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Apr 26, 2013


Moscow is a strange city. Like New York, it offers endless variety of people, most of them walking too fast to care about you and whether you’re staring at them or not. Yet it also has the Boulevard Ring around its center, where elderly dogs slowly lead their elderly owners forward – who knows where? This is the entirely different rhythm and reason.

It is so familiar – we lived there for three years between 1987 and 1990 – and yet so profoundly different. Imagine a house that you grew up in, and new owners remodeled it completely. Here and there you can recognize it, and know that underneath all the shiny covers, there is probably more things you could recognize.

The most unnerving thing is not the city itself, but my own eyes. I lost my old eyes; I see things differently now. Perhaps it is simply a function of age, perhaps of 22 years of emigrant existence. It is just difficult to find the one connection where what you’re looking at is the same, and your eyes are the same as before.

And yet, as I was exiting Polyanka subway station, the warm wind blew in my face just so, with the smell of railroad ties mixed in, and with the sound of the train leaving the station. Where my eyes fail, other senses come to rescue. Hello again, Moscow.

Apr 12, 2013

Rhode Island State University

Very few things are more annoying than frivolous renaming. They tend to have a tint of change without a substance. Yet in some cases, name changes are very helpful, for they signify real change.

RIC changed its name twice, from the Normal School to Rhode Island College of Education. The last change from RICE to RIC happened in 1959, and I have met people who graduated before that. The change of name recognized the fact that the College became a comprehensive institution, no longer focusing exclusively on teacher training. Now teacher preparation includes a relatively small minority of all students.

I think it is time for another renaming. The college has built significant number of graduate programs; it shares a Ph.D. program with URI, and may create one or more doctoral programs. There is a great variety of undergraduate programs, a much more robust scholarship record of faculty members, a sophisticated infrastructure, including a very good library. IN other words, the place has all the features normally associate with a university.

In the US, “college” only weakly connotes with a junior type of institution. However, this connotation is much stronger in other English-speaking countries and internationally. As RIC faculty participate more more in international organizations, and as we are trying to attract more foreign students, these semantics make a much larger difference.

Of course, RIC is a great short name, easy to remember and to pronounce. It has a comfort of familiarity; perhaps a bit too much familiarity? It brings up an image of a jovial local guy named Rick, a nice neighbor in a baseball hat. I am not sure though if this is the connotations and allusions we want. RISU or RIU are not as handy to say and to remember, but I am pretty sure the benefits would outweigh the cost.

Apr 5, 2013

Thanks for showing up

Last night, at the (Ad)mission Accomplished ceremony, I was somewhat overwhelmed by a wave of gratitude to those faculty and staff members who just showed up to support the event. They did not have to be there. They were not on the committee to put it together, and had no speaking parts. They just came to be there at 6:30 on a Thursday night, and to welcome the newly admitted students to our professional community. A different group of people came to one of the three Central Falls lab district meetings. Someone else always comes to commencements. Other people come to other things, but someone is always there.

Communities do not build themselves automatically. They require much effort, planning, tolerance to each other, supporting structures, shared values and many other things. But the essential smallest building block of any real community is showing up. A small symbolic micro-sacrifice does not do much, and yet it accomplishes everything. The act of bringing one’s own body into an event of co-being, of turning one’s face towards others, of sharing the space and time with others – this act is as important as it hard to appreciate.

Some people say they enjoy things like commencements. Yeah, no, this is not exactly an entertainment venue, nor is it hugely varied or exciting. What one learns to enjoy is exactly the ritual of bringing one small symbolic brick and putting it on top of a large common building. That is usually the real motivation, and only people who are able to see the value of small contributions can develop the taste for it.

I am a dean, and have to show up for many of these things by the virtue of my job (not to all of them, and I am sorry if I missed yours!), so I do not deserve much credit. It is people who chose to show up that I want to acknowledge. Thank you for making our community possible.