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May 4, 2012

The Sowing Season

This year is still winding down, with its ceremonies, with the Pomp and Circumstance, with faculty tired over grading, and red-eyed students storming the computer lab. It is the best time in our calendar, when we look at our graduates and think: - it was all worth it, every minute of it. We read their papers and think – at least sometimes – well, I did not waste my time on this one; look at how much she is grown. I keep coming back to the running list of our projects, and try to discern what we have learned; which ones failed and why, which ones worked, and why. My mind wonders into the next year immediately. What can be realistically achieved? What should we push for, even though the chances are not clear? Remember, in certain kinds of work learning from it is more important than whether the actual goal is accomplished. And finally, what do we absolutely have to clean up, resolve, and get over with? I started to build another list for the next year; this time a little more manageable (people complained that the 11/12 list was hard to navigate; it is absolutely correct). Of course, I always invite others to contribute, knowing perfectly well this is the worst of time for most faculty and chairs to help out. Their seasons are not exactly like mine.

I love this part of my job – planning, imagining, and trying to see the future. And yes, I know I have written about it last August; called it the planting season. Oh, well, how unoriginal, repeating myself. But in August I was worried about the risks; this time I am reflecting on the joys of planning, so there.

The big picture is fairly clear. In the next year, we need to continue reshaping our programs to make them more competitive, more unique, and more applicable. We will keep pushing off-campus offerings, and perhaps investigate hybrid or online programs. To do that, we must continue to innovate – small and big. We should find ways of expanding our various partnerships throughout the state. Another big goal for us is to improve the quality of experiences for our students, staff and faculty. So, those are the goals – it is fairly simple to come up with them. Now, what specific, manageable projects can we turn them into? Who is going to do them? How and when things should be moving? Who can watch over them, help and nudge, ask and offer help? That’s the puzzle we will be playing in this office over the summer. We also need t allow for contingencies, for something unexpected – good or bad – to happen. So some reserve capacity should be around, and that does not mean “OK, I can do this over the weekend.” It is especially interesting to find synergies – ways in which separate projects can sometimes benefit each other.

But in a way, each of us should do something like that. Every faculty member should have a realistic plan. These are things I will be doing, and these are things I am going to say “No” to. The nature of contemporary work changes –from just doing it, it shifts more and more to thinking about how, when, and with whom to do it. So we start with a common template, which should also have the right links. Do you want to try to help ? If many people contribute just a little bit, we all gain something.

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