While I was a faculty member at the University of Minnesota I rarely dressed up beyond dress pants and button-down shirts (worn untucked). In fact, I wore a business suit only on five or six occasions in 14 years on the faculty. As a dean, however, the biggest role transition might be to wearing suits much more often. I wore one this morning to a meeting with small business owners; it’s officially day 8 on the job. (It really is day 11, however, as a dean works every day, including on holidays like the 4th of July). I’ll have to break it out again in two weeks when I accompany the chancellor to a reception for a new school superintendent. As more meetings with folks external to the university get added to the schedule I’ll probably have to ditch the shirts and slacks for full-on suits. Men’s Wearhouse, here I come…

Today I was called into the Human Resources (HR) office to receive training about “Manager Self Service.” I was informed that “supervisors will learn how to enter their own leave electronically as well as learn how to approve leave and/or timesheets for employees (this does not include students) they supervise.” This seems like a very worthwhile activity, and the hour over in HR for the training was well organized. I never did anything like this while a department chair at the University of Minnesota, however, either for myself or for folks I supervised. At a leadership seminar a few years ago one of the presenters noted something like this: “if you move from a flagship institution to some other type of institution you may find that you’ll have to sweat the small stuff that is not monitored very closely at elite levels.” UW-P recently switched to an online time reporting/monitoring system, so this new duty should not be too onerous. Also, perhaps, institutions tagged “elite” can avoid some types of problems by more closely “sweating the small stuff”? Hhhmmm.

I have loved parades ever since participating in marching band in high school. While I saw only a handful while I was in college at Ga. Tech, I attended many parades while living in Bloomington, IN (graduate school) and Minneapolis, MN (previous academic appointment). I was excited to hear that the Racine, WI 4th of July parade is big, and the third oldest in the nation. I looked forward to watching as a spectator, but received an email on Monday: “Chancellor’s Cabinet and Deans: Understanding you all need your R&R to remain sharp, we still extend an opportunity to join us for the Fourth of July Parade in Racine. Of course, all staff and faculty are encouraged to join us as well. You might be surprised how fun it can be! Regrets only to X.” As the new kid on the block I could not turn down such an invitation for an event on my fourth day on the job! I’m glad I went, though, as it was fun. I’ll be marching again with the UW-P contingent next year…

Today was my third day as a dean, and the morning agenda included my first meeting with the university provost, the three other collegiate deans, and the associate deans from two of the colleges. My strategy for this meeting was to mostly listen and to try not to appear too nervous as the newbie in the room. This approach worked, except when we were discussing how each college would be allocated four awards to support undergraduate student research. I asked a question about how the 12 students would be selected. “Um, there are 16 students in the program, four for each of the four colleges,” a colleague gently corrected me. I should have joked that I was using new math! Alas, I just nodded and was quiet for awhile, but at the end of the meeting I did ask more questions, and did not make any errors, math or otherwise. Whew!

Today is my first day as Founding Dean and Professor, College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies, University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Following a 13-hour drive (including stops) from Charlotte, NC yesterday I stayed overnight at a hotel in Racine, WI. Now I’m about to head to campus, and I’m wearing jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt. “Wait,” you may be saying, “a dean has to dress more formally than that!” Normally I would agree, but the major task today is unpacking, first at the office, and then at my on-campus apartment. So, I shouldn’t wear anything that might get torn while throwing books and boxes around! Additionally, I just have three meetings scheduled, and they are both with people I’ve already met, so I think I can get away with being super casual on day 1…especially since the t-shirt is university-branded. Tomorrow will be the first dress up day.

In the Inside Higher Education article “College is Scary” Kevin Kiley reviews the new film Monsters University. He notes, “but more than a comment on college, Monsters University is a film about diversity, the innate differences between individuals, and the institutions and situations that help foster connections and understanding between those individuals.” He adds, “it is in the dynamic between Sulley and Mike [two very different students] that the film comes closest to exploring what college administrators say people actually get out of a residential campus experience. The two challenge each other in ways that an assignment or professor likely couldn’t.” I’m going to check out the film today to see just how the dynamic plays out, which may come in handy as I start working with UW-Parkside students in the Exploration Living-Learning Community.

 

In the fall of 2007 I became a first-time department chair in an interdisciplinary unit of a major research university. That was also when I joined Facebook. At that time I had just a vague understanding of social networking sites, so I asked the students in my Freshman Seminar, “should I join Facebook or MySpace?” They all immediately replied, “Facebook!” In the words of one student, “MySpace is just a bunch of high school kids trying to collect as many friends as possible. Facebook is more professional.” I did not know if by “professional” he meant that Facebook was designed by professionals vs. by the users, or if it targeted those who aspire to be professionals (and those who had already entered those ranks). I gave Facebook a try, however, and was immediately hooked! In the first week I must have taken 20 quizzes, and devoted a couple of hours to compose lists of favorite books, TV shows, and movies. As the semester progressed Facebook became less of a time suck (thankfully, since I had new administrative duties to learn!) but it definitely earned a spot on my browser bookmark bar.

