the most we can do

The most we can do is to write -- intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively -- about what it is like living in the world at this time.

-  Oliver Sacks in How We Live Now by Bill Hayes

books recently read - may/jun 2021

Mauve Desert by Nicole Brossard

Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr 

The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

Demolition Means Progress by Andrew Highsmith

Desert Cabal by Amy Irvine 

The Anthropology of Turquoise by Ellen Meloy

Why I Don't Write by Susan Minot

The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts

books recently read - mar/apr 2021

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang

Rust Belt Femme by Raechel Anne Jolie

The Home Place by J. Drew Lanham

The Two Cultures of English by Jason Maxwell

Looking for Hickories by Tom Springer 

The Star in the Sycamore by Tom Springer

Department Chair Nominee Questionnaire - Schirmer

Thank you for your interest in serving as a department chair in the new departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. Please complete the following questionnaire, limiting your responses to each question below to 1-2 paragraphs.

1) Why do you want to serve as a department chair?

I want to continue and extend the interdisciplinary work I performed over four years as chair of the English department. This work included developing a course schedule that held a fill rate at or near 80% every year while balancing faculty interests and student needs. Integral to this success was my ongoing collaboration with department liaisons in linguistics, literature, writing, and English education. I am eager to engage my Department of Language and Communication (DLC) colleagues in this approach. While chair, I also led the English department through three successful tenure and promotion cases, not only ensuring that we retain productive and diverse faculty but also showing that it is possible for different disciplines to understand and value each other’s work at a deep level. And, within the last two years, I chaired Faculty Council, participated in Game Design / Development and Teagle Grant discussions, and served on the CAS Reorganization Task Force and the Recruitment, Retention, and Graduation Task Force. These experiences broadened my campus view and allowed me to develop stronger relationships across academic and administrative units. I intend to draw on those relationships to the betterment of DLC and CAS. 

In a broader sense, though, I am interested in shepherding faculty and staff into new ways of working and functioning as a department. I have a complementary interest in shaping the work of the College overall, and I am excited about how new and existing alignments may come to serve the broader interests of DLC faculty and students as well as enable both groups to bring forward beneficial changes on behalf of the College. Given COM’s origins within the English department and ENG/LIN faculty interest in Flint’s Spanish-speaking population, opportunities for collaboration are before us and I relish the opportunity to aid their cultivation. Having ushered the English department toward the possibility of a single integrative English major, I’m particularly interested in building “futureproof” multidisciplinary programs. There is also a job-crafting element to this new position that intrigues me. To be simultaneously building and acting in the position of department chair is a challenge I want to pursue. And, as the wellbeing of CAS faculty, staff, and students depends on how we weather current crises while growing into the new structure of the College, I see an opportunity to bring the care, protection, and support I hope I’m known for to a wider range of disciplines and people.

2) What does "inclusive excellence" mean to you and how do you intend to pursue it if selected as chair?

With fewer voices representing the masses in our new structure, it is all the more important to lead by listening and to afford multiple opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to talk about how to support others in reaching their best. I therefore understand inclusive excellence as a multi-pronged approach that focuses on the intellectual and social development of all people interacting with the department through meaningful attention to cultural differences and the purposeful use of appropriate resources. The very idea of inclusive excellence invites a series of questions:

  • What are the numbers of historically underrepresented students, faculty, and staff in our department? What are their success levels?

  • How diverse is the content in the courses, programs, and experiences within our department?

  • How can we develop a climate supportive of all faculty, staff, and students?

  • How do we facilitate and assess the acquisition of content knowledge about diverse cultures and the development of cognitive complexity?

I intend to pursue inclusive excellence by first engaging DLC faculty, staff, and students in these questions and then by inviting them to not only seek appropriate answers but also to show evidence of and act on those answers. Of course, to simply say “we do this already” is not an appropriate answer. Such an answer does a disservice to our students and our community. Instead, we need to look beyond token inclusion. My years working with Flint Writers, Inc., to put on the Flint Festival of Writers have continually shown me the importance of attending to cultural differences and the diversity of our experiences. As department chair, I will seek curricular, extracurricular, and administrative changes in accordance with an understanding of inclusive excellence at the center of what we do in the Department of Language and Communication. 


3) What ideas or suggestions do you have to increase enrollments in your new department?

DLC needs to embrace and build on its service role. ENG, FRN, and SPN 111 and 112 as well as COM 210, ENG/COM 338, and ENG 345 serve disciplines, programs, and purposes across the entire university. Green chemists, evolutionary psychologists, math teachers, philosophers, and urban planners all need to write and speak well enough to be understood by an audience; DLC offers courses that are uniquely foundational to the development of these skills. While among the department’s most robust in terms of enrollment, these courses also afford the opportunity to welcome and orient students to the UM-Flint experience. Service courses are not barriers but open doorways that empower and enable students to step through and into their desired futures. We should therefore work with complementary disciplines and other academic units to develop certificates in Professional Communication (COM 210, COM 281, COM/ENG 338, ENG 354, PSY 377) and Persuasion & Negotiation (COM 200, COM 363, ENG 336, LIN 341, MGT 443) as well as credentials like Business Chinese and Spanish for Healthcare Professionals. Service courses can thus be doorways not just to career placement but to advancement. 

