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Sunday, July 13, 2014

End Game

Nardin House - 1980
I have never really left college, though I did graduate some 30 years ago. This summer I joined one of my old peer groups for their annual weekend camping trips. Indeed, a great deal of conversation over the  weekend was around the topic of whether or not I had invited myself. I did, sort of, but I had a standing invitation to the upper mid-west from my friend Nep, who lives in Madison, where we all attended college together. This year the event was held at the new old farm house just over the Minnesota border to Wisconsin and owned by our friend  Rucksie. So that seemed manageable to me as someone who didn't want to fly in for a mere camping trip. Also there, was regular attendee, Wolfie, who lives in the Twin Cities near Rucksie.

It is amazing and comforting to be among people who knew you when you were maturing into an adult. (Maturing being a relative concept here.) I was surprised to learn of some of the quotes and stories these guys had been sharing about me over campfires for the past 30 years. I had forgotten much, and in some cases still didn't remember. But I had my own stories to tell as well, to bring a fresh perspective. The four of us had a terrific time

What I found were - at their core - the same friends who were great at listening, were warmhearted, successful, and compassionate. It was such a pleasure to catch up and to relive the college days and hear of new lives. Some of the memories were painful as we discussed friends we lost not long after graduating. And some were sentimental as we discussed other friends and where they were now.

This all was against the back-drop of some of the most biting, sarcastic, brutal, and hilarious ribbing and commentary I have experienced in years. Part of the comfort of being with old college friends is the speed at which you can resume acting like, well, college students. In addition, it seems that
wiener jokes and potty-humor never get old (one declared himself the "fart-king" of the weekend - a new champion apparently). We all noted at various times that we were professionals and family men. But still, when someone inexplicably falls off his chair in slow-motion (yelling "incoming"), or another describes a recent bathroom trip in detail, the tenor of the conversation and subsequent re-telling of new memories take on their own lives. So yes, we were connected by having deep -- and not so deep -- conversation as we slid back into familiar roles and  as we established new ones. One challenge for my friends to deal with was that I was committed to naps and chocolate. They buried me mercilessly for following the NBA draft at the campfire. To my horror, though, I learned that none of these friends understood any references to current music, Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones. They seemed to prefer chores.

I love working with college students. Not just because they keep me current with pop-culture. For me, the strong friendships I made, then, have never faded. (And I am glad to have the peripheral ones have been revived thanks to Facebook, by the way.)

Nep, Wolfie, Rucksie. A-mid-wives!

This particular group of friends formed on my dorm floors my first two years at UW. Another group grew from my time as an RA in Ogg Hall. What blessings. And so it is gratifying as I see some of our own students find the same. Whether through their residence hall friends and roommates, athletic teams, theater, fraternities and sororities, course work and research, many find some of the same connections I did. I hope so anyway.

Today, most of our students find themselves at the beginning... of college, or the rest of their lives. Many wonder what comes next. Maybe just as important, they should think about what comes last. Along with selecting majors, going to graduate school, and finding jobs, something else will hopefully endure: The friendships. Before they know it, they will look up one day and remember when it all started. And where it led. To the end game.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Package Deal

I am asking students to think outside the box. The mailbox, if you will. For some time I have been discussing changes to the Coates University Center, and those changes are finally coming to fruition. Part of what sparked this was consolidation of Central Receiving operations on Kings Court with the Mail Center operations at the Coates Center. From an efficiency and business standpoint this made sense.

Additionally, I have wanted to move the mailboxes out of the Coates Center. On most campuses, mailboxes are in the residence halls. Our halls don't have main desks or spaces for boxes so they have been centralized up in Coates since 1987. They were actually placed in Coates to drive student traffic into the building.

The problem is that we have been using our best real estate in a prime location for static mailboxes. It is kind of like putting your air conditioner in your living room. But it is all we know so we haven't really questioned it. If you have toured other campuses, however, you quickly note that most have more current, modern, dynamic and interactive spaces in their university centers than we have in ours. We have fallen behind. At the same time, our building has a certain amount of charm to it and we don't need a new one. Most comparable institutions have their dining hall as part of their University Center - but we don't. What we need our space to be is not merely a pass-through facility, but a destination place.

