Putting the Issues in Perspective

Faculty called upon for expertise as media cover significant current events

When a young man was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Mo., media coverage did not naturally gravitate toward examining mid-century suburban development in the St. Louis area.Newspaper

For Clarence Lang, however, the connection between the current situation and his historical research on St. Louis was clear.

“In terms of my interest in race, urban politics and governance, social movements and the 20th century, I think that positioned me in an interesting way to comment on contemporary issues,” said Lang, an associate professor of African & African-American studies and American studies.

Recently, national and world crises have dominated headlines and media have frequently sought researchers’ expertise to gain a new perspective and better understand the context of current events. College of Liberal Arts & Sciences professors at the University of Kansas have been called on to provide new insight on issues surrounding Ferguson, as well as Ukraine and the Ebola virus.

Lang has examined African-American communities and social movements in St. Louis and its suburbs between the 1930s and 1970s. Shifts in the racial makeup of the suburbs between then and now have contributed to the tension and unrest seen in Ferguson, Lang said. White residents have moved into outer suburbs or back to the city center, while black residents have moved or been displaced into inner ring suburbs, such as Ferguson. At the same time, municipal leadership has not shifted to reflect current demographics.Clarence_Lang_OPT2

“Part of my argument with St. Louis is that it’s a laboratory that can tell us a lot about national trends. And I think that Ferguson in a similar manner can tell us a lot about issues of space, of race, of inequality, of politics today. It’s a microcosm,” Lang said.

Lang is among several faculty in the KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences who have become de facto media experts. Calls have come from around the country and around the world, including The New York Times, Bloomberg Business Week and Buzzfeed in Nairobi.

The connection between researchers and news media is facilitated through the KU News Service, whose mission is to help KU research reach broader audiences.

“One of the interesting things about this episode is that there’s no such thing as a marginal topic,” Lang said. “Because you never know in the course of political, social and cultural events when your topic may come to the forefront and suddenly your expertise is called upon.”

Vitaly Chernetsky, an associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures, studies contemporary culture of the post-Soviet world, with primary focus on Ukraine and Russia. As relations between the two countries have quickly deteriorated since the Ukrainian revolution, his specialty has been thrust front and center.Chernetsky_v_sm13

“I got calls asking to comment on an extremely broad range of topics. Some of them lend themselves more easily to discussion, such as the role of minority religious groups in Ukraine’s life – many Westerners were surprised to learn that the acting president of Ukraine in February-June 2014, Oleksandr Turchynov, was a Baptist minister,” Chernetsky said. “Other topics were more unusual; for instance, I had to comment on the fistfights that occasionally break out in the Ukrainian parliament.”

An Ebola researcher, however, is more used to seeing his subject make headlines. John Janzen has studied and compared all Ebola outbreaks until this year’s. He has tracked the pattern of spread, containment methods, public health measures and social control. The knowledge allows him to provide media greater detail about why the reaction varies from case to case.

“I explain why in some cases the community reacts to these fearful outbreaks with panic, flight, and attacking healthcare workers, whereas in other cases the response is more reasoned and deliberative,” said Janzen, a professor emeritus of anthropology.

What was striking for Janzen in his interactions with media was how the interests varied in the U.S. compared with media outlets abroad.Janzen March-web_0

“The conventional U.S. media … are totally focused on whether we are in danger here.  There is no interest in the actual developments of the epidemic in Africa, how people are organizing and coping, overcoming the threat,” he said. “By contrast, international media … were interested in the actual events, or even specific aspects, like containment in Monrovia, whether multiple-country collaboration was possible diplomatically, and so on.”

Janzen also saw challenges in distilling wide-ranging research into quick soundbites.

“Journalists operate on a 24-hour cycle and expect you to be an instant expert with a few phrases to encapsulate really complex realities that anthropologists take months or years to figure out,” Janzen said.

Chernetsky noted the contrast as well between media interviews and his daily routine as a professor.

“News media interaction is very different from the classroom setting. You have to be really concise; at the same time, be prepared that the journalist interviewing you might use only one sentence from the interview,” Chernetsky said.

