THE FACULTY FORUM
VOLUME 11, No. 6 DUKE UNIVERSITY FEBRUARY 2000
Rojstaczer on Curriculum 2000
Kingdon on Murals
Editorial: Salute to Surin
Ferret: Equal Exposure
Parrot: James on Eliot
Possum: Random Readings
On the Creation of Meaningless Change in Universities
In my twenties, I had saved a little bit of money that I wanted to invest in the stock market even though I knew absolutely nothing about financial markets. My newly found broker (this was well before the Internet and brokers were a necessity) selected an initial portfolio of stocks for me to purchase.
Two months came and went. I received a call from my broker. Apparently, my stocks had run their course and it was time to pick a portfolio of new exciting stocks to replace the tired old ones. Roughly two more months came and went before I received another call from her. It was the same story as before. After six months, I looked at my balance sheet, and while my stocks had gone up slightly overall (as had the Dow Jones index), my broker had significantly eaten into my bottom line through her commissions.
Brokers have a name for unnecessarily turning over a client's portfolio to increase commissions. It's called churning. I didn't like being churned and once I figured out that I had been misled, I quickly dumped my broker.
In universities, churning also takes place. But it has nothing to do with financial investments. And it has nothing to do with overt dishonesty. Instead it consists of well meaning, but essentially worthless, change brought forth by university leadership. In administrative churning, leadership feels a need to come up with and implement changes in university structure--typically in a misguided attempt at image enhancement--even though they are not needed.
To be sure, it also identifies legitimate needs for change that ultimately improve the university. But in implementing frequent change for the sake of change, leadership creates unnecessary tumult. Faculty members, lower echelon administrators, and sometimes students spend countless hours spinning their wheels dealing with these changes. Administrative churning is at the heart of an essential paradox within universities. How do administrators and faculty manage to spend so much time in meetings and get so little of substance done?
The most recent case of administrative churning at our university of which I'm aware is the impending merger of Botany and Zoology. It's also one with a long history. Our leadership in its many incarnations has desired Botany and Zoology to merge for well over a decade. The faculty in these departments have resisted these pressures for the same period of time.
There have been at least a decade's worth of meetings to discuss this potential merger, and two external reviews focused on the issue of merger (for what it's worth, one external review recommended merger, and the other recommended that the departments stay separate). The end result of faculty resistance has been slight reductions in faculty numbers in these two departments despite burgeoning undergraduate enrollments and resources for laboratory improvements withheld by our leadership.
The conflict between the administration and biology faculty has been one of fashion versus substance. In the eyes of our leadership, having separate Botany and Zoology departments represent the biological sciences is an eyesore. It has an out of date look and feel, akin to having avocado kitchen appliances when white is the color of the decade.
In contrast, faculty members haven't been concerned about appearances. Their structure may be an eyesore to our fashion-conscious leadership, but it has worked well. Over the past decade and a half that Botany and Zoology presumably have held onto an antiquated structure, the biological sciences have thrived both in terms of undergraduate instruction and research. The biological sciences represent the best of the sciences in Trinity College and these two departments have been leaders in many aspects of the dramatic transformations that have taken place in the biological sciences over the last twenty years. There is no indication that they will work better as a merged unit. If anything, the effort on the part of our leadership to get these departments to merge is now so old that it likely represents an idea that is well out of fashion.
It is ironic that after so many years of working successfully independently, the faculty members in the two departments through subtle and not so subtle persuasion have by and large agreed to merge. But it is unclear how such a merger will improve the biological sciences. There will be political tumult to be sure. There will be problems with faculty morale that will hopefully recede over time as faculty members adjust to the change in scenery. At best, this impending merger is simply change for the sake of change.
The impending merger of Botany and Zoology is not the only case of recent administrative churning. Last year's most notable churning event was the creation of Curriculum 2000. Our leadership found our current undergraduate curriculum lacking. Students are currently allowed to ignore science, math, or foreign language study on the way to earning their degree and they frequently do so. In the 1980s, it was considered fashionable to grant this freedom of choice. In the 1990s (and maybe in the 2000s) it was gauche.
