “brush-back pitch” that gives us fair warning, rather than the gut punch that 2008 was. And may it spur government, especially the federal government which provides the most finding for flood protection and must approve plans, into action.

Anyway, Mercy Week continued on campus today, with several fine events. In a morning class, which had three sections combined for the presentation, Sister Jeanne Christensen from Kansas City spoke about human trafficking, and showed this video.

She noted that trafficking can impact anybody, and can involve enslaving another person through three strategies: Force, often physical abuse; fraud, making false promises; and coercion, or various kinds of threats, such as threatening to embarrass someone by revealing their secrets.

One theme of her presentation is that local law enforcement often treats the virtual slaves engaged in sex trade as criminals, when they need help and treatment. As the woman in the video said of her own experience: “Being arrested over and over again did nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Anyway, at least the woman in the video was able to escape from her pimp. Sister Jeanne brought home the reality that slavery is not really something we left behind in history, but rather is something that has become a modern, shadowy reality.

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Sister Jeanne Christensen speaks to three 8 a.m. classes. By being there, she said, “We have all earned sainthood.”

The mood was lighter at lunch today when Father Tony Adawu spoke of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy. He had us write down who we would want to show mercy to—and at the end noted few of us had included ourselves.

“It’s OK to be merciful with yourself,” he said. Well, that’s a relief, because I managed to accidentally erase a whole bunch of very fine images I shot of Mercy Week events today—I copied them to my computer without realizing I had files of the same name, and when the computer asked if I wanted to copy over the old files, I said “no.” I assumed I had accidentally copied the files twice and formatted my SD card before I checked.

Ouch. Mercy me.

Anyway, sadly many of the gone images were of the Peace March that took place at 11:30, but at least I posted two of those images before the fiasco. I lost some good ones—I really liked a few I shot at the end after the group reach the Peace Pole, but there’s not use crying over spilled pixels, especially when an impending flood helps make little tragedies seem appropriately tiny.

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Freshman Kasey Kaimann, who wrote a op/ed reflection on today’s presentation for the MMU Times. And, Times reporters note–she was done with her story by 4 p.m. Just saying.

Back to Father Tony—to illustrate Mercy, he talked about a man in his home town in Ghana, Kwesi Essel Koomson, recognized girls in the town had little educational opportunities. He was a driving force in setting up a new girls’ school, and in coming up with a financial incentive so that local fishing families would send their daughters to school rather than off to work.

Sadly, Koomson grew sick and died a few years ago, but the school is continuing the grow, Father Tony noted.

Well, it’s good to know that parts of stories sometimes turn out well. I hope that is the case with the Flood of 2016—may it turn out to be less than we fear and puny compared to 2008. Inevitably, though, it will hurt some. May we find ways to show them mercy.

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Tinkering With History in the Aftermath of 9/11


A replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial is coming to MMU next week. It will be in the pretty wooded lawn west of Warde Hall. The base to hold the wall seen Thursday.

A replica of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial is coming to MMU next week. It will be in the pretty wooded lawn west of Warde Hall. The base to hold the wall seen Thursday.

“The language Abe Fortas used in writing his majority opinion applies quite broadly to the nature of a democratic society.” -John Tinker

In 1965, the Vietnam War was new, but heating up.

During his excellent presentation Sept. 10, Dr. Marc McCoy of Mount Mercy was careful to talk “context” as he led an audience of around 35 at the CRST Graduate Center through a key First Amendment case that changed American education.

Himself a long-time principal of a large middle school in the Linn-Mar district, McCoy clearly had a point of view on the case, but he also was careful to present a pleasingly nuanced picture as he covered the background and impact of “Tinker v Des Moines Independent School District,” a 1969 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision.

McCoy described how a group of some two dozen pupils in Des Moines were caught up in following the war on the nightly news, and, motivated primarily by their religious faith, wanted to act.

Dr. Marc McCoy during his presentation at the CRST Graduate Center Sept. 10.

Dr. Marc McCoy during his presentation at the CRST Graduate Center Sept. 10.

These were mostly children—a mixed group of elementary, junior high and high school students. One of the best known was Mary Beth Tinker, who was a 13-year-old seventh grader at Warren G. Harding Junior High in 1965. She, several of her siblings and friends decided to wear black arm bands to school on one day in December to show support for a Christmas truce that had been proposed by Sen. Robert Kennedy.

Noting how he was the same age as Mary Beth, McCoy marveled a bit at such attention to larger issues at such a young age. “That takes some chutzpah,” he noted.

School principals in Des Moines learned of the students’ plans—it wasn’t hard. McCoy said the plans had been mentioned in a student newspaper story. And Des Moines principals let it be known that the arm bands were not welcome.

McCoy said that, in his opinion, those Des Moines school officials were acting in good faith, using common academic practices of the day. He also said that they were wrong–but their actions were not surprising. An African-American who had recently graduated from high school in Des Moines had just died in Vietnam, and administrators were worried that a group of white students protesting against the war could create racial tensions and incidents in school.

That was, after all, the year of what some have called the “long, hot summer.” Frustrated with poverty and racial discrimination had boiled over into riots in some American cities—not Des Moines, but then again, those riots had been on the evening news like Vietnam had, and their impact had to be on administrators’ minds.

And the doctrine of “in loco parentis,” that schools had parental authority, was stronger in 1965.