Yet, the researchers see the experience as a significant opportunity to better inform the public and elevate the conversation around current issues.

“The recent developments in Ukraine offer a fundamental challenge to the world. More than ever, we need to step outside comfortable stereotypes, established patterns of thought, and knee-jerk reactions,” Chernetsky said. “The recent sociocultural developments keep making our world smaller and more tightly connected. Ukraine may be far away from Kansas, but what happens there impacts our lives here in innumerable ways.”

And just as what happens across the world can have broad impact, research at the University of Kansas can have broad implications. The researchers’ role as media experts expands access to their ideas beyond academics and students. For Lang, he views the experience as an extension of the mission of a public research university.

“To have the opportunity to address broad publics I hope answers the question about what the humanities and what research universities and what trained scholars can bring to society,” Lang said. “They can help interpret the issues of the day in ways that other people are not always as positioned to do.”

Alumni Profile: Edgar Heap of Birds

Distinguished alumnus an innovator of conceptual Native American art

Heap of Birds_HeadShotGrowing up in an underprivileged area of Wichita, Kansas, it never occurred to Edgar Heap of Birds that being a professional artist was an option for a career. Luckily, for the art world, the many students he’s taught, and the people he’s honored and educated with his art worldwide, it was.

The world takes notice

Heap of Birds remembers drawing constantly as a child and was encouraged in his art at a young age when he received a scholarship to take classes at an art institute in his hometown. Being recognized for his talent at such a young age was an interesting beginning, he recalled.

“Art is a compulsion. I think most artists have that knack or that compulsion to draw, and I think that’s the key element,” said Heap of Birds. “To succeed at it, it’s something you have to do to keep your balance.”EdgarQuoteNew

That compulsion later cemented Heap of Birds as the pioneer of conceptual Native American art in the United States. Heap of Birds works in a variety of media including: multi-disciplinary forms of public art, large scale drawings, acrylic paintings, prints, works in glass, and monumental porcelain enamel on steel outdoor sculpture.

He has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of Art, Smithsonian’s Nation Museum of the American Indian, and Venice Biennale, as well as galleries and museums in Australia, Germany, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, China, Indonesia and France.

The meaning of Heap of Birds’ work is twofold. First, it is very much about educating the public on indigenous peoples. He wants the public to see indigenous people as viable, “They are not in the past and over with. They are in the moment, they are now.”

The second purpose is to see contemporary indigenous people as individuals with a free persona to express themselves. He realizes this is a bit of a contradiction, but he doesn’t want these indigenous populations to be synonymous with only land rights and parody.

“We’re also certainly entitled to our own personal freedom. To be individuals, not just Americans, but to be tribal individuals,” Heap of Birds said. “To live however we want to live.”

An education in art

The encouragement Heap of Birds received early on didn’t stop after elementary school. A high school art teacher, who took the emotion and expression of art very seriously, took a few students to KU for artist lectures in Woodruff Auditorium and inspired Heap of Birds to further his training. During this time local Native American artist, Blackbear Bosin, became a personal mentor, and his interest merely deepened.

Heap of Birds then entered his freshman year at KU, and now sees his time here as a turning point. Growing up the son of an aircraft worker, Heap of Birds believed it important to find a major that would lend itself to acquiring a useful, vocational skill. He enrolled in graphic design initially, but quickly turned to painting.

Heap of Birds gives much credit to the “exceptional” painting faculty at the time. The faculty were very well-versed in the depth of the contemporary and international art world, which lent great guidance to his career. Another advantage of the painting program for upperclassmen at the time was having your own studio space. Heap of Birds remembered his work really bloomed from the privilege of having his own space to work.Heap of Birds8

After finishing his BFA at KU, Heap of Birds spent a year studying at the Royal College of Art in London. His time in Europe opened his eyes to the concepts of identity, and he headed to Oklahoma to spend a pivotal summer with his Cheyenne grandmother.

“My grandmother was very immersed in tribal culture,” said Heap of Birds. “I did research there, and it really got me going on a new body of work.”