In response to this change in fashion, our leadership created an elaborate and ultimately unworkable new curriculum. After countless meetings between faculty and administrators and (most importantly) the promise of many new millions of dollars for academic departments, our new curriculum was approved.
Implementation of Curriculum 2000 is still underway, but there is every indication that what is taking place is administrative churning rather than anything of substance. The faculty spent countless hours filling out forms to get their existing classes approved for Curriculum 2000. Lower echelon administrators, like medieval rabbinical scholars trying to create law from the Bible, tried to tack on some meaning to the Curriculum 2000 document. In the process, they rejected Curriculum 2000 designations for roughly one half of the existing classes in the undergraduate catalog. Faculty responded by ignoring the rejections and by complaining.
In the end, our leadership caved in and 95% of existing classes were approved for Curriculum 2000. Little has changed from the old curriculum except that students must now take foreign language and science in order to graduate, a change that could have been implemented without the hyperbole and bombast of Curriculum 2000. The untold hours spent by administrators and faculty implementing and dealing with the bureaucracy of Curriculum 2000 are best forgotten. The hours to be spent by undergraduate advisors and future students trying to negotiate through the Byzantine rules of Curriculum 2000 are, of course, yet to be counted. Whether Curriculum 2000 proves to have the fashion endurance of the "little black dress" or ends up as ephemeral as the Nehru jacket is still unknown.
Going back a little further, administrative churning was in full display in the transfer of Geology faculty (including myself) into the School of the Environment. Except for a time in the 1980s and early 1990s, the discipline of geology has always been considered unfashionable by Duke leadership. The reasons for this are unclear. Perhaps it's because many of us go outdoors and muck around with the earth, which is admittedly not a rarefied activity. But whatever the reasons, geology, because it lacked style and panache in the eyes of the Duke leadership, was barely supported as a discipline for most of Duke's history. Like an embarrassing uncle who sells moonshine in western Carolina, it was hardly ever mentioned and its faculty were hidden on unfashionable East Campus.
In the eighties, however, fashion fortuitously shined on Geology and it was given new faculty and laboratory space on trendy West Campus. Perhaps the change came about because one of the principal leaders of that era spoke with pride about an uncle from western Carolina who sold moonshine. Mucking around with the earth seemed to him to be a noble endeavor. Whatever its origins, Geology's days in the sunshine proved to be short-lived. By the mid-1900s, Geology was once again in the fashion dog house. It needed to be hidden once again. A decision was made to move Geology out of Arts and Sciences and into the new school. Somehow this move was expected to improve the fortunes of both Geology and the School of the Environment.
The merger took place more than three years ago and now that the dust has settled, it's clear that there is little that can be pointed to that can be considered an improvement for anyone. Geology as a discipline is a little more hidden on campus since it no longer has full departmental status. But the advantage of hiding a group of a dozen capable faculty is at best obtuse. In the end, all of the meetings, the countless discussions, the tumult, and the precipitous (and thankfully mostly temporary) drop in faculty morale associated with this move were not balanced by anything of positive value. It was pure churning or change for change's sake.
What future administrative churning will take place in this university is anyone's guess. Presumably, faculty governing bodies should approve only the good ideas proposed by our leadership (even I have to admit that our leadership does come up with good ideas every now and then) and reject or significantly modify the bad ones. But lately, these entities--such as the Arts and Sciences Council and the Academic Council --have been extremely porous filters and have approved administrative churning almost routinely.
In one sense, there is little to be lost by approving such changes. They make our leadership feel better about their role in this university. It's almost a patronizing thing to do to for faculty to approve symbolic changes in fashion that our leadership invents that have little real substantive impact on the university as a whole. It appeases our leadership and there is value in appeasement. But appeasement does have its price. The common end products of administrative churning are local political nightmares for faculty members, associate deans, lower echelon administrators, and students that can last for years.
Stuart Rojstaczer, Associate Professor of Hydrology and Director of the Center for Hydrologic Science, resides at http://www.duke.edu/~stuart
Duke Masters: FRED CHAPPELL
EdNote: Fred Chappell, a Duke graduate of forty years ago and winner of the greatly prestigious Bollingen Prize in Poetry, will be a featured poet for the Blackburn Festival this spring. Readers who take the time to read the following poem will take delight in its playful and utterly original imagination.