Departmental mailboxes have been moved to CSI. We have moved the student mailboxes to the Tigers' Den, which will also serve as a game room. The only downside for students in all of this is that packages will now be distributed from the Central Receiving area on Kings Court.

So far, that hasn't been popular with students. Mostly there are concerns with distance and parking and waiting. This summer, additional measures have been implemented to try to minimize some of the issues. As with most decisions, there are choices to be made and trade-offs to consider. I ask our students to be patient in this transition and to consider what they are getting (a better University  Center, year-round) versus what they are losing (package pick-up in the center of campus). If each student considers the handful of times he or she receives packages against the potential increased use of the University Center as a gathering space, the trade-off will be worth it. 

When students return in August, they will find a much more comfortable and student-friendly place to relax, study, hang-out, and hold events. Among the changes:

- There will be a variety of seating options in the main lobby for those who want to sit at tables, sit in small groups, or work on a large table.
- The former mailbox area will feature technology options and a television as well as several different seating options.
- There will be tables with umbrellas outside of the mailbox area window.
- Upstairs Coates will feature small study areas for individuals and groups and a lounge area with recliners and sofas that can be extended for naps by collapsing the end caps.
- The Commons will hopefully feature a less obtrusive drink station and a new sandwich line.
- We hope to have the Commons open from morning to night without interruption.

Down the road, there will be many bigger changes to the facility as centers developed in the strategic plan will result in office re-locations throughout the building.

Most any change on a college campus is met with skepticism, initially. I assume that our students will love what they see, but will bemoan the issues with package pick-up. Give it a chance. Our students deserve a true University Center. These changes bring us much closer to that.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My life as a blogger

This was my dinner and its mushroom at the annual President's dinner. The mushroom is CLEARLY in the shape of the Trinity tower. Mine was the only one like this. I think there is a story there. Don't you?
Editors note: Recently I wrote my 250th Dean's List blog post. I wanted to celebrate this milestone, because frankly, who else would? Now it might seem arrogant to interview one's self, and I will own that. On the other hand, I think I have demonstrated a willingness to embarrass myself (can you say "piano"?) and self-disclose very private things, like my love of 1960's bubble gum pop (can you say Petula Clark? And yes, clearly lip-synching...). So I think I have earned a right to be self-indulgent.
Q: So, I guess this is the obvious question - why do you blog?

A: I think it is important to communicate with students and parents in a way that humanizes the administration. I used to write columns in the Trinitonian and do a call-in show on Tiger TV. When blogging became a thing I thought 'hey, I can do that!' It lets me write at my own pace and when the spirit moves me. I also want a forum to add nuance to topics and to even correct misinformation.

Q: So how does the spirit move you?

A: I have a lot of weird thoughts. I keep most of them to myself. But sometimes I may see something, hear something, wonder something, and an idea just takes on its own life. Grieving Yolanda is a good example. I seriously thought the things I wrote, so just typing it out isn't necessarily work. It is just reporting what you think. Once I get an idea though, I have to write it, even if I am busy with other things. I can go weeks without posting and then do three in a row. Weird.

Q: So when do you write?

A: I compose most of my posts when I am running. The trick is remembering between the end of the run and when I can write.

Q: What do you love and hate about blogging?

A: I love Trinity! And I love the little stories that happen here that often others aren't privy to. We (not just Trinity) do so much in terms of manufactured copy with a positive spin. Sometimes for me the joy around here is in the little things and the people. I like to chronicle these things from a non-sanitized perspective.

Q: And hate...

A: I wouldn't say I hate anything about it. I guess you do kind of make a deal that you need to be personal when you blog. Otherwise you are part of the noise. So when you try to develop a voice or take a stand you put yourself out there to criticism.

Q: Really?