That summer energized Heap of Birds for his MFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. Being so close to New York, he spent his time seeing shows, meeting artists and visiting galleries. His talent and the connections he made during that time enabled him to remain in Philadelphia for a couple years after graduate school to work as a professional artist for the first time.

Looking back to look forward

In the early ‘80s, Heap of Birds returned to Oklahoma, moved into an old, family homestead that lacked all modern amenities, and received the biggest creative boost he’s ever had. It was a time of poverty financially, but a time of artistic prosperity surrounded by the beautiful vistas, the canyon, and the wildness of the land.

“I was there for 12 years on top of that canyon. My painting and a lot of my political public art, my historic work was ignited by being in the community of the Cheyenne/Arapaho,” Heap of Birds said. “But I really feel like a big part of it – maybe more – was being in nature, learning from the land and the earth.”

His place within the Cheyenne/Arapaho community has continued to shape his work. Heap of Birds explained the weekly, community-based social dances on the reservation that always open with the memorial song. Members dance or stand in honor of lost ones during this honor song before moving to a song for the chiefs, a song for the warrior society and so on. Heap of Birds draws inspiration from this tradition; he feels his public work is his honor song.

“It’s to honor the history that maybe has been overlooked or hasn’t resurfaced, or people have been ignoring or suppressing it. I try to bring that forth first.” he said. “When my paintings and prints are more celebratory or more personal, it’s the same way. But I start out with honor, the memory, the history, the memorial. That’s my first duty as an artist.”Heap of Birds2

The most important aspect of his recognition as an artist is the artistic respect he’s achieved. When he was a young artist just starting to work professionally, he remembers telling someone that a primary goal was just to have the respect of his fellow artists.

“What’s been most meaningful is when another artist says, ‘I know your work.’ I’m in Georgia or Tokyo or India, and they already know who I am from what I’ve made,” he said. “I guess that – to have the respect of your peers – that’s really important.”

Sharing his strengths

Heap of Birds has been a teacher for more than 25 years and is currently a professor of Native American studies at the University of Oklahoma. His courses on issues of the contemporary artist on local, national and international levels have proven helpful in exploring and investigating new ideas.Heap of Birds6

Heap of Birds also relates to the plight of the young, struggling artist. He encourages students to find their own space, to find a space where they can live with their work, to travel as much as possible, to be patient. Artists have to be committed to what they are going to do, or they shouldn’t bother.

He willingly admits that Oklahoma and Kansas are certainly not art meccas, but he knows it doesn’t take Los Angeles or New York to make the art.

“It takes spirit and the community, the people and the land,” Heap of Birds said. “It takes the real community engagement, I think, to empower you to have something to say.”

Alumni Profile: William Fisher, renowned geologist

Professor’s advice led distinguished alumnus to finding his niche

Looking at the sum of his career, William Fisher attributes many of his accomplishments to a crucial conversation during his college years.

Initially, Fisher was intent on a biochemistry major as an undergraduate at Southern Illinois University. That is, until a professor (who just happened to grow up on a wheat farm in Kansas) said he didn’t think Fisher was cut out for chemistry. Fisher was surprised, even more so by what his professor said next.

“That was quite a shock to me. And he said, ‘Well, I’m not [cut out for it] either. I’m pursuing a degree in geology. You ought to go and talk to the people over there.’ That was the beginning of my junior year,” Fisher said. “So I transferred to geology. And have enjoyed it ever since.”BillFisher

That piece of advice has led to a career throughout the last 54 years in which Fisher has contributed broadly and frequently to the field. To name just a few, he and colleagues introduced what is now a standard concept for oil and gas exploration; he led the establishment of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas; and he has served as an advisor in numerous federal and state posts and panels.

In recognition of his contributions, Fisher has been selected as a 2014-’15 Distinguished Alumnus of the KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

In the fall of 1956 Fisher was drawn to the University of Kansas to study with one of the most renowned geologists of his time, Raymond Moore. LIFE magazine once recognized Moore as “one of the brightest minds in the world.”

“He was one of the top stratigraphers and paleontologists of his time and maybe all time. And so that was the attraction for an opportunity to come to KU and study with him,” Fisher said.

