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Welcome Fall 2012

John Koker, Dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, addressed the new and returning faculty and staff during the Opening Day Ceremonies.

Opening Day Remarks
John Koker
Dean of the College of Lettters and Science

Sept. 4, 2012

Koker John 06

On July 1, 2012, I began my seventh year serving as the dean of the College of Letters and Science. 

Seven, considered to be a mystic or sacred number, is composed of three and four, which among the Pythagoreans, were and from time immemorial have been considered lucky numbers.  I do consider it fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve the College and I look forward to this seventh year.

The number 7 is featured prominently in the creation story and throughout the Bible.  Some say 7 is the number of the natural world. There are 7 days in the week, 7 notes on the musical scale and 7 directions (left, right, up, down, forward, back and center).  We are familiar with the 7 deadly sins, the 7 heavens, the 7 kings and hills of Rome, the 7 wonders of the world, the 7-year itch, the 7 seas, and the 7 liberal arts (the trivium – literature, rhetoric, and logic, and the quadrivium – arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) – again composed of 3 and 4.

Seven is the number that has the highest probability (among the numbers 2 – 12) to appear when two fair, 6-sided dice are rolled.  Seven is also the main character in one of the worst math jokes I know.  Why is 6 afraid of 7?  Because 7 ate 9!  Sorry, I was sort of afraid to tell it.

There was a time when I was also afraid of 7.  And it was when I was 6.  You see, I was raised Catholic and the “age of reason” is the name given to that period of human life at which persons are deemed to begin to be morally responsible. This, as a rule, happens at the age of seven, or thereabouts, though the use of reason requisite for moral discernment may come before, or may be delayed until notably after that time.  To my mother it was 7 – and she told us.  Things were pretty straightforward and clear cut for me at that time.  My mom told us the rules, and we followed them.  I had a pretty simplistic view of the world growing up in Kenosha, WI – home of American Motors.  In fact, I believe I was well into my teens before I realized there were other people in the world other than white Catholics who drove Ramblers.  Anyway, when I was 6, I was anxious since I was informed that my free ride was over.  I was expected to reason and take responsibility for my actions.

The “age of reason” is not just a Catholic notion.  It is well known that around the time of a child’s 7th birthday, his/her conscience emerges to help guide his/her actions.

I have realized that my dean "age of reason” is upon me, and, rather than fearing the seventh year, I plan to embrace it.  After all, Sabbath and sabbatical are derived from variations of seven and they remind us to take the time to reflect, but to also look forward to new challenges.  We all need opportunities for growth, to refocus, to find the purpose and to search for the reason for what it is we do.

This is easier said than done.  Many of us are becoming impatient and are fed up with the seemingly continuous lack of support for higher education and the attacks on the value of the liberal arts.  We become confused and feel uneasy about our future when we hear about things like “edX,” “Coursera,” “flexible degree program,” for-profit-universities, “MOOCS” and such events like the ordeal at the University of Virginia, centered on a board’s anxiety over the performance of the president and the direction in which she was taking the University. Spend a few minutes paging through recent issues of the Chronicle of Higher Education, and you will see headlines that read, “Working More and Getting Less Done,”  “Public College in the Golden State – a Dream Deferred,” (a story about three CA systems admired for opening doors to opportunities, but are now hobbled by repeated budget cuts and conflicting demands) and “Crisis of Confidence Threatens Colleges – Rising Costs Test Families’ Faith.”  This article is based on a survey of college and university presidents and it asserts that one in three presidents see academe on the wrong road.

I get frustrated as I sometimes feel like our elected leaders’ actions resemble those who do not value education. To them, it doesn't make sense that we would ask for something so outrageous as strong fiscal and moral support.

Nonetheless, I remain optimistic.  I was invited to attend and present at the August 2012 Board of Regents Meeting.  It was refreshing and invigorating to hear many regents speak to the notion that supporting our excellent faculty and staff needs to be a top priority.  All indication is that the UW System is well positioned to propose and receive a 2013-15 budget increase, which will hopefully include a pay plan.

In the meantime the College will continue to support the Curriculum Modification Program and support travel to conferences.  In addition, there will be additional funds to support College initiatives.

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