A: Well, yeah. I always felt like the worst way to be a Dean would be to not be known. I don't think there is anything special about me. But, I want students to know who I am. When the chips are down, I want them to turn to me for help or at least for a referral. So you have to find ways to be out there. Blogging is one way. The downside is when people have an issue with the administration they have a real person to attack.

Q: So please tell me why do it?

A: Some days, I don't know. I think the important thing is to be transparent. Our students really, really want to hear the truth and don't want to be condescended to. On the other hand, when you speak your truth, you open yourself up to criticism. It would be a lot simpler for me to keep my trap shut. But I don't want to be vanilla in that way. Sometimes it seems to me I am my own worst enemy...

Q: How has your blogging evolved?

A: Some of my early posts were simple news shorts. The more I did it, the more I developed a voice. I have also gotten bolder since I realized I am just a guy at a small school in Texas with a small audience.

Q: Any favorite posts?

A: Actually, yes. They are the ones about people. I just love the the unusual saga of the McCormick-Masse family. I continue to be inspired by a young woman named Chelsea Castillo and another named Catherine Found. How people cope with tragedy sometimes amazes me. The post about Alex Reinis was very personal to me. I never knew Alex, and his death makes me sad. I got to know his parents and friends after he passed and they are wonderful people. Again: courage. I was also inspired by Karyna and her pure guts. I am glad she let me write about her.

And it may seem strange, but this woman Louise, the census taker, just cracked me up. I also like this post because Butch Newman is one of the best guys ever. The story about these twins, who we let graduate even though one didn't attend here, was really cool. It was not like us to make an exception like this. I credit President Brazil for saying "yes."

Q: Well aren't you special?

A: NO! See, I was afraid of that. I love to blog but it is because I love the material. I have a unique vantage point based on my job. Trinity is special and so are its people. That's the point.

That's really the point...

Note: Thank you to my consultants Susie Gonzalez and Mike Fischer, who try to save me from myself.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Parting Ways

President Dennis Ahlburg, with his wife, Penelope Harley (above), share a private moment between the graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremonies on May 17, 2014. The President announced on May 14 that he would be stepping down from his role effective January 1, 2015.

Trustee Richard Calvert (left) reflects on his award for 39 years of outstanding service as a University Trustee. His father, James Calvert, was instrumental in bringing Trinity to its spot in San Antonio, and there is a residence hall named in his honor. Richard Calvert, like the late Jack Stots (trustee), Paul Smith (current trustee), the late Ed Roy (former professor and administrator), and Dr. Richard Burr (professor), is among those rare men that combine class, dignity, warmth, compassion, and leadership in their work. They are -- and were -- terrific gentlemen and role models for many others.

Joe Shotland delivered an amazing commencement address on behalf of the Class of 2014. But he had competition. On May 14 some of the runners up delivered their speeches in front of a warm and weepy crowd in the Tigers' Den. Nupur Agrawal brought down the house as she discussed how her admissions materials, meant for Trinity College in Connecticut, somehow were incorrectly sent to San Antonio. One college's loss is another university's gain. The rest, as they say, is history. This appears to be the start of a great new tradition.
A couple selfies from the big day. Above, getting ready to descend to the platform. Below, a quick candid with graduate Leah Wesselman. 

This is Carlos Martinez (above) at the annual Twilight at Trinity farewell party hosted by the Residential Life Office. Carlos is headed to medical school at Texas Tech this fall. Commencement isn't just about our graduates, but also about their dedicated families and friends. Megan Kruse, Class of 2014 (below - in white), is shown with her parents, who traveled from the Philadelphia area for this special day.
And finally, five members of the baseball team had their own private ceremony on May 19, 2014, because they were traveling during the regular commencement over the weekend. This is part of an excellent Trinity tradition that underscores how much the institution values the scholar-athlete.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sixth Annual: The Year in Review - 2013-2014

Another academic year is in the books, and as is tradition, I take a look back at the year that was. While I try to think broadly, beyond the Student Affairs perspective, I have certainly missed some things, and invite the readers to post on those things in the comment section.