By 1960, Fisher was on the job market as a KU graduate with a master’s and doctorate in geology. He took a position at the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology and has since served in the bureau and the geology program as a dean, director, chair, professor and policy advisor at the state and federal level.

“One of the things I learned from Ray Moore was he worked hard and expected every around him to work hard. And the ability to work hard and discipline yourself opens up all kinds of opportunities in the university,” he said.


Fisher’s work resulted in significant growth for programs at the University of Texas. As director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, he led efforts to raise its profile and resources to become one of the best known geological research organizations in the U.S. and abroad. He also played the principal role in establishing the Jackson School of Geosciences in 2005, securing an incredible $270 million gift.

In addition to contributions to higher education, Fisher has made an impact in the field of geology through research, mentorship and public service.

Fisher and colleagues introduced a concept called depositional systems, which aids in identification of rock layers and resources below the surface. Such analysis is crucial in oil and gas exploration, where understanding the formation and natural laws of sub-surface rocks allows for more accurate predictions. Since its introduction in 1967, the concept has become the main benchmark for stratigraphy and sedimentology.

Fisher’s specialization in petroleum geology, which has continued throughout his career, stemmed in part from his surroundings.

“If you were leading a major geological program in Texas you became an oil and gas person whether you wanted to or not. Oil and gas have long been major parts of the economy as it is indeed in Kansas,” Fisher said.

The network of influence Fisher has had through mentorship is extensive. He has supervised more than 130 graduate students, many of whom have become mentors themselves. His students have also been selected for top industry and government positions, at organizations including Brazilian energy giant Petrobras, Thailand Gas Authority, Venezuela’s state oil company, as well as oil and energy producers in the U. S.

In his advisory roles, Fisher has contributed to policy considerations of U.S. energy resource development, assessment and environmental impact.

He was appointed in 1976 by President Gerald Ford as assistant secretary of energy and minerals in the Department of Interior. Decades of appointments to advisory committees and testimony to Congress followed. He has presented testimony on more than 100 occasions to the U.S. Congress and Texas Legislature. Fisher served on the White House Science Council under President Ronald Reagan.

His service to the federal government carried through a notable period in U.S. energy history.

“Much of it was done back in the ’70s and ’80s when energy and the concerns about oil and gas availability were very high. The OPEC embargo occurred,” he said. “[I was] trying to impart to Congress what were some of the geologic and scientific factors that were basic to policy issues that they were considering.”

Colleagues have recognized Fisher’s contributions by inducting him as a member of the National Academy of Engineering and awarding him both the Powers Medal and the Twenhofel medal, the highest awards of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and the Society for Sedimentary Geology. He has also been elected to the highest positions in the most prominent national geoscience organizations. Such accolades are reserved for the most productive and respected scientists in the field, making his impact all the more evident.

And to think, it all started when a professor said he wasn’t doing so well in class.

New degrees offer unique opportunities

As the largest and most diverse academic unit on campus, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences offers students the opportunity to do nearly anything – to learn without boundaries. Graduates from the College go on to explore space, write novels, build businesses, fight disease, lead communities and much, much more.CampanileGrad

Yet, the world continues to expand. Technologies, policies, companies and career paths evolve and education must evolve along with them. This year, students have a variety of new opportunities and pathways thanks to degrees developed by several departments and programs. Since spring, the College has introduced:

  • Two accelerated bachelor’s to master’s programs, in classics and philosophy;
  • Three graduate certificates, in global studies, museum studies, and Russian, East European and Eurasian studies;
  • An undergraduate major in human sexuality;
  • A minor in humanities;
  • A minor in Middle East studies;
  • A master’s in East Asian studies

“We want students to have as many options as possible to prepare for a successful career after they leave KU. These new degree options have broad applicability and will benefit students across the spectrum of academic and professional career interests,” said Danny Anderson, dean of the College.DannyGraduation

More options allow students to gain an education that will help achieve their specific career goals. These new programs offer diverse and relevant education in significant emerging fields and many are unique to the state and some, even to the region.

