All posts by Dr. Steven Moser

Dr. Steven Moser

Preconceptions by Dr. David M. Holley

Beginning this December, I’ve asked faculty in the college to serve as guests contributors to the college blog.  David M. Holley, Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion begins this series.

Steven R. Moser, Dean


Holley, David (8-2014)Surprising facts can overturn your preconceptions, but only if you let them. Sometimes we deny or ignore things that don’t fit into what we already think. Here is a surprising fact:

A study reported in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago compared salaries of people between ten to fifteen years after leaving college. The comparison involved a ranking of salaries according to undergraduate majors (considering only people without a graduate degree). Out of a list of 50 undergraduate majors, philosophy majors had the 16th highest salary. Degrees such as engineering and computer science were ahead of philosophy in the mid-career salaries ranking, but philosophy was ahead of business majors such as management, accounting, and information technology. Starting salaries for philosophy majors were lower than for many of these fields, but eventually philosophy majors were making higher salaries.

When you have a surprising fact, the explanation may not be simple. There could be many factors at work. One factor that comes to mind is that there are fewer philosophy graduates than graduates of many of the other fields to which they were compared. It is also relevant that philosophy majors on the average tend to be pretty bright, so we can’t attribute the advances in salary only to the fact that they studied philosophy in college.

Even so, it seems startling that a college major we wouldn’t associate with making money leads to this kind of result. So how can it be explained? I think the most obvious explanation is that philosophy majors are pretty good at learning new things and that some of the skills they developed are helpful for succeeding in a variety of fields. If you can learn to read and understand a complex philosophical text, you can probably learn to digest the information in business reports. If you can find the logical flaws or questionable assumptions in a defense of a philosophical position, you should be able to recognize the weaknesses of a new administrative proposal. If you have formed the habit of looking at things from a variety of perspectives, you may be able to come up with novel approaches to an organizational problem.

I don’t mean to minimize the importance of technical knowledge. People who do advance in their fields have to acquire quite a bit of that. But anyone who thinks that you can learn what you need in college to be successful seriously underestimates the importance of learning on the job and being able to adapt to the unexpected. When we think of preparing for something other than an entry-level job, we need to be thinking of things like the capacity for being creative and analytical and adaptable.

One of our recent philosophy graduates who went on to a major law school in another state wrote back that he knew hardly anything about the law when he arrived, but that did not matter because his philosophy major had taught him how to think. That’s the sort of thing we like to hear, and faculty in our department hear something like it often enough that we’re inclined to think there is some truth in it.

Most people don’t choose philosophy as a major because they think it will help them earn a high salary. I would be startled if someone came to us acknowledging this kind of motivation. But when I think of the kinds of things we teach our majors to do, it seems clear to me that the skills they learn can be adapted to many types of work, and sometimes a byproduct of doing a job well is financial success.

 

 

 

 

– Dr. David M. Holley, Chair
Department of Philosophy and Religion

Dr. Steven Moser

A Changing Landscape

Each year, the College of Arts and Letters provides instruction to approximately 3,000 majors and delivers a significant portion of the general education courses to all undergraduates at The University of Southern Mississippi. Across the college we enroll students of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of academic preparation. Most of our students are seeking enhanced skills or college degrees that will prepare them for well-paying jobs. Our mission is to prepare these students, not for their first jobs, but for their careers—where success is measured by the ability to think critically as a problem-solver and communicate effectively through written and spoken words. To achieve this, we nurture in them an understanding of lessons of the past, an appreciation for the richness of difference, an awareness of the challenges we face now, and an understanding of the skills they will need to adapt in the future.

We stand at a pivotal moment in the history of the college, as well as the institution and the state as a whole. A growing body of research has documented a national decline in educational attainment at the very time when our economic competitiveness in Mississippi and across the region is increasingly tied to a well-educated citizenry. So, we’ve begun a journey to redefine our roles as agents of transformative learning, with proactive and intentional strategies that encourage students of all backgrounds and all learning styles to be successful in the classroom, and in life. We are transforming our story—a story told in every department, in every school, for every student, regardless of their background or educational goals. That story is one of access, support, guidance, and personal and academic success in which students leave us well-prepared for their futures. The faculty has risen to meet the challenge of a changing student landscape: technology has presented great benefits and unforeseen challenges, and the average student can be both underprepared and cutting-edge. Undergraduate success initiatives, fully underway, provide a level of access and support never before presented in such a consistent, integrative fashion. Undergraduate research is now common among all our disciplines, and faculty mentoring is a fundamental tenet of our way of doing business.

Our focus has moved to better connect courses with educational goals and, therefore, provide a clearer path to completion. We are reaching out to students who stumble well before it is too late, and they fail. And we are adapting to the changing landscape of student readiness without sacrificing standards or rigor.

Take a moment to review the work of our faculty and students here.

Dr. Steven Moser

…and so it begins…

This fall we welcome approximately 3,000 returning and new students to the College of Arts and Letters.  Those students have chosen to study for undergraduate and graduate degrees in our diverse array of programs in the arts, humanities and social sciences, and in our many collaborative interdisciplinary programs.

The back-to-school season is always an exciting one for our students, faculty and staff, and me personally.  I am proud of our A&L community and anticipate another stellar year.  Indeed, we will need to raise the bar even higher as we begin to focus on our strategic goals – anchored in our  student success and profile expansion efforts.  So I encourage everyone to:

Consider the positive individual difference we can make as we, the faculty and staff,  work to realize our greatest potential.

