Thursday, March 4, 2010

For the rain, it raineth every week

What a wonder! Another week punctuated by steady rain. a true Los Angeles winter. I've only had to water my lawn once since December, that once in February when we had 90 degrees+ three days running. Now it's late winter cool again and the San Gabriels blur in a gray white smear of rain and snow. This evening I sit and listen to another steady rainfall in wonder at our brave trust that unreliable clouds will sustain us through another season.

Last week in the College of Arts & Letters @ Cal State LA proved that at least we can sustain ourselves through a very difficult season by embracing what we love, in remembering our better selves. Last Wednesday the American Communities Program sponsored Leon Leyson, the youngest member of Schindler's List. Although he claimed not to be a polished public speaker, Mr. Leyson spoke very movingly and with excruciating detail of the outbreak of World War II, his entrapment in and rescue from the Krakow Ghetto, his hunger, fear, and luck, and the difference that one individual, Oskar Schindler, was able to make in the lives of many thousands.

On Thursday evening Dr. Timothy Steele, Director of the Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, hosted an evening with the renowned English poet, Wendy Cope, in this year's Jean Burden reading. Among Friends of Jean, Peggy Spear and Barbara Sweeney said how much Jean would have enjoyed Wendy Cope, who rarely travels to the west coast of the U.S.. Full of humor and sass, Ms. Cope read everything from haiku to villanelles in her 45-minute presentation and then generously took a number of questions from the audience. One question was about twittering poetry and Ms. Cope replied, in essence, "Why would I do that? I want to sell my writing." But I'm sure that she wouldn't mind if I quote a single stanza from one of the poems she read, as encouragement to you to seek out one of her books. Here's the first stanza of her "Bloody Men":

Bloody men are like bloody buses--
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.

On Friday after catching part of a campus assessment workshop and part of the Department of English meeting, I enjoyed an afternoon at the Huntington with this year's "Powerful Visions" presentations. Namhee Lee (Modern Languages and Literatures), Elizabeth Bryant and Carole Lung (Art), and Mohammed Abed (Philosophy) demonstrated the incredible creativity and intellectual power of our faculty. From the symbolosphere to collage, found objects, artists' collectives, and the ethics of terrorism,our faculty and the audience engaged in contemporary topics in the humanities that interwove to produce new understandings and altered perspectives.

I topped off my work week by attending the latest version of Moving Dance Images, our students' choreographic work. This year we had more hip hop and African dance influences while drawing on the exceptional talents of our students.

Saturday I gave a brief welcome at the Japanese speech contest and was able to urge on the contestants with a "Gambate Kudosai" (Do your best!). It was wonderful to see the Japan Foundation and the Japanese Consulate present, especially in their role as judges and scholarship donors.

In weeks like this, when we enjoy the merciful rain and a bounty of intellectual and creative splendor, I'm particularly proud to be your Dancing Dean.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dancing into the Sunset—Oh, Wait... Towards the Sunrise!

I’ve been a bit tardy in blogging recently but I hope that’s understandable. Last month I made the announcement that after 30 years in public higher education in California, I’m retiring from the CSU to take the position of Provost at Governors State University in Illinois. I couldn’t be more excited about this new leadership opportunity to continue to grow another wonderful state university that serves diverse communities. At the same time I’ll certainly miss the students, faculty, and staff at Cal State LA who never fail to brighten my days, no matter the weather or budget.

January also was jam-packed with activities, but I only could be present for the first part of the month. Our ASI Representative Kristine Dickson hosted a “Meet the Deans” reception on January 11 at the Fine Arts Gallery that was well attended by students and faculty. I also met again with the leadership of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach on a plan to work together to develop more opportunities in arts education for students and the communities we serve.

On January 14, I flew off to Melbourne, Australia, to catch up with research partner, Caroline Symons of Victoria University. The flight over was quite an adventure; we ran out of fuel and the pilots deemed it safer to divert the plane to Brisbane rather than wait to land at Sydney. None of us sensed anything amiss and the landing went smoothly, only we were stuck at the Brisbane airport without a plane. We were just a short ten hours late to Melbourne.

While at the Brisbane Airport I ran into sportscaster Mary Carillo, a regular at our annual Billie Jean King fundraiser Airport—she was on the same flight from LAX but had started her journey in Florida. Ms. Carillo and I actually shared another destination; we were both headed to the Australian Open tennis tournament. I’ve been a great fan of tennis since the Billie Jean King/Bjorn Borg era and the Australian Open is now the third leg of my Grand Slam. I had been to the US Open and French Open, so now just have Wimbledon remaining. Aside from a stirring second round match between Justine Henin and Elena Dementieva (who could ask for a better early match?), I was able to see eventual champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams as well as Nadal, Murray, Clijsters, and of course Australians Hewitt and Stosur. One evening a great applause broke out between games as Prince William, second in line to the British throne, came in with his entourage. About an hour later someone called out “Give us a wave, William” and the prince obliged.

