Archive: Aug 2013

Today I attended the 2013 UW-Parkside convocation. While it was nice to see folks from many different sectors of the university gather to celebrate successes and learn about new initiatives, I’m a bit disappointed that we don’t have the type of convocation I’m used to attending, a gathering for new students where they hear a few short speeches, learn some of the traditions of the university, and are motivated to start the year strongly. Last week I spoke with the Dean of Students to suggest that we should co-chair a committee to explore possibilities for establishing a campus signature event; I’ll have to see if she also wants to add a new student convocation to the planning agenda. If so, we’ll definitely need to look into including a dynamic sophomore speaker like the one this year at Georgia Tech!

The song “The Unpossible” by Kaleidoscope Jukebox begins with a discussion of the limitations of the word “impossible”:

Our language…you might say our language lacks a word.
We have the word impossible, but we need to differentiate between two sorts of things.
The impossible is that which by definition can never be done.
We need another word: unpossible.
That which can’t be done just yet.

This song popped into my head today while thinking of times over my first two months as a dean when I’ve been told “we can’t do that here.” Luckily, there have only been two occurrences where that could not be overcome. The first time was when I requested as my email address to match the wrjacobs@x construction I’ve had for the past 20 years. After six years with I requested at the U of Minnesota and was initially denied, but an administrative assistant eventually tracked down someone who could do it, so I thought that the same thing could happen at UW-Parkside given an initial “our system can’t generate that” response, but no dice. The second instance was a request to let my administrative assistant use my designated dean’s parking space since I’d be parking at an on-campus apartment building. The “we can’t do that here” response was driven by fear of a precedent being set. Umm, I don’t really see future deans lining up to live in the student apartment complex and asking for others to use their reserved parking spaces, but whatevs.

In my meetings with department heads post I outlined consultative structures that I hope will facilitate the generation of ideas about alternative ways of business. Proposals will probably focus on practical problems, and rightfully so! I think that I’ll form another advisory group, one composed of faculty, staff, and students who are specifically interested in brainstorming unpossible ideas. I’ll call this the UnBox committee. Stay tuned for more details!

During my first year year at UW-P I am living in the on-campus student apartment complex. This complex never fills, so a few apartments are reserved for faculty and staff for transitional housing. The apartments have cable TV as part of the very inexpensive rent, but we don’t receive premium channels like Showtime. I’ve been a fan of the Showtime show Dexter for years, and figured that although I would not be able to watch it live, I could buy a subscription on iTunes to download to my iPad. Alas, it seems that the only legal way to watch Showtime shows during the first-run season is via a Showtime subscription; iTunes and Amazon streaming isn’t enabled until after shows go into re-runs. I think I can wait to watch the latest Dexter season, but it’s going to be hard to do that with my other Showtime show, Homeland. I think I might have to add Showtime to the package at the house in Charlotte, and catch up on episodes during visits to see my wife, who is living there for at least one more year to get more experience in a relatively new job. I think that our current promotional package is about to end, so hopefully I can sign up for another package that includes Showtime. Wish me luck!

Today I had the initial meeting with the person who will be the interim associate dean for 2013-2014. I wanted to make the meeting short, since he is technically not on contract until next Monday, but we ended up talking for two hours! I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me, as after the second meeting of department heads last month one person gave me a gentle reminder that they were not on contract until the end August, so I should not be holding so many meetings. I think I’ll be fine, as the new associate dean was formerly a department head, but he was not the one who made the comment. I did make a promise to the heads that I would try to not schedule any all-group meetings in August, and it looks like I’ll be able to keep it!

We’ll go into a heavy meeting rotation in September, however, as each department head (some are chairs, other are directors) will usually attend three meetings: a meeting of chairs, directors, and the dean group (CDDG); a council of heads (CoH) meeting that does not include the dean, associate dean, and dean’s assistant; and an individual meeting of the department head with the dean. What happens in each structure? In the CoH the heads will discuss the dean’s requests, create initiatives to present to the dean group, and share best practices; they’ll have a space where they can brainstorm without having to worry about the dean’s reaction before solid proposals can be created. In CDDG meetings the department heads, dean, associate dean, and dean’s assistant will discuss dean group ideas, discuss CoH suggestions, discuss central administration initiatives, and engage other business. In the head-dean meetings departmental concerns and ideas will be addressed, and two-way mentoring will happen. In sum, I want to have lots of spaces for consultation, which includes ideas brought to me in addition to ideas that I have to share. Hopefully the open atmosphere of the two initial CDDG meetings will carry over to all of the other meetings. Bring on September!

In 2008 I was invited to participate in a panel discussion organized by graduate students in sociology at Indiana University, my graduate alma mater. My main contribution to “Building Bridges: Developing a Language for Discussing Race” was to outline my “Quarterback Theory of Diversity in Higher Education.” After returning to the University of Minnesota I shared it with the Chief Diversity Officer, and we mused about writing an article about it. We never got around to that, but I’ll share it here, as the theory popped back into my head as part of a decision process about joining country clubs.

