This month I participated in the Aspen Institute’s Wye Dean’s Seminar in Queensland, Maryland. Thirty-two academic leaders from across the country met for a week of intense reading and reflection on great writings reaching back to the ancient Greeks. Our quest was to uncover the hidden truths about leadership as witnessed in the writings of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Rousseau, Dewey, and others. We studied the inaugural addresses of Abraham Lincoln, the writings of Martin Luther King, and the address of Aung San Suu Kyi to the World Commission on Culture and Development. We even staged a reading of Sophocles’ Antigone. We pondered the writings of Confucius, read The Five Pillars of Faith in the Qur’an, and John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity.” I found the experience to be exhilarating, not only in basking in the luxury of a week devoted entirely to the great writings I have been away from for too long, but also through witness of the interpretations of these writings by deans and provosts from all parts of the country. I realized that far too often I am lost in the pushing of papers and enforcement of policy. As a dean of the arts, humanities, and social sciences, I realized that I cannot lose myself in perfunctory repetition. At the core, the truths of leadership and indeed in living a more perfect life comes from that which we teach in our classrooms, studios, and on our stages. The great secrets for striving to be a good leader, and in decision-making at every turn is waiting for us in the writings of those who preceded us, the great works of the ages.
All posts in Arts & Letters
Almost from the moment we saw the devastating images of the Ogletree House, Jazz Station and even places that we could not recognize anymore, the Southern Miss family wasted no time in rolling up its sleeves and coordinating recovery efforts. While nearly fifty faculty and staff from the Department of Art & Design and the School of Music were displaced due to damage to their buildings and office spaces, the morale among them remains high.
Art and Design professor, John Mark Lawler, said that despite the circumstances, faculty and staff in his department were positive. “The staff I’ve spoken to are willing to make it work, whatever it takes. It’s bad, it’s a disaster, but that’s life. You take the punches and roll with it. Students are concerned about each other and us, but everyone seems to be doing ok. Everyone is constantly asking how they can help,” says Lawler.
Dr. Ed Hafer is a School of Music professor whose office took a direct hit. Though he lost some things, he says the greatest loss is that the music family has been displaced, though only temporarily. “Folks are shocked at the amount of damage, but remain hopeful. Students, in particular, are very resilient. Everyone is excited about building bigger and stronger than before. We are all just so glad that no one was hurt,” said Hafer.
As early as Sunday, efforts were made to make sure that faculty, staff and classes would have a home, at least until more permanent arrangements could be determined. Faculty and staff from Art and Design have moved into office space made available in George Hurst Building, while Music faculty and staff have found temporary office space in the Liberal Arts Building, Honors House and Cook Library.
As of Thusday, we have rescheduled 87 lecture classes displaced across Art & Design and Music, and more than 600 various types of ensemble classes/rehearsals, applied study (lessons), and chamber classes for 475 majors. For Art and Design, we currently have about 200 students who have been impacted by the storm. Fortunately, most students were not on campus because of the Mardi Gras holiday on Monday and Tuesday, so as bad as it may look to one walking through the hardest hit areas of campus, it could have been a lot worse. On Wednesday, with classes still cancelled and when many students could have slept in, nearly 1,000 student volunteers showed up wearing rubber boots, rain slickers and baseball caps ready to help remove storm debris from their home-away-from-home.
Sunday evening, sophomore Acting major Kerri Walker was glued to Facebook at her home in Brandon after learning that parts of campus had been in the direct path of the tornado. As a performing arts student herself, she was heartbroken for art and design and music students whose spaces had been badly damaged. “I got up at 6:00am on Wednesday morning and drove from my home to volunteer and help with the clean-up. I’d seen the social media alerts and I just had to be there,” Walker shared. Walker said that everyone really wanted to help do all they could to restore the campus. Volunteers included students, faculty and staff and individuals from the community. As so many have said in the past few days, it could have been a lot worse, Walker added.
But if there is a silver lining to this tragedy—and we have seen many silver linings so far, it has brought the Southern Miss family together. “To see the university and community come together, it made me love USM—MY university–even more.”