Between tennis and working away with my research partner I didn’t have much time to explore Australia on this second visit. I was able to see a bit of Phillip Island, south of Melbourne, including watching the fairy penguins come to shore one evening. The world’s smallest penguins are quite wary of predators so they gather in small or large groups, test waddling forwards and often rush back into the waves before finally hopping up the beach towards their hillside nests. Another evening we spotted 15 wallabies and stood on the dunes as “mutton birds” crash landed then scurried to their nests. On Australia Day, we headed in another direction, west of Melbourne, to the 12 Apostles, a set of deteriorating limestone cliffs.

Who knew that in one month I would be in the presence of Prince William and moon-walking astronaut Buzz Aldrin? Mr. Aldrin was one of the guests at the California Music Project’s (CMP) celebration of a Wells Fargo gift to expand the successful program from San Jose and San Diego to Los Angeles. The event was hosted by the California Music Project Director, Barbara George, and among other luminaries her husband, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Ron George, attended. The College of Arts and Letters is excited to be working with the Project to support music education fellows and their teacher-mentors and look forward to a long-lasting relationship with CMP.

This week a whole group of our students, faculty, and staff will be at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah, at the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Last weekend, newly retired Professor Pam Dunne directed a revival of Velina Hasu Houston’s five-woman play, Tea, which the festival selected as a whole production, in anticipation of its re-staging in Utah. A good number of our student actors are participating in the Irene Ryan Awards and one student was nominated for her lighting design for Tea. We’d say “Break a Leg” but since rain and maybe even snow showers are predicted mid-week, let’s not chance it.

And speaking of the end of winter quarter, mid-terms are already upon us as is registration for Spring Quarter. In one day we moved from 48% to 70% of our enrollment target for spring, so students please sign up early to get classes! We’re trying to accommodate every student we can fit (reasonably) into classes, so we hope that you enroll, do well, and move in good speed towards graduation.

I hope to see many of you at some of our upcoming events. Our Jean Burden Poetry Series is proud to feature Wendy Cope (Feb 25, 6:30pm at the Golden Eagle Ballroom). The event is free and open to everyone! That same week, the Winter Dance Concert runs for three nights at the King Hall Studio One Theatre (Feb 25-27). As always, you can keep yourself informed about all Arts and Letters events by visiting our homepage (, where you can also subscribe to Expressions, our monthly newsletter, or purchase tickets for upcoming (ticketed) events.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One Year in the Blogosphere

It’s been a quiet December at Cal State LA’s College of Arts and Letters. With the winter break, furlough days, and the always cold and silent week before winter quarter begins, I look forward to students, faculty, and staff returning to enliven the atmosphere.

This year it was nice to stay home for the holidays. My break started off with a cheery evening at Disney Hall with the wonderful singers of Chanticleer. This year, I sat up close (the fourth row) and it was interesting to hear more of the individual voices than two years ago when I sat way in the back of the hall. I showed some visitors our campus and had lunch twice at La Serenata de Garibaldi, my favorite Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles. Great sauces, fresh food, friendly service, near downtown, and cheap valet parking—what more could one want?

Staying in town, I also had time to see several films. Up in the Air has a strong, oh too contemporary storyline about laying off people en masse and the camera just loves George Clooney. I also enjoyed Pedro Almódovar’s latest film, Broken Embraces, but I’m certain you’d appreciate the film more if you have seen Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and others of his films that this latest references. The camera, by the way, also loves Penelope Cruz, one of Almódovar’s persisting muses. An Education was well worth seeing, particularly for any young high school or college students thinking of dropping out of school.

In this short post I can’t do justice to A Single Man, surely one of the worst adaptations of a novel I can recall. It’s one thing to make artistic choices necessary in any case for adaption, another to betray the very meaning of a text. I’m working on a short, separate piece just on that unintended disaster flick. Tonight I’m off to see an English-themed film, either Young Victoria or Sherlock Holmes.

I also did lots of cooking this holiday season! Several pairs of friends came over throughout the last two weeks and for Christmas I did a full turkey dinner with an overabundance of trimmings. It’s good that the food court is shut down here this week; I’m bringing leftovers from home, mostly little cuties and Harry and David pears I need to finish before they go bad. Despite my progress, I still will need to find room in the freezer for all that turkey soup I made.