First, for readers not familiar with American football I’ll note that the quarterback is the person who is often the face of the team, and receives the bulk of media attention, be it good, bad, and/or ugly. In higher education faculty of color are the “quaterbacks” of diversity efforts, and will be highly visible. A quarterback will receive attention even if not wanted (and/or warranted), but there are ways to mitigate this attention, on institutional, departmental, and individual levels.

On an institutional level in American football, the league can have rules to protect the quarterback from unnecessary wear and tear, such as a rule to make it illegal to knock down the quarterback if the defender is more than two steps away after the ball is released on a pass attempt. On an institutional level in higher education, tenure-track faculty of color can be explicitly rewarded in promotion and tenure documents for the service they are called upon to do to serve students of color, and/or excused from other types of service.

On a departmental level in American football, the team’s head coach can call for more handoffs to the running back if the quarterback has been overwhelmed by the pass rush. On an departmental level in higher education, the department chair can notice that her assistant professor of color has been asked to join every student advisory group, so she could work with chairs of other departments to find other volunteers to lessen the new professor’s load.

On an individual level in American football, the quaterback can decide that it’s not worth the punishment to try to gain an extra yard in an attempt to run over a defender at the end of a play, and just step out of bounds. Similarly, on an individual level in higher education a faculty member of color can decide that jumping into a new battle would lesson her effectiveness in other activities.

In sum, the Quarterback Theory of Diversity in Higher Education suggests that there are institutional, department, and individual strategies that help faculty of color effectively deal with demands on their time to improve multicultural climates. Maybe I should try to develop this idea more and get it out there in an article….

Last Friday I was invited to attend a Rotary Club meeting in Racine, WI. It was fun meeting the members, and learning about their history and charitable projects. If asked to join I’ll probably accept for a start date in 2014. The weird thing about membership, though, will be attending weekly meetings in the Racine Country Club. A stereotype of country clubs is that members are a bunch of old White guys sitting around trying to keep women and racial minorities out. I was the only person of color present (in a group of about 40), and there were just two female members in attendance. There were a lot of younger men at the meeting, however, and I enjoyed the general vibe of the group.

I was also the only person of color in the room when the chancellor and provost took me to the Kenosha Country Club at the end of my first week on the job last month. As we rolled up I joked, “are you sure they are going to let me in this place? I grew up in the South, you know, so I need to check!” They responded that the university would not have a membership if there were any exclusionary practices. After a nice lunch they informed me that I could be added to the membership list.

So what do you think, readers: should I join one or both country clubs, knowing that I’ll be one of the few faces — and maybe the ONLY face — of diversity?

A couple of weeks ago The Society Pages published “Colorblindness vs. Race-Consciousness — An American Ambivalence,” in which Meghan A. Burke begins with anti-stereotypical observations in her research: “Consider a setting: a racially diverse urban neighborhood where organizers and most residents take a tremendous amount of pride in their community’s racial diversity. But many still think the black kids in their community don’t learn the ‘right values’ and avoid the parts of the community they code as ‘ghetto.’ Or how about a rural community in Illinois, where some Tea Party organizers feel that Obama’s election was a step forward for race relations, support the Dream Act, and grew up taking pride in attending a black congregation.” I have to admit that I was a little worried about how I would be received on a recent trip to the Post Office in the small town of Somers, WI, next to my campus. Everyone was friendly, and the clerk was an African American man (!). I’ll have to keep Professor Burke’s article in mind as I venture out to additional rural areas of the state.

In my last post I mentioned that an adjustment to my new role as a dean has been adapting to a Microsoft cloud computing campus after several years on a Google cloud computing campus. The main component of that transition has been getting used to Outlook mail, which has a lot more settings than Gmail. Additionally, the settings on my desktop client don’t carry over to the web-based client…and they are in different places on the dashboards (!). My wife has used Outlook for over 10 years and says that I will learn to love it. Maybe, but for now I prefer Google’s simpler approach and more streamlined design.

It was also a bit of a pain to select my insurance and health benefits plans, as I was presented with a billion options. Well, maybe not a billion, but I had a lot more choices than when I signed up for benefits at the U of Minnesota in 1999. At that time there was a low- or no- cost option in each area that served as a default choice, but employees had other choices available for specialized needs. I would have loved such a curated approach here at UW-Parkside. Hopefully I will not have to wade into that sea of possibilities again anytime soon to change my coverages.

I’ve been a dean for one month now, and I’m happy to report that there were no big surprises in the first stage of my transition to full-time administration. I am attending a lot more meetings than I did as a department chair, and I have a wider variety of opportunities and challenges to engage, but nothing has been unexpected. Reading a big stack of books, attending multiple training sessions, and speaking with lots of folks about academic leadership was well worth it!

There have been minor surprises in the first month, however. On the positive side, the first month in the student apartment complex was quieter than I expected (and there are many students living around me!). Send vibes that this continues, please! On the negative side, it’s been a bit frustrating adapting to a Microsoft cloud computing campus after several years on a Google cloud computing campus. I’ll write more about that next week…