New Grades a Plus

One-third of a point may seem minor at first, but it makes a big difference for a student who gets an A- instead of a B. A new grading system that adds plus and minus grades gives Xavier professors 12 grading options instead of the traditional five.

“I’m happy with it because I just think if we’re going to do grading responsibly, this is very helpful and it’s fairer to the students and more accurate,” says Janice Walker, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The discussion about adopting plus and minus grades became a proposal from the college in September 2003. After gaining approval from faculty and administrators in the Williams College of Business and the College of Social Sciences, the student government association and University administrators, the proposal went into effect last fall.

Though some students preferred getting an A over an A-, most seem to like the new system. Walker says she had fewer grade change requests on her desk last semester than in the past.

Ethical Lessons

Paul Fiorelli wants students to remember the important stuff. And the director for the Williams College of Business’s center for business ethics and social responsibility is willing to do just about anything—from magic tricks to using imaginative props to showing movies—to make sure undergraduate and graduate students get the point. “I’m shameless,” Fiorelli says.

“I think there’s a lot of ways of teaching—it’s not just I get up there and lecture. To me, that’s mind-numbingly boring for the students and, really, for myself. I think that you really can do things in many different ways. And if you have a great bit of film, that’s a place for a student to hang an idea.

If you do a magic trick, if you use a prop, if you use a game to tell a story, that’s an idea that takes an abstract principle and makes it understandable to the student. And even though it’s corny, even though it’s really hokey, I think it’s a very interesting way of making the idea memorable.”

For example, to make students more aware of privacy issues, Fiorelli places surveillance cameras on various desks in the room before his lecture. Later, he opens a dialogue about the presence of the cameras. He also uses card tricks to “guess” people’s thoughts and pulls out his “mind-reading device”—a stainless steel colander outfitted with a beeper and a flashing light—which he places on a student’s head to detect “true” and “false” answers to a list of questions.

Or, in a serious turn, he demonstrates just how much information is legally available about any given student via local government web sites.

For other issues, props may include bottles of Mad Dog 20-20 wine and Colt 45 malt liquor or a game resembling “Jeopardy!”

Fiorelli’s long-time use of film clips in graduate and undergraduate classes recently evolved into a new graduate course, Business Ethics Through Film. Over the 12 class sessions, the students view 11 films, each film chosen to illustrate particular ethical issues. The first session is dedicated to discussion and a quiz covering a pre-assigned text, “to make sure all of the students are up to speed.” Fiorelli then divides the students into teams, with each group responsible for preparing and leading a discussion of two films.

The film lineup has changed slightly each summer, as Fiorelli monitors students’ responses to each movie and discovers new movies that might offer a different perspective on an important issue. Last summer’s lineup included “The Conversation,” “Mississippi Burning,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Other People’s Money,” “Wall Street,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Death of a Salesman” and “The Insider.” Fiorelli has taught the class for three summers on an experimental basis. This spring, he’ll take it before the curriculum committee, hoping to have it formally approved as a graduate course.

All of these techniques are aimed at helping students draw their own conclusions about ethical issues. “There’s a real danger that you come across as if you’re lecturing, ‘My ethics are better than yours, and you’re here to hear me preach the way of what good ethics really should be,’ ” Fiorelli says. “And I think that’s a real turn-off. So I try not to do that. But I think I can help people think through what their ethics are, and to challenge whether they’re doing things the right way or the wrong way.”

In fact, he says, many students—particularly graduate students in the working world—find themselves on an ethical island. They’re often surprised, not to mention relieved, to learn others share their views. And while he may take different routes to help students come to their own realizations, Fiorelli says his approach to presenting material is ultimately a tribute to the level of teaching at Xavier. “I’m fighting for memory space,” he says. “My colleagues do a great job of teaching. All I want is one small corner of the students’ brains.”

Unofficial Reunion

During the wedding of a fellow 2003 classmate, Julie Badertscher, Jane Scheffsky and Lisa Walroth had a moment of clarity. Realizing they saw each other only during friends’ nuptials, they decided to plan an unofficial weekend reunion around a men’s basketball game. The three set a date—Nov. 18-20—to coincide with Thanksgiving vacation plans and set to work reserving hotel rooms, purchasing basketball tickets, designing T-shirts and, of course, inviting friends.

