One Year In

Today was my one year anniversary as a new dean. It’s also my 100th post to this blog. I wish that I could say that this coincidence was part of a grand design…

My original plan was to just write the blog for the first year as a new dean, but I’ll keep going with occasional entries. Thanks for the comments on posts in the first year!

Keys to Academic Success

Summer is orientation season in higher education, as new students attend one-day or two-day sessions to prepare them for enrolling in classes in late August or early September. I was asked to be the presenter for an event called “Your Academic Success,” and delivered it this morning. Usually the presenter goes through a 20-minute PowerPoint that’s jam-packed with information about what it takes to do well as a college student. I figured that students (and a few parents who also attended) would not remember all of that stuff, so I discussed three broad-based elements:

  1. Study Smarter. According to College Rules! How to Study, Survive, and Succeed in College, “studying smarter means knowing and using the most appropriate strategies for each particular learning situation. It means having a pocketful of approaches that you can use depending on the course you are taking, the kind of test you are studying for, and how you learn best. Studying smarter means being flexible.” Indeed!
  2. Effective Time Management. A huge adjustment for students is the move from heavily scheduled lives with lots of reminders from parents and teachers to an environment when they have a lot of freedom and increased personal responsibility with few external checks. I shared my time management system, “the three Ts”: triage (prioritize potential tasks and requests into “do now,” “ignore,” or “do later”), track (have a to-do list to manage the triaged tasks; I use Remember the Milk), and trace (have established pathways that you do automatically, like checking email right after breakfast).
  3. Follow Your Passions. I encouraged students to take classes just because they sound interesting, and to be open to choosing majors even if they don’t have explicit job connections. For the parents in the room I read some examples of careers recent alumni landed with social science majors, stressing that everyone does not have to major in a business or STEM field. One of the parents thanked me for this afterwards, noting that she and her husband both have graduate degrees in History and have well-paying jobs thanks to their well-rounded liberal arts backgrounds.

If you know a new college student please pass this post on to them, and also pass on my best wishes for a great first year!

New in First Class

I had an interesting experience recently on a flight from Atlanta to Milwaukee. I was in First Class, and my seat-mate was a young African American male (in his 20s). “This is so awesome,” he said to the flight attendant as he came down the aisle. “It’s my first time in First Class!” When he sat next to me he said, “we get blankets? And pillows too?” “We also receive free bottles of water,” I informed him. “Awesome!” At the end of the flight he told the flight attendants that he enjoyed his first time in First Class. It was nice to see someone so excited about a new experience!

Reading Student Names at Commencement

Before becoming a dean I loved attending graduation ceremonies. As noted in a previous post, my enjoyment has been tempered by discomfort with a new task: reading students’ names, as I worry about mispronouncing some of them. I just read about a new service that might help: NameCoach, a web page students can use to record their names with correct pronunciation. I’m going to have to get UW-Parkside connected to this service!

Residence Hall Life

This time last year I was preparing to move from Minneapolis to Kenosha for the July 1 start date as a new dean. On June 10, 2013 I posted thoughts on returning to the residence halls, noting that I planned to live in an apartment complex next to a traditional residence hall after my plan to actually be in the dormitory was vetoed by my wife. Last week I had an experience that confirmed that her decision was the right call, as I stayed in a dormitory for four nights while attending the International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference in Minneapolis: passing by two women’s bathrooms to get to the men’s room was not fun, especially in the middle of the night. Oh well, at least I was able to save $300 by not staying in the hotel, and that could be used by others for travel.

A Tale of Three Students

In my first year as a dean I did not teach any classes, as I had too many administrative responsibilities. When asked if I missed classroom teaching, I reply that I don’t, as I’m still able to have many interactions with students. Yesterday and today, for instance, I had interesting and productive meetings with three students.

Student A was a member of my student advisory board composed of representatives from all seven departments in my college. He recently graduated, but wanted to share ideas for creating a co-courricular program for helping students improve the so-called soft skills, which Wikipedia defines as “the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people. Soft skills complement hard skills which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities.” We discussed ideas such as a workshop to teach students how to shake hands and make eye contact, and how to compose email that wouldn’t cause prospective employers to roll their eyes. Part of me thinks that I should have found a way to have one of Student A’s grades turned to an F so that he could not graduate and then serve on the advisory board again next year :).

