Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • In Celebration of Bob Koob

    • Posted on Apr 23, 2006 by Scott Cawelti
    4-23-06 

    UNI’s President Bob Koob retires from UNI soon amidst both regrets and celebrations.  

    Regrets for the university’s loss, celebrations for his leadership these last eleven years. He’s been a fine college president, a community leader, a role model for speakers, and—yes—a motorcyclist, humming around Iowa on his Honda.  

     He’s my fourth UNI president.  I was hired at the end of Bill Maucker’s tenure in 1968 and attended the retirement parties of Kamerick, Curris, and now Koob.  Thus I speak with the dubious authority of longevity.

     Since I’m used to grading, I’d give Maucker an A for vision and powerful leadership during the university’s darkest years, Kamerick a B, Curris a B+, and Koob—well, read on. 

    Everyone in the Cedar Valley knows Bob Koob because of his leadership in the Cedar Valley.  He served on local, regional, and national boards in a variety of positions that have made him a real force in the culture of the area. As Representative Jeff Danielson noted during Koob’s award ceremony at the Iowa statehouse, Koob been instrumental in bringing Waterloo and Cedar Falls together to work for their common good.  Call that a minor miracle. 

     Then there the many campus buildings constructed or improved under his watch, namely the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, the Maucker Union expansion, and the McCollum Science Hall.  The new McLeod Center and the Center for Educational Technology (the old East Gym) both will be opened soon.  

    UNI’s physical plant seems quite transformed since he arrived.  

     Then the Koob traditions, which the faculty have come to expect and enjoy: A Fall picnic in the President’s yard, the fall opening convocation, the Christmas party, the gala receptions in the President’s Home for any number occasions.  He typically greeted everyone at the door, using his gift for conversation that makes everyone from full profs to secretaries comfortable.  

    These traditions gave his presidency a personal touch, making Bob Koob a hard act to follow.  

    As for public speaking, he’s a master.  Never pedantic or stiff, he always seems to talk off the top of his head without notes. Yet every time I heard him, his “spontaneous” speeches were organized with well-arranged points, subpoints, and anecdotes. He would have made a wonderful politician or preacher.    

    Incidentally, some of these talks are published on the UNI Web Site, and they’re worth a look. 

     One of his first major acts as President amounted to decentralizing how the campus was run.  Under Curris, nearly everything gravitated back to “Deno,” as we called him, and he ruled the academic roost.  Under Koob, administrators had more power to make their own decisions, and faculty was told in multiple ways that they were in charge. He was just there to help them do what they wanted.  

     His complaint, which has persisted, is that the faculty didn’t seem to know what they wanted.  In several public meetings, I have heard him complain that faculty leadership never stepped up to the bat, much less took a swing.  

     Yet with a decentralized campus, faculty had their hands full in their own bailiwicks. Besides, with two separate faculty power centers, United Faculty (the union) and the Faculty Senate, hearing the UNI faculty’s wishes has never been easy. 

    There were times, I thought, that the faculty still managed to make their wishes known, but nothing happened.  It seemed as though he wanted to undertake certain projects, but the faculty didn’t seem to pick up on them.  

    The president was waiting for faculty direction, and the faculty was waiting for the same from the president.  

     Then there was the Lab School brouhaha.  That was probably the low point of his administration. If he had asserted clear leadership it could have turned out differently and better for the whole university, in my judgment.  It’s still a sore spot for plenty of faculty on both sides of the issue. 

     I’ll certainly miss him and his openness—he always answered e-mails, often within the hour—and especially his ability to effectively articulate UNI’s mission to the Regents, legislators, parents, faculty, and students.  

     So I’d give the Koob presidency a solid A-. 
     

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    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • Why Are Republicans Happier than Democrats?

    • Posted on Mar 26, 2006 by Scott Cawelti
     3-26-06 

    The secret of happiness, it turns out, means being a Republican.  

    That’s one conclusion in a recent survey taken by the non-partisan Pew Research Center, which interviewed 3,014 adults last October and November on this question:

     “Generally, how would you say things are these days in your life—would you say you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” 

     The findings were reported last month by the Center, and show that overall, just a third of the respondents are “very happy,” half are “pretty happy” and fifteen percent are “not too happy.” 

     The Center’s report cautions that this is demographic and behavioral data, not individual, and that specific life events (a divorce, winning the lottery, a long vacation) will influence individual happiness more than membership in a political party or good health or even wealth. 

     Still, their asserts that “Since 1972, the GOP happiness edge over Democrats has ebbed and flowed in a pattern that appears unrelated to which party is in power.”  

     So Republicans were happier than Democrats even when Clinton was president.  
    That makes me wonder:  What gives Republicans an edge on happiness?  And why does being in or out of power not make a huge difference to their happiness? 

     This Pew survey makes no attempt to understand why. However, conservative columnist George Will, for one, suggests that Democrats are less happy because, since FDR, they have looked to the government as the source of everything that matters, and government hasn’t been able to deliver.  

     I don’t buy Will’s argument because government has been growing by leaps and bounds every decade, and our current Republican president has been among the biggest spenders of anyone, outdoing even Democrats in giving away the government store.  

    Democrats, if they want big government, have it now, in spades.   This should make Republicans hit the happiness skids, and in fact fiscal conservative among them have been complaining loudly.  Still, Republicans maintain their happiness edge, and have for years, unconcerned about their massive deficits.  

     I think I know why, and it’s not related to government spending. It’s related to believing with one’s whole heart and mind, in the status quo. Republicans believe in it, want to maintain it, and only worry when it’s seriously threatened. 

     The Iraq war seems to be an exception:  It seems to have brought change on a massive scale, ranging from a climbing death toll to a budget-busting deficit.  Yet Republicans tend to see the war not as a change, but as a continuation of America’s rightful dominance of the world.  They appreciate and applaud our dominance even if it means starting a war.  

     Democrats, on the other hand, seek real change.  They’d like to see action on a number of fronts:  Global warming, serious justice and reconciliation in the Middle East, insistence on keeping religious fanatics out of government, world cooperation on fighting terrorism and ending ethnic conflicts.  

     At bottom, they’re idealists who want a better world, not just an American-dominated world.  Given America’s (and Republicans’) long-term addiction to being the center of the known universe, that’s all but impossible. 

     The result?  Democrats’ unhappiness with the status quo. 

    Being a Democrat amounts to settling for less happiness, though in the long run they probably make more of a positive difference.  


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    • Politics
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    • Hot Button Issues
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