As the son of two academics and with twenty years of college teaching under my
belt, I like to think that I know a thing or two about American higher education.
I can give a lecture or lead a seminar, find my way through a curriculum, a syllabus,
or the library stacks, and write a spiffy research article overflowing with footnotes.
And I have spent enough time as an administrator and good campus citizen to know
every in and out of task forces, committee meetings, public forums, faculty assemblies,
student senate hearings, and other service obligations where napping with your eyes
open is a crucial life skill. But from the moment I arrived at Hendrix I began to
see, as I never had before, just how complex a college campus is and how many individual
talents are needed to keep it functioning smoothly. So while I can draft a memo
or grade a term paper with the best of them, I know next to nothing about landscape
maintenance or roof repairs or keeping a salad bar stocked or coaching volleyball.
Over the next year, then, I plan to undertake some remedial education in the
full range of skills, tasks, and jobs that are essential to the life of Hendrix
College but seldom get the spotlight in web pages or press releases or commencement
talks. Once every month I plan to "shadow" members of the College staff, spending
some time to learn about them, their positions, the roles they play in our community,
and those aspects of what they do that keep them coming back to work every morning.
I guarantee you that I will not learn enough to bake a sheet cake or repair an internet
server or operate a backhoe, but I do hope to get a fuller sense of all the individual
contributions and commitment that go into making Hendrix such a special place. And
I plan to share my experiences, the stories of the people I meet, and the lessons
I learn here on my blog.
On June 2, my first day on the payroll at Hendrix, I spent an hour with Bruce
DeLeuil, the campus carpenter. In his almost fifteen years working for the College,
I suspect Bruce has touched every piece of wood and tightened every screw on campus.
On this damp morning Bruce was starting his annual routine of going through every
dorm room on campus, checking the drawers in the desks and bureaus, giving a once-over
to the mirrors and countertops, and ensuring that the doors and hardware all worked
as they should. Bruce was just the first wave of skilled staff to go through the
dorms during the summer, repairing the wear and tear from one year of residents
and making everything as fresh and functional as possible for the next wave of students
who will arrive in August. In the carpenter's footsteps will come the air conditioning
experts, the electricians, the plumbers, and the painters, the small army of craftsmen
necessary to keep these buildings (some nearly a century old) comfortable and welcoming.
Bruce is a modest man, soft-spoken and of few words but with an obvious eye for
detail. "It's a lot of rooms and I've handled every one of them," he told me with
a quiet pride, "Every drawer, every piece, year after year after year."
I learned that students stepping up on bureau drawers to reach upper bunks are
rough on the furniture. And that nail polish remover will buckle the lucite tops
on vanities. And that you need to be prepared for surprises, even after the rooms
have been vacated and the cleaners have done their work. In the back of one Galloway
Hall cabinet Bruce discovered an article of forgotten clothing, a remarkably elaborate
and colorful (ahem!) undergarment. Bruce did not blush or laugh, as I did, but kept
on with his job, just remarking that he had seen worse.
To the freshmen who swarm into the residences in a couple months, all the work
of Bruce and his colleagues will be invisible. But Bruce won't mind, as he hasn't
for the past fourteen move-in days. "It's just the little details we gotta do to
make sure things function," he says. "We just try to make it as enjoyable for the
students as it can be." So when the next generation of Hendrix students steps on
drawers and spills nail polish remover and leaves their unmentionables behind, Bruce
will be there once again to put things right. And for that we can all be very thankful.
I am proud to be a Japanese-American but have not had a typical Japanese-American
experience, if there is such a thing. I did not, for instance, grow up in a large
ethnic community in a place like Hawaii or California. I did not speak Japanese
at home or live in the midst of an extended Japanese-American family. My father
was an immigrant from Japan, who came to America in the early 1950s to get an education.
My mother was from upstate New York and was of good German and English stock. They
met as postdocs in a lab at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the rest, as they
say, is history. So, in other words, I had no relatives who were subjected to that
most defining (and scarring) of Japanese-American experiences, mass internment by
the U.S. government during World War II.