Mary Beth wore her arm band. The principal called her into the office, and told her to take it off. She complied, but later in the school day was suspended anyway. Her brother wore a band to school the next day and went directly to the office to earn his suspension without the bother of having to attend class first.

About two dozen students engaged in the completely peaceful, silent protest in various schools, but only six were suspended from school. Administrators had wide latitude on what exactly to do, and exercised that latitude. The parents appealed to the school board, which voted to back the administrators and leave the suspensions on the students’ records.

Dr. McCoy reviewed the history of the early War in Vietnam to explain the context of the court case.

Dr. McCoy reviewed the history of the early War in Vietnam to explain the context of the court case.

And then the ACLU offered help with a lawsuit challenging the district’s actions under the First Amendment. At trial in a federal district court, the judge said both the students and the school made valid, compelling arguments—he said the arguments, in effect, balanced. Like in baseball, “a tie goes to the runner,” McCoy said—and in this context, the school district, as the local authority trying to enforce the status quo, was the runner.

Three students appealed. The appeal was heard by a panel of judges who evenly split on the case—and in this case, the trial court was the runner, so the students lost and then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The court ruled in 1969, 7-2, that the school district was wrong—primarily, the judges ruled, because the students had neither caused a disruption nor posed a likelihood that their actions would disrupt school. One reason for the ruling is that no teachers testified during the trial or the appeals of any classroom problems caused by the protesting students.

“It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse gate,” Abe Fortas wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

Some predicted that the ruling would cause chaos. It certainly increased lawsuits, but McCoy said that, by and large, it did not lead to lots of disruptions in schools. Partly, that’s because Tinker dealt with political speech—the most highly protected form of speech, and as Kathryn Coulter, another MMU professor, pointed out in discussion after McCoy’s presentation, other forms of speech, such as threats or harassment of teachers, do not (and never did) enjoy the same level of First Amendment protection. Coulter is a lawyer.

Mount Mercy University's logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

Mount Mercy University’s logo for the 2015 Fall Faculty Series.

The academic landscape has changed a lot since 1965. The country first became more liberal (photos of the Tinkers and their friends at the time of the protest look like they came straight off the set of “Leave it to Beaver”) and then began a slow conservative turn. Subsequent court decisions have not overturned Tinker, but have clarified that school administrators still enjoy wide latitude to control student behavior.

Today, McCoy said, one key issue is: Where does the schoolhouse gate even exist? With Twitter and Facebook, objectionable student communication may take place on a random night in July at 3 a.m.

It’s a good question.

I was also thinking of today’s anniversary. 9/11—what does Tinker mean in this world? As a country, we declared “war” on terrorism, which to my mind was a terrible idea simply because being against terrorism is like being against sin. You can declare war on it if you want to—but the war will never end. You’re starting a war that by definition has no victory point.

And that war mindset is clearly not very kind to freedom of expression. The quote at the start of this post was from an e-mail correspondence Dr. McCoy had with John Tinker before the presentation.

Today, on this 14th anniversary of 9/11, I don’t want to forget that America was attacked. But, I don’t want us to burn down freedom in an attempt to provide what we can’t get—absolute security.

It may be messy and dangerous, but I prefer democracy.

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MMU—Mentors, Makings Choices and Ultimately You


Student Katelyn Bishop and Professor Anne King at the Founder's Day Convocation.

Student Katelyn Bishop and Professor Anne King at the Founder’s Day Convocation.

I didn’t take notes, but that was the gist, I think, of what student Katelyn Bishop said today at Founders’ Day Convocation, our annual official opening of school at Mount Mercy University.

MMU Times journalist Anna Bohr, ready for anything!

MMU Times journalist Anna Bohr, ready for anything!

Katelyn was a memorable speaker among many who addressed the class of 2019. She used the initials of the school as an acronym for her message:

Mentors—find faculty and others who will help you.
Make Choices—get engaged, find your passion, don’t be passive.
Ultimately you—it’s your own decisions that will make your university experience what it will be. (I don’t think she used “ultimately” as her “U” word, but “you” and “your choices” where her point, so I think I’m using her message, if not her actual terms. Anyway, her point is that the main responsibility for a good university experience actually rests with the student, a message that rings true.)

President Laurie Hamen, Provost Jan Handler and Professor Anne King listen to Senior Katelyn Bishop.

President Laurie Hamen, Provost Jan Handler and Professor Anne King listen to Senior Katelyn Bishop.

Of the others who spoke to the class of 2019, I would have liked one of them to say “Vietnam,” but it was a good ceremony.

In particular, Dr. Joy Ochs, faculty chair, gave advice that I hope most students will follow: “Read everything.” It’s a quaint idea, but makes a world of difference.

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MMU President Laurie Hamen gave a brief history of the Sisters of Mercy and MMU, and then said the “Mercy Expectation” is for students to fully commit to their MMU experience.

After the songs were sung—I love any ceremony where we get to belt out the “Alma Mater”—and prayers and speeches said, the class of 2019 got to pass through the high-five lines of faculty.

Well, it wasn’t too bad. I can still type. Which means, class of 2019, my syllabuses will be done for the first day of class. I hope.

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Above, Sisters of Mercy sing a blessing to new students and faculty and staff. Below, new students recite the “student pledge.” In case you forgot the details, students, I think there was something about bringing your professor chocolate chip cookies. I didn’t take notes, but yeah, I think that’s what I heard ….

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School is on! As President Laurie Hamen urged, time to go all in.

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