Dear ALC Community:
For most of us, the first classes for Fall 2020 are already behind us, and as we move forward with the semester in earnest, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to this new and challenging semester with my greetings and encouragement as your new chair. As a community, we come into this semester with remarkable strengths and much to celebrate. And while we face some imposing challenges, these strange times also offer opportunities to enhance our work together as a community.
Entering this semester, ALC is remarkably strong. Our many enthusiastic majors and the high enrollments in our courses are just some of the many indications that our undergraduate program is thriving. Likewise, our new cohort of graduate students joins a community of excellence that has been recognized for the outstanding service of Teaching Assistants, the reception of numerous internal and external fellowships, and the successful placement of our students in competitive positions after receiving their postgraduate degrees.
Our faculty and staff are also flourishing, with much to celebrate. Dr. Weihua Zhu has been promoted with tenure to Associate Professor, and both Dr. Tyrell Haberkorn and Dr. Charo D’Etcheverry have joined the ranks of our Full Professors. Among the prestigious grants received by our faculty are Dr. Anthony Cerulli’s upcoming Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress and Dr. Haberkorn’s upcoming Guggenheim Fellowship.
We are also fortunate to be welcoming Dr. Jamal Jones to our ALC faculty as a tenure-track Assistant Professor. Dr. Jones, who comes to us from the University of California–Davis, specializes in Sanskrit and Telegu literature, and his unique approach to authority and the magical power of poetry expands into wider issues of politics and social identity in medieval India and beyond. Along with Dr. Jones, we are pleased to also be welcoming three new ongoing lecturers to the accomplished ranks of our academic staff. Dr Jaerin Ahn is joining our Korean Language Program; Dr. Zara Chowdhary will focus on our Hindi program; and Dr. Fatemeh Mirsharifi will reprise her role as our teacher of Persian, but now as an ongoing lecturer. It is a delight to be welcoming these new additions to our faculty and lecturers. And along with our new FLTAs, graduate students, and undergraduates, this growth of our community again shows its vibrancy.
While we are fortunate to have the support of such a strong and vibrant community, we are also living in remarkably difficult times. Historically, pandemics have often produced social upheaval on a large scale, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. In our times, racial (in)justice has surfaced as an especially powerful theme, elevated by the horrific killing of George Floyd across the border in Minnesota and reinforced by the brutal shooting of Jacob Blake here in Wisconsin. Ample evidence of such incidents long predates the pandemic, but somehow our society may now be confronting systemic racism in earnest. In response, Chancellor Blank in her statement of July 6 has pledged to increase our efforts to create an authentic atmosphere of diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, and inspired by further encouragement from L&S Dean Eric Wilcots, ALC will be taking up this challenge as an opportunity to transform our community in healthy ways. In our first Department Meeting on September 15, we will explore together how we might best approach this task, and in October, we will be assisted by the staff at WISELI (Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute), who will lead us in an exploration of implicit-bias.
The challenges posed by the pandemic extend to other areas as well. Public health protocols aimed at reducing rates of infection have necessarily increased social isolation, and one of my priorities for this year will be to find ways to encourage a sense of connection and mutual support in our community, even if most of our contact will be online. Already there are plans in the works for some such gatherings, including one to mark an important milestone: the retirement in June of Dr. William Nienhauser, who served the university for forty-seven years. This will be one occasion to gather in appreciative celebration, but I invite you all to come up with other creative ways to enhance that connectivity. Please do not hesitate to share your ideas!
Teaching and research are two areas that naturally draw us together as a community, and working together toward our common goals in these areas can help us to feel connected and supported. With that in mind, I will be proposing some ways to encourage us to learn more about each other’s research and support one another as we develop projects for grants and fellowships. In terms of teaching, two ALC workshops on remote instruction have already brought us together to explore ways to enhance our online teaching, and additional workshops (including one for Zoom tips and tricks) are in the works.
For me, at least, the pandemic has also created another challenge that may also pose opportunities for positive change: the issue of work-life balance. In these pandemic times, one may find oneself poised for hours in front of a screen. In my case, entire days have gone by without a single step outside. It is helpful to be mindful of how all this feels, and to be attentive to ways of breaking the cycle of digital enthrallment and fatigue. With this in mind, I will be suggesting some departmental policies that might help us (or at least me!) to be a bit less glued to our screens, in part by avoiding a “24/7” communications cycle.
In closing, allow me to return to our theme at the outset: ALC is strong and resilient, and as a community, we are well poised to learn and grow from the challenges we face. These difficult times can offer us powerful opportunities for positive change, and I am confident that we will embrace those moments together.
John D. Dunne, ALC Chair
Distinguished Professor of Contemplative Humanities