An Open Letter to West Virginia University President Gordon Gee

President Gee,

I am distressed by virtually every proposed element of the West Virginia University “Academic Transformation” as announced by the University on August 11. These proposals include the elimination of the MS and PhD Mathematics programs; the discontinuation of all World Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics programs; the elimination of the MFA Creative Writing course; and many more harmful cuts and reductions across faculties.

I understand that the cuts proposed may not be the changes that are ultimately made (or not made). However, I am troubled – no, alarmed – that these departments and programs represent the administration’s starting point. Indeed, it raises the question: if this is where you are beginning, then where will you eventually finish? How many letters will be removed from STEM? How much will the worldview of students shrink as their access to foreign languages and cultures is reduced?

I am a native West Virginian and Appalachian, and the first member of my family to go to college straight out of high school. West Virginia University was the site of my cultural, philosophical, and intellectual awakening. This awakening would later give me the confidence to migrate to Australia and immerse myself in another culture (indeed, to find my place in that culture). It would also see me pursue an MBA and PhD; see me dedicate myself to a thoughtful life of intention and purpose. In short, it made me a better and more worthwhile person; a person capable of critically participating in a democratic society.

A significant component of this awakening was my participation in the Pride of West Virginia Marching Band for all four years of my time in Morgantown. Many of my friends in the band studied within the fields that will be most affected by your proposed cuts. Being amongst such a diverse cross section of ideas meaningfully contributed to my education. Your proposed cuts will reduce this diversity. Further, cuts to the Music Department (as have been proposed) might eventually put the existence of the Marching Band itself – a singularly important point of pride for the University and state – in jeopardy.

Appalachia is known for, if not defined by, its unique and insular culture. However, the latter point need not be a component of Appalachian identity at all. Through many generations, Appalachians have become insular as a response to the relentless attempts of external agents to act upon Appalachians without their consent (let alone their input). Your proposed cuts are only the most recent example of Appalachians being acted upon by those who manifestly do not have their best interests at heart; those who are not acting in good faith. That you are doing so from the helm of West Virginia’s flagship university is the rubbing of salt into a generational wound deeper than any coal mine.

The proposed cuts that have been outlined must be reconsidered in line with the mission of the University. I urge you to do so with input from the entire WVU community. West Virginia University is the front door to the world for its students – please do not close it.


Dr Greg Joachim
Class of 2006 (BS Econ)

Bookshelves Lined With Your Personality

I don’t get to read much fiction these days. As an academic, I read more non-fiction than most people (yet somewhat less than I’d like to read). Unfortunately, I can only read so much in any given day before I hit a point of diminishing returns in regard to my ability to engage with and process that reading. The reading component of my j-o-b tends to monopolize that limited reserve of cognitive capacity. As a result, I usually don’t have the energy for fiction by the time I’m home.

However, I do get some reading done in large spurts on the odd day off from the j-o-b and domestic duties. Usually this sees me enjoying some fiction in between movies. Yesterday was one such day – I was enjoying Ian McEwan’s Lessons in between screenings of Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse and Un Beau Matin [One Fine Morning].

As I picked up where I left off with Lessons – at the start of Chapter 4 – I encountered an idea that I could relate to:

Books are difficult to tidy. Hard to chuck out. They resist.

While I don’t have an impressive library in terms of size, I do have a library highly curated to my aesthetic and/or intellectual tastes. The volumes on my shelves have become even more precious to me ever since I took up the habit of underlining my favorite passages (as I did the above passage from Lessons) and scribbling my reactions in their margins. I began to feel that my books are a part of me – a feeling which only intensified when my son was born and I realized that one day he would inherit the books and be able to read them ‘with’ me via my marginalia.

Delightfully, the reverberations of this idea – of books resisting being tidied – were almost immediately echoed back to me from another source: Un Beau Matin. In the film, Sandra (played by Léa Seydoux) is confronted with the task of helping move her father – who lives with a neurodegenerative disease – out of his apartment and into a residential care facility.

One component of this task is finding a new home for the many books her father had accumulated as a philosophy professor. Sandra eventually finds one of her father’s former students who is honored to take the books. As Sandra and her young daughter, Linn, help with the organization of the books in the home of that former student, Sandra remarks to Linn that the books are more her father than is the person in residential care. This confuses the young girl, who points out that her grandfather didn’t write the books.

As still images of the books on their new shelves fill the screen, Sandra explains that, while he may not have written the books, he did pick all of them; engage with them; love them. Sandra tells her daughter that the books are like shades of her father’s personality – each a different piece of the puzzle of his personhood.

Perhaps this is why books are so hard to tidy.

Welcome To The Party, Pal

Boats anchored at Peppermint Grove, Western Australia.



It’s been a while, hey?

The holiday season afforded me time and headspace for some long-overdue personal reflection, and this post is one result of that reflection.

This site – Toward Vandalia – has been around for nearly nine years. In that same time, my life has seen some major transitions and changes: I completed my MBA, got married, began and completed my PhD, and had a son. Through all of this, ToVa has been lurking in the background – sometimes changing with me, sometimes sitting still, but never forgotten about entirely.

I began the site during my MBA studies in 2014. The initial focus of posts was personal development, which was also my personal focus at the time. However, one tends to hit a point of diminishing returns with the personal development discourse. The revelations come fewer and farther between. Eventually, you realize you’re reading more or less the same ideas over and over again. I didn’t want to contribute to that cycle, and so the site went quiet for a while.

Between the end of my MBA studies and the start of my PhD candidature, I eased my mind by writing “microfiction”: very, very short stories (that I was tying to photos on my Instagram feed). However, Instagram became less fun as they constantly altered their algorithm. I lost my [small, but fun] community there, and so I stopped sharing photos and stories at the same pace. Starting my PhD candidature in 2016 put the final nail in the lid of that particular coffin: my life became consumed with non-fiction.

Though I managed a few short essays and notes on the site during this time, the PhD only took more and more of my time and energy, up until I submitted my thesis in June 2020 – yes, three months after the COVID-19 pandemic started. At the same time, I was teaching the maximum allowable courseload to get the experience that would hopefully lead to a faculty role. So: still no time for “fun” writing.

My son was born in June 2021, introducing me to a whole new world of all-consuming thought patterns. While I was [am] often too tired to think, let alone write, I began to feel the “itch” again: the need to write.

February 2022 brought the faculty role that I had been working so hard to achieve, but I was right into the “fire”: the semester began only eleven days after I started in the role. And so 2022 was consumed with keeping my head above water with the job, and trying to be the best husband and father I could be.

Which brings us to 2023. My third year as a father, my eighth as a husband, my fourteenth in Australia, and my thirty-ninth on Earth.

And, as noted, nearly the tenth year of this site.

As The Girl and I settle into our new “normal”, I finally see not only a place for creative writing in my life, but also the need to do that writing. So, I have resolved to return to ToVa. There will be no broad theme to my posts. Mostly, I’ll write about whatever is on my mind at any given time. Sometimes this will be a movie I’ve just seen, sometimes it will be some photos I want to share. It will be consistently a record of my experience, and I hope that reading the posts will bring you some of the same joy that writing them will bring to me.

Cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway

November 2016 //
One of many beautiful sunsets The Girl and I caught along the Pacific Coast Highway in 2016.

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Moody View

November 2016 //
The Girl and I climbed to the top of Sentinel Dome, which gave us this moody view of Half Dome.

Follow me on: 500px // Instagram