In my hometown of Bryan, Texas, there were only two families of Japanese ancestry
and I grew up with very little awareness of what being Japanese-American meant.
I went on to learn Japanese language in college and become a historian of modern
Japan, but an appreciation of my hyphenated-American heritage was slow in coming.
When living in Kansas, where Japanese-Americans are about as rare as they are in
central Texas, I began giving public talks for Asian American Heritage Month, often
because there was no one else in the area willing or able to do so. I served as
the faculty advisor for the Asian-American Student Union, an experience which was
educational and always rewarding for me. And when I was asked to write a book chapter
on the history of Asian-Americans in Kansas, I gladly took on the project, to educate
myself and to share with others a story that had never been told before. Some of
what I learned was unforgettable: for example, when the first dozen Vietnamese refugees
arrived in Wichita in the early 1970s, the local newspaper led with the headline
“Sedgwick County Overrun with Asians.”
Although it clearly had been brewing for a while, a real awareness of being part
of a larger Japanese-American community and history is something relatively recent
for me. In 2011, I had the opportunity to be a member of the Japanese-American Leadership
Delegation, a program sponsored by the Japanese government and the U.S.-Japan Council
to connect Japanese-Americans to their Japanese roots and empower them to assume
more active roles in shaping trans-Pacific relations. For two weeks I traveled around
Japan with a dozen fellow Japanese-Americans from across the United States. From
them I came to appreciate the diversity of the Japanese-American experience and
the complex legacies of wartime internment. Most importantly, though, my time with
them helped me realize the extent to which shared bonds of culture and shared challenges
in American society knit us together as Japanese-Americans despite superficial differences
of age, geography, and personal circumstance.
Thinking more consciously of my Japanese-Americanness (if there is such a word)
has led to some surprising discoveries. For example, last summer I tagged along
with my wife Marjorie to Utah, where she was attending a conference. While she listened
to (and delivered) academic papers, I played the tourist. In between an organ recital
in the Mormon Tabernacle and a pastrami burger (a Salt Lake City greasy-spoon specialty),
I made a pilgrimage to Topaz, one of the ten major Japanese-American internment
camps spread mainly across the desolate expanses of the intermountain West. To call
the Topaz site isolated is a bit like calling Dallas a little warm in August. Located
about 100 miles south of the Great Salt Lake, near the sleepy farm town of Delta
in a broad valley cut by the Sevier River from the Wasatch Mountains, Topaz is not
the kind of place you would just stumble across. On a cloudless summer afternoon,
the grid of dirt roads and a few aging foundations from camp buildings were the
only relics left of the 8,000 Japanese-Americans who lived here 70 years ago. It
was almost perfectly quiet as I walked what once was a barbed-wire perimeter, the
silence broken only by locusts rising from the sagebrush, an occasional hare darting
out in front of me, the flapping of an American flag at a small memorial by the
highway, and the heavy sound of my footfalls. It was beautiful and horrible and
peaceful and disturbing, all at the same time. I drove away with profound respect
for the endurance and resilience of the people (most of whom were U.S. citizens)
imprisoned in such an otherworldly spot and nagged by a certain shame as an American
and a member of a generation that has largely forgotten such a painful chapter in
I was aware there were two internment camps in Arkansas, as I had a student at
the University of Kansas who wrote a term paper for me about them. But imagine how
surprised I was when I walked into the Mills Center for the first time, late last
October when Marjorie and I were on our introductory tour of the Hendrix campus,
and encountered one of the true masterpieces of Japanese-American internment camp
art. “Arrival at Camp Jerome” is a magnificent oil by Henry Sugimoto, a talented
painter who was born in Japan and studied in Paris before settling in California.
In 1942, he was “relocated” (as the federal government euphemistically called it)
to Arkansas, eventually spending time with his family in both the local camps at
Jerome and Rohwer. Many of
paintings are now held by the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles
an intimate visual chronicle of the daily routines and myriad indignities of internment.
I hadn’t even had a chance to ask anyone why there was a Sugimoto high up on
that Mills Center wall before I received a lovely email from Tom Goodwin in the
Hendrix Chemistry Department. Tom was one step ahead of me and sent along a fascinating
1994 article by Robert Meriwether explaining how the painting had ended up at Hendrix.