DLC should also maintain clear pathways to degree/certificate completion. Prerequisites should be understood and examined as valuable tools for putting students in the right sequence. Courses should be scheduled so students can earn certificates in a single year and credentials in a single semester. These aspects should be explicitly marketed to transfer students. Through the DLC website, we must communicate how, where, and why certain courses count toward degrees, certificates, and credentials. Having attended many admissions events as chair, I know the importance of assuring department presence and making clear contact with even students who “hate writing.” But I also hope that by embracing and building on its service role, DLC will have space to pursue initiatives toward new enrollments, similar to how I supported ENG/LIN faculty in both the Teagle Grant discussion and the Mellon Borders & Crossings grant.  

4) What innovations do you think CAS should consider in the first year of our new structure?

Morale. We need to address faculty and staff morale in direct, substantial ways. The unrelenting pace of change amid a pandemic continues to unmoor and upend us. I am aware of at least five faculty members’ intentions to leave the university this year. The lack of real stability or support for faculty and staff labor means many are not mitigating their circumstances but suffering. We need to acknowledge this beyond “thanks for your work” or a ‘wellness’ day. 

File management. If policy-planning and implementation is of major focus in our first year, then we need a logical, standard filing system in Google Drive for the entire College. No department or program is unique enough to require its own filing system. All chairs and admins should be able to go into any department’s drive (with permission, of course) and find what they need with 2-3 clicks. 

Structural clarity. We need to set standard expectations for all departments and be clear about when and where there is room for individuality. Students deserve to know where to go when they have problems or questions. Appointment lines should rest inside of programs or departments, not both. College and department bylaws should intersect in meaningful ways, and so should Council of Chairs and the Executive Committee. We all need to understand how and why our new structure gets work done. 

Classroom observations. In the absence of policy/protocol, classroom observations of/by tenure track faculty tend to happen only in advance of a tenure/promotion case. Establishing a clear CAS-wide procedure for observations of all faculty every year would eliminate a mad departmental scramble and afford more opportunities for faculty to discuss teaching. 

Internal/external marketing. Each new department needs and deserves to have cohesive, comprehensive narratives for current/prospective students, admissions officers, university administrators, and faculty on the possibilities and purposes of the programs within that department. Having clear statements on departments’ websites about possibility and purpose should give solid ground to faculty and students uncertain about where the reorganization has put them. We also need to bring back life into department websites. If we want to recruit faculty, staff, and students, we need to show them what our work looks like. People rely on being able to learn things about departments and programs and offices from our websites, particularly right now. We can’t be flattening everything into “faculty profiles” or otherwise kicking important information to the course catalog. 

Thank you for your responses.  The Dean’s office will be in contact with you soon.

"We knew. We knew and did nothing."

In my youth, we talked about the earth heating. The UN addressed the rise in temperature in 1988, creating the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

We changed nothing, instead increasing the use of fossil fuels, adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. We lived our lives recklessly and with abandon, and we will see only the beginning of what we have done and what will happen. The rest we've left to our children, their inheritance this uncharted world.

-- Nancy Wayson Dinan

books recently read - jan/feb 2021

The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment

The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

Midwest Futures by Phil Christman

Things You Would Know If You Grew Up Here by Nancy Wayson Dinan

The Overstory by Richard Powers 

Home Learning Year By Year by Rebecca Rupp 

The Rise and Fall of English by Robert Scholes 

books recently read - sep/oct 2020

Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Intimations by Zadie Smith 

You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South 

books recently read - jul/aug 2020

Fallout by Lesley M.M. Blume

Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

The Death of Sitting Bear by M. Scott Momaday

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

Real Life by Brandon Taylor 

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer

welcome to word power

Good evening, and welcome to Word Power: How Words Define and Confine Our Reality.

We just had the pleasure of experiencing James Brown, MD, on his Arborlune.

My name is James Schirmer and I'm currently chair of the English department at the University of Michigan-Flint.

It is my honor and privilege to not only welcome you to this event but to also recognize my incredible colleague Dr. Erica Britt as tonight's moderator.

Before turning everything over to her, I have a couple things to share.

First, this is a public event streaming through both Zoom and Facebook Live.

Those interested in Q&A participation should be viewing Word Power through Zoom, but we'll keep an eye out for any comments or questions on Facebook.

Second, you should feel free to click on the "Live Transcript" button in Zoom to follow along a bit easier.

Third, words matter. With apologies to the late, great Prince, words, like albums and black lives, still matter.

The words we choose to use, the reading and writing and speaking of them, the tapping and typing, the scribbling and swiping, constrain and frame, praise and blame, construct and destruct who we and others are.

Of course, that understanding is why we are here.

So, again, I am honored and privileged to be here, to listen in on what lies ahead and behind and now.

And I am glad you are here, that we are here, amid pandemic and police brutality, despite uncertainty and strife.

We are here and we are ready to hear. Dr. Britt, let's begin...