You might say they were perfectly cast to plan the reunion: Badertscher works as an event coordinator in New York, Scheffsky is a sales and catering assistant in Indianapolis and Walroth is a program coordinator at a boys’ correction facility in Cincinnati.

About 50 people—some flying in from as far away as Los Angeles and New York—arrived at their hotel rooms to find bags filled with bottled water, snacks, aspirin, an itinerary and other goodies. On Friday night, the 2003 crew crowded into the top floor of Dana’s to catch up with one another before donning their souvenir T-shirts and heading to the game on Saturday night.

“Everyone was really appreciative and we are definitely going to make this an annual activity,” Badertscher says. “We are really proud of the outcome and hope that it will encourage more alumni to get together and support Xavier.”

The Ironman Cometh

As Jim Loretta approached the end of more than 14 grueling hours of competition—comprising a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run—the waiting crowd formed two lanes along the street. Twenty-five yards before the finish, Loretta’s two daughters, 21-year-old Kristin and 14-year-old Mary Beth, flanked him and together they crossed the finish line as a disembodied voice announced, “Congratulations, Jim Loretta, you are an Ironman.”

For the 1969 graduate, who goes by the nickname “Rookie,” the Ironman moniker isn’t new. This race—the Coeur D’Alene in Idaho last June—was simply the latest in a growing list of remarkable endurance feats, all of which were borne of tragedy.

After his Miami home suffered tremendous damage from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Loretta, a frequent jogger, found his increasingly long runs to be therapeutic. So he kept pushing himself. Less than a year later, he completed his first marathon—and has competed in 20 since. He participated in his first triathlon in 1993 and his first Ironman competition in 1999.

He now trains for 12 months, six days a week—swimming, spinning, weight training, biking, running—repeating the rosary and meditating to stay focused during the long training sessions.

And he’s not finished yet: Loretta’s next Ironman competition takes place in Arizona in April. “I can truly say the Ironman event was a spiritual experience for me as it definitely drew me closer to God,” he says.

“How can anyone deny the existence of God when you have a 59-year-old Muskie do an Ironman?”

The 47-Year-Old Plan

When William Reyering graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Xavier in 1988, he already had a law degree from the University of Cincinnati. So to commemorate the occasion—47 years in the making—he visited UC’s bookstore to rent the cape and sash that denotes a Doctor of Jurisprudence, but when he arrived to accept his diploma, the marshal at the commencement ceremony mistook him for a faculty member.

Of course, it was an easy mistake to make. Reyering graduated from Cincinnati’s Purcell High School in 1940 with no chance of attending college full time. Instead, he went to work for the Williamson Heater Company and attended Xavier four nights a week. While serving Mass one Sunday at Guardian Angels Church, the priest, Fr. Lamont, called Reyering into his office. “William,” he said, “if you will agree to take a liberal arts curriculum at Xavier, I will see that your tuition is paid.” Consequently, Reyering quit his job and started full time in September 1941, joining the advanced ROTC program. Two years later, the Army called him and his classmates to active service.

After his discharge in 1946, Reyering attended law school on the G.I. bill but still longed to finish his Xavier degree. In 1988, the semiretired Reyering completed his remaining six credit hours and graduated with a history degree that same year. Now his grandson, Nathan Giddings, attends the University, carrying on his legacy. “I wanted to go to Xavier since I was 10 years old,” Reyering says. “I wanted to become a Xavier graduate. It was one of the goals in my life.”

Take Two

Take Two. Rev. Joseph V. Urbain, who was profiled in the Winter 2006 issue of Xavier magazine as the University’s oldest living graduate, died on Jan. 28, just eight days shy of his 99th birthday.

The sole surviving member of the Class of 1928 served the Cincinnati Archdiocese in many capacities during his life, including as founder and pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church near Hamilton, Ohio, where a room is dedicated in his honor.

Swearing Rules

The art of profanity has a long—if not exactly glorious—history. Just ask Ernie Fontana. In October, the professor of English joined a local radio station to discuss the origins of cursing. “It probably goes back into prehistory,” he says. “Swearing is often a form of intensifying. When one is surprised, angry, irritated, one wants to express those emotions in language, and one does it by transgressing. It’s also a form of aggression.”

The transgression component—stepping outside the bounds of typically accepted language—is key for the curser to achieve his or her intended effect. Usually that transgression draws on religious or sexual references as a means of creating verbal intensity. This kind of cursing is certainly present in medieval poetry, and, Fontana says, the practice may actually have roots in ancient attempts to put the whammy on someone. Over the centuries, humans retained the speech act even though they dropped the belief in its power.