My Father's Hurricane
--by Fred Chappell
Like dust cloud over a bombed-out city, my father's
Homemade cigarette smoke above the ruins
Of an April supper. His face, red-weathered, shone through.
When he spoke an edge of gold tooth-cap burned
In his mouth like a star, winking at half his words.
At the little end of the table, my sister and I
Sat alert, as he set down his streaky glass
Of buttermilk. My mother picked her teeth.
"I bet you think that's something," he said, "the wind
That tore the tin roof on the barn. I bet
You think that was some kind of wind."
"Yes sir," I said (with the whole certainty
Of my eleven years), "a pretty hard wind."
"Well, that was nothing. Not much more than a breath
Of fresh air. You should have seen the winds
That came when I was your age, or near about.
They've taken to naming them female names these days,
But this one I remember best they called
Bad Egg. A woman's name just wouldn't name it."
He nodded profoundly as a funeral
Home director. "That's right. Bad Egg was what
I think of as a right smart blow,
No slight ruffling of tacked-down tin.
The sky was filled with flocks of roofs, dozens
Of them like squadrons of pilotless airplanes,
Sometimes so many you couldn't even see between.
Little outhouse roofs and roofs of sheds
And great long roofs of tobacco warehouses,
Church steeples plunging along like V-2 rockets,
And hats, toupees, lampshades, and greenhouse roofs.
It even blew your aunt's glass eyeball out.
It blew the lid off a jar of pickles we'd
Been trying to unscrew for fifteen years."
"Aw," I said.
"Don't interrupt me, boy,
I am coming to that. Because the roofs
Were only the top layer. Underneath
The roofs the trees came hurtling by, root-ends
First. They looked like flying octopuses
Glued onto frazzly toilet brushes. Oaks
And elms and cedars, peach trees dropping
Peachessplat!like big sweet mushy hailstones.
Apples and walnuts coming down like snow.
Below this layer of trees came a fleet of cars:
T-models, Oldsmobiles, and big Mack trucks;
And mixed in with the cars were horses tumbling
And neighing, spread-legged, and foaming at the mouth;
Cows too, churning to solid butter inside.
Beneath the layer of cars a layer of. . . everything.
What Madison County had clutched to its surface
It lost hold of. And here came bales of barbwire,
Water pumps, tobacco setters, cookstoves,
Girdles shucked off squealing ladies, statues
Of Confederate heroes, shotguns, big bunches
Of local politicians still talking of raising
Taxes. You name it, and here it came.
There was a visiting symphony orchestra
At Hot Springs School and they went flashing by,
Fiddling the 'Storm' movement of Beethoven's Sixth.
Following thatinfielders prancing like black gnats
A baseball game about five innings old.
The strangest thing adrift was a Tom Mix movie,
All wrinkled and out of order. Bad Egg
Had ripped the picture off the screen, along
With a greasy cloud of buttered popcorn.
I said. "I don't understand how you
Could see the other layers with all this stuff
On the bottom."
"I was coming to that," he said.
"If it was only a horizontal stream
It wouldn't have been so bad. But inside the main
Were other winds turning every which way,
Crosswise and cockeyed, and up and down
Like corkscrews. Counterwindsand mighty powerful.
It was a corkscrew caught me, and up I went;
I thought I'd pull in two. First man I met
Was Reverend Johnson, too busy ducking candlesticks
And hymnals to greet me, though he might have nodded.
And then Miz White, who taught geometry,
Washing by in a gang of obtuse triangles.
And then Bob Brendan, the Republican banker, flailing
Along with his hand in a safety deposit box.
Before I could holler I zipped up to Layer Two,
Bobbing about with Chevrolets and Fords
And Holsteins. . . . I'm not bragging, but I'll bet you
I'm the only man who ever rode
An upside-down Buick a hundred miles,
If you call holding on and praying 'riding.'
That was scary, boy, to have a car wreck
Way up in the middle of the air. I shut my eyes. . .
