Friday, June 28, 2013

The End of Department Chairs at Xavier

Today I am the Chair of the Theology Department at Xavier University of Louisiana. But as the first Summer Session ends on Monday, there will no longer be a Chair of Theology. Instead, all of the Humanities (Theology, History, English, Languages, Art, Music, Philosophy = "THE LAMP") will be grouped into one Division. They will be led by the Division Chair, and each department will be led by a "Departmental Head." For Theology, that will be my friend Mark Gstohl starting in the Fall semester. He will have less release time and benefits, as well as less prestige with the position, than previous Departmental chairpersons.

Why are we doing this? I am not clear. The answers have varied over the past year. At times it was about budget, other times it was about synergy, sometimes it was about the future of education and Lumina as well as SACS, our accrediting agency. We were told that Berea would be our model, but it seems clear that faculty at Berea are pretty upset about their restructuring. But at Berea, faculty voted for the change and they got to vote to decide who would be the Division Chairs. Faculty at Xavier were not allowed to vote for either of these important decisions. We are told that once we see how this works next year, and experience governance from this business model of efficiency with true leaders, that we will embrace the change. I am skeptical but will try to keep an open mind as this moves forward. Several employees in academic support positions lost their jobs earlier this year. So far no tenured faculty have been let go, but many speculate that vacated positions won't be renewed. Times are rough from here in the trenches of higher education. Universities are getting less and less support from federal and state levels. Tuition has gone way up, enrollments have gone down. I very much love my job, my school, my students and the mission of my university. I just need to survive these turbulent times in hope that things get better, or at the very least, that things don't get worse.

Friday, June 07, 2013


This is the summer of the mighty Marj Rabba

I am heading there in early July with Gilgamesh and two of my brightest Xavier students: Melissa Nguyen and Alexis Parker. Leading the excavation are my two friends Dr. Yorke Rowan (Oriental Institute) and Dr. Morag Kersal (DePaul University). 

Marj Rabba is a Chalcolithic site in the hills of Galilee located near Karmiel, halfway between the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee. 

As most of my professional field work has focused on the Bronze and Iron Ages, I've been reading quite a bit about the Chalcolithic period to get prepared. It's a fascinating time, dating to around 4500-3500 BCE, and it's arguably the beginning of the modern industrial world given the amount of craft specialization that develops. It's a transitional time period marking the end of prehistory, and with writing developing in the subsequent Early Bronze Age, the Chalcolithic period is literally the dawn of history. The name Chalcolithic was coined by William Albright, with chalco referring to copper and lithic meaning stone. So it's the Copper/Stone age. I've worked quite a bit with copper production sites in the Feinan region of southern Jordan. I don't plan on seeing any copper though this summer. Marj Rabba is sort of like Nebraska. As Drs. Rowan and Morag wrote in their field report, "the lack of exotic materials or evocative iconography, suggest a relatively self-sufficient village of agro-pastoralists with a mixed farming economy and only limited exchange beyond the immediate hills of Galilee."

Elsewhere, the Chalcolithic period in the Southern Levant is famous for exotic materials and evocative iconography. Some of my favorite ancient figures are big nosed faces carved into basalt. They're common in the Golan region. Here's one:

Chalcolithic Basalt Pillar From Golan

This reminds me of a few of my wife Therese's uncles, as they have giant noses. Another famous image is this clay seated woman, naked of course, with a butter churn on her head. It's from a religious pilgrimage site at Gilat. 

Notice the red stripes. I'm thinking this would make a great Mardi Gras costume. These artistic designs both highlight the nose but don't incorporate the mouth. My theory is that before writing, people didn't have much to say. I'm curious if they even bothered to give each other names. They probably just called everyone "Uggghhh."

The major debate concerning the Chalcolithic period is the level of social complexity. People argue about a shrine at En Gedi near the Dead Sea. Was it ministered by a priest or a shaman? Those who claim that the social complexity was deep and that major cultures such as the one found at Teleilat Ghassul were widespread argue it was a priest. Those who don't see the social complexity as deep and the Ghassulian culture so widespread instead claim it was a shaman. I really don't think I care too much about that. But I am looking forward to working with this project at Marj Rabba.