Published: Sept. 15, 2015 By

Humanist Blog

A couple of weeks ago I decided that it wanted to start a blog as the new Associate Dean for the Arts and Humanities. I wasn’t sure what the blog might look like, or what topics I might address in it (the issue of how much self-censorship and self-presentation might be part of the blog was foremost in my mind), but I wanted to talk about the sometimes interesting, sometimes mundane experiences that a newly-minted administrator encounters in his days (weeks, months) “in the office.”

Today I was given the keys to this new kingdom, and I find myself racked by doubt about this first entry: What should I say? Should I talk about a typical day in the office, like today (lots of emails to answer, 5 meetings of one sort or another); or should I focus on some major event that has occurred in the past couple of months that defines what it means to be an associate dean (e.g., the announcement that graduate courses now require a minimum of 4 students rather than 8 as in previous years, a decision that has momentous repercussions for most departments)? Should I mention my personal vision, or should I represent my understanding of the dean’s and the college’s vision? Should I use humor or be exceedingly serious? Should I discuss my current research and how it fits my vision of what the Arts and Humanities are in a Research Institution, or should I talk about the books that have dominated my reading list throughout the summer, a quickly growing shelf of administrator’s know-how, best practices in academia and teaching, and Italian graphic novels (no, it is not part of my current research)?

I guess all of these can be topics of discussion in the future. For this first entry, however, it makes more sense to talk about the people I have encountered in Old Main. Certainly, I could talk about the Dean and Associate or Assistant Deans, but they will be recurring frequently enough in my observations. No, I would rather talk about the staff of Old Main, the unsung engine of this machinery we call the College of Arts and Sciences. Truth be told, I don’t remember everybody’s name (and the fear of omission prevents me from listing all the ones I do know by name), and I know that in the basement of Old Main there are some members of the staff that I have not even met, and whose jobs I am not sure I understand yet. But the experience I have had of them is of a group of dedicated people, who make my life as an Associate Dean so much more manageable than it would be otherwise. All I need, more often than not, is the sending of an email, and they have all the answers I could not find by myself.

We rarely talk about the staff when we talk about the mission and vision of the College. But we would be lost without them and our vision impaired. We rarely realize that they know, gather, and hold information that solves most of the problems we do not foresee in our daily activities as faculty. Oftentimes in the past, I have also under-appreciated the creativity and resourcefulness our staff brings to the job, which translate in frequent ‘ah-ha’ moments that have me running back to my office to jot down a solution that would otherwise be lost in the waning of our interaction.

So, in closing this first entry, I would like to acknowledge the staff of Old Main. My transition to the job would not have been as easy and as natural without the competence and friendliness I have encountered in every single member of the Old Main staff… which reminds me… when I was a graduate student, a former professor imparted this pearl of wisdom: remember always to show your appreciation for members of your staff, because you cannot become who you want to be without them. Judging from the early evidence, I am in good hands.


Valerio Ferme
Sept. 15, 2015