But when I squirted up to Layer Three
I was no better off. This sideways forest
Skimming along looked mighty dark and deep.
For all I knew there could be bears in here,
Or windblown hunters to shoot me by mistake.
Mostly it was the treesto see come clawing
At me those big root-armsOugh! I shivered
And shuddered, I'll tell you. Worse than crocodiles:
After I dodged the ripping roots, the tails,
The heavy limbs, came swooping and clattering at me.
I was awfully glad to be leaving Layer Three."
"Wait," I said. "How come the heavy stuff's
On top? Wouldn't the lightest things go highest?"
"Hold your horses," he said, "I was coming to that.
Seems like it depended on the amount of surface
An object would present. A rooftop long
And flat would rise and rise, and trees with trunks
And branches. But a bar of soap would tumble
At the bottom, like a pebble in a creek.
Anyhow . . . The Layer of Roofs was worst. Sharp edges
Everywhere, a hundred miles an hour.
Some folks claim to talk about close shaves.
Let them wait till they've been through a tempest
Of giant razor blades. Soo-wish, sheee-oosh!
I stretched out still on the floor of air, thinking
I'd stand a better chance. Blind luck is all
It was, though, pure blind luck. And when I rose
To the Fifth Layer-"
"Wait," I said. "What Fifth?
At first you only mentioned four. What Fifth?"
"I was coming to that," he said. "The only man
Who ever knew about the Fifth was me.
I never told a soul till now. It seems
That when the hotel roofs blew off, Bad Egg
Sucked a slew of people out of bed.
The whole fifth layer of debris was lovebirds."
"Lovebirds, honeypies, sweetheartswhatever
You want to call them."
"J.T., you watch yourselt,"
My mother interjected.
"I'm just saying
What I saw," he said. "The boy will want
The truth, and that's the way it was. . . . Fifty
Or sixty couples, at least. Some of them
I recognized: Paolo and Francesca,
And Frankie and Johnny, Napoleon
And Josephine; but most I didn't know.
Rolling and sporting in the wind like face cards
From a stag poker deck"
"J.T.!" she said.
"(All right.) But what an amazing sight it was!
I started to think all kinds of thoughts. . .
I said. "But how did you get down without
"I was coming to that," he said. "
It was the queerest thing"
EdNote: The following essay by by mural artist Jonathan Kingdon was forwarded to the FF by Louise Roth (Zoology). We thank her for the contribution.
Evolution on the Wall: A Homage to Biology at Duke
Paintings by Jonathan Kingdon in the Biosciences Building
Installed 25 April 1999
The Duke University Departments of Biology have a world-wide reputation for the excellence of their science and for disseminating that excellence through the careers of its students and the research of its Faculty. Their work, in all its diversity, can be found in laboratories, journals, books and research programs across the country and abroad. Many of the personalities behind all these expressions of excellence are household [or more accurately laboratory] names, known world-wide, and books by Duke biologists are valued and familiar volumes on the shelves of biologists and naturalists on every continent.
It could be said that this ferment of intellectual activity needs no more expression or justification than its own fame. So, when I was asked to ornament the Common-room, it seemed like gilding the lily to suggest a pictorial Tribute or Homage to Duke's traditions in Biology. Even so, the idea struck a chord.
There was a precedent for this. Among Duke's many distinguished scientists, Knut Schmidt-Nielsen's work has reached a truly global audience and, as it happens, I had read some of his articles and books many years ago, when I was studying mammals [including camels!] in Africa. When the idea of a formal salute to Knut's remarkable career at Duke came up in the early 90's, 1 was approached to submit a proposal for some sort of "tribute."
Central to the tribute was an invitation to the larger community at Duke to become aware of Knut's discoveries while hinting at the very special framework of ideas, perceptions and procedures in which such revelations can take place. How could such ideas be made to enhance this very civilized Garden Campus, with its Gothic architecture, formal landscaping, and public sculptures? How symbolize a modern scientist's passions in a setting that tends to recall a pre-science culture?