As many of you will know, Louis Freund, who taught art at the college during the
war, invited Sugimoto to have his only exhibition in Arkansas (at least beyond the
fences of the camps themselves) on the Hendrix campus in 1944. After the show, the
college wisely (but, I imagine, somewhat controversially) purchased one of Sugimoto’s
finest works. It is a testament to the Hendrix community and its enduring commitment
to inclusiveness that, even in a time of war and fear and injustice, the campus
could welcome a Japanese-American artist with talent and a quiet message of resignation,
loyalty, and dignity in distress.
I have a sneaking suspicion that “Arrival at Camp Jerome” might just end up in
the president’s office come June 1. And I know for sure that high on my list of
priorities when I arrive in Conway are visits to the sites of the internment camps
in Jerome and Rohwer and a tour of the new museum (only a year old as of April)
dedicated to their history in the delta town of McGehee. I am proud to follow in
Henry Sugimoto’s footsteps to Arkansas, and even more proud to be joining a community
with a long heritage of embracing difference and a free-thinking culture that is
not afraid to take on even the most difficult of issues.
first met my future wife in the fall of 1985, when we were both
wet-behind-the-ears graduate students at Oxford University. Marjorie Swann was
a Canadian, from a fly-speck of a town on an island in Lake Huron with more
moose than people. She was at Oxford on a Commonwealth Scholarship (a charming
remnant of British imperial noblesse oblige) and was reading for a degree in English
Renaissance literature. Our courtship was not exactly the stuff of romance
novels or made-for-Lifetime movies. To say it was nerdy is putting it mildly:
think The Big Bang Theory but with
humanities geeks instead of scientists. We would take tea breaks together, she
emerging from the ancient, overheated library she preferred, me staggering into
the sunlight from the medieval dungeon of a library I frequented. We knew
things were getting serious when we started editing each other’s seminar papers.
Then, as now, Marjorie was an absolute whiz with a red pen and a stickler for
clarity and logic. It was love at first comma splice.
were married in 1989, in Marjorie’s family’s little church on St. Joseph
Island. We then began the peripatetic lives of contemporary academics. Our
first stop was Princeton, New Jersey, where Marjorie finished her dissertation
and earned an Oxford D.Phil. while I was still stuck in classwork and sitting
comprehensive exams. She subsequently earned a prestigious postdoc (thank you,
cradle-to-grave Canadian government) and stayed in Princeton when I went off to
Japan for a year to conduct research. We reunited in, of all places, Denton,
Texas, where Marjorie had won a coveted tenure-track job at the University of
North Texas. After a year in the Lone Star State, when I was happily a kept
man, working on my own dissertation while Marjorie labored as a grunt of a
junior faculty member, we packed up again and hit the road.
next port of call for us (and a long layover, it turned out) was in Lawrence,
Kansas, where we both landed jobs at the University of Kansas. In our 17 years
at KU and in one of America’s great college towns, we accomplished a lot, both personally
and professionally. We both earned tenure, Marjorie published her first book
(on the culture of collecting in early modern England), brought home a slew of
teaching awards, and directed the Museum Studies master’s program. We became rabid basketball fans, even more
rabid regional art collectors (of which more will follow in another blog post),
and we rescued a historic home from demolition, completely renovated it, and
got it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Marjorie returned to
her roots in rural Canada (where she had a summer market garden to earn the
money for college) and kept us supplied with a backyard bounty of scrupulously
organic raspberries, herbs, and heirloom tomatoes.
2010, of course, we have been down in Dallas, where brutal summers make
gardening all but impossible and a historic house is anything built before
1995. Marjorie has continued to rack up the teaching honors and is already well
known as one of SMU’s most demanding and best English professors. (Warning to future students at Hendrix: Dr.
