Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Early Extracurriculars

20 Nov



Agreement Between Ohio University and the Philomathean Society, 1884

The New York Times posted an interesting slide show entitled “Early Extracurriculars” on its website.  James R. Petersen in the introduction to the slide show writes;  “Harvard founded in 1636, enjoyed a monopoly in the colonies for more than half a century, when it was joined by the College of William & Mary. If there existed a student organization in all that time, it left no fossil evidence. Harry R. Lewis, a former dean of Harvard College who has studied its history, explains: “The college was run by Puritans and Calvinists. Students had to turn out for chapel at a certain time. They couldn’t make noise. The college was not student-friendly.” (Indeed, its first schoolmaster, Nathaniel Eaton, was forced to step down for starving students and wielding a stick large enough, it was said, to kill a horse.) Early extracurricular activities involved huddling around books and periodicals outside the curriculum — and out of which, according to archivists and librarians, would come respect for debate, polished argument and the American Revolution.”

Ohio University, which was first in the second wave of institutions of higher education to be established in America, also had its share of early extracurriculars particularly the literary societies described by Betty Hollow in Ohio University: The Spirit of a Singular Place, 1804-2004:  “With little to do except study, . . . young men formed literary societies . . . and spent hours honing their skills in debate, oratory, essay writing and reading, and interpretation of literature.  With the help of Jacob Lindley [ first President of Ohio University], they secured twenty-five dollars to promote their public speaking activities in 1811 and sixteen dollars for a stage in 1812, when the Zelothian Literary Society was founded.  By 1819 the Polemic Society had replaced or joined the Zelothians.  The Athenian Society began in June 1819 with a meeting that dissolved the Polemic Society; the Philomathean Society was organized in January 1822.  Though other societies developed and disappeared over the years, the formidable Athenians and Philomatheans persisted until 1923, making them two of the longest-lived literary societies in the United States.”




Do We Honor the Golden Rule?

7 Nov

In the past ten days or so, Athens students and faculty members have raised questions about the university’s progress on improving the climate on campus for underrepresented students.   The catalyst for their concerns was a set of confrontations that took place off campus between a former student who is African American and a group of white men not affiliated with the university.

The point made by those who have expressed dismay about the incidents is that no one, as a result of his or her race or ethnicity, should be subject to harassment regardless of the time, place, or circumstances.  While the individuals involved in these incidents were not formally connected to the institution, concerned students and faculty suggest that the university bears a responsibility for helping to ensure that these types of incidents do not take place within its purview.  They suggest that a stronger campus climate will make it less likely that racially or ethnically motivated incidents will take place inside or outside the institution.

While there is no doubt in my mind that Ohio University must be successful in its efforts to promote the understanding, civility, and inclusiveness that are at the heart of an effective learning and living environment, I wonder about the degree to which our work can influence the behavior of individuals not subject to our “writ.”  To that end, I’d like to pose a question that I hope will generate some discussion.

Are we confident that our actions, in the neighborhoods, businesses, and local communities that surround the university, fully embody the expectations that we seek to inculcate in others?

Granted, there should be no preconditions when it comes to moving freely through our daily lives without harassment, but if, as an institution, we seek to have an impact on communities other than our own, should we begin with a self-assessment?  How knowledgeable are we about the culture and the values of individuals who are not connected to the university?   Do we respect the property and the community standards of our neighbors?   Do we understand how the socio-economic circumstances that stubbornly persist in this region manifest themselves in daily lives of those around us?  When we cross from campus to community, do we practice the civility that we preach?

I’m curious to know what you think.

Pam Benoit

Adolphus Arnot

24 Sep

The region in which Ohio University is located has a fascinating history.  From Adena earthworks to the development of the multi-racial community of Kilvert there is much to see and to know.  But the turning of September into October brings to mind a piece of history involving a fairly infamous* visitor to southeastern Ohio–Adolphus Arnot–or as he is better known, Aaron Burr.  Burr ended up having to use the pseudonym of Adolphus Arnot in 1812 because of a bit of trouble that he stirred up, in part, some 30 odd miles down the road at a place called Blennerhasset Island.

From Princeton to Valley Forge to the Vice Presidency to the Heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, Burr left his mark on the newly developing Republic.  But in 1805, after resigning from the Senate, he grew increasingly restless and began to engage in a series of conversations or “machinations,” as some would have it, around the subject of the fate of the west and the possibility of a second republic separate from the Atlantic states.  One of the individuals with whom Burr had a number of these conversations was an well-to-do Irish emigrant named Harmon Blennerhasset.  Blennerhasset lived in a fine mansion on an island in the Ohio River.  In September and October of 1805, he fatefully entertained Burr, both as a guest and as the purveyor of the idea of a new western empire.

In hindsight, it was not a good career move for either man.  Propelled by all the animus that Thomas Jefferson could muster, Burr ended up being tried for treason in 1807 with none other than Chief Justice John Marshall presiding.  He was acquitted, but was ever after haunted from pillar to post by his tarnished reputation and hunted by a cavalcade of creditors.  Hence the resort to pseudonyms.  Blennerhasset was forced to flee his island in 1806 and after being captured in 1807 was indicted in Richmond, Virginia for treason.  He remained in jail until the case against Burr collapsed.  Blennerhasset sold his island in 1807 and his grand house was destroyed by fire in 1811.

But the story did not end there.  In the 1970s, the state of West Virginia rebuilt the Blennerhasset mansion.  It is open to the public and well worth a visit.  If you want to catch the echoes of the conversations that Blennerhasset and Burr had some 205 years ago consider making your trip on one of the special event evenings on October 8 or 9 when the only light that will be shed will be candlelight.

