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Fellows in Residence in Former Years


Activities of Former Fellows

Former Fellows


The following individuals have served as fellows at the Institute. The summaries below are based on the work of each fellow at the time they completed their residency.

Spring 2010

Dr. William Pfaff, Music and Theater Department

During my time as a fellow at the Institute for Ethics in Public Life I had the opportunity to realize many of the goals I described in my application. “What is the ethical responsibility of the artist to share insight into his/her creative process? To what degree is it possible to encourage composer (artist) collaboration across the traditional divide between composer—performer—audience? Is it possible to design opportunities for inclusive interactions?” To this end, I had the opportunity to participate in a semester-long collaboration with the faculty and students in the music department at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. I was the Allen and Wendy Pensky Artist-in-Residence for spring 2010. In this role, I composed the work, Second Mesa, for the Lafayette College Concert Band and coached the ensemble in preparation for the world premiere (May 8, 2010). I had numerous interactions with the students in the ensemble in my three visits to the college. I was able to share details about the nature of my inspiration and intent of the work. As the rehearsals progressed, they became more involved with the work and were encouraged to ask questions and offer their observations. To complete the circle, I presented a pre-concert talk to the Lafayette College audience prior to the performance of the work. I was further involved at the college in preparation of another concert featuring my compositions. In this instance, I had another opportunity to explore “collaboration across the traditional divide between composer—performer—audience.” I coached student ensembles for the performance of my compositions, A Prayer for Peace and Tracery. In both these cases, I explained the source of my inspiration for the compositions. The ensembles were smaller (two performers and six performers, respectively) so I had the chance to interact more closely with the students. In these discussions, they made numerous inquiries about my composition process and the way it has developed over my career. I also gave a pre-concert talk prior to the performance and answered a variety of questions from the audience.

In addition to exploring aspects of artistic collaboration, I also began research on a framework “to introduce the ethical responsibilities and the depth of commitment required for true peer to peer collaboration within the undergraduate educational experience. I introduced collaboration in an upper level music theory course (MUS 220) through the following: small group work, team support in classroom activities, small ensemble performance projects and by promoting online collaboration via discussion forums in ANGEL.” The process effectively demonstrated how collaboration embodies the best practices of student-centered learning. Over the course of the semester, students contributed to the development of a supportive learning environment and explored their individual and collective capacities in music analysis, composition and performance.

Mr. Mark Holden, English Department

While attending the institute, I explored the gray (and shifting, and arguably nonexistent) line between works of fiction and what is today commonly called “creative nonfiction.” In part, I questioned the various distinctions made between the genre categories, and asked if there was any way to more clearly delineate their differences, and if the definitions had the integrity or validity to stand up to closer scrutiny. Or, had writing evolved to a place where hybridization of fact (personal, real experience) and fiction (intentionally transformed experience) melded in such a way as to make it a moot question?

During my time at the Institute, I benefited from being challenged by my colleagues as we discussed these questions, while I concurrently worked on two essays which I considered to be truthful accounts of personal experience. One is titled “The Perforated Colon,” describing my experience with that condition and my hospital stay; the other is titled “Cinco de Mayo,” which is about laparoscopic gall bladder surgery and, again, experience as a hospital patient.

Working on these essays during my stay at the Ethics Institute made me think more carefully about my responsibilities as a writer who pilfers and cherry picks experience from real life, which, when italicized, becomes something other than real life, although I’m not sure what. Larger than life? More dramatic than real life? For me, I think it is a matter of focus and interest, and using language to spotlight, and metaphor to enhance, a particular moment in time. Regardless, I sometimes write about other people and put them on the page. My colleagues have contributed to raising my level of awareness and sensitivity toward my “characters,” who are real human beings whom I have chosen to write about because they’ve played some part in the drama, or the comedy, of my own life.