It took longer for me to get into the habit of “friending” others. My first friend request came from a fellow professor. “What the hell is this?” I remember as my initial reaction, along with “is this gonna be a gateway to spam?” A naïve reaction, of course, but hey, I was a newbie! After a day of staring at the request I accepted it and was off and running. While I’ll never collect the thousands of friends undergrads seem to have, my list did grow at a steady clip in the first few years.

As analyzed by others (such as Jeffrey R. Young in “How Not to Lose Face on Facebook, for Professors”), a common dilemma faced by professors is whether or not we should friend students. Like many of my colleagues, my solution is to accept friend requests from students but not to initiate any of these actions. It can be weird to get a friend request from a freshman during the first week of the semester, but I figure that it would be weirder if I decline the invitation, as the student might interpret this as a negative critique of her/him. Of course, I could have a publically stated policy of not being friends with students, but then I would miss out on all of the interesting information they expose me to in their posts. “How Not to Lose Face on Facebook, for Professors” notes that instructors appreciate the richer understanding of students gained from Facebook interactions. Also, as Bryan Alexander notes in “Social Networking in Higher Education,” “If we want our students to engage the world as critical, informed people, then we need to reshape our plans as that world changes,” so I need to fully embrace the new technologies that are ubiquitous in students’ lives.

(An aside about students friending their instructors: for years I prided myself on having close connections with my undergraduate students, but Facebook revealed that my relationship with these students has been altered. In the fall of 2008 I co-taught a class with a graduate student, and learned that I had crossed over to a different place when many students friended her but not me (!). Frak! [I suppose that using references from Battlestar Galactica also has contributed to this new state of affairs.])

An area of Facebook friend relations that is more problematic for me concerns relationships with my faculty and staff. Sometimes I feel like I’m Section One’s Operations. Section One was the organization at the center of the TV spy show La Femme Nikita, which aired on the USA Network from 1997-2001. A remake – Nikita – is current airing on The CW Network, but it is not as compelling as the original. TV.com’s La Femme Nikita page provides a good description of the first series:

Based on the cult motion picture of the same name, La Femme Nikita is a sexy, stylish spy series following a deadly secret agent. Peta Wilson stars as Nikita, a young woman framed for murder and faced with life imprisonment, until an ultimatum arises which involves working for a clandestine anti-terrorism organization known as Section One. Nikita chooses a life of espionage, but soon discovers that she is just the latest pawn in Section’s games…

Operations is the Man In Charge of Section One, using whatever methods are necessary to complete covert missions. Operatives who do not measure up are placed in “abeyance” and sent on missions with a low probability of anyone emerging alive. Or they might be “cancelled” outright. All operatives in the Section are wary of Operations, who makes these life and death determinations…often on a whim, it seems.

While most department chairs are nowhere near as ruthless as Operations (well, I think they’re not), they are called upon to make tough decisions, so becoming too friendly with faculty via the informal joking and sharing of life experiences could interfere with objectivity: “I can’t discipline this person, we’re ‘friends.’” Even more cynically, a chair who is Facebook friends with a faculty member might refrain from action out of fear that the faculty member can retaliate with embarrassing information sourced from the chair’s Facebook profile.

Department chairs can pretty easily protect themselves by limiting the type and/or scope of information they place on their Facebook profiles. The story is different for chair-staff relationships. While theoretically a department chair is the “boss” of faculty, professors can pretty much do what they want, especially if they have tenure. Members of a department’s staff, however, are more clearly understood to report to the chair. The best department chairs, I believe, try to minimize faculty-staff power imbalances whenever possible. For instance, a good chair will frequently solicit input from staff on department operations (and also on Operations if s/he is especially bold!), and implements suggestions whenever possible. When chairs and staff are Facebook friends, this can lead the chair to feel obligated to read and respond to all of the Facebook minutiae that s/he can safely ignore from other friends. I feel that I should glance at Facebook notifications I receive from staff, since they deem these postings as important on some level. Failing to occasionally comment could signal annoyance and lack of appreciation for their efforts.

Once again, the chair can make some type of public (or even private) statement about acceptable terms of Facebook friend activities, but that flies in the face of Facebook’s openness: “If I’m good enough to be your friend, I’m mature enough to be trusted to moderate the messages I send to you.” An explicit statement about acceptable and unacceptable friend activity also threatens to reaffirm power differentials that many chairs try to minimize.

Nikita and Michael – the two top operatives in Section One – had a tortured emotional relationship in which they could never be totally sure of the other’s motives and intentions: Michael trained Nikita and was the team leader who often manipulated her vulnerabilities for the sake of the mission and/or his own personal objectives. If not viewed as quite the all-powerful figure that is Operations, a department chair is often perceived (in both real and imagined ways) as a Michael who unnecessarily filters information, thus the chair’s Facebook posts can be scrutinized for hints of hidden meanings. As a department chair I eventually accepted that the ways in which I interfaced with students, staff, and other professors on Facebook would be different from interactions with other friends.

