All posts in Arts & Letters

Dr. Steven Moser

Strategic Planning at the Mid-way Point

At the conclusion of the fall term, the first phase of strategic planning wrapped up for our departments and schools in the College of Arts & Letters.  Next, we move to a meta-analysis of the unit strategic plans, specifically to uncover the emerging themes that will serve as the foundation for the college plan.  By February, I will develop a response document, which will be returned to the faculty/staff  for a comment period.  The College Executive Committee will be tasked with amending the plan with the feedback from that comment period.  The final plan will be presented to the faculty and staff at our spring convocation in April.

Despite a busy fall, most units in the college embraced this process.   In these fiscally challenging times, it seems self-evident that planning, strategic or otherwise, can only facilitate the focus that we must acquire.  Effective planning can address goals related to improving governance, program reach, accountability, and ultimately, the best use of public and development funding.

Nonetheless, there can be a danger of a disconnect between the plan and the organizational focus and daily activities in college.  While the consensus is that these conversations have been worthwhile, there is a fear that the effort might result in a document that will find a special place on the shelves of chairs, directors, and upper-level administrators, to never be seen again. That will not happen under my watch.

A college’s organizational culture is strongly influenced by the dean as well as the leadership team surrounding the dean. The core values and behaviors demonstrated at the top of the organization will permeate throughout and can create a very strong culture for focus or change. However, it is not enough to simply build a strong culture, it must be a balanced one. I am committed to developing our potential, based on the plan that emerges from our faculty and staff conversations this fall.  We will build a performance-centered culture that encourages a healthy level of risk taking (thinking in terms of what can be, not what has been) and an appreciation for learning, development and diversity of opinion. These factors fuel innovation and help propel stronger long-term growth and performance.  To do this, we must have a plan… one that rises up from the faculty.

Dr. Steven Moser

Creating a Sense of Place

Who doesn’t feel a little more optimistic when the sun is shining, the sky is blue and a warm breeze is gently blowing?  In just the same way that the environment can impact our lives, it can also contribute to or detract from the way we learn. Study Nook in LAB

In Arts & Letters, we provide excellent educational experiences in our classes, studios and labs and through our performances and internships. We also are beginning to focus on providing that sense of “place” that draws students together outside of the formal academic experience. This summer, we began to exam that sense of place in the Liberal Arts Building so that students would want to linger between classes and congregate to visit with classmates or to meet new people.  Slowly we are building an environment that is not only functional, but that is also aesthetically encouraging and provides a greater identity for what we do. We’ve added study nooks and places to quietly congregate before and after classes, an electronic message board on both floors.  We’ve added art and cleaned up technology in the classrooms.  The Manonni Performing Arts Center and the Fine Arts Building have also gone through a renaissance of sorts.  In both old and new facilities, our focus on developing an encouraging environment is beginning to show some results.

What I hear in the halls now is the quiet buzz of student conversations as they work and study. Faculty report that they enjoy seeing students working between classes; they appreciate the animation of students as they process their learning; and I revel in the atmosphere of warmth, beauty, and friendliness that is our home in LAB and was already a part of the School of Music and the Departments of Art and Design, Dance and Theatre.  Soon our School of Mass Communication and Journalism will move into their beautiful new home, and we will have new learning and performing spaces on 31st Avenue by way of the pedestrian walkway project, just in time to enjoy the spring weather next semester.

Dr. Steven Moser

Looking Forward

On Friday, August 24, the College of Arts and Letters faculty and staff convened in the Thad Cochran Center for our very first “beginning of the year” college-wide meeting.  I was thrilled to see so many attend a late Friday afternoon meeting at the end of the first week of classes.  After the introduction of new faculty, we enjoyed two wonderful addresses from Interim President Lucas and Provost Wiesenburg.  The primary focus of the meeting, however, was to discuss our strategic planning initiative.

I pointed out during my presentation that we are an energized and passionate faculty and I have witnessed the delight and satisfaction of our wonderful students for the experiences we provide in our classrooms, studios, and rehearsal halls.  But despite the great work happening all over the College, we lack a clear, self-determined identity.  At the very basic level, the strategic planning this fall will help us tell our story, in such a way, that we will be able to articulate that which is already true…that which sets us apart from the rest. We might ask why we would undertake strategic planning during a year of transition? Benjamin Franklin said, “You may delay, but time will not.”  If we look back, the university is always in a state of transition… when have we not been engaged in the search for some critical position at the university – a new chair, a new dean, a new provost, or a new president? Yet by crafting a plan that will position us for future distinction, with a commitment to mutual goals and a shared vision for a successful future, we take a giant step forward in controlling our own destiny no matter the leadership changes that happen around us.

Will Rogers said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” No college or department can remain static for long, nor should we wait for the perfect time to move forward. We’ll get “run over.”

Dr. Steven Moser

Life is But A Dream

This summer marks a particularly exciting time for me as I begin my term as the Dean of the College of Arts & Letters.  Although a time of transition for the university, the College is operating well and we are all busy in the Dean’s office preparing for the start of an exciting year for our college – a year of faculty-led dialogue to better define us and to establishing priorities and goals for resources and funding initiatives.

As we close the fiscal year this June, we should take the opportunity to reflect on the College’s ongoing and new areas of accomplishment and investment over the past year.  Certainly, the 36 newly hired faculty and staff are a good measure of the progress we have made. We continue to refine our short-term academic priorities with regard to hiring in the coming year.  Until we have clear direction from our strategic planning, our focus will remain on the enhancement of our student experiences in the classroom, and in support of our research and performance efforts. Our faculty is at the heart of the College’s aspirations and distinguish themselves and The University with their impressive achievements in scholarship and teaching.