And so I wind down towards New Year’s Eve, once my least favorite holiday—until I let go of great expectations. I’m going to a friend’s party this year, but no dancing! January 1st I’ll likely toddle down three blocks to Colorado Blvd to watch some of the Rose Parade.

Happy new year to you (whenever your new year begins)!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No Turkeys Here!

The last ten days has been another whirlwind of events as we begin to wrap up Fall Quarter 2009 and the first decade of the 21st century. December 31st is the 10 year anniversary of Y2k. I spent the millennium celebration at a favorite hotel in the small town of Collias in the South of France, near the 2000 year old bridge and aqueduct, le Pont du Gard. The past two New Years, I’ve seen the Tournament of Roses Parade right here in Pasadena. This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had—that I have a job, a house, and health insurance.

November 21st brought over 800 audience members to hear Dr. Paul De Castro conduct our Afro Latin Ensemble in a series of works by guest artist, Larry Harlow, including Mr. Harlow’s La Raza Latina Salsa Suite, adapted for our ensemble by another guest artist, José Arellano. Memo Acevedo and Adonis Puentes also contributed significantly to this event. Last year we created the Larry Harlow Fund to support our Afro Latin Ensemble and Cal State LA’s unique master’s program in Afro Latin music.

Way back when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Thanksgiving meant opera. Friends and I would gather for an early afternoon meal, digest, then cross the Bay Bridge for another feast of music. I remember one magical performance of Massenet’s Cendrillon with Fredericka von Stade, a perfect fairy tale ending for my favorite holiday. During the past few years I’ve bee equally lucky to attend an LA Opera opening on Thanksgiving weekend. This year was a twin bill! After hearing the gorgeous Tamerlano I want to rush out and buy the CD. Sarah Coburn as Asteria was highly impressive, as was countertenor Bejun Mehta in the title role.

Sunday’s Barber of Seville proved a delicious end to Thanksgiving weekend. The initially black, white, and grey production gets a sudden color blast in the last act; the soldiers’ chevron sleeves and different colored gloves looked like a row of Crayola crayons. This production offered everything an opera standard could offer—an engaging cast who archly played their comic roles, a visually engaging and inventive production, and some fairly fabulous singing. At the end of the show, Juan Diego Flórez brought down the house with an extended aria in which he seemed to delight in his own vocal talent and play while appearing only comically arrogant. Not the biggest voice, but beautifully supple and subtle—magnifico! This was the first time I remember hearing Spanish intonations in an opera (sung in Italian) that takes place, obviously, in Seville. Joyce DiDonato (Rosina) and Nathan Gunn (Figaro) joined Flórez in wowing the audience in the major roles and every other lead singer earned well deserved applause.

To round out my week of thanks to the arts, I made my first visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum on “Black Friday” and listened to Susan Boyle’s new CD. The first three selections make it worth the effort—the rest, not so much. I love her version of “Cry Me a River;” she sounds like a 1950’s soubrette, a working class Doris Day.

This week brings a series of ensemble concerts and Theatre Arts and Dance’s “Moving Dance Images.”

See you @ the next event!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Invigoration & Exhaustion

I rarely pick up and leave in the middle of a quarter, but this year was an exception. My parents wanted to return to Hawaii, where we had lived from 1963-67. I’ve been back several times but my father had just flown in and out in 1969 and my mother hadn’t returned since we left 42 years ago. She and my brothers lived on the island of O’ahu for almost four years without leaving, so I wanted to show my parents the Big Island, Hawai’i, which I had explored several times.

There’s something quite mystic about the Big Island; the volcanoes have an overshadowing presence and at times I would swear that I feel them growing. Snorkeling at Kahalu’u Beach Park was one of the highlights. I spotted the neon blue lips of the state fish (humuhumunukunukuapua'a), watched multiple turtles float by, and identified angelfish, butterflyfish, needlefish, and others. I even observed one fish (still unidentified) building a nest by biting on and spitting out sand, then watched her entice a male fish over where she laid eggs which the male fish fertilized.

Whenever I have any vacation time, I like to catch up on back issues of the New Yorker but this year I added several novels into the mix. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was somewhat amusing but it’s a difficult task to add anything to the already stylish and compact prose of Miss Jane Austen. I also read John Hamamura’s The Color of the Sea which actually begins in Hilo on the Big Island, lingers in California and Japan, and ends in post-war Hiroshima. Since I was in the midst of reliving in part my childhood journeys to Hawai’i and I had also lived briefly (before Hawai’i) in Japan, Hamamura’s novel was a topical tie-in to the vacation. Finally, I read Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, a sad novel about the loss of home and displacement of emigration/immigration.