There will be a handful of posts between now and August, but look for more regular posting to occur when we begin the 2014-2015 academic year.

Top Stories

1. Sexual Assault
As the government beefed up regulations to improve enforcement of sexual assault policies across the nation's campuses, 55 colleges and universities found themselves under investigation. On campus a handful of cases drew attention of many and found their way into the local media.

2. Admissions
With two years of falling numbers the University came out swinging. The Admissions Office was moved to the center of campus - to the delight of their staff. Marketing efforts were implemented or strengthened, and financial aid awarding was adjusted, with terms being more transparent earlier in the process. The result? The Class of 2018 comes in at about 675, compared to about 550 last year. Wow.

3. New.Trinity.Edu
The new Web page, part of marketing efforts, went live on November 8, 2013. This page was designed to appeal primarily to prospective students and their parents. Looks like it worked. It has a nice feel to be sure. Some adjustments, especially for internal audiences, are still in the works. It would be hard for this to not be a top story as we see it daily, and its impact likely contributed to the high enrollment.

4. The Center for Sciences and Innovation (CSI)
To see it is to love it. This incredible facility is the new crown jewel of Trinity University. What an incredible facility. It represents the new liberal arts as well: multidisciplinary learning, productive collisions, and a learning and research hub.

5. CSI fire lane
In terms of day-to-day impact, nothing hit the campus like the new fire lane, which transformed the academic quad into a plaza. For once, an architectural rendering is bested by the real thing. Nicely done, TU. Thank you, fire department.

6. New curriculum
This should probably be number one in terms of long-term impact. However, while it was passed, it will not be implemented for some time, and it doesn't directly affect current students. As an advisor to the Student Government Association, I saw first hand how little time was spent on this topic.

7. Strategic Plan progress
Perhaps because a strategic plan involves so many constituents and so much review, the process has slogged on. But it is starting to come into focus. As with the curriculum, this probably deserves to be in the top two. Let's see if it stays on the list and jumps higher next year as its elements begin to come to fruition.

8. Triniteers and Pikes
The Triniteers fraternity was permitted back on campus after being away for several years. The lone national fraternity at Trinity was not allowed by Greek Council to take a new class.

9. ASR = SGA
The Association of Student Representatives changed its moniker to Student Government Association. This is clearer to students who used to have to work to figure out who was in charge. Former Dean Coleen Grissom and Prez Ron Calgaard, if they cared, wouldn't approve. One or both used to say that to call it government presumed there was power. Dr. Grissom, I know, was fond of saying that ASR had no power, but "great influence."

10. It's frrreeezing....
The school was closed or nearly closed so many times that it became mind-numbing. Brrrr.

- Women's Soccer goes to championship game
- Bowling for Soup plays "1985" at Welcome Back Concert
- Taco Taco comes to the Coates Center Commons
- Winn/Witt dorm renovation
- Pi, everywhere
- Duckapalooza
- The crowd at the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon represents Trinity as runners come through campus

- Bowling for Soup: They were right, people DID leave after they played their hit "1985."
- The push to move from division three to division one is immediately rebuked.
- Memes (grrrr)
- Tiger Taxi debit cards (need to sell, sell, sell!)

Under the Radar
- New staffing in Career Services means good things for our students.
- E-lerts
- Woodward and Bernstein (great lecture for those of us who lived through Watergate!)
- UIW shooting of a student (little air play, probably because it happened in mid-December)
- Alcohol. Little love anyone for trying to be think outside the case?
- Student Affairs rocks nationally

Big Hurts
- For the third year running, we lost a member of the student community when student Ernest Amoh passed away in early June while visiting his brother before his scheduled graduation at Dartmouth. Ernest's family traveled to San Antonio in the fall, and Dr. Nanette LeCoat, President Dennis Ahlburg, Coach Paul McGinlay, and Ernest's friends were wonderful ambassadors.
- TUPD Officer Mark Kelley died this spring when responding to a fire alarm malfunction in one of the residence halls.
- Many other important legends and friends were lost over this past year.