Student B would be in the target audience for Student A’s ideas. A first year student, Student A stood me up for an on-campus lunch yesterday. When I emailed him to see what happened, he blamed me for not telling him where we’d meet. (15 minutes after the scheduled meeting time I saw him enter the building near the one lunch spot that’s open during the summer.) When we met today we discussed how he should have handled that situation differently. I need to say something next time about his limp handshake, however.

Student C is a recent graduate who after participating in the spring commencement discovered that he is actually one credit short of officially receiving his diploma (!). I volunteered to conduct a 1-credit independent study class with him, and we met yesterday to discuss options. A criminal justice major, he settled on a project where he’d watch season 1 of the TV show The Wire, we’d meet a couple of times to discuss it and research articles about the show, and then he’d write a paper imagining what the show would be like if set in Kenosha today in 2014. I recently finished watching season 1 myself, so I’m looking forward to the discussions!

Interacting with students in innovative ways is one of the highlights of being a college dean. In an ideal world, most students would be like Student A: motivated, active in student groups, and earning good grades. In today’s world, however, students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and abilities, so college faculty, staff, and administration have to be flexible in how we work with students to help them become successful in and out of the classroom. I look forward to more creative engagement with students in my second year as a dean!

Saying a Few Words

“A Woman Of Few Words” is Paula Krebs’ blog entry about how “one of the nice things about being a dean at this time of year is being asked to ‘say a few words.’” I agree with her advice about being concise and developing the proper focus:

“The trick, of course, is to find the Few Words that touch on the occasion and keep the focus where it should be. I’ve learned to try to pick one or two things to say about the students or faculty who are being commemorated, but they have to be things that come from me. It’s no good when I try to praise folks or fields I know nothing about. It rings false and ruins the mood, like a eulogy from a minister who can’t even pronounce the deceased’s name.”

That advice served me well when making banquet season speeches. I don’t have any speechifyin’ currently scheduled for the summer, but if something gets added I’ll be ready!

Path to Leadership

The blogger “Female Science Professor” has posted an interesting article about her path to leadership positions. She notes, “although the ‘path’ concept might be relevant to the future (as an image of some potential future directions to take), it doesn’t work so well as a metaphor for the past because ‘path’ implies that I was on a particular trajectory, with a particular destination. More accurate descriptions for me would be that I parachuted into my current position (after a bit of a push), or that I wandered around bushwhacking in a dense and somewhat unfriendly forest before accidentally stumbling into the administrative sector.” My initial adventure into administration was also unplanned — the dean suggested that I become the interim chairperson of a department when I sought to transfer to his college — but my path to become a dean quickly came into focus in my first year as chairperson, as I discovered that I loved administrative challenges. I can still say that 11 months into my first year as a dean, and hope that it continues!

Banquet season is here

Tonight I’m attending a ceremony to honor University of Wisconsin-Parkside alumni, tomorrow I’ll attend a lunch between the two UW-P Commencement ceremonies, and on Sunday I’ll attend an awards ceremony for the local Phi Delta Kappa chapter. A couple of weeks ago I was the keynote speaker for an Optimist Club scholarship dinner. Spring banquet season is here!

Minority Dean Survival Guide

I am co-editing an anthology, the Minority Dean Survival Guide. Below is the general description; please send me a note for more information if you would like to participate or know someone who should receive the call for submissions!

The Minority Dean Survival Guide is a multidisciplinary volume that takes a no holds barred approach to academic life from the perspective of a senior administrator.  Although the roles of president and provost are critical for running a university, no university thrives without a competent set of college deans who indeed are responsible for leading academic enterprises, some of which are the size of small to mid-size universities, but each of which are vital no matter what the size. Similar to becoming a professor, being a first-time dean comes with little to no training.  Most deans enter into these roles subsequent to being department head, associate dean, or a program director.  Neither of these roles adequately prepares new deans for what they will experience as dean.  In this book the contributors candidly uncover the privileges, perils, and politics of being a minority dean in a simple, easy to read, and compelling writing style.  This approach provides an interesting pastiche, since there are clearly dimensions of the job that are common among all deans.  There are also particular elements of being a minority dean that distinguish these persons from all other deans across the academy. That is what readers will discover in this volume, as they are invited to engage the experiences of current and former minority deans, each of whom, due to the politics that will be discussed in the introduction, will use a pseudonym.  This collection brings together cross-disciplinary deans from a range of institutions that vary by size, region, demographics, and focus.  Each will provide their own advice and personal narratives, and will discuss their leadership styles, successes, failures, and recommended rules for survival.