Returning to Cal State LA, Saturday, November 14th, was a marvelous evening for the arts. I passed the Music Hall, where many were gathering for a student recital, on my way to the opening our master’s thesis show in the Fine Arts Gallery. This show lasts a short time so come out and see it soon. The work is very strong and engaging, including an interactive piece that lets one push the art around the room.

Next was Evita which I hadn’t seen since the first national tour WAY back in the last century. I had forgotten how challenging it is to sing the role of Evita and our two students who played Evita did wonderful work. The staging of the two Evita’s in introspective conversation and evolution from a young to mature character was handled wonderfully. There are several showstoppers that you really must get out to see if

you have the opportunity—this weekend (the19th-22nd) only!

This Wednesday, the Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics had a good crowd for its major fall event but I had to pass it by to attend the new media discussion panel hosted by the American Communities Program. This evening, I get to speak at the “Attire for Hire” program co-hosted by students from the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Business and Economics. Having just been to the Los Angeles Textile Association’s annual scholarship lunch where several of our students were awarded scholarships, I naturally feel that I have much to offer in the way of fashion tips. Alas! Tonight is the final night of this season’s Project Runway. While I’m looking forward to the finale, I’ll have to arrange another Thursday evening activity for the next several months.

This Saturday I’m looking forward to our second Larry Harlow concert at the Luckman main stage. Mr. Harlow is already here providing workshops and rehearsals for our Afro Latin Ensemble. Please come out this Saturday at 8 pm for a sizzling world premiere of Harlow’s “Salsa Suite.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Midterms Come and Gone

October has flown, midterms have come and gone, and I’ve hardly had a chance to sit down and share. Now it’s November and ninety degrees (again); time to report the not so latest in Arts and Letters.

Our welcome party for the first exchange students from Korea University was a smash. Several officers of the Korea University Alumni Association, including the President of the chapter for the Americas, honored us with their presence. Faculty from several colleges, administrators from International Programs, and Cal State LA students who have studied in Korea came to welcome our three KU undergraduates. We wish them luck in their studies and hope to bid them farewell at the end of their stay.

On October 17, I attended the 12th annual Billie Jean King dinner, a fundraiser for Cal State LA Athletics. As usual, student athletes from Arts and Letters were among those honored at the dinner. This year Dora Kiss of Theatre Arts and Dance not only won a scholarship, but a walk-on during Saving Grace, Holly Hunter’s award winning television series. Another student athlete in Arts and Letters, Vivien Wadeck (Communication Studies ) was honored along with Gabriela Bulawczyk (Business and Economics) and Chris Matzner (Charter College of Education). Ms. Hunter served as a guest MC (matching the absent Patricia Cornwell’s $20,000 bid for the final live auction item), briefly taking over from regular MC, Mary Carillo. I last saw Ms. Hunter live in 1982 in Crimes of the Heart during my first trip to New York City — seven plays in two weeks.

Last year Billie Jean was ill and couldn’t attend. This year, she seemed in particularly good spirits—perhaps because in her 12-year legacy she has raised $2 million for Cal State LA Athletics. A good friend, Chris Freeman, attended, found a new tennis partner and walked away (after a suitable donation) with the table centerpiece.

Last weekend was packed with activities. Friday night the 23rd, the Department of Music, along with Cal State LA and its Luckman Performing Arts Complex, hosted “The President’s Own” US Marine Corps Band. It was great to see the Luckman packed for this free concert and a wonderfully diverse audience from our surrounding communities with many excited elementary students admiring the band from the front rows. Professors Belan, De Castro, and Ford joined Chair DeGraffenreid in trying to interest the young musicians present in coming, one day, to Cal State LA’s music programs.

The next evening, Saturday the 24th, I attended a production of Tea produced by our Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. We were lucky to have playwright Velina Hasu Houston attend. After the performance, Dr. Houston, a Professor and Associate Dean at USC, stayed to take questions from actors and the audience with Dr. Pamela Dunne (Director) and I joining her to converse with the audience. Every now and then I meet a truly lovely person with a wonderful, genuine and generous presence; Ms. Houston is one of those individuals. During the Q&A she briefly praised the set design (Dr. James Hatfield) and our actors’ performances as they played the characters, their husbands, and their daughters. The playwright described other productions of Tea that had involved non-traditional casting citing the benefits for the actors and the audience as well as the reasons why university theatres may want to or need to cast actors across gender, ethnicity, or “race.” We heard that she writes several plays at once and now and then takes out an older piece to see if she can rework it for new purposes.