Dr. Peter Conrad, Biological Sciences Department

My initial idea for my semester as a Fellow at the Ethics Institute was to design a course or modules in ethics for science undergraduates. In three fall 2009 courses, I included exercises in very basic and “practical” ethics in the sciences to gage student interest in discussing ethical issues. This ran the gamut from faking research results, plagiarizing to get ahead to more global problems in ethics such as analyzing the apparent motives of biomedical, pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Students were interested in learning about intellectual property rights, ethical behavior in research and in discussing the balance between reasonable profit and greed. During the spring semester at the Institute I was exposed to a wide variety of opinions and ethical issues that truly broadened my view of ethics and provided me with a historical perspective of ethical thought. My goal for my courses is to continue to interject ethical discussion often just as I include as much writing, problem solving and mathematics as possible because a single course does not accomplish much. It requires frequent integration of all of these skills to change. Once students have been exposed to another way of looking at the world, they demand more and more of that in every course they take. My semester at the Ethics Institute rewarded me in ways that I had not expected.

Fall 2009

Dr. Connie Oxford, Gender and Women’s Studies Department

I used my fellowship at the Institute for Ethics in Public Life to work on my book manuscript titled Fleeing Gendered Harm: Seeking Asylum in America. The manuscript is an ethnography of asylum in the United States focusing on gender-based persecution, such as female genital cutting, domestic violence, rape, coercive family planning, forced marriage, honor killings, and repressive social norms. I focused on three aspects of ethics as they relate to gender and persecution in the manuscript: 1) How the United States interprets its obligation to asylum seekers who seek protection from gendered harm; 2) How immigration officials and immigrant advocates understand gender-based persecution as a human rights issue; and 3) The research ethics of writing about conflicting narratives when immigrants articulate different motivations for leaving their country than those presented by their attorneys and immigrant service providers. I also created two new courses for the gender and women’s studies department: “Gender and Human Rights” and “Race, Gender, and Immigration in the United States.”

Dr. Paul Johnston, English Department

I used my Fellowship to research the development of critical ideas about American literature and culture in the first half of the 20th century. Critics at this time brought to the forefront writers—Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman—who celebrated the self apart from society as the central characteristic of American literature and culture. This idea took hold in the field of American Studies in the middle of the 20th century and continues to define American thought today, though with consequences for society that the liberal, progressive critics who established it did not anticipate. Individual rights—whatever the cost of such rights to others or to larger society—have become the rallying cry not of liberal progressives, but for those who resist what liberals and progressives are now trying to bring about. My work is ultimately aimed at recovering for American society those voices once central to American literature who spoke not on behalf of the individual but for the community. My focus in on Longfellow, who was widely read and loved in the 19th century but who was dismissed by critics writing between the two world wars. I hope to restore serious interest in Longfellow, and my semester at the Ethics Institute has moved me farther in the direction of this goal.

Dr. Susan Mody, Teacher Education Program

The vital opportunity provided by the Ethics Institute Fellowship to dig more deeply into the concept of place and its relevance to the Plattsburgh community has led to new appreciation for place as a necessary interdisciplinary lens through which to examine human experience. From sustained reading and conversations with colleagues who generously shared narratives of community history, I have developed a stronger understanding of place not only as a critical interdisciplinary framework that helps investigate and connect local with regional and global issues, but also as a constant imperative negotiation to claim rights and assert values, which can both invite and compel active engagement in community political life. Because identity borders are patrolled as contentiously as physical boundaries, contestation intensifies locally symbolic myth-making, as witnessed, for example, in the increasing size and frequency of military re-enactments as a form of weekend family recreation in our area. The fact that so many prominent local educators play leading roles in this enterprise becomes thus less surprising and more recognizable as a manifestation of political agency. Perceived threats of identity displacement may be at work in noisy public displays masquerading as museum and tourist development. I am re-equipped with new sets of questions to use in classrooms and in the field, and I have written three new courses, integrating insights from the Fellowship semester into re-invigorated teaching applications.

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