*Woodrow Wilson said of Burr that he had “genius enough to have made him immortal, and unschooled passion enough to have made him infamous.”

What’s the Big Idea?

20 Sep

What will be the defining idea of the coming decade, and why?

Illustrators and scholars responded to this thought-provoking question in an anniversary issue of the The Chronicle Review (September 3, 2010).   Their answers include several commentaries on computer-based innovations that could threaten humanity, increase access and open cultures, or expand data for research and communication.  Other big ideas include the extinction of the middle class and the objective study of subjectivity.  Interdisciplinarity is the theme of Elaine Howard Ecklund’s essay arguing that meeting scholarly and public challenges may require abandoning disciplines so scholars can think beyond old boundaries.  I believe that significant interdisciplinary advances are possible when scholars collaborate across disciplines and are receptive to thinking and discussing ideas in ways that are informed by and enhanced by their relationships.  This does not require a scholar to leave behind the core discipline to engage in interdisciplinary work. I was surprised to see that globalization does not make it on the list of big ideas (although there are global implications of a number of the ideas that are identified).  I’m fascinated by an illustration that suggests energy is the big idea and attributes many of the pressing problems (e.g., wars, melting ice caps, international terrorism) to this source.   Others might reframe this big idea as the increasing focus on environmental issues and sustainability.

What big idea would you include?

For Students

17 Sep

I’m thankful that all students are safe following last evening’s storms.  For those of you who live in residence halls or were in other campus buildings, your cooperation in following emergency instructions was critical.  The residence hall staffs, the Dean of Students Office, and the staff of Student Affairs worked hard to ensure student safety.  They did a great job.  I’m told by Vice President Smith and Dean Lombardi that they are working with the local Red Cross Chapter, and through the Campus Involvement Center will provide an opportunity for students and student organizations to support those in need.  If you  want to participate either as an individual or with a group, please contact the Dean of Students Office (593-1800).


I’m trying something different this quarter when it comes to communicating with students.  In the past, I would send out a monthly email in a rotation that also included the President, the Vice President for Student Affairs, and the President of Student Senate.  But it’s clear that email is not the preferred mode of communication for you (although DO check your email because it is still the preferred mode of communication for faculty).  By switching to a blog, I hope to make my contacts with students less formal and more interesting for you.  Please take a moment or two and look through the blog.  It is still in its infancy but if you have suggestions I would be happy to hear them (post a comment).

Maybe I can begin by explaining exactly what it is that I do, as provosts are typically not encountered outside the confines of universities.  My title “executive vice president and provost” is a bit of mouthful.  The reason why that is the case is that it attempts, however inelegantly, to signal that I have responsibilities for academic units (such as colleges and campuses) and support units (such as Institutional Equity, Institutional Research, Financial Aid, and Admissions, etc.).

My role is to help ensure that the university gives students every opportunity to reach their academic goals.  I care about the classrooms that you sit in, the labs that you work in, the library that you study in, the technology that helps you do your work, and the teaching and advising that you receive from faculty–just to name a few things.  I work on a daily basis with the President, the Vice Presidents, the Deans, Professors, and a significant cross-section of university staff to make these things the best that they can possibly be.

We know that when we do our jobs well that you will be able to go out into the world as artists, scientists, teachers, scholars, and professionals, and accomplish meaningful things.  Once that happens, then we get to be proud of you.  That’s the part that all of us love.

A Timely Reminder

17 Sep

On Saturday, the nation marked the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  It did so amidst a series of controversies that revived tensions and fed misunderstandings.  In the wake of recent events, I’ve asked my colleague, Brian Bridges, Vice Provost for Diversity, Access, and Equity to comment on some of the values that we hold as an institution.

Brian writes:

“I believe Ohio University is a very accepting community. Our campuses are diverse places. However, we know that Ohio University and its surroundings are not immune to issues that plague our society, especially when divergent ideals and perspectives come into play.

The intense discourse over religious differences leading up to the anniversary of the September 11 attacks brought a number of passionate voices to the fore, and, in some instances, created an environment that made those in our communities who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim feel unwelcome and vulnerable.

While free speech is valued, we must be proactive about countering messages and actions that threaten to taint our community. Intolerance for different perspectives or persons, be it in the form of racial, ethnic, homophobic, or religious slurs or threatening behavior, have no place here or anywhere in our society. I hope all members of Ohio University and the communities that we serve will join me in denouncing this type of conduct and in working for greater understanding and meaningful, civil interactions.”

Constitution Day

16 Sep

Friday, September 17 is Constitution Day.  Ohio University begins its celebration tonight and continues with additional activities targeted at students tomorrow (see, the Student Affairs website for more information).  There’s a lecture this evening to mark Constitution Day. Robert Rubin a noted Civil Rights attorney is going to talk about “Constitutional Interplay: Majoritarian Rule and Individual Rights.”  The talk will be in 145 Walter Hall from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.

I asked my colleague Ann Fidler, who is trained as a legal historian, what book she might recommend to someone who is interested in learning more about our constitutional heritage.  Here’s what she had to say:  “I know that it is dated, but I’m still a big fan of Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality.  The power of the narrative he constructed is hard to beat.”  When pressed about her favorite legal history book, she confesses to having a fondness for A.W. Brian Simpson’s Cannibalism and the Common Law.  She says “This is one of those books that I wish I had written.  It concerns a famous nineteenth-century English case that you can debate endlessly.”