Category Archive for: ‘Campus Beat’

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Dean Rusk International Studies Program: Dracula in Romania, Malaria in Africa, Memories in France


It can be tough to choose from among the many offerings on the Davidson campus calendar, but it’s always worth poking around there. Recently, I gravitated toward a couple of talks sponsored by the college’s Dean Rusk International Studies Program, a result of that office’s partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting’s Campus Consortium.

Cox in front of “Dracula’s” Bran Castle in Romania

• Dracula tourism in Romania pique your interest? Jonathan Cox ’14 had the topic covered in a recent afternoon presentation in the Dean Rusk International Studies Program’s student lounge. Cox, who grew up in Romania, among other places, detailed a spirited (but not bloody—yet?) debate in that country about the desirability of basing tourism on a literary myth that originated in Yorkshire, England. Cox’s work was funded with an Abernethy Grant, he said, and he has an article under contract with Verge Magazine: Travel With Purpose. Working title: “Dracula Tourism and Its Reluctant Stakeholders: Romania’s Love-Hate Relationship with Its Hometown Vampires.” Cox also has received funding through Dean Rusk for India-based work through the Pulitzer Center that got picked up by The New York Times and beyond.


• A few days after Cox’s presentation, New York-based science journalist Amy Maxmen graced the same space. She writes about medicine, health, neuroscience and evolution for outlets that include NatureThe ScientistScience NewsPsychology TodayCell and the Lancet. She gave students a globe-trotting reporter’s-eye view as a preview for her talk that night, “Tracking Malaria in Africa.” How did a Harvard Ph.D. in evolutionary biology go from marine biology to freelance international journalism? Jealousy, she said, of the reporters who used to come interview her: “They waltzed in and learned all the cool stuff, then waltzed back out again.” Maxmen said she learned on the journalism job by sharpening her “beginner’s mind” skills, learning to ask and re-ask questions, and always paying attention to crucial cultural differences when abroad. No better message to deliver at Davidson, where approximately 80 percent of the student body study, travel, work or perform service in another country.

Pi Delta Phi inductees, April 16, 2014. Click to enlarge.

• On a personal note, moi-même was one of those study abroad students 30 years ago, when the French Junior Year Abroad program was in Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast, where I still regularly visit my “French family.” Talk about lifelong learning! The French study abroad program, now based in Tours, turns 50 next year, pioneer that it was in 1964 for Davidson study abroad programs to follow in other farflung locales.

Moi-meme, 1984ish, home from JYA France with a new sense of hair stylin’.

I was reminded of all this yesterday as I accepted honorary membership in Pi Delta Phi Société d’Honneur Française, alongside a cadre of proud students of French whose esprit de corps and joie de vivre harked me back to my own school days as a French major. At that time, it should be disclosed, I was not inducted into any honor societies, French or otherwise, but I was proud to be among these students yesterday.

La nostalgie? Mais oui! I have already checked my frequent flyer point balances and begun daydreaming of my next trip. Vive la France!

The Big Read: Fahrenheit 451 Discussions at Summit on Campus and North Regional Library


Fahrenheit 451, the classic Ray Bradbury tale of a bleak, dystopian future seen from the vantage point of early post-World War II America, hit home for me—I who make a toner-stained living putting words together on paper or a reasonably pixellated facsimile thereof—when I saw a fascinating Aquila Theatre Company production on campus in January, courtesy of Davidson’s Artist Series.

Again now, as I join readers countywide gearing up for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library’s “Big Read,” a weeklong series of events and discussions around the book April 13-19, I am struck by the enduring relevance and power of this book’s messages. Long after the Heartbleed bug is history, we’ll be talking about Fahrenheit 451‘s enduring themes of freedom and censorship, television and reading, technology and humanity, figurative fires and true love of literature….

Opportunities of note to be involved in the Big Read:

Summit Coffee on Campus, Tues., April 15, 5–6:15 p.m.—Daybook Davidson, a community ambassador for the Big Read, is placing “house” copies of Fahrenheit 451 at Summit Coffee’s campus location, courtesy of the public library’s Ellen Giduz. Drop in for a cuppa and curl up with a good, old-fashioned book—or, go on, read it digitally and ironically. Either way, it’s a quick read as well as engrossing. Then, plan to come on down to Summit Coffee on campus for informal, semi-guided discussion from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15. All are welcome! For more information, call John at 704-894-2523.