Accelerated bachelor’s to master’s programs in classics and philosophy will allow students to complete study in five years rather than the usual six.  These programs not only provide a smooth transition into graduate study but provide a smooth transition after graduation as well; lending a competitive edge in either the job market or admission to doctoral programs such as law, philosophy, library sciences or medicine.

Unique to the state, the human sexuality major will examine how sexual identity and practices contribute to significant contemporary social issues such as human trafficking, family violence and health inequality. This degree is the newest example of KU’s leadership in the state’s efforts to combat slavery and human trafficking. Previous initiatives in this area include last year’s Kansas Conference on Slavery and Human Trafficking hosted by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and KU.

Courses covering Middle East topics have become increasingly popular among undergraduates at KU. About 1,000 students have enrolled in recent years in courses that look at the Middle East from multiple perspectives, ranging from politics to religion to gender. A new minor in Middle East studies will enhance undergraduates’ ability to put current events in context with in-depth study of the region’s multi-faceted history, cultures and influence.RockChalkCap

In an increasingly competitive job market, education can set candidates apart. These new degrees will not only help students land an interview but will provide training and skill development, aiding graduates through a successful career.

Alumna is Modern-day ‘Monuments Woman’

Originally posted by KU News service 

University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts & Sciences alumna Corine Wegener has been called a modern-day “monuments woman” for her dedication to protect cultural heritage in some of the most dangerous and devastated areas of the world.corine100

Just as groups of World War II soldiers were sent to Europe to recover Nazi stolen art, as depicted in the Hollywood film “The Monuments Men,” Wegener has traveled into war-torn countries to help museum staff save its cultural treasures.

Wegener was sent to Iraq in 2003 after thousands of artifacts were looted from the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad. Inspired by her experience there, she founded the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a nonprofit organization that Wegener describes as the Red Cross of culture and heritage. Today, Wegener is a cultural heritage preservation officer for the Smithsonian Institution. She has worked with museum staff in Egypt, Libya, Mali, Syria and Haiti.

In the spring of 2003 during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Wegener was an assistant curator of decorative arts, textiles and sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and about to be deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Reserve. From her living room, she began following reports of looters ransacking Iraq’s prized collection of Mesopotamian relics at the Iraq National Museum.

“I was really shocked from a military perspective knowing that the military has planners that look at how to prevent damage to cultural heritage sites when we are doing military operations,” Wegener said. “From an art historian’s perspective, my heart really went out to the staff there because I can only imagine how devastating that must be.”

Wegener made a few phone calls to inquire about the Army’s response to the looters. Those calls prompted the Army to redirect her deployment from Afghanistan to Baghdad, where she served as a military liaison to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture.

Once in Iraq, she assisted museum staff and law enforcement in recovering stolen objects and repairing the damage done by looters. Along with a policy that allowed amnesty to looters that returned artifacts, sting operations were put into place with law enforcement officers posing as buyers for the looted material.Wegner Quote

In all, 40 to 50 percent of the 15,000 items that went missing were returned. For Wegener, the most thrilling recovery was the Lady of Warka sculpture, a 5,000-year-old carved marble female mask that is thought to be one of the earliest known naturalistic representations of a female goddess.

After nine months in Iraq, Wegener retired from the Army and returned to her position in Minneapolis. But her experience in Iraq showed her that there were other liked-minded people who wanted to do more to protect cultural heritage worldwide. She began forming networks of people with the aim to convince U.S. leaders to officially ratify the 1954 Hague Convention, an international treaty that requires countries to prevent the destruction of cultural property in times of war.

To support the implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention, Wegener founded and led the nonprofit organization the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield. In 2008, the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty. And, the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield began to help train U.S. military units deploying abroad so they could better protect cultural heritage.

“They have really raised their level of training and awareness in the last 10 years in a way that I didn’t think was possible back in 2003,” Wegener said.