Swann will work you hard and have no patience for sloppiness or laziness. Advice
to future students at Hendrix: Take Dr. Swann’s classes, because you will learn
more in one semester about reading, writing, and thinking than you ever thought
always, Marjorie continues to burn the candle at both ends, being an active
scholar while still heaping red ink by the bucket-load on student essays. For
several years she has been working on Izaak Walton, a seventeenth-century
author who is regarded as something of a literary patron saint by all sport
fishermen. His 1653 volume The Compleat
Angler (if only Marjorie had been around to correct his spelling!) is the
second most frequently reprinted book in the English language after the Bible. The
more the merrier, it seems, since Marjorie has just completed (compleated?) a
new edition of the venerable volume, released in the United States this month
by Oxford University Press. It is a lovely book, with a ribbon bookmark and a
striking cover designed to attract all those fishermen who are voracious
readers in the months when they cannot be standing amidst a stream in their
waders. In her introduction, Marjorie urges us to reconsider how we regard this
time-honored text: The Compleat Angler,
she argues, is not just a fishing manual, not just a celebration of the countryside,
and not just an Anglican meditation in an age of civil war, but it is also very
much an ecological study, an unusually early reflection of an environmental
consciousness in English literature. Even if Walton’s writing is difficult to
plow through at times (The Canterbury
Tales meets Moby Dick is a rough
approximation), Marjorie’s introduction alone is worth the cover price.
edition has already been attracting lots of attention, even in places where
ivory-tower scholars usually fear to tread. It was one of two featured reviews
in an issue of the TLS (which is, in
British literary circles, like running in the Kentucky Derby if you happen to
be a racehorse). It was written up admiringly (and compared to, believe it or
not, Lady Chatterley’s Lover) in the
sports section of London’s newspaper The
Independent. Marjorie has been asked to deliver the keynote speech at this
summer’s annual convention of the Izaak Walton League of America, a national
conservation organization for sportsmen. And she is scheduled to do a book
signing at the Bass Pro Shops superstore in Altoona, Iowa. Wow! Just look where
an Oxford doctorate can take you!
has written a blog on The Compleat Angler
for the publisher (you can read it here – link to http://blog.oup.com/2014/02/fishing-with-izaak-walton-compleat-angler/). It is
illustrated with photographs by yours truly, taken during our “vacation” to
England last year (which, incidentally, fell during the coldest spring in the
British Isles since the last Ice Age). While Marjorie was walking in the steps
of Izaak Walton, visiting all the historic sites associated with him, and poring
over sources in museums and libraries, I was either obligingly taking
photographs (often while wearing mittens) or else relaxing in a pub across the
street, trying to stay warm. It was all in a good cause, though, as the edition
sets a new standard for reprints of Izaak Walton and as Marjorie is hard at
work on a book about The Compleat Angler
and its post-Renaissance afterlives.
is looking forward to the move to Conway, to joining the Hendrix community, and
to teaching poetry come the fall. And she’s also eager about learning how to
fly fish after we arrive in Arkansas. I understand our next “vacation” to
England is going to involve not just walking in Walton’s centuries-old
footsteps, but actually angling where the great man once did.
just so you know, we still edit each other’s writing, even after almost 25
years of marriage. The couple that
proofreads together stays together.
am not exactly known for my athletic prowess. I have never excelled as a
participant in any sport, although I am quite proficient as a spectator. Growing
up in Aggieland, I regularly went to A&M football games with my father back
in the days before Johnny Manziel made the team respectable and when Kyle Field
only held an intimate 40,000 or so. I took the path of least resistance in PE
throughout my school career, but I improbably ended up on three straight
champion intramural soccer teams in high school (despite being more of an
impediment on the field than an active player). I was a member of the Middle
Common Room cricket team when in grad school at Oxford, as just about anyone
can stand around on a lawn in white clothing between tea breaks. When Marjorie
and I arrived at the University of Kansas I didn’t know the first thing about
basketball, but you have to be a fast learner in that environment (and living
in Dr. Naismith’s house for a decade didn’t hurt either). Our season tickets in
Allen Fieldhouse were somewhere up beyond the nosebleed section: after a game I
always felt like I was suffering from altitude sickness, not to mention
temporary deafness. Lately I have contented myself with watching sports mainly
from the sofa, especially my beloved and benighted Baltimore Orioles, who I
defiantly adopted in the late 1960s in opposition to my father’s cherished (and
despicable) New York Yankees.
only sport in which I can claim even the most rudimentary expertise is bowling.
