Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Letter to Our Colleagues, Collaborators, and Friends

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies was founded on the belief that what makes colleges and universities invaluable and irreplaceable is that they bring people together for the express purpose of expanding horizons, using research and debate to test assumptions and claims, solving problems, and forming the habit of lifelong learning. At the Center, we try to further that noble mission by supporting collaboration across differences in the pursuit of knowledge. But collaboration is far harder than most of us want to admit.

Collaboration requires everyone involved to listen with humility and respect to others’ points of view. It requires an often uncomfortable willingness to experiment, accept criticism, admit failure, and then try again. When the goal is ultimately to use our art, scholarship, and research to create a world where peace and justice are possible, collaboration requires tough, tolerant conversations in which all involved are more committed to the greater good than to defending individual initial assumptions or ways of working.

Successful collaboration also requires that participants—in our case faculty, staff, students, and community partners—feel welcomed, respected, supported, and heard.

As the director of the Obermann Center, I want to take a moment to affirm publicly that we at the Center challenge ourselves every day to be good collaborators and to facilitate this kind of deep, demanding collaborative art, scholarship, and research. In a moment when many of you in our intellectual community are feeling very vulnerable, even fearful, we want you to know that we will do our best to support you and your work. Our funds are limited and our staff is small, but modest beginnings can lead to real impact. We can help you to launch new Obermann working groups, to find possible collaborators on campus, or to plan Obermann conversations.

Surely, the best use of the most precious resources of a university—creativity, understanding, invention, and the free exchange of ideas—is to translate knowledge into wisdom and wisdom into practice.

All of which is to say, to everyone in this community—as we go forward, let us know when we can be advocates for you and your work. We’ll try. We’ll fail. We’ll listen and learn. And then, with your help, we’ll try again.


Teresa Mangum,

Professor, Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies

Director, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies

University of Iowa