• North Regional Library, Huntersville, Thurs., April 17, 6–7:30 p.m.—Davidson’s own Leland M. Park Director of the Library Jill Gremmels will co-host one of The Big Read‘s four big regional talks on the book. There will be many additional events at libraries throughout the county, including several at the Davidson Public Library.

Reptile Day 10 a.m.–1 p.m., Saturday, April 12!


Reptile Day is 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturday morning in the Blanche Knox Parker Garden between Dana and Watson science buildings (next to Davidson College Presbyterian Church). Special guest on Saturday: Carmelita the 16-foot python—come one, come all!

“I’m okay with this, nothing to it.” With Brie Bowerman ’17 (photo Robert Abare)

If you love reptiles, you may have already marked your calendar. Now, I don’t not love reptiles, but to help drum up my own excitement for Reptile Day I scheduled a visit with the event’s outreach coordinator Brielle Bowerman ’17. Well: Excitement is not a word that does justice to holding a great big Eastern King Snake, feeling its soft, cool, underbelly scales glide along your neck as it flicks its forked tongue in your face to say hi. I’m glad I did it. That means more people will have a chance to do it on Saturday, since I do not feel a need to do it again.

“Hello to you, too!” (photo Robert Abare)

If snakes aren’t your thing, there will be other “herps” on hand Saturday from the herpetology lab. There will also be visiting herps from other entities in the region both institutional and individual. Herps include snakes, turtles, alligators, frogs and lizards, oh my.




Max Polley: A Passion for Things We Should All Care About


I attended today’s memorial service for Professor Emeritus of Religion Max Eugene Polley.

True to form, Max had made sure the scripture cited was clearly labeled Hebrew or Greek, that the theology was solid, that the resurrection was proclaimed. He did this through his son Vance Polley ’79, a Presbyterian minister.

Vance Polley made clear that his “words of remembrance” were just that, and not a formal homily. Homilies, his dad Max felt strongly, should adhere to strict guidelines of scriptural context and theological purity, as noted above. Vance, in his turn, felt strongly that he needed a little more rhetorical room than that to speak of his dad’s passion for Davidson, for the Presbyterian Church, for the Davidson Community Players, for his family and his friends assembled.

Max Eugene Polley, 1928-2014

We learned that the word “theater” means “a place of seeing.” We learned something of Max’s take on the personal side of his own life’s work from the hymnal: “The God of Abraham Praise,” “Be Thou My Vision,” and “For All the Saints.” We learned that Max tested his Humanities lectures at the family dinner table in the 1960s.

For that last, I am personally grateful: Max had gotten pretty darn good at Humes by the time he convinced me, his callow freshman advisee, not to drop it after fall term 1981. “So broad!” I complained. “Just so!” he countered. He told me to stick with it one more term and see, knowing full well that I would be past any realistic point of no return by then. For that auspicious guidance I have remained grateful, as I am grateful for both the breadth and depth he brought to my Davidson education, still ongoing, and for the many learned and good-natured chuckles we shared since 1981.

And I am especially grateful for the phrasing Vance Polley used in remembering his father’s passions for his community, his college, his church, his beloved theatrical stage: “He wasn’t just passionate about things he cared about. He was passionate about lifting up things we should all care about.”

Thank you, Max, for sharing your “place of seeing.”


LGBT at Work: Alumni Panel on Campus Life and Careers


I participated in a panel discussion on sexuality and career issues held earlier this week at the Multicultural House, sponsored by the Dean of Students Office and the Center for Career Development.

left to right: Andrew Spainhour ’93, Brad Johnson ’94, John Syme ’85, Heather McKee ’87 (photo: Shea Parikh ’16)

First, a nice dinner at Brickhouse Tavern with fellow out gay and lesbian panelists Andrew Spainhour ’93, Brad Johnson ’94, Heather McKee ’87 and organizers Becca Taylor ’06 from Dean of Students and Jamie Johnson from Careers.

Later, some dozen or so students sprawled on the couches of the Multicultural House while we four panelists perched on stools up front. We told what campus gay life (or the lack thereof) was like back in the day, how that felt then, and how it feels now to be talking with students openly questioning issues of sexuality rather than questioning (or not) secrets (closed or open) as in days of yore.

Each panelist talked about how issues around sexuality had played out in our early careers and choices, and our current ones. And we answered sharp questions from sharp students, about tokenization, social relations and legislation; about closets and pronouns and dreams.

“In light of Amendment One, do you feel like people should leave North Carolina?” one student asked, putting a fine point on a broad-ranging conversation about North Carolina politics.

