I’m not a big speechifyer, which would seem to disqualify one from becoming a dean. On the contrary, as I dean I’m invited to all sorts of events and I am expected to “say a few words,” but that’s fine as “a few words” means five minutes or less. A couple of weeks ago, however, I was worried about taping a radio interview, but that also turned out to be easier than expected. Today I was asked to give a 20-minute speech at an awards banquet for graduating high school seniors. The pressure will be to come up with some thoughts that celebrate their individual accomplishments in conjunction with reminders about the operation of social structure; too often these celebratory events get boiled down to “you succeeded through hard work and hope,” ignoring the many other elements — visible and invisible — that contribute to individual success. I’ll have to figure out how to say something about the sociological imagination succinctly. Suggestions are welcome!
At the end of January I posted a note about January-term classes. I said that I wanted to be more strategic in scheduling our “Winterim” classes, but didn’t have any specific ideas. Today’s Inside Higher Education, though, has changed that, as the start of the “Questioning Value of ‘Janterm’” article reminded me that January-term classes should “offer time for students to immerse themselves in travel abroad or a single, intensive course they never would take otherwise – because it’s far outside their course of study, or nontraditional, or both.” Our Winterim schedule, on the other hand, is packed with regular courses that are offered during all other terms (for example, CRMJ 101 Introduction to Criminal Justice). I’ll have to encourage faculty to develop truly unique classes for Winterim, such as an experience that would produce a local version of Minneapolis’ Historyapolis project. Hhhmmm…
Earlier today I taped a segment for a local radio show, “Education Matters.” I was a bit nervous going in, as the purpose was to discuss the new Institute of Professional Educator Development (IPED), and the experts in the institute do a much better job of explaining things than I ever could; I see my job as to provide resources for them and then get out of the way! Alas, the host wanted to talk to the dean of the college that houses the institute. In the end, though, all was fine, as we discussed a wide range of issues, including my educational journey from high school to UW-Parkside. It was fun!
The last time I made a media appearance was as a department chair at the University of Minnesota. In 2008 I was on a panel discussion of the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination on the “Crossroads” TV program (KSTC channel 45 in Minneapolis-St. Paul). I went on “Crossroads” again in 2010 for a panel discussion on African Americans in sports. Although you’d think it would be harder to go on TV than the radio given TV’s hot lights and the pressure to conform to visual standards, I thought it was easier to prepare for the “Crossroads” appearances since I was part of a group and could just answer questions off the cuff. For the radio show I was the only guest, and I had to make sure that I provided proper information about IPED. In the end I think I did OK, but if I’m contacted again I might have to insist on a faculty member being a better choice!
Yesterday I downloaded the song “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” by Broken Social Scene; I originally encountered this song a few years ago as part of the movie The Time Traveller’s Wife. I had a hard time finding the song on iTunes, however, as I kept searching for “Broken Social Science” as the name of the band! I wonder: if a band called “Broken Social Science” actually existed, what would they sing about? Any ideas?
Today an Inside Higher Education report caught my eye: “Wayne State Defends Dean Who Sparked Professor Resignation.” The article discusses how some Wayne State U. faculty members are resisting the dean’s institutional change efforts, even though that is what he was hired to do. I’m definitely interested in these types of stories, as I’m in the same boat as a founding dean who was hired to establish a new college out of existing components with a number of long-serving faculty members. The Wayne State U. provost noted, ”a great deal of what we see going on here is that some older, more established faculty frankly don’t want to see change.” That has not been the case so far here at UW-Parkside, as I’ve had great working relationships with department heads and faculty members in the establishment of new policies and procedures. We are beginning to tackle a university-wide budget shortfall that might necessitate really tough decisions, however, so I hope that we are able to keep working together productively. Please send us good vibes!
Yesterday a 20-year tradition came to an end, as I did not generate notes about Super Bowl commercials during the game. I started this in January of 1993, in anticipation of discussing the ads with students when I started teaching as a graduate student in the fall of 1993. In subsequent years I taped the Super Bowl on my VCR (remember those?), and showed a couple in classes to illustrate that week’s topics. As a Dean I usually won’t be teaching, and if I were I could easily show the commercials on YouTube. Also, the 20 year-old notebook I used was completely filled, so that was another signal to end the tradition.
If teaching this semester one commercial to discuss would definitely be Coca-Cola’s “It’s Beautiful” ad, which drew a storm of outrage for its depiction of a multi-hued crowd singing “America the Beautiful” in several languages. The spot wasn’t completely hated, however, as evidenced by a #17 finish in the annual USA Today Ad Meter. There will probably be discussion about this commercial all week in the blogosphere; I’m looking forward to good sociological analysis!
Many institutions of higher education have a short term of classes between fall and spring semesters. Often in January, these “J-term” classes can be a way for students to pick up a few extra credits to either catch up or get ahead in plans to graduate in a timely manner. Here at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside this week wraps up a 4-week J-term session we call “Winterim.” (A quick aside: 3 days of classes were canceled because of bad weather!) For the most part, classes were scheduled as a result of instructor interest: an instructor would propose a course, and if it met minimum enrollment guidelines it was offered. In my college I also approved a couple of classes that were below minimum enrollment standards, but they were proposed by a graduate student and a brand new assistant professor, so I wanted to try and support them. Luckily we have a little bit of one-time extra money in the budget for this fiscal year, so we could do this.
Going forward I’d like to be more strategic in scheduling Winterim courses. Oh, we’ll still support instructor interest, but I also want to make sure that we have classes that support students’ timely degree process; e.g., we offer classes required by students’ majors. Also, with pending budget cuts we’ll have to make sure that all classes will attract enough enrollment to cover expenses…and maybe with luck we can make a profit that can be used to support other initiatives! Ah, the challenges of organizational leadership.
The blogosphere is abuzz this week about an Oxfam study that estimates that the net worth of the 85 richest individuals in the world equals that of the bottom half of the world population, 3.5 billion individuals. I won’t add any commentary about this extreme inequality (for that, see articles in places like The Atlantic, Slate, and the Huffington Post). I’ll just note that if anyone out there knows one of The Eighty-Five please urge them to share some of that wealth with universities to create more opportunities for our students!
We have reached the fundraising goal for the Social Sciences Kaleidoscope: $1200 to provide three $400 awards for students to engage external audiences about what they are learning & researching in the social sciences! Thanks to everyone who made a contribution and/or spread the word about the project. Next month students begin their projects, and I’ll post an update.
My college currently has a search for two new faculty members, and a pool of six finalists has been selected for on-campus interviews. Today I had a 30-minute meeting with the first candidate, and I’ve been scheduled to have similar meetings with the other five finalists. This is a new type of meeting for me, so this morning I was a bit nervous: “What should I ask these folks?!” In the end I decided that I’ll ask each person an opening question — “Why do you want to come to UW-Parkside?” — and then chat about differences between UW-Parkside and their current institutions. I’ll also give them plenty of time to ask me questions, and will leave time for the candidate to take a break before the next appointment in their hectic schedules. This plan worked well with the first candidate today, so I think that I’ll stick with it!