There are many ways a college conveys its core values.  In an issue of Liberal Education, Jack Meacham and Jerry Gaff noted that it is important that we “do what we say and say what we do.” Our public declaration found in our college and school/department strategic goals is our guide and those declarations share some of the same key words and phrases like “excellence in scholarship, focus on student success, and innovation in the classroom.”  Without a clear path forward and a positive commitment to the journey, it is unlikely that our strategic plans will emerge in practice.  Our faculty places us well to continue the tradition of developing innovative opportunities for our students and producing meaningful scholarship.  Moving forward together is critical to this endeavor as we shift “what has been to what could be”.

Take pause along the way to consider.

I am amazed at how quickly time passes as we move from one academic season to the next.  It seems that with the new and ever changing technology that has pervaded our lives, we spend a great deal of time in gear and racing ahead at full throttle. The pace we have adopted in our modern-day lives often influences how quickly we come to some of the decisions we make on issues in our own lives and those as a faculty across the college.  Yet in our endeavors in creative and scholarly research, we are committed to thoughtful consideration and a measured and deliberate tempo to produce the great body of work seen in the college.  I encourage the same discipline seen in our scholarship efforts as we adapt to an ever-changing constituent need.  We must be nimble and flexible, but also thoughtful and deliberate in the decisions that we will have to make in the months and years to come as we strive for relevance and the ability to sustain or increase the impact we have had  for our students and the community we serve.

Let us move forward together.  Welcome back!

 

 

Dr. Steven Moser

Reflections

This month I participated in the Aspen Institute’s Wye Dean’s Seminar in Queensland, Maryland.  Thirty-two academic leaders from across the country met for a week of intense reading and reflection on great writings reaching back to the ancient Greeks.  Our quest was to uncover the hidden truths about leadership as witnessed in the writings of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Rousseau, Dewey, and others.  We studied the inaugural addresses of Abraham Lincoln, the writings of Martin Luther King, and the address of Aung San Suu Kyi to the World Commission on Culture and Development.  We even staged a reading of Sophocles’ Antigone.  We pondered the writings of Confucius, read The Five Pillars of Faith in the Qur’an, and John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity.”  I found the experience to be exhilarating, not only in basking in the luxury of a week devoted entirely to the great writings I have been away from for too long, but also through witness of the interpretations of these writings by deans and provosts from all parts of the country.  I realized that far too often I am lost in the pushing of papers and enforcement of policy.  As a dean of the arts, humanities, and social sciences, I realized that I cannot lose myself in perfunctory repetition.  At the core, the truths of leadership and indeed in living a more perfect life comes from that which we teach in our classrooms, studios, and on our stages.  The great secrets for striving to be a good leader, and in decision-making at every turn is waiting for us in the writings of those who preceded us, the great works of the ages.

Dr. Steven Moser

USM – Defining Resilience

Photo by Dean Dave Davies, Honors College

Photo by Dean Dave Davies, Honors College

Almost from the moment we saw the devastating images of the Ogletree House, Jazz Station and even places that we could not recognize anymore, the Southern Miss family wasted no time in rolling up its sleeves and coordinating recovery efforts.  While nearly fifty faculty and staff from the Department of Art & Design and the School of Music were displaced due to damage to their buildings and office spaces, the morale among them remains high.

Art and Design professor, John Mark Lawler, said that despite the circumstances, faculty and staff in his department were positive. “The staff I’ve spoken to are willing to make it work, whatever it takes.  It’s bad, it’s a disaster, but that’s life.  You take the punches and roll with it.  Students are concerned about each other and us, but everyone seems to be doing ok.  Everyone is constantly asking how they can help,” says Lawler.

Dr. Ed Hafer is a School of Music professor whose office took a direct hit.  Though he lost some things, he says the greatest loss is that the music family has been displaced, though only temporarily.  “Folks are shocked at the amount of damage, but remain hopeful.  Students, in particular, are very resilient.  Everyone is excited about building bigger and stronger than before.  We are all just so glad that no one was hurt,” said Hafer.

Damage from February 10, 2013 Tornado

Damage from February 10, 2013 Tornado

As early as Sunday, efforts were made to make sure that faculty, staff and classes would have a home, at least until more permanent arrangements could be determined.  Faculty and staff from Art and Design have moved into office space made available in George Hurst Building, while Music faculty and staff have found temporary office space in the Liberal Arts Building, Honors House and Cook Library.

As of Thusday, we have rescheduled 87 lecture  classes displaced across Art & Design and Music, and more than 600 various types of ensemble classes/rehearsals, applied study (lessons), and chamber classes for 475 majors.  For Art and Design, we currently have about 200 students who have been impacted by the storm. Fortunately, most students were not on campus because of the Mardi Gras holiday on Monday and Tuesday, so as bad as it may look to one walking through the hardest hit areas of campus, it could have been a lot worse.  On Wednesday, with classes still cancelled and when many students could have slept in, nearly 1,000 student volunteers showed up wearing rubber boots, rain slickers and baseball caps ready to help remove storm debris from their home-away-from-home.

Southern Miss students coming out to help clean up the front of campus. They stepped up and made the campus look better fast.

Southern Miss students coming out to help clean up the front of campus. They stepped up and made the campus look better fast.

Sunday evening, sophomore Acting major Kerri Walker was glued to Facebook at her home in Brandon after learning that parts of campus had been in the direct path of the tornado. As a performing arts student herself, she was heartbroken for art and design and music students whose spaces had been badly damaged.  “I got up at 6:00am on Wednesday morning and drove from my home to volunteer and help with the clean-up.  I’d seen the social media alerts and I just had to be there,” Walker shared.  Walker said that everyone really wanted to help do all they could to restore the campus.  Volunteers included students, faculty and staff and individuals from the community.  As so many have said in the past few days, it could have been a lot worse, Walker added.

But if there is a silver lining to this tragedy—and we have seen many silver linings so far, it has brought the Southern Miss family together. “To see the university and community come together, it made me love USM—MY university–even more.”