Now I know what you’re thinking: first, that bowling is not a sport and,
second, that little in the way of expertise is needed beyond perhaps funny
shoes, a shirt with a groaner of a team name (e.g. The King Pins) stitched on
the back, and a pot belly. Be that as it may, I love bowling and have been
indulging regularly for a very long time. I started in sixth grade, when all
the students at St. Michael’s Academy were bused across town to bowl for a
couple hours every Wednesday afternoon, presumably to give our teachers (and
the school’s physical plant) a much-deserved rest. I was not exactly enamored
of bowling at the start, but I did well enough that at the end of the year I
was presented with the “Upper School Bowling Award” at graduation. I am the
first to admit this was not the Heisman Trophy or an Olympic medal, but I was
darned proud of it and, modest though it was, it ended up being the only
sporting recognition I would ever earn in my life.
athletic ambition stoked by this external recognition, I started pestering my
father to go bowling with me on weekends. My father did not drive — which, more
so than being Japanese, regularly wearing Bermuda shorts, and not owning any
firearms, make him quite an outlier in Bryan, Texas — so every Saturday we
would get out our bikes and ride over to Triangle Bowl. After cheeseburgers, fries, and large Big
Reds (the diet of champions in bowling circles), we would intensely and very competitively
roll a few games. My father usually won, which irritated me considerably, but
we always enjoyed the time together and the good-natured rivalry made us both
more proficient bowlers.
a good many years after my father passed away, through college, graduate school,
and beyond, I did not set foot in a bowling alley. Then, in about 2000, I was
traveling with a group of KU undergraduates in China and was persuaded, against
my better judgment, to go bowling in Wuhan late one night. I was immediately
hooked again. As soon as I got back to Lawrence I started going to Royal Crest
Lanes, first once a week or so, then twice, and ultimately as often as I could
fit it into my schedule. I bought my own shoes, then a ball, then a better
ball, and was soon decked out like a pro, with a tricked-out roller bag, flashy
bowling shoes with flames up the sides, and lucky towels. When Marjorie and I
left Kansas, I think I was as sad to say goodbye to Royal Crest (and my friends
Mary and Jerry behind the desk) as I was bidding my university colleagues
coming to Dallas, the frequency of my bowling has tailed off considerably. I
have little in the way of free time and it’s quite a drive to the nearest
alleys. I should confess that I am quite picky about where I bowl. I am no fan
of the fancy-schmancy new bowling centers popping up these days, especially in trendy
places like Dallas, with martini bars and mood lighting and plush sofas and
wall-to-wall hipsters and exorbitant prices. As I like to tell people, I like a
bowling alley that smells of feet, a good old-fashioned place with families and
ugly carpeting and a welcoming feel and (of course) Big Red on tap. Think The Big Lebowski. So these days I have
to drive all the way to Garland (no biking that far) to a big warehouse of
place with no official name that I know of, but with the letters B-O-W-L
glowing starkly on the side facing the expressway.
understand that the bowling alley in Conway is the kind of place I will like. I
hope I can squeeze enough time into my schedule to pick up a few games now and
then. If there is a student bowling club, please consider me for faculty
advisor. And if there are professors and
staff members who enjoy the sport, by all means let’s head down to the
One of the most rewarding parts of my current job (and something I very much
look forward to doing more of at Hendrix) is meeting alums and hearing their stories
of what made college so special for each of them. I am complete sucker for all the
nostalgic memories of professors who made a huge difference, friends made for a
lifetime, momentous career decisions cemented in the weeks before graduation, and
fun times had in the days before homecoming. Some of my very favorite stories, however,
come from couples who met in college and went on to spend decades together. Since
Marjorie and I first met in graduate school, at a drinks party where we were the
only two folks not partaking of the spiked punch, I might have a particularly soft
spot for tales of college romance.
