While the Wind’s on our Backs

Department Newsletter Cover

Yesterday I sent out our annual Department newsletter — it’s much smaller than it was 19 years ago, when we first started it. But back then the Department didn’t have a podcast or a Vimeo account where student-created content was regularly posted, let alone an Instagram account, so the newsletter was the main place where we could get some news out annually and represent the good work being done in the Department. So now, with frequent Facebook and Twitter updates, the newsletter plays a rather different role.

Among the various functions of yesterday’s update — such as announcing our incoming M.A. cohort and the interesting work being done by all of our faculty — was the chance to alert just our alums and current students as to an upcoming change in the Department. For in the late Spring of the 2021 semester, at my annual year-end meeting with the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences (where the past year’s work in the Department is discussed, along with briefing him on future plans), I told the Dean that, at the conclusion of my current term as Department Chair (in August of 2023), I wouldn’t stand for another 5 year term. I figured that two years notice was fair, what with the last year being taken up with the process to search for a successor; and so, at that August’s annual Fall faculty retreat, where we get ready for a new school year, I let the faculty and staff in on the news, thereby giving us as a group a year to talk about where the Department has been and where it might be going and, in the midst of all that, to mull over who the faculty would like to recommend to the Dean as their next Chair. Continue reading

The Jim Salem Chair Award Goes to REL

We’re very pleased to announce that, at the year-end A&S chairs event over the weekend, Dean Robert Olin presented the annual Jim Salem Chair Award to REL’s own Prof. Russell McCutcheon.

Instituted by the Dean after the death, in July of 2012, of the longtime American Studies Department Chair, Jim Salem, the award recognizes “outstanding leadership to students, faculty, and the College.” Salem, who chaired the search committee that brought Dean Olin to UA, was known for his enthusiasm, dry wit, and use of American pop culture as a way into understanding 20th century American culture and politics.

Prof. McCutcheon came to Tuscaloosa in the Fall of 2001, to chair REL at a time when the Department was on the brink of reinvention; while serving three terms as chair (2001-2009; 20013-present) he has also had a productive research and teaching career at UA, being named to one of the campus’s few University Research Professor positions in February of 2018.

Given annually, the Jim Salem award is selected by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and, with Dean Olin’s upcoming retirement in September, this marks his last selection for this award.

Congratulations, Prof. McCutcheon!

We Are the Beneficiaries

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As I sit here making the Spring 2017 class schedule for our department I recall the many times that I’ve heard academics lament being involved in administration. (That they equally complain about no longer being much involved in the governance of their institutions is an irony too rich to overlook.) “My condolences” is the witty reply many offer when learning that a colleague has fallen on the dagger (yes, that’s how it is portrayed) of becoming a department chair, coupled with such profuse congratulations at news of one stepping down as to make you think that it was equivalent to having your wrongful conviction overturned. Continue reading

Inaugural Department Chairs Workshop

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For several years the American Academy of Religion has been the home for a group of public university department chairs, meeting annually to discuss shared challenges. But the 90 minute lunch meeting (such as last November’s) just isn’t enough time to discuss anything in any real detail.
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See You There

deptchairsaarworkshopAre you chairing a Department of Religious Studies at a public university? If so, this group at our annual conference (taking place in a couple weeks in Atlanta) might be for you.

It’s an informal group and this year I’ve been invited to lead a discussion on contingent faculty. But I hope that in our brief time we can also discuss shared interests and, even better, ways to systematize future meetings. For we’ve all got to have certain challenges in common, let alone an interest to hear the novel ways that others may have tackled them.

See you there.