Two weeks ago we installed the work of one of our outstanding faculty artists.  The  work, entitled Life is But A Dream, has been on display around the country and has recently returned to Southern Miss where it is on display in the Liberal Arts building.  Professor Jennifer Torres, Art and Design, is the director of our 3D art program and describes the work as inspired from a bedtime story read to her by her mother.  She says, “The work represents the positive and satisfying feeling that one gets when everything is moving perfectly in the right direction.”  I hope this beautiful work becomes symbolic for our faculty and students as we focus our efforts to move the college forward, “perfectly in the right direction.”

Professor Jennifer Torres overseeing the installation of her work in the LAB lobby.


"Life is But A Dream" by Jennifer Torres

"Life is But A Dream" by Jennifer Torres


Dr. Steven Moser

Blogging into 2012

Resolutions.  I can’t remember a year without resolutions, and for the typical things… personal goals like losing weight, more faithfully exercising.  My tradition of making New Year’s resolutions has always been sincere, but often my goals shift as the realities of work and home begin to take hold.  I’ve always been amused by the recommitment  for exercise one witnesses at the gym.  January brings big crowds and my favorite machines are hard to come by.  By the first week in February the mass of resolution driven patrons has thinned to a manageable size, and by March the gym is back to the loyal group of friends working on lifelong goals.  John Lehrer wrote an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal  about New Year’s resolutions in which he cites a 2007 study finding 88% of resolutions ending in failure.  Not an encouraging statistic, but also not hard to believe.  Often these resolutions compete with the realities of  family, friends and work, all demanding our attention.

I began this academic year with a number of resolutions – goals.  Certainly an interim year gives all of us in the college an opportunity to reflect on who we are, and what we want to be.  I’ve spent the year thus far focusing on that which we do well and seeking solutions for those things that would benefit from improvement.  One might assume by the nature of an interim appointment that time might stand still with regard to any significant college-wide accomplishments.  The status quo, however, is not for me, and indeed we’ve enjoyed a number of successes that keenly fold into my aspirations for this interim year.  While we’ve certainly not met all of our goals, we have much for which to be proud and certainly we are moving forward.

One goal for the year was to work toward restoring positions in high demand/priority areas, most of which were lost to the fiscal contraction and reallocations of the past several years. We’ve done well.  We have the largest number of tenure-track position searches in progress since 2007.  We still have work to do in some critical areas, but we are moving forward in this interim year.  We have a number of other initiatives and projects that are yet to be fully met, … but looking positive.  I’ll blog more about those in the weeks to come.

There is no doubt that we should resolve to expand our impact on our student experiences.  We already have remarkable students studying in this college.  Their accomplishments are noteworthy, such as undergraduate Jarred Hayes, a Spanish major receiving the prestigious and competitive Gilman Scholarship for international study, or graduate students Becky Halliday and Lindsey Key (music education) who have been invited to present their research at the American Education Research Association.  In Communications Studies, Ed Pittman stands out as the recipient of the Bob and Ann Weiss Undergraduate Paper Award and doctoral student Michael King as Outstanding Tutor, both at the National Association of Communication Centers annual conference.  Our faculty are doing remarkable work, providing exceptional experiences for our students and our students are thriving.  We will continue to innovate and  engage and expand our reach… the college is moving forward in this interim year.

Research and creative activity remain a passion for our faculty and we celebrate the ongoing accomplishments of colleagues like Ed Jackson, whose archeological research is bringing national attention to his work and our university; and Richard Conville’s recent governor’s appointment to the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Services.  We are proud of poet Angela Ball, who was featured on National Public Radio’s Writer’s Almanac, and to the War and Society team of Drs. Wiest, Zelner, Ural, and Stur who have been featured on C-Span, collaborated on documentaries and enjoy a national profile as leading authorities in their research areas.  In Theatre and Dance we witnessed one of the finest performances staged on campus in King Lear, and Maryann Kyle performed her one-woman show, Sondheim in the City,  at the Laurie Bachman Theatre in Times Square.  The list goes on…  Many books have been published this year, as have articles in scholarly journals, and we, the College of Arts and Letters, continue to expand our national profile in almost every discipline in the college.  In this interim year, we are moving forward.

My focus for the spring term remains as it was in the fall, centered on these broad goals:

1.  Further enhance undergraduate education.  This is the cornerstone of what we do. Our research and creative activity integrates with and informs our teaching. The College of Arts and Letters provides a significant number of the credit hours taught at Southern Miss and all students, regardless of their college, take A&L courses.  We should expand how we bring our cutting edge research into our classroom and how we support the professional development of our young faculty.  We must prioritize hires that result in tenure-track faculty teaching our introductory courses and set goals that expand our experiential learning opportunities and innovative course delivery.

2. Recommit to our graduate programs. Research advances knowledge and has benefits that reach into society.  Relevant and cutting edge research is integrative, answering the complex questions that hold value for our constituents and our culture.  The path to cutting edge research and creative activity is through high quality graduate programs, critical to the research enterprise.

3. Engage our community and state constituents.  We’ve learned great lessons from our nationally recognized program in service learning.  By sharing our knowledge and expertise to solve real-world problems or culturally improve our quality of life, we enhance the educational opportunities of our students, while benefitting our community, state, and region.   Local relationships with global reach position our programs to  provide leadership that will positively impact our community while positioning us to expand our profile as a research intensive university.

Over the coming months I will blog our progress on these goals and other initiatives.  A dean of any flavor (sans interim or otherwise) is merely a facilitator and advocate for the faculty and students of the college.  These resolutions come from the collective voices of faculty/staff, students and our community constituents.  Unlike a New Year’s resolution, we are positioned to meet fundamental components of these goals in the coming months… we are moving forward in this interim year.