One way is to stick with the most popular of public monument traditions. Throughout this century modern artists have tended to accept the aesthetic traditions associated with open space monuments in bronze, [few deny the beauty and authority of bronze!] while scrapping the content of traditional statuary. In this way the figurative has largely lost out to Pure Form. Acknowledging that wholly recognizable symbols have a larger appeal than those that require initiation, we decided that a symbol that was not only figurative but anatomically correct might best achieve our objectives. After all, Knut is not only a physiologist but also an observant and disciplined anatomist.
An important dimension of Science [especially the observation-based traditions pioneered by Darwin] is that it represents a new relationship between humans and Nature. Instead of dictating that Nature always submit to human needs and will, scientific observers try to understand processes in the terms dictated by Nature itself. Nature is the Teacher.
Both Steve Wainwright and I felt that Knut Schmidt-Nielsen's professional life and practice exemplified this philosophical approach and that the tribute should invite the public to ponder the broader implications of a science that is fundamentally altering the way we see ourselves and our place in nature. I tried to elicit this sort of symbolism in the Science Drive sculpture. The great stature of the camel [Nature] dwarfs the quiet but dignified figure that simultaneously resembles Knut but stands for the scientist and his quest for knowledge.
Several visits to Duke during the design and installation phases of the sculpture's life had revealed to me what an exceptionally collegiate and dynamic culture had grown up in Bioscience Building. Where else would one find staff and students getting together to display what they did outside office hours: a festival of pottery, computer graphics, weaving, paintings and gorgeous Southern quilts? Where else find a design studio where scientist-artists and artist-scientists got on with exploring the nature of Nature [with startling results]? Where else find shelves of influential books and papers lining the Chairman's office, all written by past and present faculty or students?
Knut Schmidt-Nielsen's career has been woven into a broader fabric of excellence. To commemorate an aspect of the story in bronze is one thing, to give a sense of the sheer vitality and delight that Duke biologists take or have taken in their own and their colleagues work and ideas is another. It was with this objective that I set out to paint some murals in the Common-room. Given the forbidding demeanor of the building's tiled passageways, I thought the paintings might recall tapestries hung around cold gray walls to make a medieval castle seem warmer and less cavernous. Alternatively, I thought of stained glass windows to remind visitors and residents alike that most biologists take an intense delight in the beauty of their subject. [To see what I mean, just browse down the poster-plastered doors of labs and offices.]
The panels were painted during the
fall semester of 1998 following a series of informal consultations with
many scientists in the three departments about their research. The series
was completed during this semester and mounted on the walls last week.
Walking into the Common-room, two pictures compete with the windows to let in light and color. Both concern the interdependence of plants and animals, just as Bioscience and the building itself are shared by Botany and Zoology. In the center is a two-panel composition dominated by a formalized image of Vitex cymosa, an ant-plant with hollow stems wherein live very fierce Pseudomyrmex ants. According to Bill Hamilton, who sent me a fine photograph of the plant, these ants protect the Vitex from a variety of enemies, as does another genus of ant, Solenopsis, which protects the fern, Solanopteris, which has evolved special chambers surrounded by rootlets to accommodate its guardian ants. Also in the image are unfurling sprouts of the giant fern, which has been studied by Dick White. I have tried to borrow a peculiar quality from stained glass whereby the component pieces of glass can be read as positive or negative space depending on context or on the decisions of the artist. In this composition the interdependence of plant and animal is symbolized by an ambiguity between the shapes of ants and the shapes which accommodate them within or around the plants. Ant-plants have been studied at Duke, notably by Matt Rutter, but this pair of panels is meant to celebrate the work of more than one generation of botanists at Duke.
The panel on the left of the windows is not an animal-plant but a plant-animal: a chameleon. This reptile has the ability to mimic foliage or bark with uncanny accuracy, yet, when the occasion demands it, can transform itself into a kaleidoscope of primary colors, black, white, yellow, red, and blue. There is, therefore, a remarkable parallel between the abstract use of the color spectrum by organisms [in this case a chameleon] and the palette of a painter. Both seek to conjure up signals from the raw materials of optics. In the chameleon the way in which these colors are ordered or contrasted corresponds to a grid of dark and light bands that appear to wind helically around the animal's body in opposite directions. Individual scales within this grid can change color according to an optical effect that is species-specific, mood-specific, specific to the plant pattern on which it rests, and specific to the prevailing light. In this panel the chameleon is not represented as if it were within a cage or frame, but expands to fill the panel. It IS the panel; this identity of subject image and pictorial surface is common to all 12 panels. Several scientists have been interested in various aspects of chameleon biology while many more have worked on lizards and other reptiles--notably Joe Bailey, Stacey Weiss and Peter Wainwright.