At the conclusion of the fall term, the first phase of strategic planning wrapped up for our departments and schools in the College of Arts & Letters. Next, we move to a meta-analysis of the unit strategic plans, specifically to uncover the emerging themes that will serve as the foundation for the college plan. By February, I will develop a response document, which will be returned to the faculty/staff for a comment period. The College Executive Committee will be tasked with amending the plan with the feedback from that comment period. The final plan will be presented to the faculty and staff at our spring convocation in April.
Despite a busy fall, most units in the college embraced this process. In these fiscally challenging times, it seems self-evident that planning, strategic or otherwise, can only facilitate the focus that we must acquire. Effective planning can address goals related to improving governance, program reach, accountability, and ultimately, the best use of public and development funding.
Nonetheless, there can be a danger of a disconnect between the plan and the organizational focus and daily activities in college. While the consensus is that these conversations have been worthwhile, there is a fear that the effort might result in a document that will find a special place on the shelves of chairs, directors, and upper-level administrators, to never be seen again. That will not happen under my watch.
A college’s organizational culture is strongly influenced by the dean as well as the leadership team surrounding the dean. The core values and behaviors demonstrated at the top of the organization will permeate throughout and can create a very strong culture for focus or change. However, it is not enough to simply build a strong culture, it must be a balanced one. I am committed to developing our potential, based on the plan that emerges from our faculty and staff conversations this fall. We will build a performance-centered culture that encourages a healthy level of risk taking (thinking in terms of what can be, not what has been) and an appreciation for learning, development and diversity of opinion. These factors fuel innovation and help propel stronger long-term growth and performance. To do this, we must have a plan… one that rises up from the faculty.
Who doesn’t feel a little more optimistic when the sun is shining, the sky is blue and a warm breeze is gently blowing? In just the same way that the environment can impact our lives, it can also contribute to or detract from the way we learn.
In Arts & Letters, we provide excellent educational experiences in our classes, studios and labs and through our performances and internships. We also are beginning to focus on providing that sense of “place” that draws students together outside of the formal academic experience. This summer, we began to exam that sense of place in the Liberal Arts Building so that students would want to linger between classes and congregate to visit with classmates or to meet new people. Slowly we are building an environment that is not only functional, but that is also aesthetically encouraging and provides a greater identity for what we do. We’ve added study nooks and places to quietly congregate before and after classes, an electronic message board on both floors. We’ve added art and cleaned up technology in the classrooms. The Manonni Performing Arts Center and the Fine Arts Building have also gone through a renaissance of sorts. In both old and new facilities, our focus on developing an encouraging environment is beginning to show some results.
What I hear in the halls now is the quiet buzz of student conversations as they work and study. Faculty report that they enjoy seeing students working between classes; they appreciate the animation of students as they process their learning; and I revel in the atmosphere of warmth, beauty, and friendliness that is our home in LAB and was already a part of the School of Music and the Departments of Art and Design, Dance and Theatre. Soon our School of Mass Communication and Journalism will move into their beautiful new home, and we will have new learning and performing spaces on 31st Avenue by way of the pedestrian walkway project, just in time to enjoy the spring weather next semester.
On Friday, August 24, the College of Arts and Letters faculty and staff convened in the Thad Cochran Center for our very first “beginning of the year” college-wide meeting. I was thrilled to see so many attend a late Friday afternoon meeting at the end of the first week of classes. After the introduction of new faculty, we enjoyed two wonderful addresses from Interim President Lucas and Provost Wiesenburg. The primary focus of the meeting, however, was to discuss our strategic planning initiative.
I pointed out during my presentation that we are an energized and passionate faculty and I have witnessed the delight and satisfaction of our wonderful students for the experiences we provide in our classrooms, studios, and rehearsal halls. But despite the great work happening all over the College, we lack a clear, self-determined identity. At the very basic level, the strategic planning this fall will help us tell our story, in such a way, that we will be able to articulate that which is already true…that which sets us apart from the rest. We might ask why we would undertake strategic planning during a year of transition? Benjamin Franklin said, “You may delay, but time will not.” If we look back, the university is always in a state of transition… when have we not been engaged in the search for some critical position at the university – a new chair, a new dean, a new provost, or a new president? Yet by crafting a plan that will position us for future distinction, with a commitment to mutual goals and a shared vision for a successful future, we take a giant step forward in controlling our own destiny no matter the leadership changes that happen around us.
Will Rogers said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” No college or department can remain static for long, nor should we wait for the perfect time to move forward. We’ll get “run over.”