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KU chancellor reflects on meeting with DeVos; Ironing boards with a message: Common Work of Art creator speaks Wednesday at KU

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Along with 10 other Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) presidents and chancellors, University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little met last week with the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, in Washington, D.C. Gray-Little shared some takeaways from that meeting in her latest Chancellor’s Message, shared with campus on Monday.

“Given the tremendous volume of news coverage of the new administration, it is neither feasible nor prudent for university leaders to publicly address every idea, proposal, tweet or rumor coming out of Washington,” she wrote. “But it is always appropriate for university leaders to reiterate their institutions’ core principles and remind elected officials that there are some policy preferences and values that are fundamental to our mission.”

Gray-Little highlighted four areas she said will require universities to be vigilant in this “unusual” political environment.

On “targeted threats to specific areas of research”: “We must be watchful for politically motivated attacks on specific areas of research such as gun violence and climate change. While it is understood that democratically elected officials will make policy decisions, it is not acceptable to block universities from making research-based discoveries that are relevant to the policymaking process.”

On research funding in general: “Without adequate and predictable federal funding for research, our nation risks stagnation in key areas, threatening our well-being and eroding our role as global leaders in innovation and our potential contributions to the economy.”

On diversity and inclusion: “This year, more than any year I can remember during the past three decades, (Martin Luther) King’s call for equal justice and true democracy are needed. This is why our efforts to ensure the University of Kansas embraces diversity and inclusion are so important.”

On “the free flow of students and scholars”: “Universities are marketplaces of ideas that rely on the unfettered exchange of ideas among individuals from different backgrounds. Any policy that unnecessarily restricts the free flow of students and scholars will negatively impact our university community.”

Some of the ideas proposed by the new administration have sparked valid concerns at universities nationwide, including KU, Gray-Little said. She said KU continues to work with peers and lawmakers to be part of the policymaking process on issues that affect higher education.


Ironing boards with a message: Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author of the 2016-17 University of Kansas Common Book, “Between the World and Me,” did not make an appearance at the university this year. The keynote lecture in the common book events series was delivered back in September by author and editor Jabari Asim. But in conjunction with the Common Book, KU also has a Common Work of Art, and its creator will be here for an event this week.

“An Evening with Artist Willie Cole” is planned for 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium at Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Mississippi St. Cole will speak about his artistic practices and themes.

The Common Work of Art is a group of three 2012 intaglio/relief prints from Cole’s “Beauties” series, “Calpurnia,” “Bertha Mae,” and “Lula Bell.” Each of the tall, narrow black-and-white prints — displayed side-by-side, reminiscent of a triptych — portrays a different ironing board.

The University of Kansas' 2016-17 Common Work of Art — Willie Cole's "Calpurnia," "Bertha Mae" and "Lula Bell," of 2012 — are displayed inside the Learning Center at KU's Spencer Museum of Art, in October 2016.

The University of Kansas' 2016-17 Common Work of Art — Willie Cole's "Calpurnia," "Bertha Mae" and "Lula Bell," of 2012 — are displayed inside the Learning Center at KU's Spencer Museum of Art, in October 2016. by Sara Shepherd

“Cole is perhaps best known for his assemblage sculptures composed of irons, women's shoes, and hair dryers, which he transforms into objects resembling West African sculpture,” according to the Spencer’s description of the common work. “When discussing his process of altering everyday objects to reference African forms, Cole notes, ‘I think that when one culture is dominated by another culture, the energy or powers, or gods of the previous culture hide in vehicles in the new cultures.’” 

Cole acquired the metal ironing boards from the Salvation Army and Craigslist, according to the Spencer. After flattening the boards by doing things such as driving over them, pounding them with hammers and running them through an etching press, the resulting prints resemble “shrouded figures as well as diagrams of slave ships that were circulated by abolitionists in the 18th and 19th centuries.” Each board’s old-fashioned title references Cole’s ancestors, family or iconic slaves or domestics from literature, including Calpurnia from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The artwork is on display in the new Learning Center area of the recently renovated Spencer Museum of Art.

Process shot from creating “Beauties,” courtesy of Highpoint Editions and the artist, Willie Cole.

Process shot from creating “Beauties,” courtesy of Highpoint Editions and the artist, Willie Cole.

Process shot from creating “Beauties,” courtesy of Highpoint Editions and the artist, Willie Cole.

Process shot from creating “Beauties,” courtesy of Highpoint Editions and the artist, Willie Cole.


— I’m the Journal-World’s KU and higher ed reporter. See all the newspaper’s KU coverage here. Reach me by email at sshepherd@ljworld.com, by phone at 832-7187, on Twitter @saramarieshep or via Facebook at Facebook.com/SaraShepherdNews.

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