On the opposite wall a "submarine" panel hides the semi-concealed image of a mask-eyed spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, which is being studied by Sheila Patek [who supplied me with an extraordinary confection of recently moulted carapaces that found their way into this "exploded" view]. The composition is dominated by the undulating action of swimming fish and waving fronds of the seaweed Grinellia americana. The small rounded pink leaves of another seaweed resemble the eggs of a gravid lobster, and pink highlights the mobile bones of a sugar-tongs fish as well as the crenellated grid of a Sea Fan, Stefanogorgia-wainwrighti. A shark ["helically wound"] and a marlin backbone suggest the years of research that culminated in the "Nekton" project on flagellate swimming by Hugh Crenshaw and the amazing "Twiddlefish" that was developed by Chuck Pell in the Biodesign Studio. The spines of sea urchins and Chris Damiani's crab/hydroids symbolize years of research at the Duke Marine Laboratory as well as celebrating the many activities that have flourished in the Biodesign Studio.
To the right of the doorway, seen from inside the room, is a painting that is not only a tribute to the department's ornithologists [such as the Steve Nowicki team and Vance Tucker], to Steve Vogel's experiments with leaves, birds and insects in wind tunnels, and to work on the dispersal of oak acorns. The panel is also a homage to fall in Durham [it was painted in October/November] and it celebrates the most superb and thrilling of all America's birds, the turkey. Like a chameleon, the turkey can be hard to see [especially on the nest] and its feather patterns certainly derive from leaf mimicry, yet the turkey cock can transform itself into the most astonishing cascade of shimmering, quaking, metallic feathers, its white pate standing out like a target against its black back while its pendulous red snood swings above red carunculations on bright blue skin. The turkey is born of the oak woods of America, which have been a paradise for many generations of naturalists; so, if there is paradise in America, then the turkey is its Bird.
The three panel series on the short wall are dedicated to the work and traditions of both the "'Bio-Anthropology" and Zoology Departments. The panels are painted in earth colors, partly to recall the phrase "earth to earth and ashes to ashes" as a reminder that all organic life springs up from the soil and is built from the same organic and genetic chemistry. Also, as biologists, we have to excavate meaning from the mostly hidden events of evolutionary time. We have to penetrate the layered interlacings of numerous self-contained systems, from the superficial to the vascular, neural, skeletal and myological; we have to decode specific messages, one by one, extracting them from the infinite noise that thunders through every living thing. Furthermore it has to make sense in terms of evolution; the simple word, "adaptation" multiplied in Number, Space and Time, carries the imprint of a far from simple story that takes us back to the beginnings of organic life on Earth.
How can such complexity be hinted at in a piece of research, let alone in mere images? The simple answer is that it cannot. I have been lucky enough to have studied, drawn, and sketched a greater variety of mammals in their natural environments than almost anyone, yet rendering the superficial appearances of furry things has become less and less satisfactory to me as a statement of anything interesting about animals, so this panel [which is mainly about mammals] may come as a surprise to those familiar with my illustrations. It could, conceivably, seem more consistent to the few who can stomach my innumerable dissection drawings.