Not long ago, two SMU grads (now close to my advanced age) shared with me the
story of their first encounter. It was set in Hyer Hall, a historical building at
the heart of campus and once the site of physics labs (before, it seems, we needed
billion-dollar machines tunneled into European mountains to discover things of great
import). Hyer is lovely from the outside but a little less charming, shall we say,
in its interior decor. After one faculty member once complained of its general drabness,
I replied (with my tongue firmly in cheek), “Come on, now, it got a new coat of
gray paint just ten years ago!” One would never guess that Cupid would be roaming
the hallways of a building so lacking in ambiance. But for this couple I spoke with,
Hyer Hall was an absolutely magical place: they started chatting after class one
evening in front of a vending machine in the basement and, within six months, had
tied the knot. The husband, who seemed like a true romantic, confided that he later
tried to buy said soda machine but that cold-hearted bureaucrats, either at the
university or at Coca-Cola, vetoed the idea. These days, when I walk by Hyer, I
almost always smile and think about how love can bloom in the most unlikely places
and how college can be filled with unexpected, transformative, perfectly wonderful
Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to meet dozens of Hendrix
alums. To a person, they have been warm, approachable, interesting, and accomplished
people, with an abiding affection for the College and a profound attachment to its
character, values, and commitment to excellence. Nancy and Tom Fomby are just the
kind of folks all of us in the Hendrix family can be proud of. Tom is my colleague
here at SMU, Director of the Richard B. Johnson Center for Economic Studies and
a distinguished econometrician. He knows as much about “big data” and analytics
(among the hottest topics in the academy and the business world right now) as I
know about Godzilla. And Nancy worked for 31 years at the Episcopal School of Dallas
where, as lead college guidance counselor, she advised generations of nervous students
and confused parents (and steered quite a few recruits to Conway). Nancy and Tom
can talk about their days at Hendrix as if they were last week: Tom recalls the
math professor who changed his life and, even more importantly, the evening he looked
down some bleachers and saw his future wife for the first time. The Fombys have
been generous supporters of the College and still drive through campus every time
they come back to Arkansas to visit relatives.
I am certain there are loads more Toms and Nancys out there, with great stories
to tell, memories to reflect upon, and dreams for the future of Hendrix to express.
I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can, and hearing all that you would
like to share with me, in the months and years ahead.
some folks at Hendrix already know, one of my passions is barbecue. I have been
eating smoked meat for just about as long as I can remember. My family moved to
Bryan, Texas, in 1969 and I would guess that about half the restaurants in town
(which probably totaled ten or fewer at that time) were barbecue joints. We lived
not too far from Tom’s BBQ, which is long gone but still fondly remembered in the
Brazos Valley. Tom’s back then was located in a shabby cinder-block bunker of a
building, with no windows and (in my mind’s eye at least) covered in faded maroon
paint, just across the road from the Texas A&M campus. Tom’s was famous for
the Aggie Special, a mound of smoked beef and sausage, a stack of Mrs. Baird’s white
bread, pickle slices, a whole onion, and a slab of very yellow cheese, all served
up on big sheets of butcher paper, with worn, wooden-handled steak knives the only
utensils provided. This less than elegant presentation (common in the German meat-market-style
barbecue tradition of Central Texas) did not go over well with my mother, who forbade
family meals at Tom’s. As she was a biochemist (and thus, regrettably, had some
credibility when it came to hygiene) my father and I had little choice in the matter.
The only barbecue place in town where we ate regularly was Randy Sims, which
was the closest restaurant to our house, at least until a Taco Bell sprouted on
Texas Avenue. Randy Sims was acceptable to my mother — I recall the dining room
being antiseptically clean and the cafeteria trays sparkling, all terribly out of
character for a BBQ establishment — and the brisket there came to set my standard
for smoked meat. Randy Sims very proudly used the legendary Red Bryan’s original
recipes; only later did I learn that Randy (who is very much a real person and played
for Bear Bryant at A&M in the day) had married Red’s daughter. Red’s son (named
Sonny, appropriately enough) went on to create a small barbecue empire in Dallas.