Beyond that, Fontana says, cursing can also serve a bonding function in certain situations. And while he believes cursing may be less prevalent today than it was several decades ago, he says that ultimately the appropriateness of cursing is a matter of playing by cultural rules. “It’s a way of expressing deep emotions. You can say, ‘These people shouldn’t swear.’ But there are times when it’s better to swear or curse than to engage in physical fighting.”

Strings Attached

Chris Wilke is used to the strange looks. The adjunct professor of music at the University sees those expressions every time he takes the stage carrying his theorbo.

“Most people have never seen anything like it,” he says.

At least not for the past 200 years or so. The theorbo, a relative of the lute, originated in Italy and enjoyed wide use in Europe from about 1600 to the 1780s. It features 14 strings and a rather unusual shape, with eight of the bass strings running from the bridge to an extra pegbox built onto an extension of the neck. This gives the theorbo its most striking feature—its length. Wilke has two theorbos, one of which measures a whopping seven feet.

The instrument was originally used for accompanying singers, Wilke says. But soon, composers like Robert DeVisee and Giovanni Kapsberger began producing solo works for theorbo. It found its way into larger ensembles as well, its extra bass strings and multinote capabilities making it well suited to the figured-bass accompaniments of the baroque period. Perhaps not surprisingly, Wilke is the only person in the region who plays the instrument. The Hamilton, Ohio, native took up guitar at age 14 and cut his musical teeth on the work of rockers Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. But he soon began studying classical guitar.

Wilke earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the College of Mount St. Joseph and spent several years playing and teaching privately before entering the University of Cincinnati’s prestigious College-Conservatory of Music. There, he earned a master’s degree in guitar performance.

Along the way, he became fascinated with music from the 1600s, which set him on the trail to the theorbo. But finding an instructor for the instrument wasn’t easy. “I did it mostly on my own,” he says. “I had lessons from a few people passing through town. Personally, I find it quite a difficult instrument to play. For me, it was a lot to get used to the string spacing, and there are a lot more strings. For the left hand, it was a pretty gentle transition, but the right hand was a handful.”

Wilke now treks to Bloomington, Ind., every couple of weeks to study with Nigel North, a renowned performer and instructor at Indiana University. And in between his teaching assignments, he composes symphonic pieces—some of which have been performed by local orchestras—and is creating a CD of guitar music. He also picks up about a half-dozen extra playing jobs each semester because of the theorbo. Strange looks aside, exclusivity does have its advantages.

Saving Guadalcanal

On Sept. 13, 1942, John Sweeney’s company of Marines was alone on a ridge surrounded by Japanese soldiers. Three other Marine companies had pulled back to protect Henderson Field, the U.S.-held airstrip on Guadalcanal. His company, part of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, dug in and waited, watching for enemy movement. Sweeney, a 24-year-old member of the Class of 1940, and his men provided the first line of defense between the Japanese and the airstrip. For two days, they took on the Japanese Army in what became known as the Battle of Bloody Ridge, many times clashing face to face in the dark, engaging in combat with rifles and bayonets.

“The jungle was very close to the ridge line, and most of the enemy would get close in by crawling on the ground and then would rise up with a lot of shouting and screaming,” says Sweeney, 88, a retired colonel. “The Battle of Bloody Ridge turned away the first major attack of the Japanese and got us the reputation for saving Guadalcanal.”

Sweeney was awarded the Navy Cross for his leadership and in the years since has been featured in two books recounting Guadalcanal and, most recently, interviewed on a History Channel show titled “Shootout! Guadalcanal” that aired last spring. He enjoys contributing to the historic record, he says. “I haven’t been back to Bloody Ridge, but I would like to. We were very lucky.”

New Turf

New Turf. Walter Bonvell, the University’s grounds foreman, was recently elected to the board of the 1,200-member Professional Grounds Management Society. Most members hail from colleges, parks and municipalities, and participate in events such as irrigation workshops or turf management classes. Bonvell earned accolades from the society in 2000 when it awarded the University second-place for having the best grounds.

“This organization gives me the opportunity to become a better individual in what I do as a grounds foreman,” Bonvell says. “I learn from other people how they run their grounds.”