My university announced today that I have been appointed to serve as dean of our Honors College. It’s a huge step up and, needless to say, a great departure from what I’ve been doing as a faculty member for the past ten years. I’m deeply honored by this promotion and sobered by the responsibility with which I’ve been charged.

First, let me describe my new job, which starts next month. I will be moving from the Department of English to the Honors College, which resides in an old, converted house next to our president’s residence. This is a picture of my “new” building. My new office will be the one above the front porch. As a candidate for the position, I joked with the students during a forum to answer their questions that one of my goals to promote community within the college was to take up pipe smoking and sit out on the front porch and regale them with stories from great works of literature. In real life, I do fantasize about sitting on the front porch in the early morning with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. I hope I have time to do that from time to time!

The first announcement of my appointment was an informal introduction at the college’s potluck this past Friday, which is the day I formally accepted the job. I got the call from the provost on Thursday, which was about two weeks after I interviewed for the post. I had thought my interview went well. I think I made a few mistakes here and there, but nothing major. In fact, I really enjoyed the interview process. I had meetings with the college staff, the university president, the provost, and directors of some of the programs of study within the college. I also had dinner with some of the deans. I gave to short talks, one during an open forum for anyone who wanted to attend and one during a forum just for the college’s students. This is the first set of interviews I’ve had since getting my current job 10 years ago. I had forgotten how fun they are when everything seems to be going right.

I’m already seeing how different my life is going to be over the next five years, which is the term of my initial appointment. I will have a staff to oversee, which isn’t something I’ve ever done before. I will have to initiate some fund raising. Again, I’ve never done that. I’m responsible for what seems like a huge budget, though in fact it’s minuscule compared to that of the other colleges. And I’ll be teaching far less. (I’ve volunteered to help out my department in the fall with one class in the fall. I’ll also be teaching a graduate class in the spring. That’s about it for next year. After that, I’ll probably volunteer to teach one class a year in English, hopefully alternating between my Lesbian & Gay Lit class and an eighteenth-century lit class.

I’ll also be responsible for being in the office or doing some other dean-related work from 9 to 5 every day. That’s definitely something I’m not used to as a faculty member. While I work hard, a lot of my current work can be done at home. I’ll have a lot less of that now.

Despite — but also because of — these changes, I’m excited about this new turn in my career. I’ve always wanted to go into administration. As a graduate student at Tennessee, I got my first taste of it. First, I was chair of our departmental graduate student association. In this capacity I sat on the Graduate Committee and participated in various other meetings. I also served as the Assistant Director of Composition for a year, which was a great introduction to administration. As a faculty member, I’ve loved being on committees and serving on Faculty Senate. I’ve learned that I like knowing what’s going on and having a seat at the table where things are happening. I like making a contribution, even if that contribution is rather small and insignificant.

This past year, I’ve also had the opportunity to be in a mentoring program for future administrators. I learned a lot about administration in that program and I know I wouldn’t have applied for this dean’s job if it hadn’t been for that program. In fact, I had decided not to apply for this job, as a I wrote about earlier this year. Here’s what I wrote back in February:

I was recently faced with the option of maybe applying for a new position. Even before the opportunity arose, I was giving it a lot of thought. At that point, I reminded myself to live in the here and now and not in the vague future that this opportunity might present if it all worked out. Once the opportunity did (at least theoretically) come along, I asked myself if it was really what I wanted to spend my time doing. Would doing that job really be my passion. It could be someday or in the right circumstances, but for right now it isn’t. Once I came to that realization, I felt really good about ignoring the opportunity. I could see changing my mind at some point, but for right now I’m happy with the decision I’ve made.

At the time, the prospect of applying for a dean’s job, even one without faculty and therefore more like a deanlet than a “real” dean, just seemed like wasting my time dreaming about something that wouldn’t ever happen. I guess what changed my mind was the realization that, yes, the prospect of becoming a dean might just be a dream, but some dreams are worth trying for.

And I really think this one has been worth it (and not just because I ultimately got it). The students I will be working with are among the best and brightest our university has the opportunity to serve. Spending the next five years working for and with them will be a great way to spend the next phase of my career. I have no idea where this ride will take me. I don’t even know for sure whether I’ll be any good at it. But I’m going to work my heart out on behalf of these kids. And I think I’m going to love doing it.

Advertisements