The central human image and the gorilla-like silhouette to the left signify the search for knowledge of our own biological origins; it is a tribute to the work of researchers such as Matt Cartmill, Peter Klopfer and Richard Kay. The singular importance of fossils is symbolized by an echo, above the gorilla, of an Oligocene primate, Aegyptopithecus [in honor of Elwyn Simon's many extraordinary fossil discoveries]. The "Egyptian Monkey" portrait is rendered as if it were bellowing its message across 34 million years: "don't forget, once this world was mine." Other primates [mostly the lemurs for which Duke is so well known] peep and scurry through the composition, a baboon [for Susan Alberts], marmosets [for Leslie Digby], and a red howler monkey [for Theresa Pope]. The target-like black-on-white discs signal Zanzibar red colobus [for Tom Struhsaker]. Ring-tailed lemurs stand, like temple guardians, on the margins [the subject of studies by Peter Klopfer, Norman Rudnitz, and others]. Larger scale guardians flank the composition: Knut Schmidt-Nielsen's camel on the left and an elephant on the right. Louise Roth's studies on elephants not only remind us that these stereotypical giants have also been tiny animals [notably on Mediterranean islands]; her studies on dental succession have involved sectioning the teeth, revealing structural patterns deep within the skull that have as much, or more, to do with "elephantness" as a Kruger National Park postcard. Three very different renderings of an elephant's head dominate the right hand panel.
These panels are also a personal tribute to the liberating influence of American painters of the 1950's New York School. They returned to the viewer the responsibility for finding meaning in the smears or splatters of paint handled by another human being. In shadowy codes of colored handwriting they re-asserted the image as artifact. In these mural panels, as on a mottled cave wall, every animal image has to fight its way through a web of red, yellow, gray, black and white brush strokes. These can be interpreted, if you like, as metaphors for the material of organic life, out of which an infinite variety of properties can emerge, or, in Dan McShea's correction, explode!
The four-panel piece on the long wall begins with my fascination for America's Painted Ladies! No, not film stars, but three very common and closely related American butterflies of the genus Vanessa. One of these is the Cosmopolitan or "Painted Lady," Vanessa cardui, which was a familiar and much loved part of my African childhood, my European schooldays, and my Far Eastern and Australian travels. Like the chameleon, a plant-animal link arises from the animal's ability to match its miniature surroundings. Also like the chameleon, the animal's signal, even if cryptic, has provided me with a palette to match in acryllic. Lichen [Bill Culbertson's specialty] finds a very fair representation in the exquisite veination and pattern on the underside of this butterfly and some sort of representation of this [and of the whole wing of this butterfly] dominates the right half of this assembly. Yet anyone seeking photographic accuracy will be disappointed because illustration was not my objective; it is not a single specimen or species, flitting from sunspot to flower, that is my subject. Rather, I wanted my panels to evoke the dynamics of evolutionary transformation. In the simple markings of a small set of butterfly wings I wanted to indicate something of the way in which very small alterations in separate details add up to big differences in the whole organism. In charting the wing patterns of Vanessa cardui on the right, of Vanessa virginiensis on the left, and bits of the Californian Vanessa anabella in the lower corners I sought to suggest an insect fluttering through evolutionary time, transforming itself as it flies. As if the physiological transformation of egg to larva to pupa to adult are not wonder enough, Vanessas seem to me to exemplify the wonders of evolution in an almost pure, distilled form.
To anyone familiar with Duke Biosciences and Duke scientists, it will come as no surprise that this painting was inspired by the work of Fred Nijhout, who has been one of the very first to explore and explain such wonders. I first read Fred's brilliant treatise on the evolution of butterfly wing patterns when it was first published. I reread it to prepare myself for the Common-room painting project. The precise form of this painting gelled out of many conversations and a leisurely lunch with Fred who, with his "Nymphalid Ground Plan," provided me with both the intellectual license and the units of construction that I needed to go ahead.
While I owe the genesis of this particular painting to Fred, the entire project would never have happened without the extraordinary vision of Steve Wainwright. His knowledge of Form and Function is as broad as it is deep, but he goes much farther than other scientists in seeing that, at the turn of the century, the sciences must inform the arts and vice-versa. This is something he expresses in his own sculpture and in the model-making associated with much of his scientific research but he also generously guides and promotes the work of others. It was his vision and support that created the extraordinary Biodesign team and, with Chuck Pell and Hugh Crenshaw, the Nekton Project, where there are no boundaries between scientific research and artistic inspiration. Anyone associated with Duke knows what an enduring influence Steve has been in making biology exciting, inspiring and fun.
