Monthly Archives: April 2009

From the hiring desk

Nell Minow, head of a corporate governance research firm, described the traits she seeks in an employee — traits well known to us in the world of graduate liberal studies:

I really look for a kind of a passionate curiosity. I think that is indispensable, no matter what the job is. You want somebody who is just alert and very awake and engaged with the world and wanting to know more.

And this is where it starts sounding like I’m looking for someone to date, but I also look for a sense of humor, because that’s really the best indicator of some kind of perspective about the world. And ultimately I won’t hire anybody who can’t write.

I tell them to give me what they think is the best example of their ability to communicate. It’s just tremendously important, their precision, their vocabulary, their sense of appropriateness of communication.

(Adam Bryant interview, “Think ‘We’ For Best Results,” NY Times, 4/19/09)


Sneak preview: Justin Bendell

In the Spring 2009 issue, Justin Bendell, a recent MLS graduate from Northern Arizona University, writes reflectively about water in the highland forests of the region around the university. A sample:

In the Mogollon forests of northern Arizona, water is an illusionist.  Now you see it, now you don’t.  You can spot its arrival from a distance, the opaque rainsheets hanging from the lofty storm clouds of summer, or the swirling masses of snow and ice that, upon approach, make mountains invisible as they blanket the brown landscape in delicate white.  When water does arrive in its various forms, it might spend a few hours, a day, or a week, but soon it has gone, the urge to move being strong.  In its fury or benevolence, water is noncommittal, even evasive in its encounter with the southern Colorado Plateau. 


Water’s terrestrial journey begins unassumingly.  It filters through needles of pine that hang high above the forest floor.  It slides down the culms of blue grama and the stems of penstemon.  Snowflakes melt and dribble through the jigsaw-puzzle bark of downed ponderosa pine.  Then, reaching the thin soil, water burrows in, scurrying through rocks and roots into the subsurface darkness where it proceeds to find its course ever down, ever out.  Once again glittering in the daylight, it drips or splashs, warbles or whispers, surging forth like a salmon hell-bent for the sea, richoting through the stream beds of the highlands.  It flows, naked and transparent, from the forests and meadows of the Mogollon, through the Painted Desert, to the opaque red waters of the Little Colorado River, and down further into the distal gorge, where it finds confluence with the Colorado River deep in the Grand Canyon.


The Colorado River watershed is the largest in the Southwest, draining 246,000 square miles in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, California, and Nevada.  Technically, all residents of the Mogollon bioregion are also of the Colorado River watershed.  But what of the smaller rivers, streams, and washes, are they not watersheds too? Like Matryoshka dolls, smaller watersheds exist within larger watersheds. The Little Colorado feeds into the Colorado, the San Francisco Wash adds to the Little Colorado, and ephemeral channels like the Rio de Flag, a watercourse which drains over one hundred square miles of forest near Flagstaff, are the smallest tributaries of all. Following the water from my vegetable garden to the Sea of Cortez, I devise for myself a watershed address: Rio de Flag, San Francisco Wash, Little Colorado River, Colorado River, North America.

 The issue should arrive in June — let us know if you need to update your subscription.

Not an abstraction

Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace interviews American poet Philip Levine about his poems on industrial labor. After reading “What Work Is,” the title poem of a recent collection, Levine talks about the difference between the abstraction known as work and the experience of working on the assembly line. The text of the poem, included in the audio and web versions of the story, suggests that commitment owes a great debt to the lived experience that takes us beyond mere abstraction. (“A working man’s poet,” 4/20/09)

Conference call for papers–deadline extended to May 31

The theme for the 2009 Association for Graduate Liberal Studies Programs annual conference is “Imagination in an Age of Instant Information.” Why students should study the arts when they can find reviews and synopsis of art, music or literature online, and how Liberal Studies programs can help students understand the products of imagination are concepts that will be explored at the conference.