“I think the only way to win is to stay and fight,” Heather serenely concluded after a a full and thoughtful response. (Happy side note: Heather married her classmate, U.S. Navy Capt. Jane Campbell ’87, on a Pearl Harbor Day visit to Hawaii in December!)

Have you ever considered, asked another student, going back into the closet for a career choice?

“I would never dream of going back to a place where I would have to hide,” said Andrew. Brad added a pithy note that the “pronoun game” many gay people used to play, and some still do, when talking about their personal lives at the office is, in a word, tedious. And disagreeable for any number of other reasons, we all agreed.

That said, I added that it’s never a mistake for anybody—gay, straight or in between—to err on the side of caution when sharing personal details in any professional setting. It’s a fine and shifting line to walk, between the world we  live in and the world we want to live in.

Bonus note: Becca offers for your consideration this current survey for LGBTQ alumni by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. “While it’s not coming from Davidson directly,” she says, “the information gathered on this survey could be very useful to us in the future.”


Springing Forward with Classical Public Radio WDAV: Spring Membership Drive 2014


I always like to volunteer for WDAV‘s fund drives, even though I tend to get nervous for the first few minutes. It’s a faster paced thing than, I don’t know, blogging.


“I was told there would be training!” I barked this morning at my pal Rodger Clark, the station’s director of development and corporate support. Rodger was running the laptop—nearly as authoritative a position as “guy with clipboard” in days of yore. He also knows me well enough to know when to smile and roll his eyes, which he now did.

I wanted training this year because the script is slightly different this time around—wisely so, the better to safeguard donors’ personal information—and that took me a minute to get used to. I don’t like change, at first. Another reason I often get nervous at the fund drive is that, inexplicably, I always feel like the first time I answer a WDAV call-center phone that I’m being broadcast live on the radio. Not.

So anyway, after my first call, I was fine. The ambient music soothed my savage breast, and soon I was joshing with my fellow volunteers and staffers, taking calls for the cause. I was even moved to make my own annual WDAV donation on the spot, in an amount this year entitling me to a premium gift CD. (One year, I only was able to offer up a heartfelt jar of loose change. The announcer rattled it on the air with heartfelt thanks, but no CD.)

This morning, caught up in the moment, I dedicated my contribution and the CD of English choral music to my dad Sam, who is one of the world’s biggest, baddest, old-school, choral-music anglophiles. And how fitting that the guest announcer who read Dad’s name on the air was Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Music Director Christopher Warren-Green, a British conductor, violinist and onetime chorister himself. Dad was thrilled.

All too soon, my call-center shift was over. On the way out, I grabbed a great plate of food (okay, two plates), courtesy of Toast restaurant here in Davidson, one of many generous community partners who support WDAV in many ways.

You can, too: Click or call now, operators are standing by!

Bonus note: The English choral music CD in question is Treasures of Christchurch: The Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, Stephen Darlington. WDAV is proud to be a media sponsor for that choir’s visit to Charlotte on April 4 and to Davidson on April 5.

Then and Now: Remembering Davidson As a Study Abroad Destination


Neither time nor distance could keep the affinity of Davidson’s Richardson Scholars Class of 1963–64 at bay when the idea of a 50th reunion sprang to their minds. Richardson Scholars were international students who came to campus for one year of study, in the early days of Davidson’s international focus. Today that focus finds a strong home in the Dean Rusk International Studies Program.

Last fall’s Richardson Scholars reunion was a co-production, wrote erstwhile Richardson Scholar Benno Straumann. “Everybody did a little, beginning in Kyoto and Paris and spreading through the web, creative, a bit chaotic, very productive, but without any definite ‘leadership.’”

The momentous event was held at Richardson classmate Jonas Lonnroth’s converted fisherman’s hut on the Island of Oeland in the Baltic Sea.

“All attended except Simon Henson and Karl-Heinz Hauer, who died in a traffic accident in 2006, as well as Joon Yoo from Korea, whom we could not locate,” Straumann wrote.

l-r: Gunnar, Alan, Koichi, Serge, Romir, Benoit, Jonas, Paul (sitting), Benno. Click to enlarge.

• Gunnar Skagestad (Norway), after military training with Russian studies, entered the diplomatic service, currently as ambassador of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

• Alan Arthurs (England) studied chemistry, worked for Imperial Chemical Industries, then worked on fair employment practices.

• Koichi Komatsu (Japan) studied chemistry, taught and did research at Kyoto University.