In 2012, Wegener took the position of cultural heritage preservation officer at the Smithsonian Institution. It’s a role that recently has taken her to Turkey to train curators on how to protect artifacts caught in the opposition-controlled areas of Syria, to Egypt to assess the damage caused by a truck bomb that exploded near the Museum of Islamic Art and to Mali to work with museum staff on emergency planning and how to better connect to the community.

“You can’t really go forward, if you can’t see where you have been,” Wegener said of the importance of cultural preservation during times of chaos. “We owe it to our children and their children to be able to tell the story of what happened, even if there has been a horrible tragedy.”

While at KU, Wegener said she never thought her graduate degrees in art history and political science would lead to the career she has today. But she’s thankful both degrees gave her a broad liberal arts education.

“I just thought I was someone who couldn’t make up their mind on what master’s degree I wanted,” Wegener said. “I was able to tie all these things together in a career field that I never even knew existed when I was getting my master’s at KU. And, that is the message that I hope to bring to students – whatever you are studying now, you will probably use it in something you haven’t even thought of.”

Wegener will give a lecture titled “From Berlin to Baghdad: When Art Historians Go to War” at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 2 in the Spencer Museum of Art Auditorium. Wegener will deliver the lecture because she is being honored by the Kress Foundation Department of Art History as the 2014 Franklin D. Murphy Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient. The department and the Spencer Museum of Art are sponsoring the lecture.

Extracurricular Activities: Tom Beisecker, orchardist

Tom Beisecker is an associate professor and the Department of Communication Studies chair. He and Andrea Norris operate Beisecker Farms –  a commercial apple orchard located near Baldwin City. 



When and why did you decide to become involved with the orchard?

The orchard is my creation.  I first planted apple trees in 1978 when we moved to the country, and I’ve been adding trees and apple varieties periodically.  The latest plantings were in 2012, and I anticipate replacing some of the trees next year.  We started with what, in the 1970’s, were the standard apple varieties – Jonathan, Red Delicious, McIntosh and Winesap.  We added Golden Delicious, Galas and Romes about ten years later, and we currently have 13 different varieties under cultivation.


What’s the best part about working on the operation?

Being outside.  We need to prune the trees every year, and pruning can be very therapeutic.

With any agricultural operation some of the best parts and greatest frustrations go hand in hand.  It is very satisfying to see an apple tree laden with properly colored fruit and to market apples that have flavor you can get only when locally grown.  The companion frustration is that some years Kansas weather just doesn’t cooperate.

What is your favorite apple recipe?

Braised Pork Chops with Apple & Onion


  • 2 boneless pork chops
  • 1 large tart apple (Granny Smith works well)
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 tbs Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Finely slice the onion.  Core and finely slice the apple.

In a medium frying pan, cook the onion and apple over moderate heat with a small amount of olive oil until the onion is transparent.  Remove from the pan to a bowl.

In the same pan cook the pork chops.  When they are almost done, return the apple and onion mixture to the pan.  Add the Balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, salt and pepper and continue cooking until the liquid is reduced by at least one third.  Serve.

Meet the new director of the Honors Program

Bryan YoungBryan Young, associate professor in the in the University of Kansas Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, as the new director for the University Honors Program, as of June 1.

The University Daily Kansan interviewed Young on his new position and his vision for the Honors Program. Read the article here. Continue reading

John Gurche, Distinguished Alumni event photos

John Gurche was named one of the 2013-14 Distinguished Alumni of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, the highest honor from the College. He was recognized at a special event in Kansas City on May 1.

B. Lynn Pascoe, Distinguished Alumni event photos

B. Lynn Pascoe was named one of the 2013-2014 Distinguished Alumni of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, the highest honor from the College. He was recognized at a special event in Washington, DC on April 24, 2014.

KU students, alumni, faculty bring WWI history to life

KU WWI logo

The KU WWI Project will commemorate the centennial of the war with four years of projects and events to bring the past into the present. This image incorporates an illustration from the 1918 Jayhawker yearbook.

When a long-dead archduke and his assassin begin following you on Twitter, odds are that something interesting is about to happen. What has led Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Gavrilo Princip to follow the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences on Twitter, as well as many other campus accounts, is an inventive effort to bring history to life in the present. Continue reading