Resolutions. I can’t remember a year without resolutions, and for the typical things… personal goals like losing weight, more faithfully exercising. My tradition of making New Year’s resolutions has always been sincere, but often my goals shift as the realities of work and home begin to take hold. I’ve always been amused by the recommitment for exercise one witnesses at the gym. January brings big crowds and my favorite machines are hard to come by. By the first week in February the mass of resolution driven patrons has thinned to a manageable size, and by March the gym is back to the loyal group of friends working on lifelong goals. John Lehrer wrote an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about New Year’s resolutions in which he cites a 2007 study finding 88% of resolutions ending in failure. Not an encouraging statistic, but also not hard to believe. Often these resolutions compete with the realities of family, friends and work, all demanding our attention.
I began this academic year with a number of resolutions – goals. Certainly an interim year gives all of us in the college an opportunity to reflect on who we are, and what we want to be. I’ve spent the year thus far focusing on that which we do well and seeking solutions for those things that would benefit from improvement. One might assume by the nature of an interim appointment that time might stand still with regard to any significant college-wide accomplishments. The status quo, however, is not for me, and indeed we’ve enjoyed a number of successes that keenly fold into my aspirations for this interim year. While we’ve certainly not met all of our goals, we have much for which to be proud and certainly we are moving forward.
One goal for the year was to work toward restoring positions in high demand/priority areas, most of which were lost to the fiscal contraction and reallocations of the past several years. We’ve done well. We have the largest number of tenure-track position searches in progress since 2007. We still have work to do in some critical areas, but we are moving forward in this interim year. We have a number of other initiatives and projects that are yet to be fully met, … but looking positive. I’ll blog more about those in the weeks to come.
There is no doubt that we should resolve to expand our impact on our student experiences. We already have remarkable students studying in this college. Their accomplishments are noteworthy, such as undergraduate Jarred Hayes, a Spanish major receiving the prestigious and competitive Gilman Scholarship for international study, or graduate students Becky Halliday and Lindsey Key (music education) who have been invited to present their research at the American Education Research Association. In Communications Studies, Ed Pittman stands out as the recipient of the Bob and Ann Weiss Undergraduate Paper Award and doctoral student Michael King as Outstanding Tutor, both at the National Association of Communication Centers annual conference. Our faculty are doing remarkable work, providing exceptional experiences for our students and our students are thriving. We will continue to innovate and engage and expand our reach… the college is moving forward in this interim year.
Research and creative activity remain a passion for our faculty and we celebrate the ongoing accomplishments of colleagues like Ed Jackson, whose archeological research is bringing national attention to his work and our university; and Richard Conville’s recent governor’s appointment to the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Services. We are proud of poet Angela Ball, who was featured on National Public Radio’s Writer’s Almanac, and to the War and Society team of Drs. Wiest, Zelner, Ural, and Stur who have been featured on C-Span, collaborated on documentaries and enjoy a national profile as leading authorities in their research areas. In Theatre and Dance we witnessed one of the finest performances staged on campus in King Lear, and Maryann Kyle performed her one-woman show, Sondheim in the City, at the Laurie Bachman Theatre in Times Square. The list goes on… Many books have been published this year, as have articles in scholarly journals, and we, the College of Arts and Letters, continue to expand our national profile in almost every discipline in the college. In this interim year, we are moving forward.
My focus for the spring term remains as it was in the fall, centered on these broad goals:
1. Further enhance undergraduate education. This is the cornerstone of what we do. Our research and creative activity integrates with and informs our teaching. The College of Arts and Letters provides a significant number of the credit hours taught at Southern Miss and all students, regardless of their college, take A&L courses. We should expand how we bring our cutting edge research into our classroom and how we support the professional development of our young faculty. We must prioritize hires that result in tenure-track faculty teaching our introductory courses and set goals that expand our experiential learning opportunities and innovative course delivery.
2. Recommit to our graduate programs. Research advances knowledge and has benefits that reach into society. Relevant and cutting edge research is integrative, answering the complex questions that hold value for our constituents and our culture. The path to cutting edge research and creative activity is through high quality graduate programs, critical to the research enterprise.
3. Engage our community and state constituents. We’ve learned great lessons from our nationally recognized program in service learning. By sharing our knowledge and expertise to solve real-world problems or culturally improve our quality of life, we enhance the educational opportunities of our students, while benefitting our community, state, and region. Local relationships with global reach position our programs to provide leadership that will positively impact our community while positioning us to expand our profile as a research intensive university.
Over the coming months I will blog our progress on these goals and other initiatives. A dean of any flavor (sans interim or otherwise) is merely a facilitator and advocate for the faculty and students of the college. These resolutions come from the collective voices of faculty/staff, students and our community constituents. Unlike a New Year’s resolution, we are positioned to meet fundamental components of these goals in the coming months… we are moving forward in this interim year.