• Serge Ricard (France) studied history, specialized in the post Civil War period and published widely, particularly on Theodore Roosevelt

• Romir Chatterjee (India, now U.S.) studied economics, had an energy consultancy firm, and then returned to teaching in academia.

• Benoit Nzengu (Congo, now France), the first black student at Davidson, studied medicine, became a surgeon in Reims, France, and now regularly substitutes in surgeries in central France.

• Jonas Lonnroth (Sweden) trained and worked as a medical doctor, worked in Stockholm, then turned real estate developer in Stockholm, now lives in Belgium (near Waterloo!), and has a splendid holiday location on the Island of Oeland in the Baltic Sea, to which he invited us all as a gracious host.

• Paul van den Berg (Netherlands) trained as an architect, became a theater set designer and also taught the subject.

• Benno Straumann (Switzerland) studied English and history, taught English, history and political science, and did political work for the Swiss Social Democratic Party.

• Eric Heinz (Argentina, now U.S.) Studied mathematics in the U.S., stayed and taught maths, and did not make it into the reunion picture due to his participation in the Washington triathlon as a 70-plus contender.

Congratulations to these pioneering Richardson Scholars and all internationals who have since enriched the campus life of Davidson—notably today’s Alvarez Scholars—on the eve of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Davidson’s own study abroad program in the coming year!

John W. Kuykendall ’59 on the Honor Code: “An Experiment in Trust Continues”


President Emeritus John W. Kuykendall ’59 often glances down at the red spirit bracelet that he, like many Davidsonians, wears on his wrist in support of The Davidson Trust.

“‘Davidson trusted me.’ That’s not a bad way to start and end my day!” Kuykendall told a nearly standing-room-only 900 Room at Common Hour on Thursday. The Davidson Trust is the college’s commitment to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need of accepted students through a combination of grants and campus employment, without relying on loans, in support of the college’s longstanding commitment to need-blind admission.

Kuykendall stood before us to talk about other aspects of trust as well, he said, commending the broad, essential definition of the word that includes honor and civility and personal commitment. Specifically, he was there to talk about Davidson’s Honor Code, in an Honor Council Speaker Series talk that was part of the “Ten Days of Trust” events leading up to the annual, student-led Dinner at Davidson fundraiser tonight. His talk, “An Experiment in Trust Continues,” was an update of a 2009 iteration, “An Experiment in Trust.”

“If you quote from your own work without attribution, is it plagiarism?” he wondered aloud, to knowing, appreciative laughter.

Davidson’s Honor Code is not unique in letter, but is certainly so in spirit and in particularity, said Kuykendall, who was president of the student body when the Honor Council came into being. He recalled some of the conversations of that time, when the student body leaders who applied and also protected the Honor Code saw a need to separate the legislative and judicial functions of their work. There was also no insignificant discussion then of the proper roles of forgiveness and grace and redemption and reconciliation, he said, all aspects of the Reformed Tradition on which Davidson itself was founded. From those discussions, the Honor Council in more or less its current form was born.

Kuykendall is an orator of the foremost ranks, whose expressive cadences translate well into his own written word but perhaps less so to others’. So I encourage you to make time, take time or otherwise shake out some time to stop, look and listen (above) to his most recent thoughts on this quintessentially Davidson topic.

“We may be swimming against the tide,” he said, the sad note in his voice undergirded by quiet defiance as he related some latest statistics on cheating in high school. “At Davidson, your word is your bond, and your work must be your own. Welcome to ‘the bubble,’ so they say. Weal or woe—and let’s hope it’s weal—you are in the middle of it…. But I don’t like ‘the Davidson bubble.’ Davidson is not a bubble. It is a crucible.”

Kuykendall further encouraged listeners to read President Carol Quillen’s recent article on The Huffington Post, “Trust’s Legacy: Davidson’s Honor Code.”

I will add to that a link to alma mater’s bedrock Statement of Purpose. I still have the paper copy that came with my letter of employment in 2001. It is good to read it regularly, just as it’s good to read and hear the current thoughts of both Kuykendall and Quillen on trust, on honor, on what Davidson means in the world today.

I say thank you to them both, in the same spirit that every person in the 900 Room yesterday stood when Kuykendall was finished. It was an ovation for a speech well-delivered, yes, but it was more than that. It was a matter of honor, alive, here, now, unique in spirit and in particularity.



Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era


Click to visit Barrat’s website.


