Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man, as modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger. ~ William Shakespeare
Tomorrow will begin my thirty-sixth year working in higher education. It’s been a long curvy road (wanted to say windy, but in deference to the Beatles, I’ll go with curvy). I started out as a lab instructor, worked in residence life, as a tutor/counselor with Upward Bound, a lecturer, a lab assistant, an academic advisor, a teacher in the McNair Scholars Program, a director in academic support programs, a dean of STEM, Science and Engineering, CTE, Workforce Development, Business and Education, even spent a little time as a PE Dean and Athletic Director. Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of students, perhaps even a thousand faculty and hundreds of administrators. Brought in millions of dollars in grant funding and have even won a few awards, including a national one.
I’ve had lots of opportunities to move over to the private sector but at the end of the day, regardless of my role in education, the product I’m helping to produce is the changing of people’s lives for the better. That will always be more noble than any widget or market service I could help produce. My role has changed over the years from directly educating students, to helping educate and train faculty, to mentoring faculty and younger administrators.
Where once upon a time my focus was biology and ecology it has shifted to effective instruction, clearing obstacles and helping people learn ways to develop and maintain a healthy work/life balance.
About the time I think I’ve seen it all, something completely unique presents itself to remind me that in this field, you will never see it all. The last couple of years have been the most challenging likely in the history of education and they’ve taken a toll. Having come so near to the end of my career, they have pushed me heavily to thoughts of retirement and change.
Things have changed, they always do, but the last couple of years change has accelerated at an amazing pace. As our chancellor noted at our opening day, if you stay in this business long enough, you see lots of things repeat, again and again. Not just budget and enrollment cycles, but programmatic cycles and trends with small tweaks, new names and lots of fanfare all over again. I will stand behind the statement I’ve made many times, we know how to make it work, how to amp up success rates, retention rates and engagement. Hell, Vincent Tinto taught us most of it in the 80’s, but we get caught up in the cost and legislative priorities, public opinions and the whims of leaders. People are unfortunately too interested in getting credit than producing real change. Have to earn your stripes to get that next position, that acceptance to the Aspen Institute or other honor. And the fact is we do a terrible job of improving success and retention rates for marginalized populations.
Most of all what I’ve seen over my career, is although we say students first a lot, we often don’t really mean it. On most campuses it’s faculty first and the faculty will tell you they have no power, get no consideration and are under appreciated. On most campuses we consider administrators, almost all who were former teachers, to be the enemy of education and students. What does every faculty member hear from their colleagues when they first become an administrator? You all know the answer, “so, you’ve gone over to the dark side.” As if administrators are all students of the Sith hoping to become Darth Vader someday. It’s an unfortunate attitude and you may not believe this, but that attitude hurts administrators, because believe it or not, we’re actually human.
And yet, again tomorrow I’ll start the semester as Dean Kane. I’ll put aside the negativity from faculty, the fear my title instills in students, although it shouldn’t. I’ll tell as many students as I can that my job is there to help them in any way I can.
The thing in the last couple of years that has annoyed me the most are the initiatives to create student success teams and caring campus initiatives. Don’t get me wrong I whole-heartedly support the idea. My disappointment is firmly embedded in my idealism about our calling, our vocation, our craft. You see these initiatives all focus on the same thing, that there needs to be someone who is willing to serve students in any way the students need to be served. That’s great, but you see, I thought that was everyone’s responsibility on a college campus, that it was the reason we all work in education, but it does seem I’m a bit too idealistic on that front. Regardless, back into the breach for my thirty-sixth fall semester. I hope you all have a wonderful year.