On the Horizon
- Look for a new old new era in Trinity football
- Coates Center lobby renovations/Mailbox relocation (look for summer post)
- Hopefully new dining options in CSI and Coates

Year 5
Year 4
Year 3
Year 2
Year 1

Bonus tracks
In case you missed it, here are some of the topics I got to write about this year. Trinity is rich with material:
Coates bacon
Campus sex
Magic Stones
NBA and higher education
NFL and higher education
Reading days

Sam named a Ram: Lessons from the NFL

So Michael Sam was selected this week as the first openly gay player drafted by a National Football League team. The St. Louis Rams chose the Missouri linebacker very late in the draft. The scene played out on television as so many do: a telephone call, tears of elation, and the tears of a supportive significant other. So there was another first: a new player was hugged and kissed by his boyfriend -- for all to see on national television. Seems to be the month for professional sports to illuminate lessons that play out to some degree on our nation's campuses.

We have known for several years now that there have been gay football players in the NFL. But it is a big step to "come out" in an environment that is so testosterone-driven. Just look at the Jonathan Martin case for a hint of NFL locker room behavior, politics, and stereotyping. (Count on a hazing post this summer.) Perhaps this is why the media has been fascinated by a college student telling everyone he is gay as he seeks employment with a pro football team.

When I first started working in student housing some 30 years ago it was very different. We didn't know a lot then about gay people, and most of what we thought we knew was dead wrong. Then came AIDS and what was seen as a shameful lifestyle seemed, by some, to suffer deserving consequences. But we figured it out as we learned from this era. The morality question has lessened, as we know more about biology, genetics, and orientation versus preference. The Bible still offers some a strong pulpit to question, but less than ever.

Years ago we more routinely dealt with complaints from students and parents when the new roommate was revealed as homosexual. Now, there is a different vibe. Most of our students have lived in a world where being gay is less stigmatized. They have relatives, teachers, neighbors, and celebrity role models who have normalized differences among people regarding their sexuality and gender. And they figured out it isn't a big deal. History is, after all, filled with stories of sex, romance, and power. Even the biblical (and heterosexual) David had his controversies. For many, a gay roommate is not a big deal now. More important is whether or not the roommate is funny and respectful of space and food boundaries.

What is more, the most conservative campuses are likely to have some GLBTQI student organizations. How could any college not? As students grapple with their sexual morals, behaviors, decisions, and lifestyles, finding a supportive network is crucial. And members of such organizations, their allies, and the student bodies in general get it. The campus and the student culture, while still having a way to go, is progressing.

Once, several years back, here, a candidate for student government on campus made some poorly planned remarks about his gay opponent as he was campaigning at a fraternity meeting. Then, when the fraternity pushed back, it was a sign the times were changing. Seems they didn't like stereotypes - especially ones that might paint a fraternity as homophobic. Indeed, I have seen openly gay students embraced by our fraternal organizations and we are seeing similar signs on male athletic teams. In this case, the gay candidate won and shared his story widely. In the end, he was judged not on his sexuality, but his effectiveness as a student government president. And that is how it should be.

Michael Sam, similarly, gave us a very personal glimpse of who he is when he was televised after he was drafted. It was touching to see him and his boyfriend sharing emotion and affection on TV. Maybe Mitch and Cam have prepared us well. And maybe one day, scenes like this will not seem unusual as they play out. Michael Sam should have been drafted higher. As the draft drew near its end, how could you not wonder how the defensive player of the year in college football's most dominating conference could free-fall like this. People could cite his 40 yard dash times and "tweener" body-type, but look at the weaknesses outlined on some of the other mid-to-late-round choices. So we aren't there yet.

The Rams drafted a man my Packers sorely needed, and the classy Jeff Fischer, Coach of the Rams, welcomed an "outstanding" football player to the organization. Michael Sam found acceptance from most of his college teammates and friends and hopefully the older pros will offer the same. As college players try to land roster spots this fall, maybe the old pros will learn from them, and Michael Sam, and college students everywhere. It's not a big deal anymore. The sooner the better.