This past week the schedule didn’t let down. Humanities and Social Sciences Deans of the CSU met at Cal State Fullerton to commiserate on the budget, explore ways to collaborate across our campus boundaries, and to learn how CSU students can get involved in the 2048 Project ( towards full enforcement of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I topped this past week by wishing farewell to Ben Phan of Extended Studies, then attending our Charter College of Education’s Outstanding Educator of the Year Awards. Somewhere in between these activities, I completed my WASC white paper on the Introduction to Higher Education course, met with Department Chairs to do more painful budget planning, and met with our ASI representatives to begin to plan next quarter’s events.

Spring forward, fall back; I was glad to have an extra hour to recuperate this weekend. More fantastic events await!

For more info about The Salsa Suite, visit
For more info about Evita, visit

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mixing it Up

Now that the school year has begun, it’s time for mixers. Not the kind that some use to make cheap margaritas, but mixers that bring together people, ideas, exchanges of information, and in the case of our college mixers, iced or hot tea. Despite our budget woes, there is much to celebrate this year, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of some of the social events of the past ten days.

First there was a reception on October 6 to honor the recipients of the Outstanding Professor Awards. This year’s President's Distinguished Professor, Dr. Roberto Cantú, is joint faculty shared by the Department of English and the Chicano Studies Department. Both are proud to share in Professor Cantú's accolade. Arts and Letters is also proud of the Department of Art’s, Dr. Manuel Aguilar Moreno, who received an Outstanding Professor Award. Last year’s President’s professor, Dr. Domnita Dumitrescu, was our host for the afternoon.

On October 8 we really mixed it up. At noon there was a gathering of international students as well as staff from the Office of International Programs, Cross Cultural Center, Associated Students and others who support international programs. I chatted with Professor Sachiko Matsunaga, Chair of Modern Languages and Literatures, who enjoys recruiting students for language classes and cultural events. Later that afternoon we had a welcome event for our first year freshmen in the courtyard of the Music Building. Professor Rebecca Davis, who teaches Fashion in the Department of Art as well as one of our sections of Arts & Letters 101, was there to greet some of her students. Our Associate Dean, Dr. Bryant Alexander and I were pleased to see so many freshmen turn out for pizza and conversation on a beautiful afternoon. I was a bit chagrined to learn that some of our first time freshmen still don’t enroll in a course related to their chosen major during their first quarter and I hope we can correct that in the near future.

On a different note, the LA Philharmonic had quite a mixed plate on Saturday night, the opening of my season ticket. The debut piece featuring Chinese mouth organ was challenging for the harmonically inclined but I could imagine a striking modern dance set to the varying music of composer Unsuk Chin. Two things about the evening were exceptionally fun. First, I enjoyed watching Dudamel bounce and fly during his extra-energetic performance. Frankly, I worry about whiplash, although I’d encourage him to cash through selling workout tapes, “Batonicize with Dudamel!” Second, I talked to a couple of ushers when I overheard that one was a Cal State LA student and the other, a Los Angeles Community College student, was considering transferring to us. During intermission I conducted an impromptu counseling session with the potential transfer student.

Many of the new tenure-track faculty in Arts and Letters came to mix chez moi this past Sunday on a beautiful afternoon in Pasadena. Several came with spouses or partners and one even brought three delightful children. On fall faculty day it was striking to hear how many faculty had overlapping interdisciplinary interests and, as I had hoped, it appeared that some of our new faculty members were forming intellectual and social alliances that might last for some time.

Today, October 12th-- Another mixer! Our very engaged and competent Associated Students representatives Kristine and Ana organized and hosted an open forum for students at the Music Building patio, our College back yard. Dr. Suzanne Regan and Dr. Matsunaga (who also attended the freshmen mixer) got to meet students studying in their departments. While it was grey and gloomy, the much expected rain had not yet hit and we had a good turnout of students, including a small contingent of new MA students in Theatre.

This week will end with one more mixer, a small party to welcome our first exchange students from Korea University. I’m very excited to meet our three KU students, coming in exchange for the students we are sending to Korea University each summer as part of our Strategic Language Initiative in Korean. Also, we’ll be welcoming the U.S. President of the Korean University Alumni Association.

More mixers are in your future. Come. See. And be stirred by another Arts and Letters mixer.