Updated: 1/29/14:

Per James Barrat ’83 at lunchtime in the Baltimore airport (no delays expected en route to Davidson): fresh talking points for tomorrow’s campus presentations and Charlotte Talks, WFAE at 9 a.m.!

Google’s New A.I. Ethics Board Might Save Humanity From Extinction in the Huffington Post

Updated 1/28/14:

Google has now bought its ninth robotics firm in a year, and that’s just the tip of a titanic iceberg.

Click to enlarge.

This Thursday, Jan. 30, come hear James Barrat ’83, author and filmmaker, talk about his book Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, as well as his take on the value of his liberal arts education in his (much!) broader documentary filmmaking career. See campus calendar for details or click poster at left. Also, members of the campus community can check Inside Davidson announcements for opportunities to share a roundtable meal with James and students, Thursday lunch or Friday breakfast.

And tune in to “Charlotte Talks” on WFAE Thursday at 9 a.m. to hear Barrat live with Davidson’s own Dr. Raghu Ramanujan and Dr. Mary Lou Maher of UNC Charlotte.

Original post, 10/2/13:

Some days it’s hard work being a humanist—or any other kind of human— in a STEM, STEM, STEM world. Already today, I have balked at Excel, pitched a fit at Verizon, and narrowly avoided a nasty Blair Witch Project reaction to a dizzying series of administrative Prezis marked “ACTION REQUIRED.” So I am trying to be easy with myself for being a bit behind in my reading.

I also admit to no small trepidation in getting to the next book on my list: Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, by James Barrat ’83.

Wait, what?


Yes, the title is much. But having interviewed Barrat some years back for the Davidson Journal about his rock-solid career as a globe-trotting documentarian, I knew him to be a thoughtful, reasonable sort not prone to needless hyperbole. So I called him up.

He spoke of the high-tech “intelligence explosion” bearing us ceaselessly into the future.

“Computers can do recursive operations at lightning speed,” he said. “About the time we realize we’ve got something that’s the level of humans, it will be past us.”

Oh, dear. He proceeded to tick off a disconcerting list of possibilities and potentialities.

“Whatever is created,” he said, “will know our history of becoming addicted to our technologies. Its first appearance could be an app. Then it could slip whatever restraints it might have and become autonomous.”

I peeked into the book last night. In it, Barrat offers reassurance of his continuing commitment to thoroughness of inquiry: “My profession rewards critical thinking,” he writes in the foreword. “A documentary filmmaker has to be on the lookout for stories too good to be true. You could waste months or years making a documentary about a hoax, or participate in perpetrating one.”

Click to visit website

Recommended reading! From Barrat’s website:

Our Final Invention explores how the pursuit of Artificial Intelligence challenges our existence with machines that won’t love us or hate us, but whose indifference could spell our doom. Until now, intelligence has been constrained by the physical limits of its human hosts. What will happen when the brakes come off the most powerful force in the universe?



Charlotte: Lunching and Learning with Prof. Chris Alexander


Lunching and learning was the order of the day at Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte on Tuesday.

The Charlotte Chapter of the Alumni Association hosted alumni, parents and friends of the college to hear a talk, “The Arab Spring After Three Years,” by Chris Alexander, the John and Ruth McGee Director of the Dean Rusk International Studies Program. As Professor of Political Science, his research and teaching focus on the Middle East and North Africa, and he has written extensively about politics in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. He also consults for U.S. government agencies that work in the region.

Clarifying meaningful perspectives in such a sprawling and evolving topic over a workday lunch is a tall order, but Alexander delivered with a potent mix of learned insight, blunt assessment and telling metaphor. A lively Q&A afterward stood testament to his audience’s engagement.

“The Arab Spring was not as revolutionary as we thought it was at the time. It was not organized and structured well enough to be revolutionary, and that’s why it succeeded in toppling only a very small number of rulers. In the aftermath, politics in the region have become more polarized between secularists and Islamists,” Alexander said, noting that while secularists had the passion of the moment, Islamists had the organization and experience of many decades. “This is going to be an evolution, not a revolution, as we look to support economic growth and a political landscape that involves more than one well-organized player.”

Box lunches by Something Classic Catering (Jill Sypult Marcus ’86) included the best pasta salad I’ve ever had, along with my choice of entrée, roast beef sandwich. Also, the chocolate chip cookies were outstanding.

Charlotte chapter president Jamie Kiser ’86 said the college is looking forward to more such opportunities to become a more regular participant in intellectual and cultural life in Charlotte. Count me in.




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