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!

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!

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.

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!

Today I saw a new commercial for the Kayak travel search portal. In “Lecture,” a self-identified adjunct professor simultaneously lectures to his class and searches the web for hotel deals to attend a conference. When a student asks him why he doesn’t use Kayak, he replies, “it is not my job to know everything,” and that followed earlier comments that he has little time left after preparing and delivering three lectures for that day. The first thing that popped into my head was the growing movement to improve working conditions for adjuncts and other contingent faculty, such as a unionization effort in Minnesota.  Social media have been enlisted in that effort, such as the “We Need Contingent Faculty” tumblr for Macalester College. I won’t be surprised if the “Lecture” commercial ends up on a social media site somewhere in a mashup that amplifies real world issues surrounding the growing use of contingent faculty. If anyone sees such a thing please post  info in the comments!

It’s spring break week at UW-Parkside, and campus is mostly empty. As usual for a spring break, however, I’m on campus, working. (I can recall only one spring break trip as faculty member [to Costa Rica two years ago] following zero in graduate school, college, high school, and grade school.) I had meetings Monday, Tuesday, and today, but tomorrow and Friday are meeting-free, so I’ll have time to catch up on tasks that got pushed back due to higher-priority fires during the semester. Maybe next year I can take my second-ever spring break trip and go out of town for a few days?

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…


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!

The forthcoming Christmas-New Year holiday season will mark the end of my first six months as a dean. I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks of no meetings, and time to catch up on reading. I’ll also take a break from this “Dispatches From a New Dean” blog, restarting the week of January 6. Happy Holidays!

As I write I am supposed to be on a plane to Jacksonville, FL for the CCAS Annual Conference. The first leg was delayed several times due to problems with the inbound plane, and when it finally got in the air it had to turn around due to additional problems (!). At that point a colleague and I had to re-book our flights since we would miss our connection in Atlanta. The colleague — a fellow dean in the U of Wisconsin system — called the UW system travel agent while I used the Delta iPhone app to rebook. I was done in 5 minutes, while the colleague was on the phone for awhile, and then had to stand in line to confirm the seat the agent arranged. I was also able to pick a later flight after seeing that the next flight included a long layover in The ATL; I decided to make the 30-minute drive back to my apartment to catch up on work, and also to use my desktop computer to walk through steps with an online Delta agent to fix a problem with my TSA Pre-Check, which did not work on my first visit. (Agents at the gate and at ticketing told me that they could not fix the problem.) One drawback in leaving the airport: I lost a rock star parking space right next to the door to the terminal. Oh well, it’s a small price to pay for not having to sit around in airports for several additional hours….