The same will be true for me as a new collegiate dean who takes office next week. For example, in response to a press release about my appointment one of the faculty members in my new unit sent a congratulatory note to my Facebook account, and my response took much more time and effort than usual:

Hello, and thanks for the note! Sorry that I did not see it earlier, but it was routed to my “Other” box that I don’t check that often. Feel free to send me a friend request; no worries if you would prefer not to do that. I also look forward to meeting you and joining the Parkside team.

I think that it took me an hour to compose that 58-word note, as I did not want to create an impression of being like Operations even before I set forth on campus. (The faculty member did send me a friend request…whew!) As was the case with Facebook interactions as a department chair, I’ll create a comfort zone while using Facebook as a dean. I just hope that college students will still view Facebook as an exciting site once I do.

This day next week will be my first day as Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. While I’m very much looking forward to joining the ranks of full-time administrators, I can’t escape years of socialization about the perils of administration: last week I closed an email to a departing department chair with “enjoy your freedom!” I should have said something like “enjoy your summer break, but in the fall you will be emailing me about wanting your chairship back!” Yes, that’s wishful thinking, I know. Few faculty members fall in love with the processes of administrative life, such as the loss of control of one’s calendar. While I enjoyed going to many meetings as a department chair, they will ramp up exponentially as a dean…27 are already on the books for July (!). Maybe I should be telling myself to enjoy this last week in my primary role as a faculty member? No, I’m ready to get started!

Last month I posted a note about wanting (maybe) to be a Google Glass Explorer. It looks like I wasn’t selected, as today The Chronicle of Higher Education has a report about professors’ mixed reviews of using Google Glass in the classroom. Oh well, I’ll check into Google Glass again after the $1500 price tag comes down.

For the past five months I have been studying Spanish, in anticipation of one day being able to converse with Spanish-speaking people during interactions as a Dean. I had not studied a foreign language since high school French, and hoped that I would be able to pick up Spanish quickly. Alas, language learning does not appear to be one of my strengths, so it’s going to be years until I’m fluent. Oh well.

When I get to UW-Parkside I’ll look into Spanish language offerings in the College of Arts and Humanities. I’ll also speak with my fellow Dean about an interesting idea I came across a year or so ago. I can’t remember where I saw it (hence, no link; sorry), but the essence was that we have entered an age where global citizens can speak to each other fairly well with the assistance of translation devices, so one does not need to be fluent in a foreign language for visits to other countries. The article went on to suggest that a curriculum could be developed that taught students to be world travellers who could quickly acquire linguistic and cultural basics once they hit the ground overseas. I’ve got to do a search to try to find this article!

There will probably always be a place for full scale college-level language instruction for students who need to be fluent in a foreign language in order to live and work for an extended period in a specific international location, but I wonder if a “How to be a World Traveller” curriculum would be useful for the millions of students who will forget most of their language instruction after receiving caps and gowns? The curriculum could include engaging online language learning videos, such as the BBC’s “Mi Vida Loca,” which “takes you on an intrigue mystery adventure to Madrid and beyond in 22 episodes, [in about] 10 min each, covering basic learning points for Spanish absolute beginners.” I watched each episode as part of supplemental language lessons suggested by mi maestra de español fabulosa [my fabulous Spanish teacher], Lucy Cantellano Gallina.

Perhaps the “How to be a World Traveller” curriculum could also include one-semester courses in targeted languages, with a goal of preparing students to be expert users of translation devices, such as smart phone apps. Not only would students be exposed to a variety of gadgets, they would be instructed in recognizing when queries produce flawed responses. For example, at the end of the first paragraph of this post I wanted to use a Spanish expression for “oh well.” BabelXL gave me “bueno,” and Google translate suggested “oh bien.” I know enough Spanish to recognize that “bueno” is “good,” and while “bien” is most often used for “well,” “oh” is not Spanish!  Yo escribí a mi maestra de español para recibir una mejor traducción. (Put that in an online translator and see what you get!) She replied, “Hmm, it’s hard, because we don’t use an expression at the end of something (conversation or situation) that did not work out the way we expected it to.” That’s the type of cultural context the “How to be a World Traveller” curriculum should impart. Another example: the curriculum could inform students that “Sapo verde! Que te la pases bien!” posted to my Facebook page is slang for “Happy Birthday! Have a good one,” instead of the “green toad, may it pass you well” translation delivered by BabelXL.

Being the fan of science fiction that I am, I’ll end by noting that all of the above will one day be irrelevant when we develop injectable translator microbes. In the meantime and in-between times [as a student used to say to me], we should experiment with established teaching and learning practices.