Randy Sims’ place has now been closed for years, perhaps decades, but I can still
imagine the smoky, tender, memory-enhanced goodness of his meat when I order a beef
sandwich at the now rather corporate, mass-produced Sonny Bryan’s.
I have spent most of my adult life trying to recapture that imagined perfection
of Randy Sims’ brisket, piled high on slices of Texas toast griddled with margarine.
Looking for good barbecue in Boston was like searching for fresh-off-the boat lobsters
in Bryan. England was hopeless for smoked meat as, not surprisingly, was New Jersey.
When Marjorie and I moved to Kansas in 1993, however, I felt like salvation was
at hand. I soon discovered that KC ’cue, despite the hype and the undeniable charm
of venerable, scruffy joints like Arthur Bryant’s, was a profound disappointment
to my Texan taste buds. Kansas City BBQ ran heavily to pork ribs, the brisket was
usually dry and sliced wafer thin, and the sauce was a sticky, sugary, candy-like
abomination. For seventeen years marooned in the heartland, dreaming of the barbecue
of my youth, I felt like a shipwrecked sailor on a desert island: Water, water everywhere,
but not a drop to drink.
Ten years ago, Marjorie took pity on my plight and for my fortieth birthday bought
me a way out of my barbecue frustration: a gigantic smoker from Houston, gleaming
stainless steel with an offset firebox and all the bells and whistles, made by the
same outfit that supplied George H.W. Bush. The first day I tried to use it I cut
open my finger on one of its heavy-metal grates and spent three hours in the emergency
room getting stitched up. Over the subsequent months and years I came to realize
how hard it was to make great barbecue and how much experience, patience, and sweat-equity
was required to turn beef, salt, pepper, and smoke into mouthwatering goodness.
For Christmas this year, Marjorie got me a book on Southern — not Texas — barbecue.
I think she was hoping to ease me into the different foodways of Arkansas easily,
as I am sure she still remembers my impassioned rants against what was represented
as smoked meat in Kansas City. The volume, a mixture of travelogue and cookbook,
did catch my fancy and, after reading for days about pulled and chopped pork, barbecued
bologna, and all the varieties of sauce and slaw from the Mississippi Delta to the
Carolinas, I decided I needed to roll my smoker out of the garage and give Southern
BBQ a try. Of course, the early January day I picked to do my barbequing happened
to be 35 degrees, with a steady wind out of the north dropping the wind chill well
below freezing. But I am not one to let a little weather stand between me and a
pork shoulder, so I bundled up and smoked away.
I am looking forward to exploring Arkansas barbecue when I arrive at Hendrix
and I would welcome recommendations of your favorite spots and tips on little-known
gems around the state. And I expect I will be firing up my smoker next summer in
Conway when I get a hankering for that lovely Texas-style beef I’m so addicted to.
You’ll know I’m at work when you see the clouds of smoke drifting across campus
and smell a hint of brisket on the wind.
I had a great couple days on the Hendrix campus last week. There were plenty
of the usual meetings in conference rooms, the kind of things that academic administrators
know only too well as an unavoidable part of the job. But I also had a lot of fun
learning more about the Hendrix community and meeting many of the folks who work,
teach, learn, and live at the College. There was the public safety officer, who
told me about his military tours of duty in Grenada and Kuwait, as well as his continued
amazement at the things 18‑year‑olds can get up to on weekend evenings. And the
sports coach who introduced himself at the WAC and joined me in a few laps around
the indoor track, talking proudly about the wonderful teams of young people he had
recruited to Hendrix. And, of course, all the students: the classmates cramming
for a Native American history course over breakfast; the sociology and biochemistry
and religious studies majors from Maine and Louisiana, Nashville and Ghana; the
seniors headed to med school, Americorps, and a stint as a bartender; the group
struggling to remember the Mandarin word for "taste" at 11:30 at night. All impressed
me with their passion for their work and their studies, their clear affection for
Hendrix College, and their patience in putting up with my endless questions. I even
had the chance to meet Elvis: who knew he would be waiting outside Provost Entzminger’s
I enjoyed four meals on Thursday in the Caf, if you count that slice of pizza
at Late Night as a meal. I think I put on my full "freshman fifteen" in one day.