He has been the first to insist that the Common-room murals be fun. They are meant to be a praise-song for Biology at Duke and for the practice of Biology, but they are also meant to make the room, in the words of a Bioscience student, "a nice place to be." All this explanation has been far too wordy but I must conclude with my personal dedication, as artist, of the Common-room murals to Stephen Wainwright, Professor Emeritus Extraordinaire.
A SALUTE TO KENNETH SURIN
Our colleague Kenneth Surin (Program in Literature) doesn't know I am writing this editorial, but I believe his act of private virtue deserves some public credit. The private virtue I refer to is his exemplary conduct in a lonely but successful battle to keep the Duke Stores (including the Gothic Book Shop and the Textbook Store) from falling into the hands of private entrepreneurs. His culminating moment in that battle was his delivery to the Faculty Forum, about a year and a half ago, of a long, closely detailed, and compellingly argued essay that obviously represented years of dedicated, impassioned commitment to his cause. Its publication would surely (I believe) have negated the possibility of giving over the Duke Stores to private profit-seekers.
The fact that we never published the essay is another reason for this salute to Kenneth Surin. In my opinion, there was solid, factual material in this piece that could have proved embarrassing to several persons who had various degrees of authority over this issue. To his credit, Surin gave copies of his essay to these persons beforehand, and when they indicated their willingness to agree with his position, he simply packed away this substantial labor of love and accepted victory with a humane reticence. Now that the heart of battle has dissipated, it is time to say, Well done, Ken! Not only have you enhanced--in my judgment--the academic well-being of thousands of students and faculty members on this campus, you have also given new meaning to both ends of that old phrase, "a gentleman and a scholar."
FERRET: Transgressive Deconstructions
EdNote: Having been amply and properly informed about Hillary Clinton parlaying a $1000 investment into $100,000, the FF thinks it only fair to apply similar scrutiny to our potential next President, George W. Bush. The following excerpt is cited from an essay by political reporter Joe Conason. To solve the mystery implied therein, one should turn to Conason's article in the current (February 2000) issue of Harper's magazine (pages 39-53).
"Bush, who received $15 million for his share of the Texas Rangers franchise, would be the richest Democratic or Republican nominee since Lyndon Johnson. On the June 1998 day that the baseball team was sold, Bush told reporters, 'When it all is said and done, I will have made more money than I ever dreamed. . . .' Indeed. The sum represented an enviable 2,400 percent increase on the $606,000 investment Bush had made in the team nine years earlier, with borrowed money, and a considerable improvement on his own record of losing millions invested by others. . . ."
Adventures in Noble Thinking
"She is magnificently ugly--deliciously hideous. She has a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth, full of uneven teeth, and a chin and jaw-bone qui non finessent pas. . . . Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end as I ended, falling in love with her."
--Henry James, in a letter describing George Eliot (cited in Discover 2/2000, 49)
POSSUM (Passim): Random Readings & Culture Studies
FOREIGN AFFAIRS EXPERT VIEWS USA
[Interviewer]: "It isn't only our military power that makes us number one. For better or worse, our cultural impact is equally profound. The world flocks to American popular culture."
George Kennan: "This, alas, appears to be true. We export to anyone who can buy it or steal it the cheapest, silliest, and most disreputable manifestations of our 'culture.' No wonder that these effusions become the laughingstock of intelligent and sensitive people the world over. But so long as we find it proper to let millions of our living rooms be filled with trash every evening, . . . we would cut a poor figure trying to deny it beyond our borders. Nor would we be successful. In a computer age, it is available, anyway, to whoever wants to push the button and receive it. And so we must expect, I suppose, to appear to many abroad, despite our military superiority, as the world's intellectual and spiritual dunce, until we can change the image of ourselves we purvey to others."
--Interview of June, 1999, in The New York Review of Books, 8/12/99 (6)
Forum is published monthly by the Academic Council of Duke University.
Editor: Victor Strandberg (English). Editorial Advisory Board: Matt Cartmill (Biological Anthropology & Anatomy),
Howard Clark (Biomedical Engineering), Buford Jones (English), Seymour Mauskopf (History--on leave), and Kathy Rudy
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department) is 919-684-4871. The deadline for submissions is about the 25th of each month.