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.