Grits and biscuits for breakfast, delicious BBQ brisket for lunch (thanks to Chef
for smoking this up with me in mind!), and a corn dog for dinner. Pure heaven. You
can take the boy out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the boy. I hate to
imagine what will happen to my waistline when my office is just a stone’s throw
from the SLTC.
I will be back on campus once or twice a month in the spring and I look forward
to making more new friends, hearing more amazing stories about Odyssey projects
and study abroad trips, and perhaps indulging in another corn dog or two.
When confronted for the first time with my last name, the world seems to divide
into three clear groups. Most numerous are those who gamely give it a go: Soo-soo,
Tut-soo, and Chew-chew are pretty common attempts, although sometimes I hear more
creative pronunciations. A significant minority of folks just won't even touch
it: some form their lips, struggling to get their minds around that jumble of letters,
but no sounds come out; many just default to calling me Bill or something curious
like Mr. William; a few shake their heads and say "I'm not even going to try that
one." And then, of course, there are those with a natural advantage, all of the
world's native speakers of Japanese, who don't miss a beat in rendering a flawless
Tsutsui every time.
I have to admit that I do not pronounce my own name in accordance with the best
practices of Japanese diction. All my life, I have followed the lead of my mother,
who was born and raised in upstate New York of honest, hardworking (but very un-Japanese)
German and British stock. She made things easy for tongue-tied Americans by ignoring
the initial T in our name and grouping the subsequent letters in a way that made
sense to English (if not Japanese) speakers. Thus, she and I go by SUIT-sooey.
Think of a suit of clothing followed by a call for the hogs. Perhaps not the most
elegant mnemonic, but it's hard to forget and almost impossible to mess up. My
father, who was originally from Japan, always winced a bit at our Americanized pronunciation
but patiently put up with it as just another of the many small compromises that
immigrants are obliged to make.
So feel free to take a hack at Tsutsui when we first meet. Or you can just call
me Bill. And please forgive me if I mangle your name the first time around: I will
try to learn how to get it right, especially if you have a neat little trick like
SUIT-sooey that you can share.
It was the thrill of a lifetime to be introduced November 1 as the next president
of Hendrix College. After reading just about every page on the Hendrix website,
looking the College up in every guidebook I could find, and meeting with the presidential
search committee, I had some idea of just how extraordinary the Hendrix community
is. But I was still impressed and touched by the warm welcome I received last Friday,
and indeed every day since. I want to thank all the students, faculty, and staff
who came out to meet me, and all the alums, trustees, parents, and supporters who
have emailed and phoned since the announcement. I look forward to getting to know
you all better and hearing your stories of what makes Hendrix College so very special
among America’s leading liberal arts institutions.
As I have told many people, my process so far of getting to know Hendrix has
been like drinking from a fire hydrant. Of course, I still have a huge amount to
learn, but I already think I am getting a clearer sense of Hendrix’s unique values,
distinctive personality, and remarkable strengths. More than anything, though, I
have been impressed by the people I have met around campus: the students are bright,
engaged, and enthusiastic; the faculty are deeply committed and highly accomplished;
the staff, at all levels, are professional, great at what they do, and invested
in the College’s growth; the trustees are dedicated to the success of the school
and have high expectations for the future. And, of course, Hendrix is an absolutely
beautiful, completely captivating place, sheltered by trees, hugged by a low stone
wall, and buzzing with intellectual activity and true fellowship.
I feel blessed to be joining you in Conway, as does my wife, Marjorie Swann,
who you all will be meeting (and some of you will be studying English literature
with) in the coming months and years. Until we arrive on campus at the start of
June 2014, I will be using this blog to chronicle my experience of becoming part
of the Hendrix community, as well as to provide you with some insight on who I am,
where I came from, and what values and aspirations I bring to the College. I hope
you will keep reading these posts, and that you will feel free to contact me anytime
with your hopes and dreams for the future of Hendrix College.
Dr. William M. Tsutsui became the 11th President of Hendrix College on June 1, 2014. He came to Hendrix from Southern Methodist University where he was Dean and Professor of History at Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.