Papers exploring the relationships between imagination, knowledge, creativity, and technology are invited for review. Special consideration will be given to submissions addressing the integration of imagination and creativity into Liberal Studies curricula and classes, imagination applied to society’s problems, and the future of creativity in society in general.

Papers should be 20-25 minutes long and presented, rather than read, to conference attendees.

Deadline for submission of proposals is now May 31, 2009. Submit by email to Write AGLSP Submission in the subject line.

Sneak preview: Thomas Donlin-Smith

From the soon-to-be-arriving Spring 2009 issue, a quick look at the ethical and pedagogical essay about Gilgamesh:

The complex social realities referred to as “globalization,” “pluralism,” and “diversity” are unavoidable factors in all academic disciplines and are both context for and topic of study in our courses in liberal studies. The basic issue—the question of how to think and act in the face of otherness—is not new in human history but is experienced in our contemporary moment in a particularly acute fashion. One of the strengths of liberal studies programs is the habit of investigating key questions by integrating current social data, historical perspective, contemporary theory, and ancient wisdom. In that spirit, my colleague Roy Stein and I have developed a classroom study of diversity using the ancient Mesopotamian text, the Epic of Gilgamesh.

While it would be anachronistic to suggest that this text from 3,500 years ago “is about” today’s versions of the issues we refer to under the heading of “diversity,” it would also be foolish to think that people of the ancient world had no occasion to think and act in relation to those they recognized as different from themselves. In team-teaching “Values and Action,” a core course in the Nazareth College Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program, we explore the theme of “values and action” across cultures and across time. Our graduate students discover that the elements of diversity and otherness found in Gilgamesh offer a surprisingly suggestive framework for joining contemporary discussions of diversity throughout the course.

What’s that you say? Your Confluence subscription has become like a stranger to you? That can be mended.

Welcoming Coastline

News has arrived that Coastline, a web-based interdisciplinary journal of graduate liberal studies, is underway from its base in Vancouver. The editor, Michael J.S. Cox, seeks submissions from graduate students and alumni of the many programs across the country, believing, rightly so, that there is much to be gained from increasing the chances that people can trade ideas with others in the GLS world. Coastline takes advantage of colorful photography and the shorter time to publication made possible on the web. Close to a dozen essays are already online — check it out, and welcome to Coastline and its editor, who is currently a graduate student in the Simon Fraser University program.

Make your intellectual life “Central” again

North Central College’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies uses that heading to introduce prospective graduate students to the benefits of the program and the diversity of their future classmates:

And make your ideas work for you in the home, on the job, and for your community.

Make important connections not only with the college’s best faculty, but also with students who are bright, committed, and diverse.

In class you might be sitting by corporate executives, artists, teachers, writers, home makers, sales people, community activists, scientists…and more.

Among the distinctive courses offered in the program are these four electives on thinking and creativity:

570 Critical Thinking. A study of various perspectives concerning critical thinking. In particular, the course explores various relationships between creative and critical thinking with specific attention to what such relationships mean for the pursuit of truth; the development of writers; and the methods teachers and others who lead can use to enhance critical and creative thinking in others.

572 Creative Writing and Public Discourse. A workshop in the writing and analysis of poetry and prose fiction as a means of helping students use creative writing techniques to broaden the nature of public discussion, and of encouraging them to articulate attitudes towards social and ethical issues creatively.

574 Judgment, Decision, and Choice. An examination of various ways we understand the world, gather information about it, and use this information to make choices and decisions. Readings and research exploring these processes are covered and then applied to topic areas such as interpersonal relations, law, economics, and medicine.

576 Creative Thought. This course studies how we can nurture creative thought in ourselves and others. It explores the nature of creativity and the obstacles to it, and helps students apply creativity to many aspects of life – whether at work, home, or in the community; as creative problem solvers; or as artists, scientists, or whatever sphere of life is important to them.

It’s always interesting to see some of the lively course offerings at AGLSP member programs — do you have a favorite at your school?