I was considering writing a report to my colleagues before asking them to evaluate me, but there were two problems with that. First, it would take too much time, which I would rather spent on doing something rather than on making a long list of heroic deeds. If you’re really curious at how your Dean spends his time, take a look at my calendar – all 47 pages of it. But second, if we accomplished something this year, most credit is due to other people – my colleagues in the dean’s office, department chairs, committees, faculty and staff. Karen Castagno took on huge tasks to make this place run AND covered significant part of the NCATE data collection. I am especially grateful to her. Many other people within and outside FSEHD were gracious, patient, and forgiving. Thanks to all for a great year. OK, forget reporting; I have learned a few things and will talk about them.
- RIC is a dynamic place, willing and able to change. To find the College leadership to be supportive and interested in mine and my colleagues’ ideas is encouraging. People ask hard question and challenge what we’re trying to do, but out of diligence, not resistance. Of course, not all offices are equally responsive and flexible, but there is a sufficient critical mass to make this place tick. Yes, some things drive me nuts, but none of them fundamental to the institutional culture, and all of them can be overcome with time and effort.
- A lot of my time was spent on establishing connections throughout the state. I met with eight superintendents in one-on-one situations, trying to figure out what they really think of us. I also insinuated myself on a few committees – with RIDE’s various projects, some advisory boards; met with several journalists, community organizations, etc., etc. Sometimes it is hard to judge how productive these efforts are, but they surely helped to shorten my learning curve. Well, rumors about Rhode Island’s parochialism and backwardness are greatly, greatly exaggerated. Perhaps they are spread by those Massachusettsers and Connecticutians, who want to feel superior to someone next door, a smaller kid. I met many very intelligent and forward-looking people here. Of course, my knowledge of local politics is still very basic, but nothing I saw or read about strikes me as unusual. Take corruption, for example. There are only 16 countries less corrupt than the United States (Russia is on 127th place, just above Sierra Leone, Congo and Venezuela). But within the US, Rhode Island is actually the 24th most corrupt state – right in the middle of the pack (Glaeser and Saks, 2006, page 1069). Did you know that?
- Picking the essential apart from unessential is not an easy task for me. I don’t know if anyone ever figures it out. Life just does not match your plans. What I was hoping to achieve in August and what I ended up actually doing only partially coincide. Take a look at the Call to Arms document, with brief status reports. And another, a much more sensitive issue: the strategic plan FSEHD developed before me. I always liked it and agreed with the majority of the items. But did I actively pursue all the things planned for this year? – not really. Why? Partly because I thought other things are more important, partly because there was only so much one could do (which is, in the end, the same thing). Anyway, however you put it, I let some of this slip without an open discussion. It is OK to change the plans, but it should be done deliberately, not by omission.
- The whole NCTATE reporting saga is both sad and inspiring. It was very sad when we spent so much time pleasing both the State and NCATE only to find out that never mind, RIDE is not interested. Department chairs for years collected data for annual reports to meet RIDE’s requirements. The saddest part is to have to ask people to submit certain data and documents and know they will never be looked at. Accreditation is an act of compromise, and sometimes I am not sure if all the compromise is worth the benefits – also real, but sufficient? A part of me wants to say good bye to NCATE, and just collect data and samples we believe is useful. The other part of me is dutifully typing pieces of the institutional report, because the national recognition is a wonderful thing, and we have spent so much time and effort to do it. The inspiring part of it is that most of my colleagues fully share in these uneasy dilemmas, and do what they are asked to do, even without a full conviction that every little piece of the puzzle is really meaningful. And looking at these data and documents is useful, and sometimes surprising. Showcasing our successes is a lot of fun. The project took so much energy, we have to celebrate when we’re done.
OK, enough lessons for one blog. See if I have others next week.